Everyone’s favorite hard-living detective is back in a gripping, unpredictable mystery you won’t be able to put down.
When Detective Sam Lawson arrives in a sleepy East Texas town to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young woman, he soon discovers everyone has a something to hide. And the more he digs, the more questions he uncovers.
Are the scratch marks on the face of the woman’s arrogant husband really from a construction accident? Why is the rich investor suddenly so interested in the investigation? Who had been hiding in the woods behind the woman’s house? Why one of the woman’s friends allegedly leave town the same day she went missing?
With the help of a tough-as-nails sheriff’s sergeant and the medical examiner (who also happens to be his now-estranged girlfriend), Sam must navigate the tangled relationships of this small community to find the truth before it’s too late.
Targeted Age Group:: All audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My plan has always been to create a mystery series around my main character, Detective Sam Lawson. So, even as I was writing the first book, Combustible, I was thinking of ideas. Then I watched a documentary on the Laci Peterson murder. I began to ask myself "what if" questions about every aspect of that case. That led me down a rabbit hole that eventually produced the plot of Beneath the Surface.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I used the Notes section in Scrivener to create a one-page background for each character, which included physical description, occupation, personality, habits/mannerisms, background and internal conflicts. To help me better visualize the characters, I would even add a photo of either an actor or, since I have many Facebook friends in East Texas (where the novel is set), I would scroll through pictures until I found someone that fit the bill. I relied on these notes heavily – especially in the first draft – and would even update my descriptions if a character came to life in a different form as I started to write.
The smell of bleach hit Sam as soon as he walked into the house. Someone had been doing some cleaning. So much for an untampered crime scene.
The entry way opened into a massive living room. Dark wooden beams cut across the ceiling and a large steel chandelier hung from the middle. The rust-colored terra cotta floor, coupled with the mahogany trim and dark brown leather furnishings, completed the look of a beautiful Spanish villa. On the far wall, a large cow skull hung above the mantel of the huge stone fireplace, a roaring fire crackling inside. Floor-to-ceiling windows completed the wall and revealed a spectacular view of the lake.
The room was so impressive, the tall man sitting on the couch seemed small.
“I hope you’re coming inside to tell me you found her,” the man yelled.
The sheriff shook his head in reply and then motioned toward Sam.
“This here’s Detective Lawson from over in Quinton. He’s gonna help us out.”
“Mr. Puttman, I know this must be awfully hard on you,” Sam said.
“What’s hard on me,” Gary replied loudly, “is trying to figure out why you assholes are inside my house dripping all over the new tile floor.”
Kaster was right, thought Sam. He is an asshole.
Even though he didn’t stand up, Sam could tell Gary was tall and muscular. His dark hair was combed back and his eyes were piercing blue. He wore jeans and a light blue golf shirt. But what stood out the most were the three fresh scratches across his left cheek.
It was barely 10:00, but Gary clearly already had a drink or four. He lazily pointed down the hall.
“If you’re gonna waste my taxpayer money inside, at least dry off a bit,” he said. “There’s towels in the bathroom right off to your left. Try not to touch anything.”
Even though his clothes were still soaked solid, Sam felt better after toweling himself off. He returned to the living room where Gary was now standing, looking out the windows toward the lake. Sam walked up next to him.
“Beautiful house you have here.”
Gary nodded. “Built her myself.”
Gary smirked. “I shit you not.”
“Smells really clean, too,” Sam said. “You weren’t tidying up for us, were you?”
“I did some cleaning last night,” Gary said. “I had tracked in a lot of mud from the driveway so I cleaned it up. Hope that’s okay with you.”
The two men locked eyes. It was clear Gary was enjoying poking a hole in Sam’s veiled accusation. This was all a game to him.
He decided to switch gears.
“I do need to ask you a few questions about the last time you saw Jamie.”
Gary pointed back at the sheriff. “I already told the sheriff all that.”
“Well, now I need you to tell me. If you don’t mind.”
Gary groaned. He walked to the kitchen and poured some Jack Daniels into a glass. Sam pulled out his notepad, only to find it dripping wet. He stuffed it back in his pocket as casually as possible.
Gary proceeded to tell Sam about how he got up early Monday morning to go to work, just as he usually did. Jamie was still sleeping because she had gone out with a friend the night before and got in late.
“She’s such a lightweight, I bet she didn’t have more than two glasses of wine,” Gary laughed. “I remember her plopping into bed around 11:00. I was hoping for a little fun, if you know what I mean.”
He grinned at Kaster as he said it, not caring that it was probably an inappropriate thing to say in front of Jamie’s father.
“When did you notice she was missing?” Sam asked.
“I didn’t,” Gary said, still looking at Kaster. “He’s the one who called y’all. I still say she’s gonna come walking in the door any minute.”
“So she’s done this before?” Sam asked. “Just goes off for a few days without telling you?”
Gary looked confused. “What? No. She ain’t like that.”
He realized he was tripping over his own words. “She probably told me where she was going and I wasn’t listening. You know how wives can be, right? Blah blah blah.”
Sam really wished he had a working notepad. Not so much for writing down information, but for looking like he was writing things down. It was a great way to make a suspect squirm. And he really wanted to make Gary squirm.
“Sorry to ask this,” Sam warned. “But did the two of you have a fight? Were you getting along?”
The way Gary glared at Sam, he was half expecting to take a punch in the face.
“My wife did not leave me, if that’s what you’re getting at,” Gary finally said. “She wouldn’t do that, I assure you.”
“But you’d still rather us be outside looking for her instead of inside talking to you,” Sam replied, his eyes locked with Gary’s.
“I like my alone time,” Gary said, not breaking his glare.
Sam grinned and started walking around Gary, pretending to look for clues lying around the living room as he asked Gary a few more questions. He found out that Gary got home around 6:00 Monday night. Jamie’s car wasn’t there so he took advantage of the empty driveway and started prepping it for a cement pour.
Destroying any evidence in the process, Sam thought.
“But then it started raining and I got hungry so I came in, nuked a pizza and started watching TV.”
“And mopped the floors,” Sam added.
“And mopped the floors,” Gary repeated.
“Or was that last night?” Sam asked.
Gary seemed confused. “What was last night?”
“Did you mop two nights ago or last night?” Sam asked. “It smells pretty fresh so I assumed it was last night, but you just said you mopped Monday night, before you ate your pizza.”
Gary looked at the sheriff and Kaster, who were both waiting for his answer.
“I mopped both nights,” he finally said. “You saw my driveway. Until I get the cement poured, it’s kind of hard to walk in the house without tracking in mud.”
He smiled at Sam, feeling proud that he had outwitted the detective again.
“And you weren’t concerned about Jamie’s whereabouts at all?” Sam asked.
“I know what you’re doing,” Gary said. “You’re trying to catch me in a lie. Well, I got nothing to lie about. I already told these jerk-offs everything. I got more important things to do than sit here and repeat myself for your amusement. And, frankly, you’ve got more important things to do, too.”
“And when you last saw her, you went to work early?” Sam asked, ignoring Gary’s indignation. “And you were there all day?”
“Ask The Moustache,” Gary said, pointing at the sheriff.
“His alibi checked out,” Sheriff Monroe said.
“I know it disappoints you,” Gary said with a smile. “But my time and whereabouts are all accounted for.”
He stepped toward Sam until they were face to face.
“And I’ve seen the way you’ve been staring at these scratches,” Gary said with a smile, running his finger over the three red lines on his left cheek. “You probably think Jamie did this, don’t you?”
Gary shook his head, answering his own question.
“I got ‘em at work. Three nails in a two-by-four,” he said, mimicking a board hitting him in the face. “I get scratched all the time. Nature of the business, I suppose. Now, if you’re done, I’d appreciate it if you would be a good little detective and go do some detecting.”
Gary shooed him away with his hand. Sam had to smile. This guy was a real piece of work. He decided to make up more questions just so he could harass him a little longer. But he was interrupted by a knock at the front door.
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