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Long-lost uncle, on the lam from gangsters, reappears and upends Wallie's existence.
Twenty-three-year-old Walter MacGregor (aka Wallie) craves adventure, her desires whetted by Sherlock Holmes tales. Her prayers are answered when her father’s rum-running brother Rory lands on the MacGregors’ doorstep, fleeing from enraged bootleggers. In quiet Gunmetal, Texas, during Prohibition, Rory’s tales of adventure charm Wallie, but appall her father, a respected judge.
When a freak accident horrifies the small town, Wallie believes she sees a crime scene that shows evidence of foul play. In short, it’s murder. Annoyed that no one agrees with her—including the sheriff and her dad—she sets out to prove her theory. Soon she is knee-deep in flappers and floozies, Chicago thugs sent south by Al Capone, and a crime lord in the sinful port city of Galveston. Her prim aunt wants her to pay more attention to her eligible suitors. Can Wallie stay alive long enough to figure out which one is her true love?


Being a girl with a boy’s name caused me to hanker after adventure. Maybe. All I know is that for as long as I can remember, I’ve always craved it. And for just as long, I danged near got none.

My parents expected a son. That explains their naming me Walter—after my father, the judge. As a male, I could’ve gotten away with daring adventures. Instead, my parents kept the male name and my family saddled me with endless rules of decorum. They groomed me to become the proper wife of some pillar of our community. But a nice married matron who ran a beautiful home was nothing I aspired to be, believe me.

What’s in a name? Shakespeare asked in Romeo and Juliet.

To that question, I always answer, “Plenty.”

Like me, you, my darling granddaughter, received a male name.

While my Walter is usually softened to Wallie, you are and remain simply Austin. That name is tough to shorten. It stands strong, just as you do.

I’ve always thought this trait we share explains the grounding for our compatibility. Neither of us could be accused of being overly feminine in the traditional manner. We both like to speak our minds and go our own way. Despite getting lots of pushback, we keep going. I hope my example has helped you.

My dear Austin, you don’t know how much it pleases me that you also share my overriding curiosity. I like to solve puzzles and dig for the facts to explain them. Like me, you’ve become haunted by the story of our relative, Rory MacGregor. Although you’ve begged me for the full account of his adventurous life, I never felt the time was right. You were too young.

I decided to wait until you could understand my uncle’s complicated history. With your sixteenth birthday coming next week, I believe you’re mature enough now to handle the details of this exciting yet sad tale.

Poppa and Aunt Ida used to laugh and call me nosy. They thought it was cute when I grilled Poppa about his day at work. He’d comply and describe wild and crazy cases that came before him at the courthouse. However, he was not forthcoming about the disappearance of his brother. In fact, I never knew that he had a brother until I was eight years old. That was when I spied a photo in a fancy frame hidden behind a potted fern in our parlor.

I peered at the striking young man in a cowboy hat.

“Who’s that?”

My aunt said, “Put that back.”

Her sharp tone startled me. Nevertheless, I picked up the picture and handed it to Poppa. He looked down at his feet, then over at his sister-in-law.

“My brother, Rory, was younger than me and a real handful. I haven’t seen him since he left home at seventeen.”

I knew what that meant. How many times had Aunt Ida called me a real handful?

Poppa rose from his armchair.

“I won’t discuss this further. Now let’s go in for supper.”

Aunt Ida followed him into the dining room.

This deliberate silence intrigued me. Here were real-life mysteries for me to solve. What made Uncle Rory leave? Where had he gone? And why wouldn’t my relatives talk about him?

Despite my best efforts, digging up bits of information about my uncle was surprisingly challenging. Even our housekeeper would say little, and she was ordinarily one to gossip. People around town didn’t seem to know much. I acquired a few meager facts and jotted them down in my daily journal. Although I eventually quit asking about Uncle Rory, he remained in a back corner of my mind, lurking.

Last night I dug up two relevant volumes of my personal journal, dusted them off, and read through my notations. The first volume was written when I was eight. After a hiatus of fifteen years, Uncle Rory’s name returned to my pages. That volume covered the month of November in 1923.

Going through the old entries refreshes my memory for the detail you’ve longed to learn. Many years have passed, filled with those adventures I yearned for, and I want to ensure I get the record straight.

My notes for Thursday, November 1, say that Uncle Rory returned that morning to our hometown of Gunmetal, Texas. Those days I spent with him were the best time of my young life. The escapades he shared set my imagination galloping.

All too soon, however, just as suddenly as he had appeared, my uncle was gone.

And after that, the mystery of Uncle Rory consumed me.

About the author

Kay Kendall writes the Austin Starr mystery series, After You've Gone, Desolation Row and Rainy Day Women. RDW won two Silver Falchion Awards in 2016 at Killer Nashville. Kay is president of the Southwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and is a member of the national board of MWA. view profile

Published on February 12, 2019

Published by Stairway Press

80000 words

Genre: Cozy mysteries

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