Kate Flora: I originally wrote this book more than four years ago, and it has wandered through the world of publishing ever since. After several years of waiting for a publisher to get around to it, I decided to publish it myself. For writers of a series, as well as readers, get attached to characters. I wanted to bring Thea back, and readers told me they wanted to read more, too.
For those who are unfamiliar with Thea, here’s what Janet Evanovich says about An Educated Death:
Thea Kozak is a terrific, in-your-face, stand-up gal in the moving and compelling story of a grown-ups who fail the students in their care. Stephanie Plum and Thea Kozak would have a lot to say to each other.
And a quick description from the Camden Herald:
“Maybe it’s because Flora’s books are so thoroughly grounded in reality and accurate in detail that Thea Kozak never really slips the surly bonds of real life –though she sure pushed the envelope. Her exploits smack of the superhuman, but her emotions, thoughts, feelings, reactions and responses are instantly recognizable to the rest of us ordinary beings.” – Carolyn Marsh, editor of the Camden (Maine) Herald
And here, because I am so flattered by their comments, I share some of quotes from writers I admire:
“If you like your heroines smart, brave, tough, and exuberantly aware of the possibilities of the human heart, look no further than Thea Kozak.” S.J. Rozan
“Kate Flora does what all the great writers do: she takes you inside unfamiliar territory and makes you feel right at home; you climb in and are along for the whole ride.” Michael Connelly
“I’ll follow Thea Kozak anywhere. She is simply one of the most refreshing and original heroines in mystery fiction today. And Kate Flora is the rare, graceful writer who pays close attention to how long it takes the body and the heart to heal.” Laura Lippman
And now, without further ado, an excerpt from Chapter One of Death Warmed Over:
I retraced my steps through the dining room and the entry hall and shoved back the heavy pocket doors. The huge, bright, front-to-back living room was painted a soothing, soft gray-green. Light streamed in through a wall of windows at the end. In the center sat a single chair. The chair was surrounded by a circle of space heaters, each of them glowing fiery red, connected to outlets by long orange tails of extension cords. Our realtor, Ginger Stevens, was tied to the chair, a thick strip of shiny silver duct tape wrapped around her head and her mouth. Her skin was blackening red and blistered. Her clothes were charred and smoking.
As fresh air whooshed through the door with me, her clothes burst into little tongues of flame and her long russet-brown braid caught fire. Above the smoke and flames, her eyes, wide with pain and terror, fixed on me. She mumbled behind the tape as I stood and stared, frozen in place, trying to process what I was seeing. The horror. The incongruity. The utterly incomprehensible nature of what was happening. Ginger was being cooked. I stood in the doorway, paralyzed.
Then I dove into action. I sprinted toward the circle. Heat and hot metal seared my ankles as I kicked the nearest heaters out of the way. I grabbed the back of the chair, the paint blistering hot under my fingers. As tongues of flame licked at me, I dragged her into a cooler part of the room. I tore off my jacket, balled it up to protect my hands, and used it to smother the flames from her still-burning clothing and her hair. Then I tore at the tape that covered her mouth and nearly covered her nose, gagging from the smell of burned flesh and singed hair and the horror of realizing that I hadn’t smelled barbecue at all. I’d smelled this woman, Ginger Stevens, my kind, sweet, sometimes too chatty realtor, being burned alive.
As I pulled out my phone and dialed 9-1-1, Ginger tried to speak.
“Hush,” I said. “Hold on. Hold on. I’m calling for help. I’m going to get someone here to help you. We’re going to get you to a hospital, Ginger. It’s going to be okay.”
I wished I believed what I was saying.
Her mouth moved. Dry split lips. Her swollen tongue trying to form words. I bent down so my mouth was close. There was a faint mumble I could barely make out, a few sounds that seemed like words.
“Don’t try to talk,” I said, because the effort was so clearly painful. But her effort was extreme. There was something she had to tell me.
“…airy,” she gasped. “Bobby.” Her blackened hands clawed at the air. “So long. Safe.” A grasp for the strength to go on, and then, “Sorry.”
As the operator answered and went through her spiel, this call is being recorded, blah, blah, I tried to give her the details. My name. The address of this house. The awful scene, a woman being burned alive. Our need for an ambulance and EMTS. Our need for cops, for a crime scene team because this was no accident.
Now that the tape was off her mouth and she’d delivered her incomprehensible message, Ginger’s muffled sounds had become a ceaseless high-pitched scream, a primitive, animal cry of agony. Most people know what a burn feels like. Multiply that times a thousand and you wouldn’t even come close. Her eyes had a dulled glaze that made me fear she was dying. That she’d die here before help could arrive.
I am now hard at work, and 200 pages into the next Thea Kozak mystery. So if you like Thea, you won’t have to wait so long next time.
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