Mar 12 2014 5:00pm

Whipping Boy: New Excerpt

Katherine Tomlinson

Whipping Boy, a California noir cozy novella by Katherine TomlinsonWhipping Boy by Katherine Tomlinson is a California cop mystery novella, the debut of a female criminalist whose strange existence swings from the grimmest crime scenes to life among Hollywood royalty—no wonder she has such a bad attitude (available March 12, 2014).

Murder hits close to home for criminalist Lark Riordan when a neighbor’s son is killed and another neighbor is arrested for the crime. Teaming up with homicide detective Max Siwek to investigate the case, Lark encounters family secrets, old grudges, and dysfunctional relationships that make her own life seem normal. And that’s saying something because her father is a self-involved actor who’s just been nominated for an Oscar, and she and Max have a thing for each other even though he’s her stepbrother. It’s… complicated.


I was working the night Jimmy Morrissey died.

I had been called out to an industrial park in Panorama City at seven o’clock, and three hours later, I was still processing the scene while the nineteen-year-old rent-a-cop who’d called 911 chain-smoked Marlboro Lights and tried not to puke on his already vomit-stained uniform. He’d told his story at least twice since I’d been there, and he was now telling it for a third time to the bored redheaded cop everyone called “Bozo” behind his back. Bozo’s job was to keep civilians away from the crime scene, but the industrial park had been pretty deserted by the time I arrived. The only people whose cars were still in the lot were a couple of kids who were working on a start-up that had outgrown their studio apartment.

They had bounced around the perimeter earlier, jacked up on energy drinks and curiosity, but there really wasn’t that much to see, so they’d eventually retreated to their office and returned to their regularly scheduled lives.

As the security guard droned on, I tried to tune him out, but he and Bozo were standing right outside the dumpster where I was working, and he had one of those voices—high and nasally—that was just the right frequency to cut through the white noise, so I couldn’t help hearing him as he once again recounted the sequence of events leading up to this horror show.

He’d been making his hourly circuit when he heard what he described as a “weird noise” coming from one of the huge dumpsters wedged into a remote corner of the employees’ parking lot.

When he investigated the source of the sound, he’d found a colony of rats feasting on the remains of two, possibly three, small children.

We weren’t sure yet.

Freaked out, the guard had pulled the weapon he was licensed to carry after passing the test required to earn a Handgun Safety Certificate, and emptied the whole clip into the depths of the dumpster, killing two rats and further mutilating the tiny bodies he’d found. It’s a miracle he wasn’t killed by a ricochet.

The two detectives who’d caught the case, Vernon and Malouf, were solid guys. LAPD’s Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau kept cruising Malouf because he spoke Arabic and had worked undercover, and they were just itching to send him nosing around some group they suspected of plotting bad things. He always told them “no thanks,” even when they tried to guilt-trip him. He had a wife and two small children and a sickly mother-in-law to look out for, and he wasn’t willing to put them at risk.

He and Vernon had been partners for a couple of years now, and despite being as different as possible in personality, their investigative styles meshed seamlessly. They had the best clearance rate in the department. Both of them liked to talk, and they always seemed to be engaged in one long conversation that continuously looped back to several topics, including Vernon’s impending retirement. Today’s riff on the subject had to do with the condo Vernon wanted to buy in Palm Desert.

“Why Palm Desert?” Jeff asked as he photographed the tire tracks by the dumpster. Jeff was new and hadn’t heard Vernon’s other monologues on the subject. They were all the same; only the places changed. Last I’d heard, Vernon had been planning to buy a cabin in Big Bear.

“Why Palm Desert?” Vernon repeated.

Malouf shook his head. “Now you’ve got him started,” he said to Jeff.

“The thing about the desert is that it’s clean,” Vernon said. “The burning sun just purifies everything like a refiner’s fire melting away the dross.”

“The burning sun just gives you skin cancer,” Malouf said. “The burning sun just makes you sweat like a hog.”

“Sweat washes away your sins,” Vernon said. “The Native Americans know that.”

“So what, Vernon, you have a Navajo grandmother all of a sudden?” Vernon waved his partner’s amusement away and focused on Jeff.

“The desert is implacable,” he said. “You meet it on its own terms. It is pitiless. It is merciless. The hot winds will scour your soul and leave you naked and howling before its desolation.”

“Dude,” Jeff said, “you seriously need to lighten up.”

Malouf burst out laughing, and Vernon turned away in disgust, muttering something about “no respect for your elders,” which just made Malouf laugh harder.

“You kids get off my lawn,” Malouf said when he got control of himself, which was what he always said anytime he thought Vernon was acting like an old fart.

“Your ancestors were Bedouins, Malouf,” Vernon said. “They understood what I’m talking about.”

Malouf’s cell phone rang, ending the conversation, and I stopped eavesdropping and turned back to my work. I’d hung a work light to my left so I could see what I was doing, but it cast harsh shadows that had me squinting to focus on anything.

It didn’t help that there was a strong smell of gas wafting up from inside the dumpster—not methane from rotting garbage, but the volatile, high-octane fuel you put in your car. I could hardly breathe, and I could feel the fumes dissolving my mascara.

One of the things that was spelled out right in the job description of an LAPD criminalist was the warning that you’d often work under “unpleasant conditions.” That was an understatement. I once took a pair of dress slacks to the dry cleaners to have a stain removed. “What exactly is that?” the woman processing the clothes asked. Brain matter and bile, most likely. “Not sure,” I said. “Something organic.”

You go into the job knowing that you’re going to see bad things. You go into the job knowing that it’s not all dusting for prints and waving black lights around. That’s a given.

It’s what you don’t expect that gets to you. And when I got up this morning, I did not expect to be climbing into an industrial-sized dumpster where rats had been feasting on the bodies of a couple of little kids.

If I’d been able to see what was coming, chances are I would have pulled the covers up over my head, turned over, and gone back to sleep.

For the next week.

But whoever had put these babies in this dumpster needed to be put somewhere themselves. And it was my job to do that. Or at least, that was the way I looked at it. So I sucked it up and got to it.

The body on top was a little girl wearing a diaper and a pink T-shirt with a smiling plaid elephant appliqued on the front. The T-shirt was cheaply made, the material some kind of rough acrylic knit that would have been scratchy against the child’s tender skin. You can buy shirts like that for a dollar at almost any thrift store in town, and even cheaper if you hit the yard sales late in the afternoon when the sellers are packing up and ready to offer bargains.

I knew the plaid elephant would have appealed to a little girl. She might have even asked her mom to buy that T-shirt for her as I had once begged my grandmother to buy me a purple T-shirt with a spotted kitten on the front. I’d seen the T-shirt hanging on a rack of similar shirts in a sidewalk display next door to the nail parlor where she had a standing weekly appointment for a mani-pedi. She dragged me along a couple of times a month, telling me it was to “give your poor mother a break.” I never quite understood what my mother needed a break from—she was a stay-at-home mom then, and my dad’s television series (Rincon, ABC, 1988-90) was the number-one show in its time slot, so she had a whole lot of help running the Hancock Park house where we lived.

But I liked going out with my grandmother. She disapproved of nail polish for little girls but had no problems with me getting my toenails painted pink. I was such a girlie little thing.

And back then, purple had been my favorite color.

I wanted that purple T-shirt so bad.

I wasn’t the kind of kid who was always asking for things. Even back then I understood that compared to most people, I had tons of stuff and didn’t really need any more. But I was seven, and that T-shirt spoke to me. So I asked my grandmother to please, please, please buy me the shirt.

I might have even whined a little.

And when she said no, I reminded her that I had a birthday coming up.

Several times.

In the end, even though she thought man-made fibers posed a greater threat to the planet than global warming, my grandmother caved and bought me the damn T-shirt. It had ragged seams and a tag that rubbed the back of my neck raw. The first time our housekeeper washed it, the shirt bled purple dye all over, giving a whole load of dark clothes a vaguely violet tinge. The second time she washed it, the shirt fell completely apart.

And when my birthday rolled around, my grandmother reminded me that she’d already bought me a present.

Impulse buying. It’ll bite you on the ass every time.

Copyright © 2014 Katherine Tomlinson


This Sweepstakes Has Ended

To enter for a chance to win a paperback copy of  Whipping Boy by Katherine Tomlinson and this stylish matching knitted scarf, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Whipping Boy Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) March 12, 2013. Sweepstakes ends 5:59 p.m. ET March 19, 2013. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Luna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird Noir, Pulp Ink 2, Alt-Dead, Alt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She lives in Los Angeles and sees way too many movies.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. John Donald Carlucci
We've been friends for years and she continues to surprise me with her writing!

John Hampton
Nice kick off here with a good introduction to our protagonist. Ordering a trade paperback asap!
marc hart
3. mahart
I am definitely ordering a copy of this book. There goes my overtime pay.
Betty Breier
5. BLB
Sounds like something I would really like to read and the scarf is fantastic!
Katherine Tomlinson
7. Kattomic
Thank you all for reading and commenting! And about that scarf--
Blazing Needles has another one up on Etsy and I may have to just snag it for myself:
vickie dailey
8. kidcurry
read the excerpt - this sounds like a good read - I do prefer a full book to a novella (it would be nice to start from the first book) - but if this series takes off (as I believe it will) - I do believe the stories will progress to full book form - the scarf is a fantastic extra
Jennifer Vandenberg
9. LadyJay
I started reading because I want the scarf, but now I want to book, too. I look forward to reading the rest; it sounds like a great story that will probably keep me from going to bed at a reasonable time.
Deb Krenzer
10. Dlkrenzer
This sounds like a great book. If I win, I would definitely read and review. Plus, that scarf looks too cool!!! Thanks for the opportunity!!!
Kimberly Mayberry
11. MysticHuntress
This is MY type of book! It has always been a dream of mine to work in Forensics or as a criminologist! I love these types of books and find them thoroughly interesting and compelling!
Peter W. Horton Jr.
12. mosaix
The book for me and the scarf for my wife.! Yes!
Susan Wasson
15. booksellersaw
Well...the excerpt got me hooked by making me laugh at Vernon and Malouf's conversation and by grossing me out with the description of rats and little kid's bodies - two things necessary for a good mystery - humor and murder. I'm a bookseller so I'll be talking about this book with customers, but before that, I would love to win the Do Not Cross scarf for our daughter, who would absolutely love to have it. She would wear it everywhere! Thank you.
16. patb
definitely compelling...bring it on!
Linda Kish
20. ljkish
The book sounds interesting and the scarf is very cute.
Jenne Turner
21. JET16
I like the shirt description and how it reminded the character of one from her childhood.
Suzanne Gonneville
22. Thumbs
Who's the whipping boy? The scarf's for my granddaughter, the book for both of us so I can find out what the whipping boy has done and who he is!
Barbara Bibel
23. bbibel
I csn't wait to read this. She is an interesting character.
Diana Portwood
24. kittenmonster
I like a strong female lead character, this sounds like a great series kick-off!
elizabeth findlay
25. eafindlay
Murder and weirdness is right up my alley and the scarf is pretty cool too.
Chuck Aeschbacher Jr
26. MarkBlemish
my fave line “The desert is implacable,” he said. “You meet it on its own terms. It is pitiless. It is merciless. The hot winds will scour your soul and leave you naked and howling before its desolation.” looks like a fun read.
Donna Marton
27. donnawho
Let's see: dumpsters with rat-nibbling babies in it? At first it sounds like Stephen King has a hand in this story. I'm thinking...yup, keep the lights on when reading it, and it sounds like an all nighter read too.
28. Mary Kay
I'd, uh, kill for that scarf!
Joan Woods
29. buckeye14
This sounds like my kind of book. I read a lot of books and watch tv shows
on crime. I like the forensic part.
Mary Kay Kare
30. MaryKay
Oops. Wasn't logged in. Would still kill for that scarf!
Marie-Louise Molloy
31. Wezzie
If I don't winner, I will buy!! But FREE is better!
Donald Isaksen
32. donbbfan
I can't wait to read the rest of this book! (and the scarf would be a hit with Convicts I deal with day in and day out).. One of the way's to not get burned out with hearing what some of these Con did to get there is losing yourself in a great book Ms. Tomlinson has a new fan! Thank you...did I win yet????
34. jpl123456
susan beamon
35. susanbeamon
Sounds like an interesting book, and I like interesting books. My book club says my reading is all over the map. This would make a nice sidetrip.
William Hamilton
37. billham68
Look forward to reading and commenting on this quick read.
Cairine Stade
39. FaerySong
Love, love, love mysteries! Love that scarf! I wonder who thought to make a police tape scarf? Clever idea!
Heather Martin
41. CrystalMirror
Looks like a great read. Definatly a addition to must-read pile.
Rylene Wauda
I really need to read a good mystery right now; my 93 year o;ld mother is in a nursing home--to be moved to hospice. I need to think of other things!
Kimberly Roberts
45. kimroberts
Sounds very intriguing! I love the genre, also.
(Scarf is absolutely dashing) ~
Thanks for the chance to win them!
teresa sopher
47. tas58
I wish I could have kept right on reading. Quite a tease......
Carol Lawman
48. juju2cat
I'm intrigued! And I've got to have that scarf!!
Sally Winkleblech
49. sallyw
OK, you've got me hooked, and we haven't even met the family. I love a good mystery, would love to read it while wrapped up in that scarf. You don't want to cross me, either!
Jeffrey Malis
50. bravejam
Looking forward to reading more... Thanks for the chance!
Vernon Luckert
52. vl4095
This one looks like a really good read!
Melissa Keith
53. melly801
WB is the kind of story I really enjoy. It would be a fine addition to my library. Also I read a lot of true crime and I love the scarf! ED Kemper agrees...I should wear it! If I don't win would you please tell us where you found it? I would appreciate it. I WANT ONE!!
Florry M. D.
54. florryalyna
Would love to discover the secrets of the Whipping Boy.
Sounds a captivating story and the giveaway is so tempting.
Thank you!
55. bookdivashirley
Pink tee shirt on a dead girl-----who could put a little girl in a dumpster? I have to know.
shirley smith
56. Divashirley
Pink tee shirt on a dead girl---who could put a little girl in a dumpster? I have to know.
Karen Terry
60. bblol65
This story has a mystery, crime, and it is funny.
peg nittskoff
Looks like a fantastic book and just love the scarf idea!!
Katherine Tomlinson
63. Kattomic
@melly801--Barbara Perelman (Blazing Needles) on Etsy made the scarf. She has another one up now, and she does custom orders. Tell her I sent you.
Again, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to read and comment on my excerpt. I wish I could give you all a hug! What I can do, tough, is give you a digital cop of the book. Email me (kattomic at with the words "Criminal Element" in the subject line and I'll send you a mobi, epub or pdf file of Whipping Boy. Becuase a writer is nothing without readers.
I really appreciate your feedback! Best, Katherine
Donna Bruno
64. dlbawiles
"Impulse buying. It'll bite you on the ass every time." Of course!
Susan Mahaffey
65. Smbirds
I liked the excerpt so much that I hated to stop reading! I want to win!
Stephanie Carter
66. stcarter
sounds great, can't wait to finish it!
67. Pat Carson
Sounds Great!!!
Howard Sherman
Purchased the book the first day it came out and I DON'T REGRET IT! Already finished it and now reading it again to pick up the fine points I missed as I was flying through the story. A MUST READ!
Patricia Boyle
69. Charleydog
Having once lived in Los Angeles, I love stories based in California. Great book.
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