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In book four of the Vega & Middleton mystery/thriller series, The Mermaid Broker, Bea and Lucy navigate the dark net of sex tourism to find a young high school biology teacher before she falls victim to a disgraced ocean scientist’s sado-sexual mermaid fantasies and throws her to the sharks, literally.


She’d spent much of her life underwater. Friends even teased her about being half fish. For Isabelle “Izzy” Abbott, studying oceans and its inhabitants was her profession--but this time was different. Something was off. The taste on her lips was not the saltiness of her beloved Pacific, but the coppery tang of blood. Isabelle’s pulse rate accelerated. Pale light flickered from the darkness above. The moon? Her feet kicked hard; fingers stretched desperately toward the illumination. She followed the rise of silvery bubbles. Not too fast. The nitrogen build-up could be lethal. Where was her emergency tank?

Lungs near exploding, she broke the liquid surface, gasping for breath. Then, her hand felt something solid. Isabelle was not underwater but lying on a rubbery mat, soaked in her own sweat. When she tried to move her body, restraints bit, into her skin. Zip ties? Handcuffs? Her heart hammered like a trapped animal trying to escape its cage.

Where was she? What had happened? A car accident? Was she in a hospital? A jail? So

many questions. Isabelle forced her eyes open. Her lids were made of concrete, heavy and

gritty. The room spun. Faint, distant strains of music tinkled——discordant wind chimes accompanied by the moaning, agitated sounds of whales. What the hell? As a marine biologist, she recognized the vocalizations immediately as those of animals under grave stress. What sicko would want to weave animal misery into a song?

She gulped hard. Cool, damp air moved across Izzy’s skin and smelled of salt. Goosebumps rose. She widened her eyes, blinking, trying to acclimate. The small, square space around her appeared to have tiled walls like an operating room or a lab. It was illuminated only by a large window into a deep blue aquarium similar to those at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

A school of dark greyish fish, hundreds of them the size of dinner plates, glided by and disappeared. Black piranhas, a South American species she wasn’t terribly familiar with. Izzy shuddered. A thin, black lateral line stretched along each body from tail to pectoral fin. It was a sensor that indicated distress in the water and a call to attack wounded prey. She held down a pang of nausea. Unable to completely focus, her head ached as if she’d been clubbed by a two-by-four. Maybe she had been. What was going on?

A body lay on a cot across from her. A girl about the same age as her biology students at Santa Monica High School. Pale skin, lank hair, face smeared with gold paint or makeup. Sleeping? Dead? Was she wrapped in a straight--jacket? Yes.

Izzy tried not to panic. Was she in a mental institution? This couldn’t be a dream, it seemed vividly real. She tried to call out to her roommate, but Izzy’s throat was so dry, all that came was a whisper. She licked her parched lips and tried again.

“Hey! Hey, over there, are you awake?”

The girl’s eyes, pallid and sunken, fluttered open. Izzy gasped, stunned by the dim pools of utter despair staring up at her. Anxiety exploded in her chest like fireworks. This was not a hospital, this was something else, something not in the realm of Isabelle Abbott’s experience.

Struggling against her bindings, the girl banged her head against the bedframe. “Help me, please help me. I can’t breathe,” she pleaded. “I’m claustrophobic, can’t handle tight spaces——this thing is destroying me.”

Isabelle winced at the aching sound of desperation in her voice. “I can’t reach you. I’m cuffed to the bed.” Again, she pulled hard against her restraints, but there was no give. “Where are we?”

The girl started to cry with big, deep sobs, then she stopped herself, slowed down, struggling for control. She gasped, “We’re in hell.”

The Burn Patient is a gritty, action-packed L.A. thriller featuring African-American TV reporter, Beatrice Middleton and her photographer partner, Lucy Vega. It’s the third in the Vega & Middleton series with a fourth scheduled for release in 2021. If you like Rizolli & Isles, you might enjoy this series, too.

The relationship between Vega and Middleton is based on my real-life partnership many years ago when I was a rookie TV news photog hired by a Midwest station with two FCC sex discrimination suits against them. They badly needed a female hire so I became the token woman in the tech department and my female reporter colleague was the only person of color employed by the station. As the two outliers, were often thrown together on assignments.

A feature that makes my work somewhat different than others in the genre is that my stories are very multi-cultural with diverse characters. Beatrice Middleton is from an African-American family in Savannah, Georgia. Lucy Vega was born and raised in Southern California by a Mexican mother from Guadalajara and a Norwegian father from Oslo. After the family was killed in a car accident, Lucy’s uncle and his housekeeper took over her upbringing. I’ve found many authors afraid of writing characters of different races, sexual orientation, religions, and ethnicities from their own—afraid of a making a mistake that reveals a hidden bias or unrealized prejudice. Criticism can be harsh. But that’s our world today—a huge, wonderful melting pot--so I want to embrace it even if I screw up or stumble across my own areas of ignorance and insensitivity. It will be an opportunity to learn. As Tananarive Due, author and American Book Award winner says, “‘Diversity’ should just be called ‘reality.’ Your books, your TV shows, your movies, your articles, your curricula, need to reflect reality.” Overall, I think compassion and due diligence in research are the most important parts of writing about anyone well.

The Burn Patient’s protagonists, Lucy and Bea, are smart, passionate, a little reckless but very effective at what they do. Both have great integrity, hearts of gold, and would risk anything for family and friends. Despite differences in age, race, and experience, their values are such that they are true sisters under the skin. I have been blessed with wonderful women friends and colleagues from whom to draw inspiration.

The Burn Patient Plot Summary

Lucy thought she’d seen her uncle’s murderer, Gary Mercer, Hollywood bad boy and black tar heroin czar, die in Guerrero. Incinerated in a Jeep explosion while trying to put a bullet through her head, she didn’t know officials never found his body. Now, back from the dead with a new face, his perverted sights are set on Bea’s beautiful, naïve teenage daughter, Alyssa. Trafficking her into the porn industry would be the perfect instrument of revenge. While Alyssa sneaks off to audition for the music video that will result in her ruin, Mercer’s henchmen start a brush fire on Lucy’s Malibu ranch. She and Bea struggle to save Alyssa, the ranch, and end Mercer’s reign of terror before it’s too late.


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LOW COUNTRY BLOOD A Vega and Middleton Mystery Book 2 BY SUE HINKIN


Los Angeles TV journalist Beatrice Middleton has lost her job. With a possible employment offer in Atlanta, she heads home to Savannah, Georgia, to reconnect with her contentious African-American family. She arrives to find that her 15-year-old nephew has been murdered.

This begins the unraveling of a cloak of family secrets surrounding another devastating crime, one that shattered Bea’s world when she was a teen. The traumatic memory has been buried so deep it almost feels like it never happened—almost. Humiliated by Bea years earlier, a psychotic Special Ops vet who makes his living moving heroin and specializing in “wet work” has returned to seek retribution.

Meanwhile, Bea’s teenaged son Dexter, an aspiring documentary filmmaker discover an eye-witness connection to his cousin’s homicide. After a rookie attempt at surveilling the perpetrator, he disappears.

Bea and her brother, Sheriff Luther Middleton— along with their quirky friends and family—work together to find the killer, stop a major drug deal, and rescue Bea’s son held hostage in a nightmarish landscape of gator-infested black water rivers and tidal creeks.

PRAISE FOR LOW COUNTRY BLOOD Hinkin’s second Vega and Middleton Mystery…reads like a thriller, successfully blends multiple ingredients: fast pacing, romance, danger, humor, and a crazy wild ending. A spirited reporter dealing with her past and helping police solve a murder in the family makes this novel hard to put down.—Kirkus Review



Initially Low Country Blood was the first book that was contracted for publication by Literary Wanderlust, but you wanted to write the prequel Deadly Focus and publish that book first. How did that work with your publisher? Why did you want to go back and write a prequel? Talk about that. What made you decide to go back and write Deadly Focus to kick off the series and then publish Low Country Blood as the second book in the series rather than as the first book?

The prequel, Deadly Focus, actually existed in many versions prior to Low Country Blood. It was loosely based on a story I covered as a TV news photographer in Michigan decades ago. As I wrote the story, I brought the location to LA where I was living at the time and where I spent the most formative years of my adulthood. Through the many iterations of DF, I made every writing mistake a rookie could make. This was a good thing. DF is a critically important book for me because through it, I began to see myself as a writer, learned a great deal of the craft, and got to know my characters intimately.

I also learned the lesson of persistence. I wrote, gave up, shelved Deadly Focus for years, started again, was interrupted by life, gave up again, struggled back into it, and found people in similar straits to slog forward with. I should mention that I’m a Taurus so I have bullish determination in my stars.

Low Country Blood feels like a natural evolution for the storyline of your two main characters. How did both of your books evolve?

Both books evolved from my experience working in the television industry and the stories we covered and the people I initially met in that profession. In book #2, Low Country Blood, Bea loses her job as a result of a corporate buy-out. This happened to many of my friends who worked in print journalism, and I wanted to pursue that thread. Without the anchor an intense work environment provides, you’re forced to fall back onto the support of friends and family. For various reasons portrayed in this novel, Bea returns home to not only deal with her nephew’s murder, but unfinished family business and childhood trauma that has haunted her on many levels.

How do you develop your plots and characters?

My characters come from amalgamations of real-life relationships. I just keep getting to know them better with each book. Plotting comes very organically through my imagination. When I get stuck I stop and try to outline what’s to come. Sometimes I end up following the outline, sometimes my thinking goes off into another direction.

There are some very dark characters in Low Country Blood. How did you create such characters? (how did you research etc.).

I am constantly stunned by the abuse and brutality humans can inflict upon each other but I feel a certain empathy for all of my antagonists because they survived deeply damaging life situations that led them to become the twisted, evil characters that they are.

Was there a difficult scene or chapter in Low Country Blood that you were concerned with getting through? Or perhaps was there anything in the story that you were worried readers wouldn’t accept?

The most difficult scene to write was the rape scene from when Bea was a young, naive high schooler who took off with a beautiful, psychopathic bad boy with whom she was completely infatuated. I didn’t want it to be gratuitous but wanted to give voice to the full horror of the experience.

In subsequent years, Bea fled Savannah and blocked the experience from her mind. Returning home made it impossible to repress it any longer. Fortunately, she was able to come to grips with the trauma among people who loved and supported her.

In Low Country Blood, some of your characters are people of color. Did you find any aspect of this difficult to write? What about cultural differences?

Bottom line, people are people. I didn’t venture into specifics of cultural differences, but focused on the humanity we all share. I drew on experiences with African-American friends and colleagues over the years and took the leap of faith. I was very much afraid of being criticized for insensitive portrayal, we all have prejudice acknowledged and unacknowledged, but I was raised in family that were activists, particularly during the civil rights era of the 60’s and 70’s. I saw my grandparents and parents fighting for racial and gender equality–and that was my guide.

How does your past work – life experience come through your characters?

As a former TV news photographer myself, it’s fun to write Lucy into the same profession. I can relive and embellish on old times though her adventures. Her Mexican-Norwegian heritage is modeled after an L.A. friend named Lucia who is of Bolivian-German heritage.

The inspiration for Bea’s character started with a colleague I teamed with at my first job working in TV news back in Michigan. I was the only female photographer/tech person and she was the only African-American reporter so the News Director often scheduled we two marginal characters together.

What was your favorite part of writing Low Country Blood?

Enjoying being with Bea’s family, which is not unlike my own, and remembering the rich visual and sensual feel of Savannah and translating it into words.

If you could spend time with a character from your book, which character would it be? And what would you do during that day?

I’d probably hang with Aunt Hattie at her Beauty Spa in Shellman Corners. She’d probably talk me into letting her do my hair and nails while filling me in on all the juicy local gossip. Then we’d jump in her Ford Fairlane and head over to the Friday night fish fry at Hunter’s Inn where we’d meet the rest of the family. They’d all be amazed at my rainbow-hued acrylic nails and my blonde cornrows.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing Low Country Blood?

How similar Bea’s family is to mine. Both fathers are protestant ministers and mothers are educators. We share basic values and continue to believe in the redemptive power of love despite all. We think our children are exceptionally wonderful and have a hard time realizing we can’t protect them from experiencing their own difficult and defining experiences.

What is your writing process? Do you write daily? Do you outline? How do you develop ideas?My writing process is pretty simple—butt in chair and just do it. No excuses, no lingering writers block–just make it happen. I outline when I’m stuck as a way to push ideas onto paper and keep the momentum of writing when the words aren’t easily coming. Ultimately, I’m a very organic (pantser) writer and I may or may not follow the outlines I do–depends on what happens to the characters. They have a life of their own in my head and often make surprising, un-outlined choices.


Chapter 26

Our thoughts were interrupted by a far-off scream. It was faint but so horrible and bloodcurdling that I had to swallow down the panic that began to crush my chest like steel pliers.

Otis froze, then reached for his gun. His hand rested on the damp metal for reassurance. “I’d say we’d better get going, Miz Bea. Things’re gettin’ bad out here. No time to waste.”

I followed him down the trail with a renewed sense of urgency. The screaming became louder and more tortured. It seemed to go on forever, then mercifully, began to wane. We were heading straight for it. It was definitely human but wasn’t my son Dexter or his friend, Cornelia—of that I was pretty sure. Maybe the two had already screamed themselves to death. I stopped myself from going there.

Soon, it was quiet once more except for the rumble of thunder and the sound of falling rain. The swampy forest was barely lit. In a dark, ominous twilight, ghostlike mist began to gather amid the underbrush. We had flashlights, but to avoid detection, we didn’t turn them on. Our eyes glued to the narrow band of sandy trail before us, we crept forward. After another slow, soggy half mile we stopped again for a break, exhausted as much from the emotional journey as the physical one. I could tell that Otis, a man in his late seventies, was losing steam. The storm was getting worse and the thunder and lightning were frighteningly close. I had also run out of spray paint. No more breadcrumbs for my brother to track. We were on our own.

A bolt of electricity ripped the sky. I could feel electrons dance on my skin. I touched my hair to be sure it wasn’t starting to stand on end. I’d read that happens before you get struck. Another bolt flashed nearby. As I looked up, above me hung a man. His arms and legs were gone; only his upper torso and head remained. What was left of the victim, below his ribcage, was skin that appeared ragged and chewed off. Blood dripped from the corpse like pink rain onto the vacant stretch of beach. Lightning came again and the image of the ravaged man embedded itself on my retinas like a photograph on film. I gasped and fell to my knees and pressed my hand over my mouth to keep from shrieking.

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