Dealer’s Child

Book Two of the ‘Jade & Sage Thriller Series’ by Joanna Vander Vlugt

Dealer’s Child. Ozzy Imprint, 2021.

Oscar, a man in his 70s who needs dialysis three times a week, is bargaining with Edith, longtime friend and retired nurse, who is about to give him a lethal dose of fentanyl. He had a long, rich life, and waiting for a transplant will only prolong his misery.

It’s better in this way, he convinces Edith. 

She accepts, she has to, but she can’t stop feeling guilty.

The scene moves to Jade, a lawyer who successfully defended her ex-husband from a murder charge (in Book One, available here), only to find him brutally murdered six months before the beginning of our story. She is now struggling with bad dreams, her Vicodin addiction, her mental health and a counsellor that stopped her therapy sessions to get a better job, on the verge of her recovery. She lives with her new boyfriend, Osmond, an undercover policeman waiting for a new assignment. When he finally receives it, it’ not good news: he has to leave soon for Montreal, where the new assignment will take the best part of a year, if not longer. There isn’t much Jade can do, if not breaking up with him on the spot, ride her motorbike, and drive to her office, where she will bury herself in her job.

Sage, Jade’s sister, texts her she is coming over with a box of their deceased mother’s art, who was a painter in her 20s, but, for reasons unknown to the two sisters, stopped abruptly. Her work is still notable, and Sage insists that Jade should have a memento of their mother too.

In a flashback, the one of several happening during the narration, we discover that Edith and Genie were best friends at university and Genie knew Oscar too. Their connection was so strong that Edith was jealous of her.

Back to the present, Jade receives a phone call from Sergeant Stone. Charles, her father, is dead: cocaine overdose. It’s a double shock for the sisters. It’s already tragic enough to lose a parent, but losing him in such usual circumstances, is even more devastating. Since when did their father make use of drugs? Once the police are done at his place, the two sisters are allowed inside, and they are asked to point out anything missing or misplaced. They find pictures of Valentina Vane, another lawyer, who more than once rivalled Jade in court. They had no idea she was Charles’s lady friend.

Before his death, Charles was looking up newspaper articles from the 90s about unsolved murder cases that authorities believed to be drug-related. He also had articles about Oscar. Did he know him? The girls also notice that his cell phone and laptop are nowhere to be found, only the chargers, and, in the bin, there are pictures of Valentina and Charles. Was there trouble in paradise?

The police leave the scene and the girls remain to have another look. They have to break the news to Dr Vlasic, the kind, retired neighbour. It turns out that he has the laptop, he explains Charles gave it to him and that he was going to pick it up the day following the night he died. He also reports that Valentina and Charles had broken up, and the night before she’d showed up with two men to collect her stuff, but nothing had actually been removed.

In another flashback we see Jade as a child, visiting Oscar with her mom. Not long after Adam Malone arrives; he’s Archie’s son, Oscar’s best friend, his number two and a drug dealer too, a detail about Oscar that was already lingering in the air but that is finally out in the open.

The two kids are playing in Oscar’s garden, when a man kidnaps Jade. All the adults come out of the house and Genie shouts to Oscar ‘Go get our girl’. He does, Jade is safe, but that’s the last time Adam sees her. He finds her again 25 years later thanks to social media. We find him in his house with Oscar’s two bodyguards. Oscar has just passed away and Adam has a delivery for Jade. In the envelope he gives her, there are five thumbnails and two keys. Jade doesn’t even have the time to put the pieces together when another phone call disrupts her life: Charles’s old house, the one now belonging to her and her sister, is on fire. Not long after this event, Valentina sets up a meeting with Jade. A series of coincidences? Jade doesn’t believe in coincidences.

While listening to the recordings that Oscar left her on the thumbnails Adam delivered, Jade finds out that yes, Oscar and Genie had an intense and passionate love story, but that’s not the only thing unravelling from the recordings Jade listens to in this action-packed thriller, told with a superb narrative voice.

The story is fast, but never leaves the reader behind, wondering who is who and what just happened. Every event is clearly detailed and skilfully intertwined with the others, the use of flashbacks is fantastic, it gives Vander Vlugt the possibility to tell entire chunks of the story avoiding long, expositional paragraphs while continuously pushing the narration forward, feeding the reader new information, but never enough to have a clear look at the bigger picture. The main characters, Jade and her sister Sage, are fresh, vibrant, realistic and very relatable. The touch of supernatural that Vander Vlugt adds from the middle onwards is simply genius – Jade is capable of seeing and communicating with her defunct mother, who has a big favour to ask her. But will Jade accommodate her quest?

You’ll have to read it to the end to find out!

Dealer’s Child is available for purchase at:

For more information on Joanna’s work you can also visit her website:


Self-promo 2023 (ep. 11): Molly Fernandes

Written by Molly Fernandes and illustrated by botanical artist Marlene Lozano, ‘Owen’s Afternoon Teacaptures the mysticism of bird science and celebrates science and the written word.

Owen’s Afternoon Tea. MF Publishing, 2022.


‘Owen’s Afternoon Tea’ is a rhyming picture book with enormous appeal. Owen is an ornithologist on his ultimate quest to discover the largest of the eagles- the Harpy Eagle. His misadventure takes him on a journey to the most remote habitats where he observes a wide array of beautiful birds. Written by Molly Fernandes and illustrated by Botanical artist Marlene Lozano, this story captures the mysticism of bird science and celebrates science and the written word.


Combining rhyme and beautiful illustrations, Owen’s Afternoon Tea is captivating audiences young and old. Featuring the most majestic birds in their natural habitats, the story is a whimsical one that combines humour with science.


Molly Fernandes is part nomad, part immigrant and part Western Australian. She grew up in 1970s Perth, after spending the first two years of her life in war torn Beirut. The daughter of parents that drifted, she gathered stories as she grew. These tales began to unfold on the shorelines of Cosy Corner and Emu Point where she spent her summers as a young girl. She gained a deep respect and appreciation for the power of the written word from a young age, as she visited many remote places and began exploring story writing. Spending time in the Kimberley, Southwestern Australia, the most isolated city in the world, and traveling the globe has given her a unique fascination with people and places, resilience, challenge and struggle.
She began her apprenticeship reading Enid Blyton, Kenneth Grahame and Ernest Hemingway. Her passion for writing and art inspired her to become a primary school teacher. She has published two books; Owen’s Afternoon Tea and The Call of the Boodier.

‘Oven’s afternoon tea’ is available on Amazon:


Nature’s bite

Book Three of the ‘Phineas Mann Series’ by Mark Anthony Powers

Nature’s Bite. Hawksbill Press, 2022.

It is our pleasure to introduce you to one of our favourite self-published authors and his latest literary endeavour. Mark drew from his own 40-years’ career in medicine to create his successful, beautifully written medical thriller The Phineas Mann series (three books in the series so far).

It’s 2024, a good few years after the terrible hurricane that hit New Orleans and the life of a young Phineas Mann. He’s now a mature man, with his wife Iris still by his side, their two kids now grown up and with families of their own. It would only be right for him to retire and spend the rest of his life the way he wants, but it’s not time yet. We soon find out that he’s working on a research project: phase three trial of a new, promising asthma drug is about to start very soon.

But life is unpredictable and full of irony, and when the FBI knocks at your door, that’s a call you need to answer. Special Agents Meyers and Richter (a caricature of the more famous MIB agents) ring Phineas and Iris’s bell and, despite the initial confusion of the couple, they let them in. After a creepy and quite nonsensical string of questions – about their jobs, their children, their citizenship, where their incomes come from – the two Special Agents leave the Manns house, not before asking Phineas if he’s ready to serve his country.

In the meanwhile, Marie Porter, the daughter of Angela Porter (a nurse who poisoned several patients in Book Two and almost got Phineas convicted for the murders), is back in Durham after 26 years. Her early years weren’t carefree and full of joy, all the contrary: Marie and her mother moved frequently from town to town, school to school, group of friends to group of friends, while her mother took private nursing positions. Sometimes they had enough to rent a small flat, other times they lived in with the patient, crammed in one room, but all her mother’s patients were frail enough to die not long after she took the job, and the whole moving shenanigans started again. Her best time was in Chinook, Montana, where they lived for three years. At that point, when Angela moved to a new city, Marie moved to college. She graduated at the medical school of the University of Washington and after her beginning as an internist and the challenging years of Covid, she landed a 9 to 5 job in the pharmaceutical industry. She is actually supervising phase three of a trial of a new, promising asthma drug (what are the chances?!).

The reason why the FBI came to visit Phineas and his wife to ask for his cooperation will become clear later in the story, when the US President will develop a severe case of “alpha gal syndrome”, a medical condition meaning that the patient is allergic to mammalian meat: if ingested, the patient will develop a bad urticaria. The reason of the disease is to be found in a particular species of tick that is moving North on the planet due to global warming, provoking life-threatening allergic reactions.

Even if the America of the book is set in the future and the President (or POTUS as he is known) is an imaginary, unnamed figure, he is still very recognisable and gives a very hard time to all those not aligned with his extreme Right agenda, making Phineas life (he’s a Democratic through and through) very difficult.

There are many references to voters’ rights, the environment and the infamous public/private healthcare system. Once again, Powers makes use of his outstanding medical skills, explained to the non-medical reader with simple and clear words. A situation that seems worrying but controllable turns into a life-or-death deadlock, keeping readers on their toes until the last pages, when Phineas is faced with a very difficult decision.

In our opinion, the book offers food for thought around today’s political and environmental problems and anxieties. We did appreciate the “twist” brought about by Marie, Angela’s daughter, even if, at times, we found that the themes portrayed were probably described in too much detail, with the narration almost shifting to non-fiction. 

All in all, however, the book was a great, enjoyable read – as it is always the case with Mark’s books. We love in fact the crafty way Powers has to imbue his characters of notions and teaching moments, still keeping them what they are, i.e. book characters. The appropriate conclusion to such an emotional and action-driven rollercoaster trilogy.

Having interviewed Mark in the past (read more here), we cannot wait to find out what he’s going to write about next: is the protagonist going to be a doctor?! Or perhaps a new subject entirely… ‘write about what you know’ is a formula that does not work for everybody after all. Well, it is highly likely his next book will keep us glued to the page regardless, just like this one.

To find out more about Mark Anthony Powers and his work, visit his website:


Life of a Writer: in Conversation with Chrissy Smith

Fiction and real life intertwine in this conversation with author Chrissy Smith, as she tells us more about her book ‘The Pilgrims Rest’

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with St Albans, in Hertfordshire. For those who aren’t, though, here’s a few facts: the city is in the commuter belt of London, prices are slightly cheaper than the capital and it’s well connected, making living there a good compromise. But at the very beginning of its existence, St Albans was Verulamium, a Roman city, the second largest after Londinium. Once the Roman empire fell and consequently disintegrated, the city became part of the Anglo-Saxon reign and its name derives from St Albans Abbey, which is believed to be the resting place of Saint Alban.

There are many layers to the city – Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Tudors, Victorian – but what interests us are the more recent years, the ones right after the end of WWII because this is where our story begins.

Have you ever wondered whether Holywell Hill is really haunted? There have been quite a few sightings during the years. And do any of you happen to remember a popular restaurant called The Pilgrims Rest at number 1 Holywell Hill? No? So let me tell you a bit more about it.

The Pilgrims Rest was run by my family from the 1950s to the 1970s and I lived above the restaurant for most of my young life. I have to say it was quite an unusual upbringing. My grandparents, Reg and Win Hayes, former publicans, bought The Pilgrims Rest and worked there with my parents, Derrick and Julie, and also my aunt and uncle, Reggie and Sheila. They worked every day, there was no such thing as the weekend off, and our living quarters were upstairs on the first and second floor. There were twelve of us, but we were sharing two whole floors, so it was quite spacious.  There were three bedrooms on the top, almost in the rafters, where my parents slept, and for a short while my uncle, aunt and their children lived on that floor as well but they moved out sooner than us. So I took one of the bedrooms with one of my sisters while my parents slept in another with my younger brother and my other sister.  And then there was Alf, a strange lodger of sorts, who slept in the third bedroom opposite the spooky attic. He was an elusive character and I would define him a strange anomaly.  I never really knew who he was or why he was there. I knew he was not a member of our family, but he seemed to do odd jobs for my nana, sweeping, shopping or the occasional repair. He didn’t say much and used to shuffle around the place with his head bowed low. I only found out many years later, when I was writing the book, that he had been taken in by my grandmother when they’d lived in Dartford after having been in some kind of institution there for many years and she’d given him a home.

At the far end of the first floor there was a large room which we called the ‘Big Room’, the photo shows me standing next to the old fireplace on our last day there; it was a huge sitting room with a twin-bedded room adjacent to it, accessible via huge double doors hidden behind heavy brocade curtains.  Along the corridor there was a long row of rooms that we called ‘the flat’ and at the far end was a bathroom with a large flap door which could be lifted; beneath it were wooden steps leading down to the scullery.

When all the customers had gone home and the place was quiet, I would explore the 16thcentury building now hosting our restaurant, which had many secret nooks and crannies, a spooky attic on the top floor and an old cellar underground where I discovered the blocked off tunnel, believed to link to the city’s Norman cathedral. Apparently, monks used it centuries before to make and store their wine for the liturgy. There was a lot of talk and rumours amongst staff of ghostly apparitions.

Stories surrounding the tunnel were the trigger for my imagination.

I started the book about nine years ago when my mother and I went back to visit Number 1 Holywell Hill which had been bought by Wesley Barrell, a furniture showroom, and I started doing my research there and then, asking if there had been any more ghostly sightings by the staff, which there had! There have been many ghostly apparitions reported in the area in the past.

My novel is based on reality and is a memoir and homage to those who lived and worked at The Pilgrims Rest. Fictitious events have been intermingled with religious and historical truths and legends relating to the town of St Albans which have been passed down through the ages. 

I have so many happy memories of the restaurant, most of which I have tried to include in the book.  But one of my favourites is my grandad sitting at the large kitchen table, handing out money from the till’s takings to all the Saturday staff, including me. We all had to wait our turn, queuing up before him, while he sat at the head of the table like a magnanimous benefactor.  I felt as though I ought to curtsey before him when I reached the front of the queue to receive my hard-earned wages of £3.00 for washing up on a Saturday afternoon, always the busiest day – no dishwashers then!  

The book itself is a family affair through and through: my husband David was the first to read the final draft and helped to lay out the artwork for the cover with illustrations by our daughter Hayley, while Andrew and Daniel, our sons, showed their support all along.

St Albans is an amazing city, and I was truly blessed to have been brought up there.  The Abbey was a very special place and I would often pop in to enjoy its ambience if I was bored or perhaps if it was quiet at the restaurant. I would often take my younger brother and sisters out on a jaunt down to the lake at Verulamium to keep them out of the way of the busy kitchen. One of those jaunts features in my book when the lake was frozen and my sister fell through the ice, but in the book Alf suddenly appears to save the day. Shame he wasn’t there when it really happened!

The town itself was always bustling with many visitors who’d come to see the Abbey and Roman ruins at Verulamium and also to visit the ancient pubs, shops and the busy market which consisted of stalls running all the way from the Market Place, past the Town Hall and all along St Peter’s Street, and also have a peek at the secret alleyways along Chequer Street that I always loved dearly.

I have many photos of the family at the restaurant, some are very old, taken on our last day at the restaurant and others show the place as it is today, taken over by a bookshop called Books on the Hill.

Intrigued? Grab you copy of the book here:


Daughter of Hades

The latest novel by Mack Little – shortlisted for the Hawthorne Prize 2022

 Daughter of Hades. Inklings Publishing, 2021.

There’s a time, a place and a girl: May 19th, 1649, St Dismas Plantation, Barbados. Geraldine Dinny, a very young slave has to defend herself from her master’s advances, she runs away and now she fears for the worst.

Getting away from her master’s – hence her own – house, she faces a fork in the road: one leads to ma and pa and the comfort of her family, the other to a ship ready to set sail. She opts for the ship. Suddenly, while she is fleeing, a pair of hands grab her in the dark. Her fears are soon dissipated when she hears her twin brother Jimmie’s voice, commanding the stranger to release her and introduces him as Leixiang, Lei, a friend who will help them.

Cockpits, Jamaica, same day.

Ami – Dinny and Jimmie’s cousin – lies awake in her bed, incapable of falling asleep. She can feel change coming soon. She knows Dinny is on her way there, her brother and grandfather are on the way to the port to pick her up. She is not worried about her cousin, though, there is something else nagging her. She finally falls asleep and she sees the ghost of a white woman standing in the doorframe of her room.

‘Beyond the stony shores and the roiling seas lies his destiny. His providence is greatness. Despair will be his destruction and the death of his soul’. This is what the woman says to her.

She is talking about a boy that Ami sees in this dream that is not really a dream. It’s a domestic scene: the woman is pottering around in her kitchen, a man and two boys sit around the table, eating. The person the woman is referring to is Pascal, Pax, her son. The man, Jean-Pierre, is the lady’s husband, and him, Pax and Ivan, Pax’s brother, are having a theological discussion, when they hear a loud bang on the door. On the other side there are two soldiers, and Jean-Pierre asks Ivan to take his brother and mother to Father Dominique. But his wife stays behind. Jean-Pierre is the brother of the Duke Renault Durfort, a member of the king’s council. He too could have status and prestige, if it wasn’t for his heretic religious views. The two soldiers are there to ruffle his feathers, but Jean-Pierre knows better and does not engage. When one of the two asks what they are having for dinner and he’s presented with a simple stew, he demands to have some meat in it, and Jean-Pierre obliges. While Jean-Pierre is out to buy meat as requested, one of the soldiers slaps Marie-Claire so hard that she falls, hits her head and dies. At this point Ami wakes up screaming.

Meanwhile, in France, Ivan and Pax go back home to find their mother dead. Pax grabs a butcher’s knife and kills one of the soldiers. Ivan grabs his brother and they flee. They go to Philippe, Ivan’s friend, to figure out a plan to leave all together.

It turns out that Ivan and Philippe are lovers, so for them running away was already an option. Unfortunately, they are robbed but they manage to escape. On the run and with no money, their only choice is to sign a contract with a brokerage agent. In the office, beside the agent there is also a blond, fascinating man that catches Ivan’s eye and Philippe notices it. When they are back to their room they have an argument that is soothed by a roll in bed and it all seems sorted when someone knocks on the door. It’s the man from earlier. His name is Captain Ford and he bought their contact. They board on a ship that sails towards the Caribbean, finally safe, but not long after their departure Philippe falls from the riggers he was tending and dies instantly. It’s a shock for Ivan who’s not sure if it was an accident, if Captain Ford is involved or if Philippe jumped.

The two ships eventually cross each other’s path, and so do their crews, in a whirl of revelations, deaths, prisoners, chases and separations that will not end until the very last page.

‘Daughter of Hades’ tells the fascinating and often painful history of the Caribbeans through the life experience of characters that might have actually lived it. It’s not at all difficult to imagine a time when young people were forced to work as slaves and tried to escape in search of a better life. Too often, though, we tend to forget about it, and that’s why this story is still relevant today. 

But ‘Daughter of Hades’ is much more than a lesson in Caribbean history and the impact slavery has on its characters. At its core, it is a fight for survival and revenge captured in its purest state, and a historical romance showing that people can find love even in the strangest of places, or the strangest of situations. There are times when the story gets lots because of the too many characters, but it’s a brilliant read that flows easily nonetheless, full of plot twists, some happy, some not so much, imaginative characters and historical accuracy. A great read if you are a fan of historical fiction.

Daughter of Hades is available for purchase on Amazon:


Self-promo 2023 (ep. 10) – Chrissy Smith

Introducing Chrissy’s latest novel, ‘The caretaker’, a mix of real-life events and local history.

The Caretaker. Chrissy Smith, 2021.


Len Shulman hates the students in his care and why wouldn’t he? So joyful and carefree, they have no idea how harsh life can be. Luke is the worst of the lot in Len’s opinion, providing a convenient conduit for Len’s loathing. Len’s own youth was lost, his mother and sister killed in front of him, his world scarred by a grim past that even in mid-seventies England he can’t seem to forget. When Luke breaks the rules by bringing his new girlfriend back to the house Len seethes with a potent anger and jealousy but also a burgeoning lust for the nubile Joanna. Len’s wife Nancy is a nag, barren and bitter, she compounds Len’s misery. But Len harbours a secret, a discovery he made during the dire days before liberation. At the far corner of the grounds, an ancient statue provides sanctuary for Len and beneath the eagle’s wings he waits for a sign to guide him. As a powder keg of emotions begins to brew will Len find redemption or will tragedy triumph, only the eagle knows?


My new novel ‘The Caretaker’ shines a light on a true-life injustice with an unlikely hero at its heart. The inspiration for the book was twofold: firstly, my husband, David, spent his student years in a strange old mansion house on the outskirts of St Albans, and secondly, I met a holocaust survivor once who visited the Parish Council office in Thaxted where I worked.


My name is Chrissy Smith, and I live in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, UK but I have strong links to St Albans where I was born and brought up and my two novels are based in that fine city during the mid-seventies and my youth. 

I am a married mother of three and recently retired as a medical secretary, just before Covid struck in fact, so my retirement has been a little strange to say the least, but I will always be thankful for the time I had to write, which I love! The ability to escape to another world, to meet people in that world every day and be involved in their growth and development is really satisfying and to be honest I am always sad to leave the characters behind when the book is finished.

My working life has been in a secretarial vein gaining qualifications at St Albans College of Further Education and I have been able to adapt the role to many different areas – publishing, government, NHS, construction, sales, marketing etc. I worked in publishing for a while as secretary to the Sales Director (Paperback Division) at Granada Publishing, in St Albans, which is long gone now, but it gave me a good grasp of how the industry works (or rather how it did then!). I also worked for a short while at Psychic News adjacent to the Arthur Findlay College in Stansted (College of Spiritualism and Psychic Science), and that experience definitely influenced me!  

Chrissy’s books are available for purchase on Amazon: