Karen’s Killer Book Bench: FULL BLOOM, The Holly and Ivy Mystery Series – Book 3 by Sally Handley

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The Holly and Ivy Mystery Series – Book 3


Looking forward to a relaxing stay in the Catskills after her break-up with Nick Manelli, Holly Donnelly and her sister Ivy have their plans thwarted when, once again, they become involved in a murder investigation. The day they arrive at Kate Farmer’s house in rustic Reddington Manor, they discover the body of Kate’s next-door neighbor, Chuck Dwyer, in a pool of blood on his kitchen floor. In a rush to judgement, the local sheriff sets his sights on 17-year old Tommy Cranston, but Kate insists Tommy is innocent. Can the sister sleuths prove that a shifty neighbor, the victim’s widow and local drug dealers all have better motives for the murder? And can Ivy and Kate unravel another mystery — the cause of Holly and Nick’s break-up and the chances of their getting back together?

The Holly and Ivy Mystery Series – Book 3



“Remember what I told you before we left. I refuse to talk about it.” Holly Donnelly slammed the car door leaving her sister Ivy sitting inside.

Ivy shook her head, pausing as she reached for the door handle. The two-hour drive from New Jersey to Kate Farmer’s house in the Catskills had been deadly quiet. Since Ivy’s arrival from South Carolina the day before, Holly had simply refused to discuss her break-up with Nick Manelli.

Ivy sighed and opened the passenger side door. By the time she got out of the car, Holly had opened the back door and Lucky, her border collie, jumped out. A smiling Kate Farmer appeared on the porch of the rambling Victorian house as her dog, Amy, bounded down the steps towards the newly arrived guests. Kate quickly followed, her arms open wide. She hugged Holly first, then Ivy as the dogs ran in frenzied circles around them, jumping up and down, barking wildly.

“Okay, okay, you guys. Calm down,” Holly said reaching down to pet Amy.

“Don’t waste your breath.” The petite, olive-skinned Kate laughed, her cropped brown curls glistening in the sun. “This exuberance at the arrival of guests is a biological imperative. Actually, on the inside I’m feeling the same way.” Kate put an arm around each of the sisters and squeezed. “It’s so good to see you guys!”

“Good to see you, too.” Holly smiled walking back to the car and opening the trunk. Amy and Lucky had calmed down, but the sound of barking continued, coming from the neighbor’s yard.

“Who’s that? Sounds like a big dog bark,” Ivy said as she reached into the trunk and grabbed her overnight bag.

“Oh, that’s just Winston, my neighbor Chuck’s golden Lab. He and Amy share neighborhood watch duties. He’ll calm down after we get out of the driveway.”

“I hope so,” Holly said. “Kate, could you grab my bag. I don’t want to move again once I sit down on that porch. I’ll carry the Michelob.”

Kate eyed the case of beer and exchanged a quick glance with Ivy who just arched her eyebrows in reply.


“So what’s new in Reddington Manor?” Holly asked after lunch as she dropped into the wicker chair and poured beer into a frosted mug.

Kate’s smile turned grim. “Believe it or not, quite a lot’s been happening. And none of it good.”

“Really?” Ivy sat forward, a look of alarm on her face.

“Really. There’s been a rash of burglaries. Some people say it’s drug dealers from Monticello.” Kate frowned. “But a few people suspect Tommy Cranston and his friends.”

“Cranston?” Holly wrinkled her brow. “Isn’t that your neighbor’s son? The one up the street.”

“Yeah.” Kate nodded. “But I don’t believe it. Not Tommy.”

“Do we need to be worried?” Ivy grimaced. “Aren’t you afraid to be here all by yourself?”

Before Kate could respond, the barking next door resumed. “You hear that? Between Amy and Winston, I never worry. If you think this is loud, you should hear them if anything–man or beast– comes near our houses at night. Amy has an absolutely blood-curdling yowl she lets loose, and if Winston isn’t already barking, she sets him off. That’s when I relax and know I have nothing to worry about.”

Holly laughed as she took another swallow of beer, but Ivy looked confused. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, Chuck has what amounts to a small arsenal over there.” Kate tilted her head in the direction of the ramshackle house next door.

“Oh.” Ivy sat back, appearing a bit relieved.

“Yeah, I’d be more worried Chuck might accidentally start a fire and the whole place would explode like a powder keg.” Holly chortled.

“Great.” Ivy closed her eyes and shook her head.

“Stop scaring your sister. Let’s change the topic to something more interesting,” Kate said moving to the edge of her chair, focusing a penetrating stare at Holly. “Why did you and Nick break up, and what are you going to do to get him back is what I want to talk about?”

Holly glared at her. “I told my sister before she got out of the car, and I’m going to tell you this–only once. I have no intention of talking about it. We split up. End of story.” She lifted the mug to her lips and finished what was left of her beer.

“Oh, come on!” Kate sat up straight and put her hands on her hips. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No, I’m not.” Holly stood up, grabbed her mug and the empty beer can and went inside the kitchen.

Kate looked at Ivy. “She’s kidding, right?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” Ivy shrugged. “She absolutely refuses to discuss it.” Moving next to Kate on the wicker love seat, she whispered, “You know, I was ecstatic in January when she called to tell me Nick proposed.”

“They seemed so happy and so perfect for each other.” Kate shook her head, a genuinely perplexed look on her face. “Nick seemed like such a genuinely decent guy.”

“I agree. I think the problem is Nick is as strong and sure of himself as she is.”

Kate let out a sigh. “But that’s why I thought, at 55, she’d finally met her match.”

“Me, too.”

“Shh. Here she comes.”

Holly returned to the porch, another frosted mug and beer in hand. Dropping into the cushioned chaise facing her friend and her sister, she smiled and said, “Lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it?”

“Holly!” Kate squealed, pounding the arm of the loveseat in exasperation.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure we can find plenty more interesting things to talk about.” Slowly she poured the beer into the mug and the three women watched as the frothy head rose, stopping exactly at the top edge of the glass.

“This is going to be a mighty dull weekend if all we have to do is watch you pour beer into your glass,” Kate muttered.

Holly grinned as she raised the mug in a toast. “Here’s to a mighty dull weekend.”

Before she could lower her glass, a loud and mournful howl pierced the air, causing her to spill some of the beer. Amy began barking and Lucky pointed her nose skyward and howled in reply.

“Lucky’s never done that before,” Holly said putting her mug down on the side table.

Kate stood up and looked toward her neighbor’s house. “You know, Chuck’s truck is in the driveway. He’s usually gone to work before I get up, but I was so busy getting ready for your arrival, I didn’t think anything of it.” She started down the steps. “That dog’s been barking off and on all morning. I wonder if something’s wrong.” She descended the steps and the dogs ran ahead in the direction of the howls. Holly followed.

“Wait.” Ivy remained standing on the porch. “Why don’t you call him first?”

Kate looked back and shook her head. “No. I’ll just check on the dog.”

Ivy sighed as she watched Kate, Holly and the two dogs disappear behind the stand of shrubs that partially separated the properties. After a moment she slowly walked down the steps and followed. The howling and barking stopped before she reached the shrubs.

Looking to her left, she saw Kate opening the gate of a huge dog pen at the far end of the property. Ivy laughed as a large yellow Lab jumped up putting its paws on Kate’s shoulders, nearly knocking her over. Turning towards the house, Ivy noticed the back door was ajar. She hoped Chuck wasn’t loading his gun in response to the commotion in his backyard.

Cautiously, she approached the back stoop and stopped a few feet shy of the partially open screen door. “Hello.” When no one answered, she repeated more loudly. “Hello. Anyone home?” Still no answer. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Kate was filling a water bowl from a hose and Holly was laughing as the three dogs cavorted on the grass.

Ivy turned and stepped on the cinderblock that served as a step to Chuck’s back stoop. Again, she said, “Hello,” as she leaned over and peered through the window. Oh, no, no, no.

On the floor a man was lying on his side. She felt an adrenalin rush as her nursing instincts kicked in. Pulling the screen door wide open she stepped inside. That’s when she saw the meat cleaver in his chest. Dried blood surrounded the wound, darkening the red shirt he wore. A pool of blood trailed from the body under the refrigerator. Ivy’s hand trembled as she felt for a pulse. Nothing.

Standing up, she turned and went back outside. Holly and Kate were headed towards her, laughing as Lucky rolled under Winston and knocked Amy off her feet.

“The poor thing was thirsty,” Kate said. “He must have knocked over…” She stopped as soon as she saw Ivy’s ashen face.

Holly ran to her sister. “What’s wrong?”

Ivy sank down on the edge of the stoop. “It’s not going to be a dull weekend.”

About Author Sally Handley…

President of the Upstate South Carolina Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC), Sally Handley debuted her Holly and Ivy cozy mystery series with her first book, Second Bloom, in May of 2017. Frost on the Bloom followed in November of 2017. Full Bloom is slated for publication this November. She also writes a blog entitledOn Writing, Reading and Retirement (www.sallyhandley.com).

An avid reader, Sally has been a mystery lover since she read her first Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books as a young girl. An English major, she graduated from Douglass College at Rutgers University and earned her Master’s Degree with a concentration in Shakespearean studies from Wroxton College, Oxfordshire, England.

After six years as a public school teacher, Sally transitioned into business, and had a 30 year career as a professional services marketer. She returned to teaching as an adjunct professor of English before retiring in 2015. Now a resident of Mauldin, SC, she devotes her time to writing cozy mysteries and gardening.


Links to Sally’s website, blog, books, etc.


Thanks, Sally, for sharing your book with us!

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10 thoughts on “Karen’s Killer Book Bench: FULL BLOOM, The Holly and Ivy Mystery Series – Book 3 by Sally Handley”

  1. Good morning, Sally, and welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench! Loved the meaty excerpt. So intriguing! Thanks for sharing your book with us today!

  2. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your book. It sounds wonderful, just the kind of mystery I enjoy.

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