A hard-drinking former hitwoman agrees to help catch a killer — though the murderer might just be her.
Candace Starr likes to think of herself as retired since she got out of prison — that is, until society maven Kristina Corrigan tries to hire Candace to permanently remove her daughter’s barnacle of a boyfriend, Tyler Brent, from their lives. The only catch? Tyler is seventeen years old. Even Candace draws the line at taking out a target who doesn’t even shave yet.
But when Tyler turns up dead at a river gorge with a broken neck, people start asking questions. Detective Chien-Shiung Malone, the ambitious homicide investigator assigned to the case, has more than a few of her own. Candace isn't about to provide any answers, though — until Malone makes her a proposition she just can’t refuse. Candace finds herself signing on as Malone’s unofficial partner to help catch Tyler’s killer … despite the possibility she may have murdered the boy herself.
About the author
C.S. O’Cinneide is the author of the Candace Starr crime series, as well as Petra’s Ghost, a semi-finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards. On her blog, She Kills Lit, she features women writers of thriller and noir. She lives in Guelph, Ontario.
Excerpt: The Starr Sting Scale: The Candace Starr Series (by (author) C.S. O'Cinneide)
“I’m not sure that I can help you.”
“On the contrary. I’m quite certain that you can.”
The well-kept blonde in her fifties bats her considerable lashes, quite a feat given the amount of Botox injected in her face. She sits opposite me, perched in a high bar stool at the back of the Algonquin, a dive we affectionately refer to as The Goon. Affection is perhaps too strong a word when talking about a dark, dank, seventies-wood-panelled hole that smells like stale beer and jism — the former odour compliments of the fulltime barmaid, Lovely Linda, and the latter a result of the brisk part-time business she transacts in the men’s toilet on request. I’m Candace Starr, a woman who gets paid for a different kind of service. I still fit in here. But the blonde is definitely out of place.
“A friend of mine sent me,” she says, flicking a strand of straightened hair off her polished forehead. “She told me you assist in these matters. That you helped her with a rather difficult husband.”
Difficult husbands are a specialty of mine. Rarely in my line of work do you run into a husband who isn’t difficult in some way. They cheat, they lie, and occasionally they smack their women around. It’s like the metal in a wedding ring creates a strange magnetic force within a guy’s body that sets off his asshole switch. Maybe wives should insist on a wooden band.
“I’m retired,” I tell her.
“You look a bit young for that.” “I’m older than you’d think.” I’ve managed to keep my looks over the years despite my lifestyle. It’s the Italian blood from my mother’s side. That olive skin covers up a lot of hard living. The woman abandoned me on a median strip when I was three, but at least she left me with a good complexion and a figure that holds up. Everyone thinks I’m in my early twenties, but I’ve been on the wrong side of thirty for a few years now. I’ve got legs that go all the way up to my armpits — at an age when most women are starting to gather ass up from around their ankles.
“I can make it worth your while,” she says, batting her eyes again. The Coach bag she’s clutching costs more than a month’s rent. I bet she can make it worth my while and then some. I’m impressed that she had the balls to come here. To track me down. Most society mavens like her would find a go-between to do this sort of dirty work. A gardener with connections, a boy toy with designs. This woman has made the effort herself to make sure the job gets done. I respect that.
“I beg your pardon?” She blinks repeatedly. The smooth paralysis of her face doesn’t allow for any other facial movement that denotes surprise. Or any other emotion.
“I said stand up.”
She tentatively gets to her feet. I drop down from my own bar stool and come up behind her. She’s tall in her Steve Madden boots, but I’m taller. At six foot three, there aren’t many people I don’t look down on. I pull back my curly mess of long, honey-brown hair and tie it up with a rubber band from my wrist. The blonde’s hair is cut short in the back, revealing a shapely neck. I could snap it if I wanted to. I’ve done it before. Instead I reach around and dart my right hand inside her cool silk blouse. She gasps, but I’m in and out in a flash. After all, this isn’t a cheap excuse to cop a feel. This is business.
“You can sit down now,” I say, returning to my own seat. “Just had to make sure you weren’t wearing a wire.” I take a pull off the draft she bought me, my first drink of the day. “Now, tell me about the job. I’m not saying that I’ll do it. I’m just letting you tell me about it.”
She looks like she’d like to raise one of her finely shaped eyebrows at me but manages only to achieve a slight twitch in the corner of her right temple. I wonder if she gets those brows waxed or threaded, making a mental note to ask her later, before I lift her wallet. I’m not much into the girlie stuff, but even a woman like me needs to landscape. When the blonde goes to sit on the bar stool again, her high-heeled boots peel away from the sticky linoleum floor, making a sound like someone pulling a band-aid off fast.
“The job, as you call it, is simple,” she says. “I want you to get rid of this young man.” She pulls out from her purse one of those strips of four photos you get from a booth. Shit, does anyone use those anymore in the era of selfies? A tousle-haired youth grins out from each rectangular square. He sits next to a pretty, plump teenage girl with doe eyes and big tits.
“He’s kinda young for you,” I say. I’ve probably insulted her, but it’s the truth. I know these middle-aged tantric-yoga girls can keep themselves up fairly well, but come on, she could be that kid’s mother. He didn’t even look old enough to be a difficult husband.
“Age is deceiving,” she says. And I suppose it is after your third butt tuck. “But this person is not an associate of mine. Rather, he is an associate of my daughter.”
I inspect the strip of photos again to get a better look at the teenage girl. The big hazel eyes, the slope of the neck. Definitely related.
“You want me to off your daughter’s boyfriend?” I ask, incredulous. Taking out a target who doesn’t even shave on a daily basis is pretty heartless, even for me.
“Boyfriend is not the right word for him,” she says, sipping on the Diet Coke that Lovely Linda delivered on her way to the men’s restroom with a friend. “He is a parasite. A barnacle affixed to the hull of society with no purpose or design. He smokes. He sells drugs. He sits in his basement and plays video games all day, and he fucks my daughter.” She adjusts her ass a bit in the chair, as if remembering her own days of being fucked in a boyfriend’s basement. “He’s got to go.”
“Maybe it’s a phase,” I say. “These things blow over.”
“It’s been two years,” she says. “Nothing is blowing over except my daughter’s chances of being accepted into a decent university.”
“But c’mon, a kid?”
“That kid gave her a disease,” she almost shouts, looking around the bar before she collects herself again. “He can’t keep it in his pants. He can’t keep down a job. He can’t even manage to graduate high school. He is so lazy that he has to set an alarm to get up and binge drink, and his conversational skills consist of grunting in response to any inquiry while he grabs at his genitals.” She takes a deep breath and continues. “He has no future and no prospects, and he clings to my daughter like a lemur on a high branch. I want him out of the picture.”
I look hard at this flushed, badass woman, and then I look at the boy in the picture. He smiles back at me with his goofy photo-booth face. I can see a vape kit tucked into the front pocket of his jean jacket, a zit about to erupt on his chin. He has his whole life ahead of him. A string of doe-eyed girls in his future. Years of parties to crash, millions of brain cells to damage, along with half the people around him, as he lives out his days in a rented room over a run-down convenience store, falling into a sour-smelling bed drunk each night, only getting up to go to the bar, or to meet with disgruntled women of a certain age who need difficult men disposed of. Like my old man — or like me for that matter. I look back at the woman, who begs me with the same wide hazel eyes as her daughter.
“Ten thousand,” I say, “delivered like I tell you.” So much for retirement. “And you have to do exactly what I say.” I finish off the beer in one go and motion Lovely Linda across the bar for another. She’s back from the men’s restroom.
“I’ll arrange for it today.” The mother opposite me blinks one last time from her glacial face, and the deal is sealed.
Tough-talking, hard-drinking Candace Starr’s appealingly amoral worldview coupled with her vast range of eccentric acquaintances and family is sure to provide more murderous fun as the series develops.
A tough, deadly type who just might surprise you.
O’Cinneide gets this quirky series off to a fine start, and Candace is just the kind of oddly charismatic character to keep it going in high style.
A cold and gripping crime novel that could have been written in 1940
Globe and Mail
Scalding, irreverent, endlessly surprising — Candace Starr will make you laugh out loud while knocking your morality just slightly askew. A dazzling newcomer to the crime fiction scene.
R.M. Greenaway, author of the B.C. Blues Crime series
Darkly hilarious and brilliantly plotted.
Elka Ray, author of Saigon Dark