A new traditional mystery from R. Franklin James: The Bell Tolls

Hollis Morgan has survived imprisonment, received a pardon and persevered to finally become a probate attorney. Tough as she is, her newest case will further test her mettle. She discovers her client, Matthias Bell, is a deceased blackmailer whose last wish was to return the damaging documents letting his victims off the hook. It falls to Hollis to give them the good news. But it becomes apparent that Bell was murdered, and the victims of “Bell’s tolls” are now suspects.

Hollis’ white-collar criminal past has left her with keen survival instincts. A gifted liar, she knows a liar when she sees one. A lot of people in this case are lying and one is a killer.

On top of that, she’s also representing a dying stripper, a wealthy widow whose estranged daughter spurns her attempts at reconciliation, but whose husband sees the potential inheritance as mending all wounds.

Clients aside, Hollis is defensive and wary. Her mother, who hasn’t spoken to her for years, needs a kidney, and Hollis is a match, but neither are ready to put away the past. With Hollis’ fiancé and emotional support off on an undercover mission for Homeland Security, she must count on her own survival instincts. She is swept along on an emotional roller coaster as her absent love and her family’s coldness take their own toll.

Work is her salvation. The specter of a killer keeps her focused. Hollis has always had to rely on her wits, but now she finds that others who don’t have her well-being in mind are relying on them as well.


Interview with protagonist Hollis Morgan and Author R. Franklin James

Island Confidential Interview

Ms. Morgan and Ms. James, thank you both for stopping by Island Confidential. Ms. Morgan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, so our readers can get to know the protagonist a little better?

I’m called Hollis Morgan, I used the word “called” because due to life circumstances I ditched my first name, moved my middle name up front, and retook my maiden name after dropping my married one. I am not your usual protagonist. I was born and raised in California (that’s not the unusual part). Like many families mine is more dysfunctional than most. I’ve been told I’m an attractive woman with thick auburn hair and brown eyes, although at five foot three, I refuse to wear stilettos to compensate. When you catch up to my story I’m just finishing my fifth year off of parole (now, that’s the unusual part).

Yep, I’m an ex-con. I spent 18 months of a three year sentence in a California prison for insurance fraud. I was studying in law school when my then husband set me up to take the fall for his criminal activities. His logic was that as a first time offender, I would never do time—tell it to the judge that sentenced me.

From the frying pan, into the fire is how I would describe my marriage. I married my college sweetheart. The first year of our marriage was heaven, the second year was like purgatory and the third year was hell.  I divorced him from prison and I swore to myself that when I got out I would get my life back. And I stuck to my word, once on parole, I buried my trust muscles deep in my heart and set out to get a judicial pardon, finish law school, take the bar and get my life back on track. I found work as a paralegal, which at that time, was as close to the law as I could get.

I was doubly dumped when my family, a conservative self-conscious bunch, literally turned their backs on me when I left the courtroom to start my sentence. That wasn’t a real surprise, I knew they would never forgive me for embarrassing them, My family resembled strangers who were stuck on the same piece of real estate. We never went on vacations because that would require a certain amount of closeness we didn’t have. Emotions were frowned upon and conversation discouraged.

In the meantime my parole officer, Jeffrey Wallace, introduced me to the Fallen Angels Book Club. The Fallen Angels were former white-collar crime parolees of Jeffrey’s who were trying to re-integrate themselves back into society.  Most had changed their names, all had maintained the paranoia and lack of trust that comes from having your life turned upside down, and all of us loved books.

I admit I’m more paranoid than the others. I have a special talent, I can spot a liar within seconds and as a result I’m an excellent prevaricator. I enjoy the book club because I can be myself and talk about my favorite pastime, reading a good book. But my resolve was broken when one of the Club members was murdered like an antagonist in one of our monthly selections. It doesn’t take the police long to identify our Club as their viable pool of ex-con suspects. The police are even more convinced when a second member is murdered, similar to another book club selection. Why would a member do such a stupid, obvious crime?

I feel as if I’m in the early stages of drowning. In addition to being a murder suspect and losing my freedom–again, it appears my eagerness to solve the killings may have put me in line as the next murder victim.

Ms. James, you’ve brought Hollis Morgan to life–how much do you have in common with her? 

I’m not as courageous or self-composed as Hollis. But I do connect with her sense of fairness and being able to read people fairly quickly. And of course I love books. If I met her in real life – I would want to be her friend.

Do your characters change and evolve?

Yes. It’s taken Hollis years and several relationships (not all romantic) to trust again and to forgive again—starting with herself.

Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean? 

I haven’t thought of killing a real person, but I have thought of killing a person “type”.  Cruel and ignorant people are at the top of my “Do Away With” list.

How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?

My series takes place in northern California, but in a made-up city. It allows me to sprinkle in real places, personalities and events, without having to be out of date with new developments and locale changes.

When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?

Natalie Portman is Hollis, James Marsden as John Faber (boyfriend), Emily Blunt as Stephanie Ross (girlfriend), Sydney Park as Rena Gabriel (girlfriend)  and Jessica Lange as Hollis’ mother, Ava Morgan.

 

What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received as an author?

The best advice I ever received as an author, was to read my manuscript out loud before I delivered it to my publisher.

The worst advice I ever received was from a couple of beta readers who suggested to cut a character because he was a distraction. I resisted because his voice was in my head. That character became the most beloved and lasted throughout the series.

 


About the Author

R. Franklin James grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. From there she cultivated a different type of writing—legislation and public policy. After serving as Deputy Mayor for the City of Los Angeles, under millionaire Richard Riordan, she went back to her first love—writing, and in 2013 her debut novel, THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB was published by Camel Press. Her second book in The Hollis Morgan Mystery Series, STICKS & STONES, was followed by THE RETURN OF THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB, and THE TRADE LISTTHE BELL TOLLS, book five was released in June 2017.

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