The mysteries continue!

After taking Toni Day out of her comfort zone by sending her on a Caribbean cruise, I thought it would be fun to send her back to her and Hal’s hometown of Long Beach, California in A Deadly Homecoming, the sixth Toni Day Mystery. After all, her mother and stepfather live there, and so do Hal’s parents. So, okay, Toni is out of her comfort zone by virtue of not having the hospital and police connections she has in Twin Falls, but at least she’s in the United States and on dry land.

I also thought it would be fun to have someone actually ask her to get involved in a case. In the first five books, she gets involved against the wishes of her mother, her husband, and the police. In Grievous Bodily Harm, her stepfather-to-be, Nigel, actually scolds Toni for scaring her mother, the woman he’s about to marry, out of ten years growth. “I’m not ready to be done with her yet, thank you very much,” was his take on the situation. Of course, Nigel, as a retired Scotland Yard detective, can’t resist getting involved himself; it’s in his blood.

So, Toni’s mother, Fiona, actually asks Toni to get involved on behalf of her best friend, Doris, whose husband, Dick, has disappeared. I thoroughly enjoyed taking a little walk down memory lane by having one of the homicide detectives be someone Toni knew in high school, the Los Angeles county coroner be someone she knew from her pathology residency and the Long Beach city legal counsel, be her childhood best friend.
In reality, my own British mum and I moved from Maine to Long Beach when I was twelve. I went to Charles Evans Hughes Junior High, and Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Like Toni, I actually was a Polyette, and I did my internship and part of my pathology residency at St. Mary’s. The house in which Toni grew up is based on the house my mother and I lived in while I was in school. And the public library really was 8 blocks away with a Foster’s Freeze right across the street.

I was criticized on one review for giving Long Beach a small-town atmosphere at odds with reality as Long Beach has a population of over 400,000, and even back in 1958 it was over 300,000. Sorry about that. I did mention that Long Beach had five high schools, however.

As a final bit of fun, I put in a haunted house with a secret staircase, a laird’s lug, a malfunctioning dumbwaiter, and a half-empty bottle of white arsenic.
As usual in these mysteries, the murder is only the final event in a string of crimes that require Toni to go back decades to find out what started it, solve the mystery, and then put herself in danger to convince those who doubt her.

A Deadly Homecoming came out October 30, 2018, and is available online from,, and It was given the Rising Star designation, which is better than Editor’s Choice, and means it might, just might, show up on some bookstore shelves somewhere, someday, maybe.

Now, I’m working on number 7, with the working title of The Twelve Murders of Christmas. Toni and Hal are back home in Twin Falls, Mum and Nigel come to visit, an old villain returns, and that’s all I’m going to say about it as I’m only 90 pages in. Anything can happen from here.

Real-life stories from a pathologist

Once, I had occasion to autopsy a 5-year-old boy who had dropped dead on the playground at school where his mother was a teacher’s aide acting as recess monitor and witnessed it. The coroner told me that the parents wanted to talk to me before I did the autopsy, and I obliged. The mother was angry about how long it had taken the ambulance to get there, and wanted to know if her boy would have survived if they’d gotten there sooner and given oxygen. The father could hardly talk at all through his sobs. I found the difference between the parents’ reactions striking. Daddy was grieving, Mommy was pissed.

At autopsy, I found his airways clogged with a thick brown substance. Other than that, everything looked normal. When I called the parents back and told them that, the mother told me he’d eaten a brownie just before going out on the playground.

The parents sued the school, the county, the ambulance company, and the paramedics. The lawyer for the defense, who interviewed me in my office, told me that the boy had vomited and aspirated in the ambulance while the paramedics were doing CPR, which left me without a cause of death. He asked about laryngospasm, and I told him that wouldn’t show up at autopsy because one has to be alive to have any kind of spasm. At his request, I sent the case to the county hospital pathologists for a second opinion. Their report said the child died of a cardiomyopathy.

I called them to ask what it was that I had missed, and they said it was because the weight of the heart indicated that it was much too large for a 5 year-old. Cardiomyopathies generally result in an enlarged heart.  I pointed out that this child was big for his age, and that his height and the weight of his heart were both in the normal range for the average 9 year-old. That left us, again, without a cause of death.

I didn’t have to testify in court, but I did give a deposition. The bottom line was that there was no way to know if giving oxygen sooner would have made any difference. The parents lost their case and ended up having to pay $37,000 in court costs.

Another time, I had occasion once to be involved in a murder case. I didn’t know it was a murder case when I did the autopsy, though. The young lady had died at home. Coworkers said she had complained of a headache, stiff neck, nausea, and a fever the day before. I was thinking meningitis, and took extra precautions not to expose myself in any way. I took spinal fluid and blood for culture. I took blood and urine for toxicology, just in case.

Toxicology was negative. Nothing grew on culture. There were no specific findings at autopsy. Later it was found that she had been killed with insulin by her boyfriend’s ex-wife. I had to testify before a grand jury, where I explained that since insulin is a naturally occurring substance in the body, testing for it wouldn’t prove anything.

At a grand jury, one is interrogated by the prosecuting attorney and the members of the jury, none of whom had any medical background. I know that, because I’ve been called for jury duty umpteen times and never picked because nobody wants a doctor or even a nurse on a jury, let alone a pathologist!