by Randy Overbeck
GENRE: Amateur sleuth mystery
On a school camping trip, fifth graders experiment with a dangerous new hallucinogen and die in a horrific accident, their deaths shattering the quiet town. Assistant Superintendent Ken Parks, hoping to redeem a fatal mistake from his past, grasps the opportunity to conduct the district investigation of how students are getting the drugs. Almost before he begins, the cops make a stunning arrest. But Parks battles on, convinced the real pusher is still out there, poisoning more kids until he receives an anonymous threat: if he continues, those close to him will pay. Is Parks willing to risk those he loves for a chance at redemption?
Struggling desperately to force her mind to think, Amanda tried to consider her options. It was all happening too quickly. The next treacherous turn came at her fast. She had no way to slow down. White knuckles gripped the steering wheel.
The bend ahead showed a hard curve to the right, not quite as tight as the last one, but steeper. And she felt the car accelerating, though she hadn’t touched the gas pedal. Right before the car hit the curve, Amanda spun the steering wheel. The car lurched around the bend. The driver side of the car lifted up. Halfway through the long bend, Amanda watched the hood tilt in the turn until it was almost vertical. No seat belt on, she was catapulted down the leather seat, crashing into the passenger door.
“Hell!” she cried, reaching to grab her bruised shoulder.
She froze as the two wheels still on the ground shuddered in the gravel, sliding off the small road. Slammed against the side door, she heard the tall weeds and low branches whip against the body. But the car didn’t slow. Blood streamed from a gash on her forehead. For an instant she lay there stretched across the passenger door, holding her breath.
Then she sensed the car teetering. The front tire bumped something hard. Amanda stared, unbelieving, as the car began to flip. As the Regal made the first revolution, she screamed.
A Word With the Author
Cruel Lesson is an atmospheric, amateur sleuth mystery, the first in a new series set in schools called “Lessons in Peril.” The story involves a rogue, hallucinogenic drug being pushed in a middle school and, after it results in the death of four students, the rush to stop the drug pusher before more children die. The narrative takes place in a small Midwest town during October, 1994. All of these literary choices—the year at the height of the “Just Say No” Anti-Drug campaign and right in the middle of time for the D.A.R.E. program, the anonymous Midwest setting and the school as the battle ground—are deliberate and carefully chosen.
This novel is a work of honor and recognition as well as a work of art. As a long-time educator, I saw the ravages of student drug abuse and addiction up close. Over more than three decades as a teacher and school leader, I witnessed kids’ lives shattered and ended from their abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal. I crafted this story—while completely fictional and about an imaginary drug—as an homage to those educators who battle this very real problem everyday in our schools. Though set in the recent past, the scourge of student drug abuse today is frighteningly similar to my tale, only with a new generation and new drugs. In addition to being a pulse-pounding thriller, I wanted the narrative to honor the children we’ve lost to drugs in the almost thirty years as well as those educators committed to doing everything they can to rescue kids at risk.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. This novel is hardly didactic. According to early reviews, Cruel Lessons is “Brilliant from start to finish…Impressive storytelling left me with a racing heart and shivers. One of the best thrillers I’ve ever read.” ★★★★★+++—N.N. Light’s Bookheaven. ReaderViews called the novel “a thrilling murder mystery…with an immersive plot, steady pace and stellar character development…one of the best mysteries of 2023.” ★★★★★ Literary Titan wrote “Cruel Lessons is “masterfully written…Each new revelation adds to the suspense and keeps the reader on edge, eagerly anticipating what further secrets the story holds…a gripping crime thriller and amateur sleuth mystery.”
Wow! I am thrilled and humbled by these incredible reviews. Still, I hope the message about saving children will come through loud and clear. Check out Cruel Lessons yourself and let me know what you think.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Dr. Randy Overbeck is a best-selling author of the award-winning series, The Haunted Shores Mysteries, the three entries earning such national awards as the Gold Award from Literary Titan, Mystery of the Year from ReaderViews, Best Book from Chanticleer and Crowned Heart of Excellence from InD’tale Magazine. He hosts a new podcast, “Great Stories about Great Storytellers,” which reveals the unusual backstories of famous authors, directors and poets. He is also a speaker in much demand, sharing his multi-media presentations, “Thanks Still Go Bump in the Night” and “A Few Favorite Haunts” with audiences all over the country. More info about his novels, programs and podcast can be found at his website www.authorrandyoverbeck.com .
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