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Exhausted from shopping? Put up your feet and read a good mystery with a touch of romance. With Wink of an Eye, author Lynn Chandler Willis is the first woman in ten years to win the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best 1st PI Novel competition.


When twelve-year old Tatum McCallen finds his father, a deputy sheriff, hanging from a tree in their west Texas backyard, he sets out to restore his dad's honor and prove he didn't kill himself. Tatum and his disabled grandfather hire Private Investigator Gypsy Moran, who has his own set of problems--like a double-cross that sent him fleeing Vegas in the middle of the night.

Gypsy agrees to help the kid because he feels sorry for him. When Tatum shows Gypsy his dad's  private file, the PI knows the kid's father was on to something when he died. Eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and undocumented workers are all connected to the K-Bar Ranch.

Gypsy is quite familiar with the K-Bar. He spent his summers as a teenager working there and romancing the owner's beautiful daughter Claire. Now married to a state senator, Claire is managing the ranch and is more involved with the case Tatum's father was investigating than Gypsy wants to admit.

Aided by adolescent Tatum and a sexy female reporter, Gypsy begins pulling the pieces of the puzzle together, but it could end up costing him his life. Or worse—Tatum's life.

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“My father didn’t kill himself.” The kid’s voice crackled with pubescent hormones. But other than the wavering voice, he had an unflinching determination. It was the third time he’d made the statement since showing up at my sister’s house this morning.

The kid was twelve, and staring at me through a clump of blond hair that fell over his right eye. He was in dire need of a haircut. But I’m not the fashion police so it didn’t matter to me if he got one or not.

“Look… Tatum, sometimes we don’t always understand why people do the things they do.” My own voice was scratchy from morning grogginess.

“He didn’t kill himself.” That was number four. Not that I was counting.

“Gypsy—can’t you just hear him out?” My sister, Rhonda, asked. She joined me and the kid at her kitchen table.

It was 8:00 A.M. I was functioning on two hours’ sleep after an eighteen-hour drive. Plus, I was still on my first cup of coffee.

“There’s a lot more to it than just Ryce’s death,” Rhonda said.

“Who’s Ryce?”

“My dad,” the kid said. “Ryce McCallen. And he didn’t kill himself.”


“I meant to call you a couple weeks ago when Tatum told me about everything that had happened,” Rhonda said. “And then when you showed up on my doorstep this morning at four-thirty, I thought, wow, divine intervention.” She gnawed on her bottom lip, a habit she’d picked up during our messed-up childhood. It meant she wasn’t sure. I’d think twice, too, before considering my presence divine intervention.

“Look, kid. I hate that your dad’s dead. But I don’t know what you want me to do about it.”

“You’re a private investigator. I want you to prove he was murdered.”

Sure. And after that, I’d look into something simple like JFK’s assassination. I scratched my chin, the morning stubble pricking my hand. Maybe I should have stayed in Vegas. There, people just wanted me dead. They didn’t want me to actually work. “Homicide investigations are complicated. They’re not easy to—”

“I have detailed notes.”

Of course he did.

“Plus, I have the files of the cases he was working when he died.”

I hated to ask but curiosity got the better of me. “What cases?”

“The eight missing girls.”

I scratched my chin again. “Why didn’t he just turn it over to the police?”

“He was the police.” He rolled his eyes, an annoying rite of passage at his age.

Rhonda jumped in to defend the eye-rolling action. “He told you all this. It was before the coffee.” She nodded quickly, like that made everything okay.

I was drawing a blank. “Refresh my memory so I’ll feel better about saying no.”

Tatum scooted his chair closer. “My dad was a deputy with the Winkler County Sheriff’s Department. Back in the spring, my friend told me about her sister and how she’d gone missing. I told my dad about it and he started his own investigation, outside the department.”

“Why didn’t he go through the proper channels?”

He and Rhonda glanced at one another like they were sharing a secret. “He didn’t trust them.”

A paranoid cop who commits suicide. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that unusual. “And you think this is related to your dad’s death?”

“My dad didn’t hang himself. He would never have left me like that.”

I never thought my dad would leave of his own accord, either, but he did. Packed a bag and walked out. Just like that. In that respect, I could relate to this kid. “Look, Tatum, we don’t always know what’s going on in someone’s head.” I tapped my finger against my temple for illustration purposes.

“If he wanted to kill himself, why didn’t he swallow a bullet like most cops would do? Why’d he hang himself?”

The kid had a point. I needed more coffee. I pulled myself up and slowly moved to the coffeepot on the counter. After pouring a fresh cup, I stood there a moment staring out the window of the house I grew up in. The house, and the care of our eighty-year-old grandmother, now belonged to Rhonda and her husband, Rodney. My mother lived a maintenance-free life in a condo in Kermit when she wasn’t working at the hospital; my father was who knows where. We weren’t so unusual. Still, I left Wink, Texas twenty years ago with no intention of ever coming back. And yesterday, or was it the day before—hell, I’d lost track of time—I left Vegas and probably shouldn’t go back. Not if I enjoyed living.

“Gypsy?” Rhonda’s voice reminded me I wasn’t alone in the kitchen. At thirty-six, she was two years younger than me and as far as kid sisters go, she was a keeper. She avoided trouble like the plague, volunteered at the adult enrichment center, and taught math to hardheaded know-it-all sixth graders like Tatum at Wink Elementary as a career choice. And some called me stupid for going into the private investigation field.

I took my coffee to the table and resumed my position of avoidance. “Look, Tatum, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I’m kind of on vacation,” I lied.

“We’ll pay you.” He obviously didn’t understand the concept of a vacation.

“Tatum lives with his grandfather. It’s just the two of them now,” Rhonda said, giving me that look that said there was more to this story and she’d explain later.

I didn’t care if the kid lived with a tribe of pygmies. I had my own problems. I didn’t know if I was even going to be alive tomorrow. I had issues with committing to anything other than lunch plans.

About the Author:

In addition to 
Wink of an Eye, Lynn Chandler Willis is the author of the bestselling True Crime, Unholy Covenant, and the Grace Award-winning inspirational mystery, The Rising. She lives in North Carolina.

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