Minneapolis PI Marta Hjelm failed to prevent a preventable murder. Her guilt has brought her right to the edge of burnout and dropout. But a prize specimen from her ancient past—her cheating ex-husband—appears out of nowhere with a gig too good to turn down. One last job, Marta figures, can’t hurt.
But hurt it does, as Marta tries to make sense of a terrorist plot at a major ad agency. In the dead of a long, bitter Minnesota winter, Marta struggles to survive attempts on her life. To understand her conflicted feelings toward an ex who wants her back, and toward the man who healed her when everything was dark. To make peace with the ghost of a victim she should have saved. And to crack open multiple conspiracies that lead to murder and smoking ruin.
Snuggled tight in the heated basement garage, the ad agency’s Lexus started like a charm. I touched the button on the remote door control, and drove up and out into the brutal January night. I turned right, through the back parking lot, and right again, around the end of the building, into the front parking lot, past my frozen Mercury Marquis.
A minute later I was curving north and east at a good clip, toward Wayzata, feeling like a rally driver. The sky was a deep azure, clear as glass and full of the stars you don’t often see in the city.
It was the first time that day I’d felt relatively on top of the situation. Sure, plenty of things were screwed up.
My boyfriend Rick needed calming down and getting home, where he belonged. I’d had to go to work for people I didn’t like, for a cause that gave pause. And my reaction to seeing my ex Terry again made me a little queasy. What’s up with that? I asked myself. But clear them all up—and I had no doubt that I would—and things looked a lot better.
I tooled over a narrow bridge, went left, then right, the lake only a dozen feet away. The headlights caught the glitter of ice on the road. I lightly tapped the brakes, but didn’t feel them catch. No anti-lock kicking in. Doing something wrong, I thought, as my heart accelerated and my gloved hands squeezed the wheel harder.
I feathered the brakes again—a reflexive, fluttery tapping of my right foot, from teen driving days—as I came onto the ice. I was going way too fast. Again, nothing happened. The Lexus kept rolling.
Turning the wheel left, I could feel my heart coming up into my mouth.
The tires refused to find a purchase on the ice and the car began to yaw sideways.
I kept feathering the brakes, then pressed hard. The pedal went to the floor with a forbidding “thunk.”
The road curved left again, but the Lexus kept going straight.
A puny steel-cable guard rail came up fast as a shot and the front of the Lexus sheared through it with a percussive roar.
I was briefly airborne over eight feet of steep shoreline, starting to scream, when the car nosed down.
The frozen lake rushed toward me, brilliant in the headlights, like a wall of dirty, corrugated granite.
Smoking Ruin: When the season is a character
Smoking Ruin is my mystery about a female private investigator (PI) who—pushing the age of 40—finds herself in a bit of a mid-life crisis. Marta Hjelm (pronounced “Helm”) feels guilty about a death involved in one of her previous cases and wants to quit the business. But a very good-paying last case drops in her lap, courtesy of her bad-boy ex-husband. It seems that someone is extorting an ad agency, trying to force it to renounce a huge campaign involving a cigarette company. Things are complicated by the fact that Marta’s undeniably attractive ex starts putting the moves on her. In addition to Marta and her ex, other characters include:
Her understandably uneasy boyfriend…an unloved old boss…an ad mogul and his spoiled son…suspect employees of the agency…Marta’s somewhat sleazy assistant and…Old Man Winter himself.
The story takes place in Minneapolis/St. Paul in the depths of what used to pass for a proper, bone-chilling winter. Climate change has softened winter in Minnesota, but for purposes of my mystery novel, I’ve reinstated the harsh wind chills and heavy snows of the past. Marta is out in it pretty constantly—freezing and shivering and sleuthing. The cold seeps into everything in Smoking Ruin. You can see it on the cover of the book, which shows a modernistic house burning on the far side of a frozen lake.
There are scenes where Marta is tramping around in snowy woods, hunting for clues, her toes and fingers going numb. There’s the walk in subzero wind chill to go see her boyfriend Rick—that spot between her eyebrows aching from the cold. She nearly kills herself, losing control of the car she’s driving on an ice-covered road, sending her plunging onto a frozen lake. Heading for the story’s final reckoning, she has to navigate a white-out blizzard, the snow going sideways.
This tale is one tough trek for Marta—who dodges death on three occasions—and Old Man Winter makes it even tougher. But for the reader, I like to think it makes the challenges my PI heroine faces even more interesting and entertaining. If you decide to give Smoking Ruin a read, my advice is: Just chill and enjoy the ride!
Other books by D. R. Martin
Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb, a kids’ ghost adventure; website at johnnygraphicadventures.com
The Karma of King Harald, a canine cozy written under the pen name Richard Audry, to be published in early December; website at richardaudry.com
D. R.’s Goodreads author page is at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5874298.D_R_Martin
You can contact D.R. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was approached to review Smoking Ruin I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Romantic suspense? Thriller? Mystery? All of the above? To answer this, I would have to have no to everything. What I got was a taunt murder mystery with a great heroine.
Marta Hjelm is a character that I could relate to and at times wish I could be friends with. She is a well rounded character that finds herself stuck between a sexy ex-husband and a gorgeous boyfriend. Not to mention and ex boss that she positively loathes and a case that has more twists that gives her whiplash. I appreciate that the author didn’t make her a young 20 something but a woman in her 40’s that for me is more relatable in her thoughts, dialogue and actions. She’s not perfect and I love that about her.
The case she takes on is revelant in today’s society. Ciggerette advertising and ciggeretts in general are a hot topic. The campaign that is under fire is well thought out and in some ways laughable…in a good way. Vampire ciggerettes for the younger crowd. Wow! I couldn’t have thought that one up in a million years. Mr. Martin has the most vivid imagination and he puts to use in this story. The secondary characters are fabulous. I never guessed the who done it until its revealed. I’m a mystery/suspense junkie and while I appreciate that the story didn’t have the underlying romance that I normally love, I feel as if this story didn’t need it. Yes, the element is there but its not the most important thing in this book. Marta is and that’s a good thing.
I can honestly say that the setting for the book is a character within itself. I’m not sure that I ever want to visit Minnesota in the winter and this book just proves that yes, I’m not ever going up there in the winter. Brutual is the only word that I can come up to describe the winter and unfortunately Marta is a victim of the brutality of it. I’ll keep my hot Texas summers thank you.
I highly recomment Smoking Ruin for the rich characters, the setting and the mystery that kept this reader glued to the pages.