25 June 2015

Excerpt Thursday: RULE OF CAPTURE by Ona Russell

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ONA RUSSELL with her latest historical mystery release, RULE OF CAPTURE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Rule of Capture. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Los Angeles, 1928. Oil, oranges and site of the C. C. Julian Petroleum stock scandal, a Ponzi type scheme to rival any in American history and a foreshadowing of the decade's looming, economic crash. As one of the scheme's victims, Ohio probate officer Sarah Kaufman--still reeling from the KKK murders she helped solve in Tennessee--is in the city to attend the trial of the perpetrators, in particular of the ''friend'' who convinced her to invest. Sarah is eager for justice and committed to seeing the trial through. She's glad she's alone, that her lover Mitchell isn't there, that after court she'll have time to herself. But when a Mexican woman she barely knows winds up dead, Sarah's plans are thrown upside down. Suddenly she finds herself in a nightmarish trial by fire, one that takes her from the glamour of Hollywood to the Tijuana frontier, tests her deepest beliefs and leads her to discover not only a killer, but a part of Los Angeles built on a terrible secret. Includes Readers Guide.

**An Excerpt from Rule of Capture**


The L.A. morgue. Not where Sarah imagined she would spend the afternoon. But after she retold her story to the only slightly more interested officer, she agreed to his perfunctory request. It was already 3:00 p.m., and she was still thumbing through magazines in the waiting area. The trial would have to go on without her today.

She leaned back. The shoes were now in police custody. Not that they’d be in a hurry to investigate. Based on everything she'd seen thus far, the death of a Mexican would be a low priority. Although with her husband being white and apparently a prominent citizen, they might be forced to act if there were more evidence that pointed to a homicide.

She picked up a Saturday Evening Post. It was the March edition, featuring on its cover a nightmarish Pied Piper figure surrounded by equally creepy-looking animals celebrating the onset of spring. Sarah thumbed through and stopped on an excerpt of Lost Ecstasy, a new novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, the recently dubbed Agatha Christie of the States. Sarah wasn’t a fan of humorous mysteries but this one didn’t sound too funny:

Kay Dowling was used to luxury, expensive pleasures, and the gentlemen who could afford them. But when she accompanied her wealthy family to her late grandfather’s ranch, it was ordinary Tom McNair who caught her eye. Then Tom was arrested for a not-so-ordinary murder, and Kay’s life was turned upside-down. But she was determined to help Tom prove his innocence, even if she had to put her own life in danger to do it.

“Sarah Kaufman?”

Sarah dropped the magazine and gasped, startled by the somber, hospital-garbed man appearing at the door. “This way,” he said, and without introduction, led her down the cold, sterile hall. Their syncopated steps echoed in the silence.

If Sarah never had to visit one of these places again it would be too soon—one of Tillie's tired expressions, but it was true. Most of her work for the courts was life affirming—repairing marriages, rehabilitating juveniles, finding work for the unemployed. But then there were the suicides, the wives beaten to death, and worse, the children, who had no family to bury them. The first few times she had to identify a body, she trembled violently, got sick, thought she could never do it again. But eventually she learned to control her emotions. Or more accurately, was able to control them, because she didn't quite know how she did it. An unconscious mechanism of some sort. Self-protection, no doubt. The psyche was good at that. But whatever the source, she was grateful for it, because the calm that came over her in such instances allowed her to focus. And that is exactly what she did now as a gloved hand slid open the metal drawer and pulled back the white sheet.


Sarah took in the stiff, purplish features. Mouth, cheeks, hair.  Bruising on the neck. She could just make it out. The striking eyes were closed for good, but there was no question. She looked at the corpse hard, again hoping to remember something in the stilled face. “Yes,” she said dully. “That’s her.”

The man nodded, and then mutely escorted her out. Soon she was back at the police station. Officer Hodges lit a cigarette and rocked back in his worn chair. “Well ma'am.” He smiled sheepishly. “We appreciate your help, but, uh, looks like we didn't need it after all.”


“Nope. Path report is in. Cause of death is heart attack.”


“Massive heart attack. Probably happened very quick.”

“Heart attack? A woman of that age? What about the bruising?”


“The bruising on the neck.”

“I don’t know. Probably when she fell.”

“Are you sure?”


“Nothing else?”

“See for yourself,” he said, handing her the official yellow form.

Sarah read over it. Huh. “Well, that's that then,” she said, standing and feeling something between confusion and relief. “Do you know why she was in that area?  I read it was popular with Chicanos.”

“Well, if you hadn’t noticed, she was one of them, ma’am. Marianna’s just a street. Residential, mostly, with that ravine at the end. But there are a few shops nearby with junk from Mexico. Probably went for that. I’ve heard even some stars like it for the novelty.”


 “Oh, by the way. You can have these if you want.” Officer Hodges reached under his desk, pulling out the bag with Rita's shoes. “Family doesn't want 'em.”

            “What? Are you sure about that?”

            “Wouldn’t say so if I wasn’t. So you want ‘em?”

Really? she thought. According to the paper, the husband was in shock. Maybe not even in town yet. “No, no. Why don't you donate them to…uh, on second thought, I think I will take them.”

“Here you go. Now then, Miss Kaufman. I've got a lot of work to do,” the officer said. “Like I told you before, real crimes to solve.”

Sarah nodded.

“Oh,” he said, “uh, you say you're here for the Pete trial?”

“That's right.”

He snickered. “C.C.’ll get off. Trust me. Him and all his Jew friends. They know how to work the system.”

Sarah flushed and glared at the grinning officer. His smile dropped as he searched her face. “Oh, uh, I didn’t mean nothin, really. Just a type, you know, a certain kind I'm talking about, uh…”

“Don't worry about it,” Sarah said, grabbing the bag and marching out. “Ignorant pig,” she said under her breath. You're lucky my people don't eat you.”

Learn more about author Ona Russell