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Scarlet Woman
A Cold Case Mystery
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-642-4
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 107 Pages
Published: February 2009

From inside the flap

SCARLET WOMAN is an eerie tale about an unsolved murder, and an unlikely killer who strikes again and againÖThe sprawling new development lay half-finished and deserted in the lonely darkness of a storm-lashed Sunday afternoon. In the Show Home, an opulent house with pillars and cathedral ceiling, the real estate agent chatted to a friend on her cell phone, hanging up abruptly when she heard footsteps approaching the door. "Iíll call you back as soon as theyíve left," she promised, but never did. For whoever it was had smashed her skull in, leaving her to die in front of the massive stone fireplace with its empty grate. Ten years later the murder still remained unsolved.

Reviews and Awards

MR Review
Scarlet Woman
by Karen Lewis
4.5 Stars

I thought that this book was a nice, cozy quick, mystery story. Scott is a strong character. He has lots of determination and guts. He didnít let the fact that his latest assignment was a ten year old unsolved murder get him down. In fact, he took it as a challenge. There were some twists and turns in this plot. Though, fans of murder mysteries will like Scarlet Woman by Karen Lewis. If you want to solve this mystery, then you better pick up a copy of this book today before it is too late.

Scott Preston, a reporter for the Morning Herald, is assigned an article on a ten year old cold case. His job is to investigate the murder of a real estate agent that happened ten years ago. He doesn't know how he is supposed to solve this case when the police couldn't, but that's his job so he starts investigating. He finds out that they police only had one suspect in the entire case and it was her husband, who had an alibi for the time of the murder. Scott's job is to investigate all aspects of this case to try to find the answers that have been buried for so long. Karen Lewis has done an excellent job writing this story. The twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire story. You will not want to put this book down.

5 stars

Rating: 3 Cups

Scott is a rarity: a scrupulous newspaper reporter, though his editor is not as nice. That does not mean that he is not good at his job. He also assists his Aunt Violet in her antique shop on weekends.

Neil is a police detective and good friend of Scottís. He is thorough and honest, though hampered by a police chief too worried about budgets and public opinion.

When the local police department gives the newspapers details about a case that has been cold for ten years, the resulting stories bring out witnesses and clues previously unknown. In this novel, Reporter Scott Preston and Detective Neil Slater band together to solve the mystery of realtor Shirley Vickers' murder with the help of Scottís Aunt Violet.

This mystery is interesting in that the two main characters are in professions that are usually not found working together. The author does a good job of describing the differences and conflicts between the press and police and Scottís editorís screaming headlines are great illustrations of this. The mystery itself is more of a narrative as the author really does not give the reader many clues to go on. The last pages are chillingly reminiscent of the ending scenes in the movie Psycho, very creepy.


Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More

Scarlet Woman (Excerpt)

Chapter One

The car moved slowly up a steep hill through a premature winter twilight. Its progress hampered by a torrent of sleet that hammered down out of a hostile sky.

The windshield wipers screeched at high speed, but were unable to cope with the sheer volume of the deluge. They left the glass greasy and blurred with rain.

At the top it turned right, into a sprawling new subdivision called Wedgewood Estates. Which was, in essence, a hundred half-finished houses clustered on a naked hilltop; a grimly surrealistic landscape devoid of trees or even grass.

The roads were roughly paved and slick with mud, and the car slowed down even more to avoid hitting potholes. It carefully followed the signs, barely visible through the drumming rain and rapidly approaching darkness, which were guiding it towards the Show Home.

Suddenly, there it was, wavering through the watery windshield, a three storey suburban mini-castle rising out of a steep lot. Complete with pillars and a double door, bedecked with banners and clusters of balloons.

An expensive looking car with a real estate sign on top sat in the driveway.

It was the first car, or sign of life for that matter, since the journey had begun. For all was deserted on this gloomy Sunday afternoon.

The driver, wearing a dark hooded parka, got out of the car and made a dash towards the house.

The spacious home, designed to impress, had a cathedral ceiling, wide staircase and massive chandelier. The realtor, chatting on a cell phone, was caught by surprise.

"Well hello there, youíre the first person Iíve seen today," she exclaimed. "I guess the weather must have scared them all away." She had blonde hair, a toothy smile and restless manner. "Iím Shirley Vicker."

But suddenly, her look of welcome turned to one of shock and wide-eyed terror, as she was swiftly knocked to the ground. Then her assailant struck her head brutally and repeatedly with a heavy blunt object, until every ounce of life had been beaten from her body.

Ten years later, the murder still remained unsolved.

"So there you have it." Lieutenant Neil Slater switched off the projector and turned on the lights. "Her husband Roy was the prime suspect. But he appeared to have an iron-clad alibi that we just couldnít shake."

Coffee was brought in, but most of the media people were already filing out.

Scott Preston of the Morning Herald poured himself a cup.

"There isnít the interest in these old unsolved cases that Iíd hoped there be," Slater confided.

Scott nodded. "Itís understandable, Neil. They figure that if the police couldnít solve the crime when it happened, what chance do they have ten years later?"

"Yet itís amazing what a little publicity can do years afterwards. There are often personal reasons that prevent witnesses from coming forward at the time."

Scott walked over to the window. A harvest moon beamed down from a star-pitted sky.

Rebecca Childs from the Evening Standard sidled up to Slater. "Drop by for a drink tonight," she invited. Her pursuit of the enigmatic detective, with his dark good looks and brooding manner was a standing joke in the newsrooms.

Slater declined the offer.

Rebecca shrugged. "Suit yourself. You know where I live, if you change your mind." She waved at Scott before she left. He had difficulty keeping a straight face.

"If you want to get ahead in your career, avoid close entanglements like the plague." Slater laughed. "And as Iím as good as married to the job, you can see Iíve taken my own advice."

"Yeah, well Iíve pretty well gone the same route myself," Scott admitted. "It gets damned lonely though."

Slater joined him by the window. "Any publicity on this case would be much appreciated," he said.

A blanket of fog hovered over Vancouver like a stealthy cat. It made the morning commute that much more difficult. Scott wasted no time in approaching the editor. "I think an article on the unsolved Vicker murder would draw a lot of interest," he said.

"The real estate broad?" Greg Mowatt had jowls like a bulldog.

"Yeah, Shirley Vicker was holding an Open House at the Wedgewood Estates." Scott pulled up a chair beside Gregís cluttered desk. "It was a brand new subdivision at that time and no-one lived there." And oh how lonely and bleak it looked in the re-enactment of the crime, he recalled with a shiver. "She was found by another realtor the following morning."

"Had she been raped?"

"There were some signs of a sexual assault." Scott consulted the file. "Her panties had been ripped off and there may have been penetration. However, no male semen was found in her body."

"So either the guy got scared that he would be caught, or he just couldnít cut the mustard," Greg suggested with a lewd wink.

"Or someone wanted it to appear that way. Her husband was the prime suspect in the case and he always insisted that she had been attacked by some passing nutcase."

"Itís unlikely that a sexual pervert just happened to stumble upon the Wedgewood Estates." Greg looked incredulous.

Scott nodded. "Although someone like that might have been stalking her for some time prior to the crime."

"So why were the police so sure that the husband did it?"

"Well Roy wasnít only the prime suspect, he was the only one," Scott explained. "He was a weird sort of a guy, the type thatís bound to raise suspicions. Besides, they just couldnít come up with any other likely candidates."

"He was heard threatening his wife though, wasnít he, shortly before she was murdered?"

"Thatís right, they hadnít been getting along for a while. Their neighbours reported hearing them argue."

"Why wouldnít he just divorce her?" Greg, a survivor of three broken marriages, looked puzzled. "Why follow her out to an Open House on a miserable Sunday afternoon and bash her brains out?"

"Money," Scott responded without hesitation. "With Shirley out of the way, he ended up with all the property."

"Okay, letís suppose for a minute Roy is innocent. What I donít understand is why Shirley lay there all night, and wasnít discovered until the following morning? Why didnít he go looking for her when she didnít come home?"

"He admitted they had a falling out, and assumed she was spending the night at a friendís place. Apparently, this had happened before."

"What did they argue about?" Greg snapped his knuckles.

"Money. According to Roy, Shirley was always on his back about his failure to produce."

"I wonder why he stayed on at a job that he couldnít make a decent living at?""Pride, I suppose." Scott shrugged. "His wife was one of the top earning salespeople and he was determined to succeed as well."

Blair Park blazed with autumnís finery. Leaves of rust, orange and flame crunched underfoot with green horse chestnuts.

"It was a terrible tragedy." Scottís Aunt Violet stopped to admire some late blooming fleabane. "A woman murdered like that when most people were sitting down to their Sunday dinner."

"It sure was." Scott threw a ball to Gemma, Violetís German shepherd.

They were taking a break from Grannyís Attic, a small antique shop that had been in the family for decades. Scott helped out there on Saturdays. Located in affluent Ambleside, it was within easy walking distance of parks, sands and sea.

"Yet," Violet reasoned. "One cannot help but question the wisdom of a woman alone like that in such a deserted place?"

"Well, I guess it just goes with the territory." Scott craned his neck to watch the flight of a heron as it soared towards the marshes. "Even if a realtor avoided Open Houses, she would still have to show properties and that can be just as lonely. In fact, usually more so than at an Open."

"I never thought of that," Violet admitted. "But danger of personal injury when at work is not exclusive to the real estate business. I often feel nervous when Iím alone in the store."

"Even with the alarm button right behind the cash register and Gemma panting at your side?" Scott made light of his Auntís concern, although he had often worried about her alone in the store, with so much valuable stock.

The article about the Vicker case appeared in the weekend edition of the Morning Herald. Shirley Vicker had been forty-two years old at the time of her death. Apart from her husband and a Yorkshire terrier named Muff, she appeared to be quite alone in the world.

The Vickers had owned a smart townhouse in Lamplighter Square, which Roy sold shortly after his wifeís brutal murder. "I just couldnít bear to live there by myself," he confided when Scott interviewed him. "The pain and shock of having something as horrible as that happen to my wifeÖ" His pale eyes squinted fiercely.

Royís condo was sparsely furnished and untidy. It had an unlived in feel. A shaft of lemony sunlight fell on the tabletop.

Scott could see why Slater had referred to Roy as an oddball. And why the police had pursued him as their prime suspect. He was the type of person who did not make a good impression. Short and tubby with a pasty complexion and heavy lens spectacles, he avoided direct eye contact and literally squirmed under close scrutiny.

Scott broached the touchy subject of the arguments overheard by their neighbours.

"That was exaggerated out of all proportion." Roy was immediately on the defensive. "Every couple has their ups and downs, Shirley and I no more than most. Besides, I have an absolutely airtight alibi."

And indeed he had, or at least appeared to have. For Roy had been holding an Open House of his own, on the other side of the city, at the time his wife was murdered.

Lynda Makovitchís expression was bitter. "It was me that Shirley was talking to on her cell phone right before she was murdered." She lit a fresh cigarette from the stub of an old one. "Her last words were: íSomeone has just come in, Iíll call you right back, LynnÖí But of course she never did poor girlÖshe couldnít."

If only she had left the connection open, Scott thought with a sort of morbid nostalgia, there might have been some clue as to the killerís identity, and whether it was someone known to the murdered woman, or not.

"You know I had a strange premonition about it." Lynda flicked cigarette ash into her cup saucer. "There was just a weird, creepy feeling emanating from that phone lineÖit was terrifying."

Lyndaís office at Coronet Realty was tiny. A power saw squealed from the construction site next door. "Weíre expanding and itís not before time." She indicated the lack of space, while raising her voice above the din.

"So are you saying that you werenít surprised when you heard the news about Shirleyís murder?"

"Of course, I was shocked," she retorted. "Yet I was expecting it at the same time. Itís weird isnít it?"

She topped up their cups with fresh coffee, her long fingernails like the talons of a hawk.

"Who do you think killed her, Lynda?"

When Scott asked Roy the same question, he had replied. "If I knew that, I would have killed the bastard myself."

"I think it was Roy," she replied without hesitation. "But please, donít quote me on it. That sicko gives me the creeps."

In the poky windowless room, the bitter scent of Lyndaís perfume combined with the smoke from her cigarette made Scottís eyes water. He had an uncontrollable urge to sneeze.

"Might I ask why?" He blew his nose discreetly.

"Shirley wasnít happy with him. God only knows why she got mixed up with him in the first place? The guy was a real loser."

"In what way?"

Lynda rolled her eyes contemptuously, before launching into a tirade about the shortcomings of Roy Vicker.

"He failed miserably at everything he tried. Now take his foray into real estate, for instance, that was an utter and total disaster."

"How so?"

"Well, he wasnít able to make sales!" She tapped her outrageous fingernails on the desk to illustrate the point. "A realtor must have a good personality, which leaves Roy out. Shirley deserved a lot better than him."

Before Scott could comment, she embarked on a diatribe against Roy Vicker, ending with: "He is a moody, sarcastic bastard and he made Shirleyís life a living hell."

"Then why didnít she leave him?" Scott blew his nose again.

"Well thatís the million dollar question, now isnít it?" She blew another cloud of smoke towards the pockmarked ceiling.

"Is there anyway Roy could have left his Open House, driven over to the Wedgewood Estates, murdered his wife, then returned without being missed?" asked Ben, the Morning Herald photographer.

"Itís practically impossible." Scott spooned sugar into his coffee. The Copper Kettle bustled with the lunchtime crowd. He had to raise his voice to be heard. "Itís about a thirty minute drive, in good weather, providing the traffic is light.

"Which means, given the conditions that day, he would have been absent from his Open for at least an hour," Ben speculated. "Would he have been missed though, thatís the question?"

"Well, Royís Open, unlike his wifeís, took place on a well-established street surrounded by occupied houses. The police, of course, interviewed the immediate neighbours, who verified that Royís car was parked in front of the house the whole time. Or, they thought it was. Of course, no-one actually watched the car and looked at his wrist watch at the same time."

"So, in order to have committed the murder, he would have to have driven another car?"

"Thatís about it," Scott agreed. "Although, there were several people who came forward that had attended his Open. So it would seem that at least most of the time was accounted for. Shirley was believed to have been murdered shortly after four p.m."

"YetÖthat still doesnít give him a cast iron alibi, now does it? Did anyone actually see him inside the Open House between four and five p.m.?"

"No, although, one couple thought that they stayed there until shortly after four, but they werenít certain."

"Which, if they were correct, would have given Roy less than an hour to drive all the way across town and back again, in order to do his dirty deed. And, in a car that would have to have been parked some distance away to boot!"

Scott nodded. "It doesnít seem very likely, does it?"

A vigorous wind that had been gusting since dawn hurled itself at the trees, sending swirls of russet leaves against the windows.

"Yet, as we said before, itís not impossible," Ben insisted. "Unless Shirley was killed by some pervert, Roy is the only person with a motive."

"Have you clocked the distance between the two points of interest?" Greg swept a pile of papers into his out tray.

"The police did that at the time," Scott replied. "I didnít see how it would serve any useful purpose."

"Oh you didnít did you? Well I donít agree. Thatís what separates good reporters from middling ones. A good one never takes anybody elseís word for anything. He always tries it out for himself."

A group of seagulls congregated on a nearby roof, flapping their wings against the backdrop of a fitful sky.

"Very well thenÖ" Scott answered testily. But before he could finish Greg cut in, wagging an impatient finger as he spoke.

"I want an immediate re-enactment of the crime," he demanded. "So get over to Öwhere is itÖ?"

"Cottonwood Avenue."

"Of course, Cottonwood Avenue, it was right on the tip of my tongue. And from thereÖwell surely I donít have to spell it out for you, do I?"

"An immediate re-enactment of the crime." Ben laughed. "Well isnít he assuming a bit too much? I mean there is no solid evidence that poor old Roy is the murderer, now is there?"

"Perhaps, it was just a poor choice of words," Scott suggested with a wry wink. "When it comes to that, Greg is an expert. But either way, Iíll play Roy Vicker and you can be my accomplice."

Ben rolled his window down and peered up at the grey clouds drifting towards a crimson horizon. "Looks like rain and I have to do a photo shoot today of Blair Park in autumn."

Roy Vicker had held his all-important Open House at 514 Cottonwood Avenue at the time of his wifeís murder.

"If it hadnít been for the Open, heíd likely be sitting in prison right now." Scott eyed the smart looking bungalow that had provided Roy Vicker with his all-important alibi. Painted grey with black shutters and door, it had a glowing round beacon of a light in its drive and a small monkey-puzzle tree in its front yard.

"Get readyÖits time to synchronize our watches prior to take-off." Ben did a good imitation of Greg Mowatt. "Our destination is the Wedgewood Estates."

The traffic was lighter on their way back towards the city, and as they approached the subdivision where Shirley Vicker had kept her date with destiny, Scott noted that it had taken them just slightly less than the expected thirty minutes to make the trip.

"If Roy had been travelling faster," Ben suggested. "He could probably have done it in even less time."

"I doubt that he would have taken that risk. The last thing he would have wanted is to be stopped for speeding."

Wedgewood Estates was now heavily wooded, with cedar, maple, hemlock and spruce trees. Opulent houses with wide driveways and spacious yards were the pictures of suburban affluence. Several small children cycled around on bikes, and a group of teenage boys were playing basketball. It was a far cry from what it had looked like at the time of the murder.

The house where Shirley Vicker had held the Open, and breathed her last breath, was now flanked on both sides by a tall laurel hedge. The double doors that her murderer had walked through freshly painted a dark shade of green.

"If houses could only talk," Ben mused. He stared up at the stately faÁade. The windows on the upper level looked, uncannily, like two all-seeing eyes.

Scott felt an involuntary shiver ripple down his spine and he quickly started up the car. He caught his last glimpse of the ill-fated house through his rear-view mirror. It shimmered ethereally in the strange light cast by a pale sun.