January 3 Book Blast
February 1-28, 2017 Tour
Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences―like learning trapeze.
Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?
Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?
Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.
Excerpt | Child’s Play by Merry Jones
I was the first one there.
The parking lot was empty, except for Stan’s pickup truck. Stan was the custodian, tall, hair thinning, face pock-marked from long ago acne. He moved silently, popped out of closets and appeared in corners, prowled the halls armed with a mop or a broom. In fourteen years, I couldn’t remember a single time when he’d looked me in the eye.
Wait—fourteen years? I’d been there that long? Faces of kids I’d taught swirled through my head. The oldest of them would now be, what? Twenty-one? Oh man. Soon I’d be one of those old school marms teaching the kids of my former students, a permanent fixture of the school like the faded picture of George Washington mounted outside the principal’s office. Hell, in a few months, I’d be forty. A middle-aged childless widow who taught second grade over and over again, year after year, repeating the cycle like a hamster on its wheel. Which reminded me: I had to pick up new hamsters. Tragically, last year’s hadn’t made it through the summer.
I told myself to stop dawdling. I had a classroom to organize, cubbies to decorate. On Monday, just three days from now, twenty-three glowing faces would show up for the first day of school, and I had to be ready. I climbed out of the car, pulled a box of supplies from the trunk, started for the building. And stopped.
My heart did triple time, as if responding to danger. But there was no danger. What alarmed me, what sent my heart racing was the school itself. But why? Did it look different? Had the windows been replaced, or the doors? Nothing looked new, but something seemed altered. Off balance. The place didn’t look like an elementary school. It looked like a giant factory. A prison.
God, no. It didn’t look like any of those things. The school was the same as it had always been, just a big brick building. It seemed cold and stark simply because it was unadorned by throngs of children. Except for wifi, Logan Elementary hadn’t changed in fifty years, unless you counted several new layers of soot on the bricks.
I stood in the parking lot, observing the school, seeing it fresh. I’d never paid much attention to it before. When it was filled with students, the building itself became all but invisible, just a structure, a backdrop. But now, empty, it was unable to hide behind the children, the smells of sunshine and peanut butter sandwiches, the sounds of chatter and small shoes pounding Stanley’s waxed tiles. The building stood exposed. I watched it, felt it watching me back. Threatening.
Seriously, what was wrong with me? The school was neither watching nor threatening me. It was a benign pile of bricks and steel. I was wasting time, needed to go in and get to work. But I didn’t take a single step. Go on, I told myself. What was I afraid of? Empty halls, vacant rooms? Blank walls? For a long moment, I stood motionless, eyes fixed on the façade. The carved letters: Logan School. The heavy double doors. The dark windows. Maybe I’d wait a while before going inside. Becky would arrive soon, after she picked up her classroom aquarium.
Other teachers would show up, too. I could go in with them, blend safely into their commotion. I hefted the box, turned back to the car. But no, what was I doing? I didn’t want to wait. I’d come early so I could get work done without interruption or distraction before the others arrived. The school wasn’t daring me, nor was I sensing some impending tragedy. I was just jittery about starting a new year.
I turned around again, faced its faded brown bricks. I steeled my shoulders, took a breath and started across the parking lot. With a reverberating metallic clank, the main doors flew open. Reflexively, I stepped back, half expecting a burst of flames or gunfire. Instead, Stan emerged. For the first time in fourteen years, I was glad to see him. Stan surveyed the parking lot, hitched up his pants. Looked in my direction. He didn’t wave or nod a greeting, didn’t follow social conventions. Even so, his presence grounded me, felt familiar.
I took a breath, reminded myself that the school was just a school. That I was prone to mental wandering and embellishing. And that children would stream into my classroom in just three days, whether I was ready or not.
Child’s Play: MY REVIEW
What happens when someone has disruptions or breakdowns of memory, identity, awareness or even perception? What happens with these people who use this disorder as a defense mechanism to escape life and its stresses in general? When things become traumatic and life becomes too much some people have dissociative disorders that are as a result of psychological traumas or events. Elle Harrison teachers second grade at Logan Elementary School and as many educators preparing for the first day of school she would spend several hours preparing her classroom and setting up her stations and bulletin boards in bright and festive colors. But, something about the outside of the building was foreboding to her and although she was not sure as he enters the school and prepares for the coming year little did she know that she would be entering her own form of the Twilight Zone where the unexpected happens. Remembering her past and the death of her husband two years ago, being considered a suspect what she finds right before leaving will once again place her in the spotlight and not one that she would want. Spirits and memories haunt her and she has decided to put her house up for sale and even take circus lessons with her three friends. But, when she completes her tasks and sees that the Principal’s office lights are on what she finds will change everything. Ty Evans was one of her students that is being released from juvenile detention serving time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle finds herself face to face with a brutally murdered Principal. Someone killed Mrs. Marshall in cold blood but who and why? Was it Ty or was it someone else? Mrs. Marshall was not a sympathetic or kind person and she mistreated Ty the same way he was mistreated at home. This is just the first murder as several more follow. Detective Stiles takes the case and the call when Elle phones 911 and finds herself wanting to just run away and hide under the covers. But, things do not work that way and on top of everything Ty’s younger brother Seth, is now in her class and when the first day of school comes about the story will get even more involved and the topic of abuse comes to the forefront. Finding herself at the center of a murder investigation, Elle zones out and disassociates herself at times from the conversation. Added in when she does zone in and returns home after making her statement her three friends bombard her with questions, one named Susan her lawyer berates her for talking to the police and the other two voice their opinions loud and clear as Elle zones out at times. It’s as if she does not want to deal with confrontation or discord.
The first day of school is exciting for the students and teachers and when Seth enters her classroom, Elle realizes that something about him is off as he talks to himself, is bruised and beaten and she begins to wonder if she should report it or not. Listening to the friends talk and realizing that they often drown their sorrows in alcohol should not have been the primary answer to their problems. Added in we meet Katie, Ty’s sister who seems to care about him along with her three friends picking Seth up from school. But, Ty is in the picture and his mother fears that he will hurt her and yet he states over and over again that he killed his father to protect his sister and his mother. Claiming that Elle is the only one that was nice to him and that he was not guilty of the crime and he was covering with his mother.
Just as this murder is still being investigated someone tries to push Elle into the street but mistakes someone else for her and a young girl named Patty is killed. Fear strikes Elle again as she is now the target of another murder investigation and her fears once again come into play as she is afraid of her school, the janitor and is now facing another mutilated corpse. Elle and her three friends are trying to piece it all together but every step of the way there are roadblocks. The children in her class are quite astute and think too astute as they question her about the death of the Principal and rather than ask the guidance counselor or grief counselors for help she handles it herself. Even seeing the spirits of the two dead people transfers over to Seth who hears a voice that guides his actions but whose and what does he hear?
As the police look into both deaths each one points to Ty and the face that he is linked to the murders makes him the primary suspect. But, Elle and her friends continue on, she finds herself zoning out more frequently and she rethinks what she should do about Seth. All too often she backs away from confrontations and lets things take their natural course and bad decisions are made. Seth, Katie, Rose their mother: Who is the real victim? Elle and her friends try to play sleuth and Elle thinks that she might have the problem solved. Second guessing herself, not able to come to viable solutions and thinking that she cannot make the right decision she and her friends buried themselves in good and drink. Added in she was being stalked by her real estate agent, Jerry who was interested in her not only for the sale of her house but had other designs on her too. With her friends egging her on to report the fact that she woke up and felt that she was raped, some believing her and yet never calling the police, added in the next murder is Joyce Huff the other second grade teacher who was very critical of her. But, things spiral out of control each time Elle zones out, finds herself wondering if she is being stalked, followed and thinks people are breaking into her house, finding footprints on her carpeting and acting paranoid. Filled with some twists and several surprises as Elle calls Child Services, has Seth and Katie separated from their mother only to have Rose Evans come after her too. Anger, fear, rage and revenge are all brought to light as someone is trying to cover up their tracks but who and why?
Katie is a manipulator and although she appears to be concerned about Seth when she and her friends come to pick him up from school why does he cower. When things get more difficult why does Elle allow him to go home with her even though he is in the custody of a foster family? Why didn’t she call Child Services or check with the guidance staff or Mr. Royal?
Wanting to sell her house she had lockbox outside and the real estate agent could access her house for viewing whenever they were scheduled. But, being interested in Elle and abusive in his mannerisms and ways did not endear her to him so why not fire him? Always taking too long to carry out what she have been done, not thinking things through but finding something that would tell it all, just who created a list of victims? Who was out to eliminate her and Becky her best friend and teacher in the same school? Who killed Ty’s ex-girlfriend, the young girl on the street, Mrs. Marshall and even more?
When the truth behind the murders comes out and Elle is the next victim and Ty comes to her rescue can he save her? Can she save herself and when surrounded and hunted you won’t believe how she tries to escape? With Rose Evans after her and pleading to get her son back, with Ty hoping to save her and her world coming to a crashing halt, can Elle find a way to stay focused or will she zone out? An ending that is violent, graphically depicted as author Merry Jones brings to light the serious issues of child abuse, sexual abuse, revenge, retribution, redemption, guilt by association, misdirected loyalties, love, family, trust, deceit and the ability of someone or many to not feel anymore and to kill for the pure sake of the desire to inflict pain and for kill for pleasure.
This is because they would have too much understanding and natural respect for life. Hiding in plain sight these murders to this person or persons was nothing more than CHILD’S PLAY!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine
I was riveted to this book! Can’t wait for more from Merry Jones!
Thanks, Fran, for a wonderful interview on Blog Talk radio and a thorough review!