Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Last Sin" by K. L. Murphy

The Last Sin
(Detective Cancini Mystery Book 3)
by K. L. Murphy

The Last Sin is the third book in the Detective Cancini Mystery series by K. L. Murphy. Also available: A Guilty Mind and Stay of Execution.

The Last Sin is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Forgive me father, for I have sinned ...
Detective Mike Cancini has seen dark days as a homicide detective in Washington, D.C. But even he is shocked when a charismatic young priest is found shot through the eye on the altar of his own church. As Cancini investigates, he uncovers long-buried secrets from the man’s past, and it becomes clear that the church was not as holy as it seemed.
When another priest is attacked, Cancini refuses to believe it’s a coincidence, and his frustration grows as his search is blocked at every turn by inflexible priests and cagey church employees. The resolute detective must unravel the web of lies before more people are hurt, but how can he find a murderer when no one is innocent, and everyone’s a sinner?

Sunday, February 21st: The Day Of
The smell of incense lingered in the air, temporarily masking the odor of rotting wood. Father Matthew Holland inhaled. The bitter scent stung his nose. Three years had passed since he’d taken over the church and nothing had changed. Even with the increased attendance and community outreach, the church offerings remained meager. Without offerings—without money—the parish church would die.
The priest sat down on the front pew, his robes gathered around his feet. His gaze shifted to the empty pulpit. Two large and colorful plants graced the altar, but they weren’t enough to hide the worn carpet or faded paintings, nor could the soft candlelight make him forget the plywood that covered the cracked stained glass. There was so much to do, so much need. He sighed and looked to the cross over the altar. Not for the first time, he asked for forgiveness, for understanding. There would be money now—he’d made sure of that—but at what cost? He’d done it for the church. His pulse quickened and his stomach clenched. Bending forward, he forced himself to take one deep breath after another until the moment passed.
He loosened his cleric collar and yawned. The evening’s mass had been long and difficult. The drunks in the back of the church had refused to leave, in spite of the old deacons' best efforts.
“S'our right to be here,” the man with the long, stringy hair had said. His words slurred, he’d leaned forward as though he might topple straight into the next pew. “Worshipin’ God,” he'd said, although it had sounded like something else judging by the gasps from the congregation. The drunk had pointed a dirty hand toward the altar. “Here to see Father Holland. Tol' us to come anytime.”
The drunk had swayed again, and his companion had reached out with a strong arm to catch him. Father Holland’s mouth had gone dry at the sight of the tattoo on the man’s forearm—a black dagger plunged into a white skull. Three drops of blood extended in a single line from the tip of the dagger to the man’s wrist. He knew that tattoo, knew what it meant.
The awkward moment had passed although not before Father Holland caught the disdain on the faces of the ladies in the choir. Still, none of the parishioners had said a word, all looking to him instead. He’d hidden his trembling hands in the folds of the heavy cassock and swallowed. “St. William is open to everyone, our members and our guests. However, since we are about to have communion, I would ask that everyone who is not singing remain quiet. Guests may come forward for a blessing, of course.” He'd been careful to keep his voice steady. Thank the Lord it had been enough. The man with the oily hair had quieted down and then stumbled out during the Eucharist. His friend with the tattoo had stayed a moment longer, then followed.
Silence filled the sanctuary now. Father Holland rubbed his hands together and shivered. He could still feel the cold eyes of the tattooed man and the curious glances from the congregation. The man’s presence at the evening mass had been no accident and no drunken whim. The message had been clear.
After the church had emptied, he’d walked to the corner market and made the call. He’d done the best he could. Money changed everything. It always did. He opened his hand and stared at the crumpled paper with the phone number. He was not a stupid man. Nothing came without a price. He murmured a prayer until his shoulders relaxed and the drumbeat of his heart slowed.
His stomach growled, the gurgling loud and rumbly, and he realized it had been hours since he’d eaten. Breaking the quiet, a sound came from the back of the church, a click and a swish as the heavy outer door swung open. He stood and smoothed his cassock. Dinner would have to wait. He strained to see, but the vestibule was dark. “Who's there?” he asked.
The door clanged shut and heavy steps sounded on the dingy marble floor. Father Holland replaced his collar and ran his fingers through his hair. There was only silence. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. “Is somebody there?” he asked again.
A figure shrouded in black stepped out of the dark.
Father Holland stiffened. “Why are you here?”
From the shadows, the eyes of the visitor glittered in the candlelight. “I’m a sinner, Father.”
Father Holland’s shoulders slumped. “We are all sinners in God's eyes.”
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"I enjoyed this novel of police procedure. Cancini is a detective with his own issues in this story. The second priest attacked is a good friend of his and the investigation is almost compromised because of the relationship. Cancini struggles with the thought that his old friend might somehow be involved. And that brings up an interesting aspect of the mystery. The old priest had been the confessor for the murdered priest. Even if he knew truths that would help Cancini solve the case, the old priest was bound by his orders to not reveal confessions. I appreciated how Murphy wove this concept into the plot and used it to make the investigation more complex. Flashbacks were used to give readers the background leading up to the murder. That was done well. There were plenty of suspects and motives to keep readers interested in the investigation to the very end. I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy a novel that works through a complex police procedure in unraveling the truth about a murder. There is really no suspense. There is much thinking through of the clues and following up leads, the strength of the novel." ~ Joan N.

Guest Post by the Author
The Story Behind the Story: The Last Sin
Inspiration can strike a writer unexpectedly. It can come from a random news article or a radio story or from a man walking down the street who sparks an idea. Authors are often asked where they get their ideas and sometimes there is no easy or identifiable answer. However, if asked about the third book in my Detective Cancini Mystery series, The Last Sin, I actually have something to say!
A few years ago, I heard a story that got my attention. The story was about an older priest I knew - although he could more accurately be described as a friend of a friend back then. I knew the priest as a charismatic and distinguished man, the type of man that commands respect whether standing at the pulpit or seated at the dinner table. He was a strong leader, decisive, determined, and likable. Unfortunately, according to the story, one of his parishioners liked him a little too much. She began to write him letters. She appeared in the church offices for no real reason. She resorted to low level stalking to be around him as often as possible. Naturally, this made him uncomfortable, but he was unsure what to do about it. When I heard this story, I immediately decided I would use it in some way. Unlike pastors of other faiths, I knew that Catholic priests must remain unmarried and celibate. That is hard for most anyone. I imagined that would be even harder for a priest when it was apparent that a woman was infatuated with him. How would a man/priest handle that?
In the real-life story, things worked themselves out without any difficulty. The priest was transferred to another parish in another city and there was no harm done. Knowing the priest, he probably remained as polite to her as possible without encouraging her in any way. However, I did wonder what might have happened had he not been transferred and her obsession had escalated. Light bulbs went off in my brain and I conjured up all kinds of scenarios. One of those inspired a character and plot line in The Last Sin.
While the plot of The Last Sin is completely fictional - as is every character - there is a thread of “truth” woven into the story. That “truth” is the role of the Catholic Church and its influence on many of the characters. Father Holland and Father Joe are obvious in that they share a faith and devotion in service to God. Still, they are not the same. The younger priest is ambitious and impatient. He wants to grow his parish, renovate the building, and clean up the neighborhood. He has lofty goals that go beyond his role as priest. Yet, it is the Church that grounds him.
Most people don’t think of the Catholic Church when they think of fire and brimstone sermons or singing choirs. There’s a good reason for that. The Catholic religion is long on tradition and ritual. For some, that may be stifling, but for others, it offers comfort and security. The sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) is one of those rituals and plays a key role in The Last Sin. What intrigued me about the sacrament, however, was the similarity of the priest-confessor relationship to that of doctor-patient. The concept of privacy is essentially the same, yet under church doctrine, the sacrament of Reconciliation can never be broken. In this small excerpt from The Last Sin, Cancini attempts to explain the binding laws of the sacrament to Captain Martin. They are discussing young Father Holland’s confessional conversations with Father Joe.
“According to papal law, the sacrament of reconciliation is absolute. If someone comes in to confess their sins, they have to know that nothing they say will ever leave the confessional.”
“This is different. It’s a murder investigation. There must be exceptions.”
Martin’s face flushed pink. “We can subpoena him.”
“It won’t matter. Look, let’s say someone walks into the confessional and tells the priest he is planning to kill his wife that day. He tells him everything, how he’s going to do it, when he’s going to do it, even why he’s going to do it. The priest can try to talk the man out of it. He can try to get the man to go to the police. But he can never tell a soul. The best he can do is alert the police that the woman might be in danger, and even that can be tricky.”
“That’s crazy. He’d have an obligation to tell the police, wouldn’t he?”
“No. His obligation is to uphold the sacrament. You can’t reveal anything you’ve ever heard, even ten years, twenty years later.”
It may sound crazy to non-Catholics, but under the laws of the church, it’s anything but crazy. It’s an extension of the parishioner’s relationship with God. This concept is why priests also go to confession, to unburden their sins and be closer to God. In The Last Sin, I wanted to respect the ritual, but I also used it to create a situation where the police suspect Father Joe knows far more than he is willing to tell.
I also like to incorporate something real in the settings of each novel. In The Last Sin, I used Barry Farm, a true-life low income housing development that has since been condemned. The setting and the neighborhood are a big part of who Father Holland is as well as why Carlos Vega is the man he is. Of course, most everything else that happens in The Last Sin is just my imagination running wild. Where do I get my ideas? For this third novel in the series: a pinch of gossip, a snippet of reality, and a whole lot of “I wish I knew!”

About the Author
K. L. Murphy was born in Key West, Florida, the eldest of four children in a military family. She has worked as a freelance writer for several regional publications in Virginia, and is the author of A Guilty Mind, Stay of Execution, and The Last Sin. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two very large, very hairy dogs.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of three ebook copies of The Last Sin by K. L. Murphy (gifted via Bluefire Reader).