||September 29 2005
Lawyer,Harry Jenkins, longs for freedom and love. Trapped under his senior partners thumb and in a dead marriage, he has nearly reached his breaking point. The city is haunted by the spectre of the Florist, a sadistic murderer with an artistic flair, who believes he is called to judge the worthiness of his victims. When his partner drops dead in his office, Harry is free to make his own mistakes. Almost immediately, he is swept up in a money laundering fraud by the enigmatic Mr. Chin and into a conflict with his wealthy client, Marjorie Deighton. When he finds Marjorie dead, he senses foul play. Are the Florist;s murders and Mr. Chin's shady dealings connected? Can Harry find the answers befor the Florist strikes again? Fortunately the beautiful Natasha is there to guide him to the answers
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PROLOGUE of CONDUCT IN QUESTION
Was it wrong to take a life so young?
Such beautiful skin was soft, smooth, and white as cream. He stroked her lustrous brown hair. A nervous smile flitted across her. He stared into her eyes. She was a university student, filled with the idealism of youth, but her lips and nails were painted red. The ceaseless debate pounded in his head. A painter should not discard a sketch for its lack of finish. With time, a musician could weave a simple tune into a great symphony. A true artist never rushed to judgment. He shuddered at the prospect of mistakenly snuffing out a life of promise. He had to contemplate her value before the final moment.In time, she might become a doctor, a judge, or a professor. But how could that be? Her dress was tight and low-cut. She would create a scandal wherever she went. He could resist no longer.He caressed her long, slim neck. Fear flickered through her body. His fingers dug deeper. She gasped. Like tiny birds, her hands fluttered upward to pry away his fingers.Passion overcame his reason. The desperate pleading in her eyes drove him to heights of ecstasy. Her arms and legs thrashed pitifully. Her fear thrust him into his dark world of freedom, where only he could redeem her soul. It was an act of compassion. Lacing his fingers around her throat, he twisted his hands hard and fast.
"Just a common harlot, begging for it,” he panted.At last, she was quiet.He stroked her long neck and hummed a lullaby. An exquisite subject, he thought. He withdrew a silver knife from his pocket. An artist, who sought new challenges, deserved the finest tools. Carefully, he drew back her long black hair and exposed her face. On her cheek he carved a tiny petal. Pausing to admire his work, he drew another petal close to her chin and then scrolled a graceful stem down her neck.Disappointed, he sat back. He had not yet perfected his artistry. The line lacked the easy flow of a master. But with his mark, now she was truly beautiful. The next morning, he sat at a café on the mews, which was suffused with a calm, ethereal light. He sipped his coffee and scanned the front page of the newspaper. He wanted to savor the latest review of his artistic work. The media called him “The Florist.” He would send the editor a sketch of his next carving. Soon he would be known as an artist with daring in his soul.
Now meet Harry Jenkins when Richard Crawford, his senior partner drops dead at his feet.
When Miss Giveny returned with the file, Harry rifled through it, searching for instructions. Nothing made sense. Turning the page, he caught his breath. The entire sheet was scrawled with intricate and detailed pen sketches of female genitalia, viewed from the most surprising angles. A neat border of rose petals edged the drawing.
Harry gasped, then choked with laughter. At the foot of the page was written: R. A. Crawford…secret trust/will instructions from Miss M. Deighton. Holding the page at arm’s length, Harry squinted, then turned it upside down. There was absolutely no doubt about the subject matter. Harry was quite impressed with his partner’s skill. The prim Mr. Crawford must have hidden his lustful artistry as he diligently recorded Miss Deighton’s will.
Richard Crawford always presented an image of elegance and refinement to the world, but his file revealed the dark cracks of derangement in the old man’s polished surface. Adjusting his reading glasses, Harry stole another look at the drawing.
Crawford strolled into the waiting room with a newspaper neatly tucked under his arm. He softly whistled to himself. Instead of going directly into his own office, he knocked and entered Harry’s office.
“My good man,” Crawford beamed, “I see you have the Deighton file. Be sure you get Marjorie’s secret trusts right. If you’ve any questions about technical aspects, just ask me.
Harry was speechless. His face burned with embarrassment for the old man. Finally he asked, “But where are the written instructions?"
Crawford waved impatiently and spoke as if to a lowly student. “Everything you could possibly want is in the file, Harry. Study it carefully.” Crawford paused. His eyes glazed over. Apparently lost in pleasant recollection, he sighed, “Marjorie.” Suddenly, he turned on Harry, eyes hardened with the memory of lust.
Harry hastened to stand.
“That delectable woman!” Crawford seemed to be addressing someone over Harry’s shoulder, just outside the window. “She has the spirit of a saint, but, as God is my witness, the body of a…” A nasty purple flush rose from Crawford’s collar. “Do you understand how a woman can possess a man?” he demanded, teetering heel to toe. He whispered hoarsely, “Jenkins! Have you ever experienced the passion, the thrall?”
For an instant, Crawford’s left side sagged with the ravages of stroke. He sought to right himself. “If you have not, my good man, then you have not lived.” The old man’s eyes momentarily turned upward. Only the whites could be seen.
Harry panicked. “Richard, are you ill?” He rushed to his partner’s side, but Crawford did not answer. His face engorged with dark pleasure, he gave a lurid and distorted wink. The effect was horrific. Harry’s stomach heaved. Crawford lurched forward. His chin struck the desk with such a crack that Miss Giveny came running.
Harry shouted, “Richard! Are you all right? Can you hear me?"
Dropping to all fours, Harry pressed his ear to Crawford’s chest and listened intently. He shook his shoulder, making Crawford’s head loll to one side. One glassy eye stared up at him. The ghastly wink had frozen the other eye shut. Ravenous demands of the flesh had consumed his body and soul. As the paramedics crowded in with the stretcher minutes later, Harry tore up the artwork.
FOR THE SECOND NOVEL IN THE TRILOGY, LOOK FOR FINAL PARADOX THIS FALL
I posted a note about the re-creation of the scene in my booth at Canada Book Expo.
With a sense of foreboding Harry returns from drinks with his friend Stephen at the Club to find his office has been trashed.
Here's the scene
Out of the last rays of the setting sun, Harry buttoned his overcoat against the cold wind slicing into him. He picked up his pace as his building came into view. Something nagged at the edge of his consciousness.
As he spun through the revolving door, he could see Hakim, the night watchman. He was a huge man crouched on a tiny stool behind a desk, no larger than one in junior grade school. The remains of Hakim’s lunch were spread out on the desk, covering the logbook.
Startled, Hakim looked up. “Mr. Jenkins. Thought you was still upstairs.” He unearthed the logbook. “Your client must be waiting up there for you.”
Harry stopped short in confusion. “Client? What client?”
Oblivious to Harry’s mounting concern, Hakim bit into his sandwich and chewed slowly.
“Hakim, who’s upstairs? Did he sign in?” Harry grabbed the book. Across from
his suite number was an illegible scrawl. “I’m not expecting anyone.”
Hakim stopped chewing and gulped hard. His round face darkened. “He say he have an appointment. I thought you was still up there.”
Harry entered the elevator and jammed his finger into the call button. Fumbling for his keys, he watched the floor numbers light up with agonizing slowness. Each clang of the elevator reverberated in the silent building.
At last it opened at his floor. Immediately, he saw the office door slightly ajar. Lights were on inside. He strode down the dark hallway and flung open the door.
The waiting room was empty. A cool breeze wafted from his office. Heart pounding in his chest, he called out. When he saw the chaos in his office, his stomach wrenched. Filing-cabinet drawers were torn open. Files were pitched on the floor. Desk drawers were yanked open.
Neatly stacked in the center of his desk was a sheaf of papers. A silver knife was plunged through them, nailing them in place. Scattered around were handfuls of rose petals. The vase on the credenza held only stems of flowers.
Harry knew at once that the papers were the Chin offers. He drew closer. The papers were not damaged in any way, except for a neat incision in their center. Jonathan Conroy of Cheney, Arpin, had them returned in the space of only two or three hours.
A promising spring breeze filtered in through the curtains at the window. He leaned out over the fire escape. Twilight prevented him from penetrating the depths of the alleyway below, but he could just make out a slight, shadowy figure swinging from the last rung of the fire escape. He heard a body thud on the pavement below, followed by a low groan and curses. Then he heard hurried, hobbling footsteps back down the alley toward the street. Harry did not call out, but turned back into the room. Surveying the ransacked office, he telephoned the police.
Two officers arrived. The older one stared balefully at the disarray, and then slowly took out his pen and pad.
“Did you touch anything?” he began gruffly.
Harry shook his head. “Just the telephone to call you.”
Stepping on the clutter, the officer moved behind Harry’s desk. “This have anything to do with the Deightons, you think?” He gazed steadily at Harry.
“The Deightons?” Then Harry peered at the officer in the increasing gloom. Not until then did he recognize him as the one who had come to Marjorie’s house. “No, I don’t think so. I’m sorry, Sergeant Welkom. I didn’t recognize you.”
Welkom shrugged as if this were no surprise. “You must have a pretty interesting practice, Mr. Jenkins.” He sat down heavily in Harry’s chair. “What kind of work do you do?”
“It’s an old family practice. You know, real estate, estates…a little commercial work.”
“Got clients with money outside the country?” asked the sergeant blandly, as he eyed the knife in the desk.
“Oh, a few.” Harry was beginning to feel uncomfortable. He resisted the invitation, created by the sergeant’s silence, to continue.
“Any idea what they were looking for?” Welkom gestured toward the knife and the petals. “Somebody’s obviously trying to give you a message.”
Harry sighed deeply and sat down on a straight-backed chair. Welkom lounged in his chair behind his desk.
“It’s a quiet practice,” he began stiffly. “Ordinary middle-class people, buying and selling houses and making wills and dying. That’s about it.” He was surprised at his own belligerent tone.
Welkom stood up. The sergeant was at least six-foot-two. “You’d be real smart, Mr. Jenkins, to tell us anything you can think of. Whoever did this is telling you something, and I think you know what it is.”
“Listen, I have no idea. My office is broken into, and suddenly I come under investigation. That’s ridiculous!” Harry rose swiftly, determined to gain control of the conversation. “The man on the security desk signed the person in. Why don’t you talk to him? Maybe he can give you a description.”
“Like I said, Mr. Jenkins, somebody’s telling you something. You’d be smart to be careful.” Welkom nodded curtly. “Anyway, we’ll talk to security now. If you find anything missing, give us a call.”
Waiting with the other officer, Welkom punched the elevator button three times.
“You know, Samuels, something funny’s going on with that lawyer.”
“Looks like a pillar of the community. But you can’t trust lawyers.” Welkom shouldered his way into the elevator. Closing his eyes, he leaned wearily against the back wall.
“What’s wrong with him?” the young officer asked.
Welkom’s eyes flew open. His lips curled downward. “My mother was cleaned out by a shyster lawyer. Even after he admitted it, she still thought he was a very nice gentleman.” The elevator doors opened to the lobby. “Who ever heard of a con artist who wasn’t? Right?”
Samuels nodded and stepped back for Welkom.
After they had left, Harry sat staring at the knife. Carefully, he lifted the corners of the offers. The vendor companies had signed the offers, but had increased the price. It would be most interesting to see Chin’s reaction to the condition of his paperwork.
Harry lifted the phone to call Conroy. He left a message consisting of one question: who had delivered the counteroffers? Wearily, he turned off the lights and locked up. He would start the cleanup in the morning.
SO WHO PLUNGED THE KNIFE THROUGH THE PAPER WORK? It was certainly a lot of fun moving in the desk and chairs to create the old office and getting a knife to stick through a bunch of papers at the booth. Even so, lots of people noticed and it made a great conversation piece.
Conduct in Question
The Sunpiper Press Book Review
BOOK REVIEWS DONE BY SUNPIPER PRESS (WWW.SUNPIPERPRESS.COM). SUNPIPER PRESS PROMOTES POSITIVE LITERARY WORKS RANGING FROM MUSIC, POETRY AND SHORT STORIES. SUNPIPER PRESS CHAMPIONS SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS BY OFFERING FREE ONLINE PUBLICITY FOR THEIR WORKS.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 06, 2005
Conduct in Question - Mary E. Martin
When I think of successful, modern-day, mystery writers, I think of Stephen King, John Grisham, Walter Mosley, Dean Koontz, James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell. The ability to interject realism into a mystery novel makes it an extremely difficult genre to enter. Some would say that there simply is not enough room in this area to lend admission to a new writer. Whether there is room in the literary community or not, space must be made for Mary E. Martin.
Canadian attorney, Mary E. Martin can not only 'hold her own' with each and every one of these authors, but her ability, at times, outshines them all.
In her breakout novel, Conduct in Question, Martin introduces readers to a hard-working, honest attorney, Harry Jenkins. Harry is the legal machine behind the success of his firm, yet he has always played second fiddle to his law partner, Richard Crawford. Though Harry is constantly prodded by his spoiled wife for ‘carrying more about his clients than earning money’, he remains complacent with his career and applies no pressure upon himself to excel in his finances. Though Harry is not completely happy, he continues in this role until, in less than a week, his life takes a rollercoaster track of unavoidable detours.
Within the span of a few weeks, Harry’s boss dies of a stroke; his firm’s richest client dies under suspicion of murder; a Hong Kong business man pays him more money on a retainer than he’s made in five years and his wife decides to leave him. If this is not enough, a serial murderer known as “The Florist” is murdering young women in the city and the police find that Harry always seems to be connected.
Mary E. Martin has taken estate law, criminal law and politics of bar associations to create a masterpiece that truly belongs on the silver screen. In this legal thriller, Martin beautifully constructs the dining halls of upper-class socialites, the bureaucratic halls of the legal profession, the back rooms of the mob and the hard-working class of people that keep our world balanced. Before the reader reaches the middle of the book, he/she will suspect each and every character (still alive) as the infamous “Florist”.
Through all the suspicion, lore and evil, Martin adds the backdrop of beautiful Toronto, Canada, which becomes a breathtaking character in its own right. Though I’ve never visited the city, I have vivid pictures in my mind of its skyline, communities and architecture.
Conduct in Question promises to be the first in a trilogy. I can’t wait for two and three and if you haven’t heard of Mary E. Martin, mark my word, you will. If you don’t know who she is and you enjoy a great suspense thriller, you have no idea what you are missing.
posted by Sunpiper Press at 3:17 PM | 0 COMMENTS
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Reader Reviews for "Conduct in Question"
|Reviewed by Janelle Martin
|Book Review originally posted at Eclectic Closet Litblog (http://antheras.blogspot.com):
Harry Jenkins has worked under his senior partnerâ€™s thumb for years in a Toronto small estates practice. When his partner drops dead from a stroke in their office, suddenly Harry is on his own and free to run their law-firm his own way. Almost immediately, he is swept into the conflict surrounding the estate of his wealthy client, Marjorie Deighton, and the massive money-laundering scheme engineered by the enigmatic Mr. Chin. Harry is convinced Marjorie was murdered but Sergeant Welkom gives little credence to his theories until Marjorieâ€™s will is stolen and her maid found murdered.
At the root of Conduct in Question is the sadistic murderer dubbed by the media as â€śThe Florist.â€ť The Florist haunts Toronto, a serial killer who marks his victims with his â€śart,â€ť floral designs he carves into their skin. The Florist hides behind the rigidly controlled mask he presents the world. Is The Florist somehow involved in the money-laundering scheme in which Harry is mired? Will Harry, despite his naĂŻvetĂ© and personal troubles, find the answers before The Florist kills again?
Mary E. Martin has crafted a solid beginning to her trilogy of legal thrillers. A bit slow at the start, readers will soon be drawn into the drama created by the bickering members of Marjorieâ€™s family, and the slowly blossoming relationship between Harry and realtor Natasha Boretsky. Harry is a very human character who is torn between his desire to uphold the ethics of the law and to keep his practice afloat. The manner in which Harry faces these dilemmas provides heart to this thriller.
Mary E. Martin, a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, practiced law in Toronto for twenty-eight years. Conduct in Question is her first novel.