by Shelley Costa


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"In this edgy first in a new cozy series from Costa, Val Cameron, a senior editor at a New York publishing company, travels to the tiny town of Wendaban, Ontario...A strong plot and engaging characters make for a well-crafted mystery, and Val's humorous attempts to cope with the wilderness do much to lighten the tension. The core of the story is Val's discovery of her own self-worth." - Publishers Weekly

"An engaging, deftly-plotted mystery with a smart, tough-minded heroine. Shelley Costa delivers a terrific series debut." - Daniel Stashower, Author of The Hour of Peril

"Costa hits all the right notes-vulnerable but likable characters, a compelling plot, a clearly drawn setting, and a tangled web of past and present events." - Sheila Connolly, New York Times Bestselling Author of A Gala Event

"Taut, well written and suspenseful, Practical Sins for Cold Climates draws readers into a community where the past haunts the present and residents' motives are buried deep...just like the truth." - Kylie Logan, Author of And Then There Were Nuns

"What a terrific surprise! Shelley Costa is a contender... a terrific book in which to bury oneself on a long, cold weekend. Not a bad beach read, either for that matter. Just buy it. Just read it." - Seattle Book Mama

"Very well-written...this book reads as longer than typical cozies because it needs to, for honest character evolution. The mystery has a very satisfying conclusion...This is the first book I have read by Shelley Costa, and I am very impressed." - Librarian at Jefferson-Madison Regional Library System

"A brooding, atmospheric story, you can almost feel the weight of a blizzard bearing down. Highly recommended." - For the Love of Books

When Val Cameron, a Senior Editor with a New York publishing company, is sent to the Canadian Northwoods to sign a reclusive bestselling author or risk losing her job, she is definitely out of her element. Val is certain she can convince Charles Cable, but first she has to find him.

Aided by a float plane pilot whose wife was killed two years ago in a case gone cold, Val's hunt for the recluse becomes even more muddled. When all signs point to Cable as the killer, she must work to clear his name before the scandal sinks her career.

Trapped in a wilderness lake community where livelihoods collide and a killer lurks, the prospect of running into a bear could be the least of Val's problems.

Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), book club recommendations, amateur sleuth books.

Books by Shelley Costa:


Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all...

Author Bio: An Edgar nominee for Best Short Story, Shelley Costa is the author of You Cannoli Die Once (Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel) and Basil Instinct. Practical Sins For Cold Climates is the first book in her exciting new mystery series. Shelley's mystery stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Blood on Their Hands, The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and Crimewave (UK). She teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Visit her at

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943390410
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: 01/26/2016
Pages: 282
Sales rank: 1,105,445
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.59(d)

Read an Excerpt

Practical Sins for Cold Climates

A Mystery

By Shelley Costa

Henery Press

Copyright © 2015 Shelley Costa
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-943390-44-1


Val Cameron stepped off the Ontario Lakeland train from Toronto and onto the wooden step the conductor had slung into place. He grabbed her elbow when her heel got caught in a space between the boards and held on while she wiggled it loose. It had been a six-hour ride north to this place called Lake Wendaban, where her assignment was to get a signature on a book publishing contract. The train came through, in either direction, just once a day, and Val planned on making the return trip to Union Station in Toronto the day after tomorrow. From there, Pearson Airport, from there, LaGuardia. And finally, a cab back to her place on E. 51st St., where her plants were waiting to be watered and life was beautiful all day long.

She had passed the time on the train by eating two toasted cheese sandwiches in what was loosely called the dining car and, after watching a road trip movie about the buddies' hilarious scrapes, she napped. Then she spent the rest of the trip wondering one more time why she had agreed to this particular assignment. But that line of thought only flung her right back into the murky gumbo of her personal life.

Brushing off her skirt, she watched the train speed northward at a pretty good clip, like it couldn't wait to get to its final destination, a place the timetable told her was actually called Moose Factory. While she stood wondering whether that was where they either processed or assembled moose, Val adjusted her purse, her briefcase, and her small overnight bag. Then she picked her way across the gravel parking lot in her Prada shoes.

She slowed down as she eyed the place.

There had to be some mistake. Where was the town?

When Peter Hathaway, her boss, first told her she had to get to the town of Wendaban, Ontario, she figured on awnings and sidewalk café seating. Some charming cross between Fire Island and Bedford Falls. Signs pitching all-you-can-eat fish fries every Friday night. Barbershops and garden clubs. People. At the edge of the parking lot she set down her briefcase and overnight bag and looked around.

Had the train let her off prematurely, say, at a whistle stop? Some little pre-station station where you just had to wait while the moose crossed the tracks? She had sudden misgivings and whirled around. No, it was definitely a train station and the sign said WENDABAN. The town looked like the outskirts of itself. But, then, she had got out of her bed that morning in Manhattan and, happily, had very little basis for comparison.

She looked up and down the main drag, which was also the only drag, called Highway 14, just as a semi flew through like a windstorm, kicking up dust and tossing around her Donna Karan skirt. Apparently, if she wanted to buy moccasins, a fishing license, trolling motor, tackle, or something called a Bee Burger, she was in the right place. But her next iced decaf quad venti three pump soy no whip white chocolate mocha would just have to wait until she got home. And she wasn't even going to think about where to find a good kosher dill.

Across the road, a couple of elderly tourists tottered into a restaurant painted black and yellow and called HONEY BEE MINE. And two doors down, a burly, bow-legged guy in baggy shorts emerged from a place called LCBO clutching a case of Labatt's to his sizeable chest. So maybe this wasn't The Town That Time Forgot, after all. No, Val rolled her eyes, in two days that would be her job.

Just get yourself to Bob's Bait Shop on the municipal dock, Peter Hathaway had said. For a man who micromanaged everything including which sugar packets to stock in the office break room, he was curiously unhelpful on the big stuff. Work, for one. Love, for another. And, as usual, she was left having to fill in some pretty important blanks. But get herself to a bait shop in this weird little fishcentric Brigadoon? This she could do. And it wasn't like she had to buy anything. She preferred her fish smoked, slathered across half a bagel, and slapped down in front of her on a plate at the Carnegie Deli. Any other choices in terms of fish apprehension and delivery held no interest for her.

Bob's Bait Shop was just a means to an end in this two-day assignment to sign a bestselling old hermit. It was there she was supposed to meet up with her ride to the Hathaway family cottage that Peter had arranged for her. Still, there was a glimmer of a bad feeling that hanging out around bait — bad as that was, considering she had an ick problem with invertebrates — could turn out to be the least of her problems.

She crossed Highway 14 and headed toward the place where sun glinted softly on a body of water, which seemed totally promising. Could a bait shop and a dock be far behind? Her deductive skills were something to behold. On her way down the boardwalk, Val passed a gas station, where she figured fishermen could gas up their bass boats, a public library, where they could read about "angling," and a community center, where they could get together and exaggerate the day's catch.

Truly a breed apart.

A glass-covered community bulletin board sported hand-scribbled signs advertising boats for sale, psychic readings (will I catch fish?), taxidermy (can you stuff my fish for me?), and a Friends of the Lake meeting on August 10 (Camp Sajo Lodge, 7 p.m., come discuss our mutual interests and bring your ideas!). No matter where you went on the planet, Val decided, jiggling her foot, someone would be having a meeting. Was her heel possibly a little loose, after all? Since the likelihood of finding a shoe repair shop in this Wendaban place was nil, she'd ignore the slight wobble until she could hold the shoe in one hand and the heel in the other.

Rocking softly at the dock were two houseboats — one called The Love Boat and the other Rock Me Baby — painted in psychedelic swirls, next to two small planes and half a dozen banged-up motorboats. At the end of the boardwalk, there it was: Bob's Bait Shop. It was a hut with rough-cut shingles, slanted boards, and the kind of windows you prop open with sticks. She could think of at least three books she'd edited in which the kinds of things that happen in places like Bob's Bait Shop usually include dismemberment.

Val stepped inside and lingered near the door as her eyes adjusted to the dark. Behind a sagging wood counter was a stocky young man placidly reading a magazine. "Hi." She was surprised to hear herself sound quite so chipper. "I'm looking for Wade Decker." With her luck, the guy balancing a case of Labatt's on his gut.

The young man looked up. "He went to the bee for poutine."

After a moment, she murmured, "I see," kicking herself for not bringing along a Canadian phrase book.

His eyes flickered at her, and Val knew he had figured she wasn't a bait-buying kind of gal. She could tell he was about to add something. How long could she pretend before she had to admit to this kid that she didn't understand? She could be missing something vital, like where to get a Reuben sandwich. The kid's eyes suddenly got wide as he discovered something helpful to say. "You can wait for him on the dock." Which came out sounding like dawk.

If the language barrier didn't go much beyond bees and poutine, she'd be able to pull it off. She smiled at him like she had caught it all, and sauntered over to the rack holding brochures about houseboat vacations, which only some combination of bondage and chloroform would get her to try. But she felt bad for the kid behind the counter, trapped with old issues of Walleye World in a dark hut on a summer afternoon.

Val shot him another smile meant to convey something about how city girls with expensive Italian leather briefcases really do take an interest in any Canadian wildlife less than two inches long, and she swaggered over to the smelly bait tank. She lifted the lid and got past the stink just long enough to stare at what was inside. Some kind of flatworms undulated their way through the water. "What are these?" she asked in a way that nicely suppressed her gag reflex.

The kid grunted. "Leeches."

The lid slipped out of her hand and clattered into place.

When the kid turned away so she couldn't hear him giggle, which she did anyway, Val noticed that across the back of his head someone had shaved the words GO JAYS. She wondered if he was aware of it. With a breezy "Well, thanks," Val stepped back out into the afternoon sunlight and walked twenty feet to the municipal dock.

She crossed her arms and leaned against the piling. There was a stillness to late afternoons in August, past the heat of the day, when everything seems suspended. Wind dies, the air settles, and voices are drawn away to other places. She watched a family in a boat the kind of white you only ever see in rich people's teeth purr into a vacant slip. Past them, beneath a spread of low, flat-bottomed clouds, the lake began.

Where it went from there, she didn't care. In the briefcase at Val's feet was a book contract from her place of employment, one of only a handful of publishers in New York City that had yet to be bought out by a cookie conglomerate, where twelve years ago she had landed her first job straight out of college and had finally become a senior editor.

Nearly all of her work life at Schlesinger Publishing had been in the adult trade division, where she had plodded alongside her colleague Peter Hathaway. Until six years ago when he had the luck to acquire that blockbuster, InCubeOps: America's Secret Program to Destabilize its Allies, by Anonymous, a well-placed source who turned out to be the Deep Throat of the Millennial Generation.

Twelfth printing and a Pulitzer Prize in the firestorm of government outcry — and Peter Hathaway was deemed a wunderkind, rocketing to the top of the editorial heap. In short order he became such an institution that CEO Henry Schlesinger had finally given him his own imprint, Fir Na Tine, which Peter chose for some obscure reasons of personal ancestry.

It took Val by surprise, just how philosophical she was about Peter's success. Her business in this outpost of civilization, which was located somewhere between the CN Tower and God, was to sign the reclusive old Charles Cable, who was writing a big novel about a celestial disaster, when he wasn't monitoring the effects of lake water levels on loon nests. For whom, no one knew. What she did know was that the man didn't even own a telephone and only came into town — presumably, this mother of all backwaters — once a month to collect his mail.

Val looked up.

Down the boardwalk came a tall man dressed in a faded teal t-shirt, khaki-colored nylon shorts, and blue Adidas slip-on sandals. Between his teeth was a long, thin cigar. The man moved with the kind of loose grace that comes from everything hanging together in just the right way, stepping back instinctively a few times when the brown mutt dashing around his feet stopped short to snap at horseflies.

When Val straightened herself away from the piling, the man noticed her, and squinted.

"Are you Wade Decker?" she asked him.

He came over to her, slid the cigar out of his mouth, and shook her hand. "That I am," he said. "And you're ... "he drawled as he unfolded a crumpled piece of paper he had pulled out of his pocket, "Valjean Cameron."


"I figured." His light olive skin had tanned and peeled and tanned again, with a raw pink spot along the long ridge of his nose, where a dried line of Nosekote didn't seem to be doing any good. He had hazel eyes, a wide mouth, and light brown hair cut long in the front and combed back. He glanced at her briefcase and overnight bag. "Is this all you've got?"

"That's it. Two days, two nights."

A slow nod. "So here you are," he said, sizing her up, "for an errand in the frozen North." Decker's voice had the same musical quality of all the Canadians she had heard since she'd arrived north of the border. They always sounded surprised — surprised she wanted a ride from the Toronto airport to the Royal York Hotel, surprised she wanted to change American money, surprised she was taking the train north. It must be nice to be shot through with the kind of wonder that has nothing to do with senility.

"Believe it or not," she told him, "there aren't all that many of us who think you get around on dogsleds." Her own more practical view of the neighbors to the north was that they drive like lunatics, smoke with abandon, and wear funny hats, only she wasn't about to say that to the man who was loading her briefcase into one of the small planes. She couldn't tell whether she was swaying from stepping onto the floating dock or being overcome by the kind of fear that homogenizes her internal organs.

"I thought we were going by boat." She sounded accusatory.

"Oh, did you?" he said, thrusting her briefcase in the space behind the pilot's seat. She casually walked alongside the plane, wondering whether she should just sandbag him and call a water taxi and trying damn hard to look as jaunty as Amelia Earhart. The plane looked like it had all its rivets, although she wasn't sure she could say the same for the pilot. But she wasn't about to come off like some kind of Yankee baby, so when Decker held out a hand, Val grabbed it, stepping onto the float and through the open door. She slipped across the pilot's seat to her own, where the red leather was old and cracked.

Decker swung himself into the plane and immediately filled the space. When he reached for his seat belt, she reached for hers like she knew what she was doing and they spent a companionable five seconds strapping themselves in and adjusting their belts. He flipped switches, checked gauges, and pressed buttons, all of which looked disturbingly fake.

To take her mind off the toy plane, she tuned into the thrum of the engine and watched the propeller speed up to a haze. Val jerked back as he leaned across her and checked the silver door latch. She felt a sudden wild black anger at Peter Hathaway, this Decker person, and all men everywhere who make half-baked arrangements they think are just fine.

He smiled. "Your first time up?"

"Well, actually," she said, "yes."

"You'll like it." She was relieved to see him put on a headset. At least now he wouldn't be able to hear her whimper. They backed away from the dock and floated an easy turn westward, then picked up speed as they taxied around a small island housing a brown cottage with a proud white flagpole flying a Canadian flag. When the plane cleared the island, the lake opened up before them like an endless corridor of water flanked by pine forest and rocky shore. She could see for what must have been a few miles, until the distant mainland disappeared into summer whiteness.

An errand.

He was right: she was doing an errand. Like picking up the dry cleaning — but someone else's, not even her own. It was one of those times when she had to shore up her ego with a self-inventory. She was a senior editor with a perfectly respectable 401K. She owned an apartment with twelve-foot ceilings and wainscoting to die for in a co-op building off Second Avenue. She was thirty-four years old and — according to her Aunt Greta — still reasonably attractive, although her wardrobe could use some work. Yet here she was proposing to get airborne with a stranger who, from the looks of him, had probably done most of his flying inside his own head.

So, 401K aside, what she was doing was just another in a long line of errands for Peter Hathaway that started two years ago, when, at the age of forty-two, he took to wearing unbleached cotton tunics and pajama pants that made him look like a serf. He had his hair cut short, grew a trim Van Dyke beard, and pierced an earlobe. In two places. The effect was one of concentrated decadence that she found disturbing. He also developed what she considered an abnormal interest in space junk.

Peter, whose family owned a cottage on this lake, knew Charles Cable from thirty summers of fishing for pickerel in all the same places and protesting illegal access roads. When he got word that Cable, whose breakout book, The Nebula Covenant, stayed on the Times bestseller list for thirty-two weeks, was working on a thriller called The Asteroid Mandate, it tickled the space junk gland in Peter's brain. But when he learned Charles Cable had inexplicably fired his agent, he sent Val north with a contract.


Excerpted from Practical Sins for Cold Climates by Shelley Costa. Copyright © 2015 Shelley Costa. Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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PRACTICAL SINS FOR COLD CLIMATES 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
New Yorker Val is a fish out of water in the Canadian wilderness when she sets out to track down an elusive author for her publisher boss. What follows is mystery and adventure in this absorbing well crafted tale. Great read!
KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
Practical Sins for a Cold Climate by Shelley Costa is the first book in the Val Cameron Mystery series. Val Cameron has been sent to Lake Wendaban, Ontario Canada to get the reclusive Charles Cable to agree to let Schlesinger Publishing publish his latest book. Val does not like remote wilderness, but she is not given a choice (she had a little bit of trouble with her last client). Her boss, Peter Hathaway (a very odd duck with a shaved head and pajama like clothing) insists that she go (her job is on the line). It sounds like an easy job, but if it sounds that easy it will not be! Val tries to get Charles at a town meeting and ends up in the middle of a brawl. Val gets knocked out and her contract destroyed. There is unrest in the town (over development). Wade Decker’s wife, Leslie was murdered two years previously. The case has yet to be solved. There is a hint that Charles might have killed her. Val wants to make sure to do her “due diligence” with this client (unlike her last one) before she gets him to sign the contract. Will Val be able to find the killer, clear Charles’ name, and get her contract signed? You will have to read Practical Sins for a Cold Climate to find out (such a long title). Practical Sins for a Cold Climate is very confusing at beginning (it takes a while to start figuring things out) and the writing does not help. Stilted (and awkward) is the word that comes to mind regarding this author’s writing style. The book does not flow well. The book jumps around (one minute with Val, then another character, then it jumps again). It is like Practical Sins for a Cold Climate tried to be a combination suspense novel and cozy mystery, but it did not succeed. Practical Sins for a Cold Climate was just not an enjoyable book to read. The main character was just not someone I liked (Val), and we had too much internal dialogue (Val seems to be thinking about her lovely apartment in New York, Peter and their odd love life (yes, she was sleeping with the boss), her work, the secretary who does not like to work and the boss pays for her yoga, Peter’s odd lover (Peter is sleeping with Val and this woman) with her bald head and an oddly placed braid). Too much was shoved into one book. I give Practical Sins for a Cold Climate 1 out of 5 stars. I’m sorry, but I just did not like Practical Sins for a Cold Climate. I received a complimentary copy of Practical Sins for a Cold Climate from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
4.5 stars! This was my first book by Shelley Costa and boy was it action packed! Most of the book took place near the water dealing with canoes, sea planes and fishing boats all things that I myself are not comfortable with. So with that going on and the story, my heart beat was definitely pumping faster than usual. While trying to get a reclusive author to sign a publishing contract Val, stumbles upon a questionable death where all signs point to the author as being the perpetrator. Already having signed a pedophile, she doesn't want to make the same mistake twice. So she is determined to find out whether this author is a killer. She goes through a lot of crap (and I mean literally) to get to his very secluded cabin in order to meet him and get to the bottom of this murder business. All along, her boss is giving her impossible ultimatums. It was definitely a book that I could not and did not put down. The writing was good, the characters were believable and the story was believable. As usual, Henery Press has delivered yet another author that I will be adding to my TBR pile. Huge thanks to Henery Press for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. This one was definitely worth the ride!