An Afterword for NO ONE SEES ME 'TIL I FALL

Normally, Skeleton Keys blog posts are produced similarly to our books—I write the post and Ann edits it. But this week we’ve switched places. Following the publication of NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL, Ann wanted to write an afterward for the novella to bring to light the stark reality of what life is like for Afghani women in their supposedly ‘modern’ world. I agreed that it would be a meaningful addition, but I also wanted to share it here on the blog so it might reach a larger audience. For those who have not read NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL, Hoor is the victim for whom Matt, Leigh, and the team are determined to find justice.

After writing Hoor’s story in America, we decided to examine the current situation of Afghani women 12 years after the post-9/11 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

In December 2011, 13 year-old Sahar Gul was discovered locked in her in-laws’ basement in Baghlan. Five months earlier, she had been purchased from her stepbrother for $5000 and forced into an illegal marriage. When she refused to consummate the marriage or work as a prostitute, her new family burned her with hot wires, tore out her fingernails, pinched and twisted her skin with pliers, and starved her. When found, she was barely clinging to life.

Lawyers from the organization Women for Afghan Women (WAW) obtained convictions of attempted murder for Sahar Gul’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and father-in-law—each was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Those verdicts were upheld on appeal in May 2012.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan sent the case back to the appeals court, stating that the torture inflicted did not rise to the level of attempted murder and should only have been prosecuted as assault. The appeals court agreed, overturned the convictions, and released all three defendants in early July. That same week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed five new commissioners to the government’s Independent Human Rights Commission. One of his new appointees was a mullah, an Islamic scholar, and former Taliban government official who was detained by the American military at its Bagram prison for three years.

In 2009, the Elimination of Violence Against Women law (EVAW) was implemented by presidential decree. It bans twenty-two harmful practices against women and girls—including rape, physical violence, forced or child marriage, and the denial of rights to education or work. At that time, a U.N. panel reported that an estimated 70–80% of all rural marriages were forced, and nearly 60% occurred before the woman reached the legal age of 16 years.

Between October 2012 and September 2013, 650 incidents of violence against women and girls were reported in 18 Afghan provinces by police and prosecutors, an increase of 28% over the previous year. But only 109 of those incidents were prosecuted under EVAW—a 2% increase over the previous reporting period. During the same time period, however, the Afghan Department of Women’s Affairs recorded an additional 1,019 incidents of violence. This suggests that many cases of violence against women are either unreported to police or adjudicated by a jirga—an assembly of local elders who act as informal dispute-resolution mechanisms in the absence of a formal justice system. In most cases women are returned to their marital homes.

Women and girls who run away from home to flee domestic abuse are sometimes charged with the crime of “attempted zina”. Zina is an Arabic term referring to the prohibition under Shari’a law of engaging in sexual intercourse outside of marriage—a Hudood crime for which punishment is mandatory. Without proof of fornication, zina becomes a Ta’zir crime where arrest and prosecution occurs based upon presumed intent. Local police and judges in some rural provinces continue to imprison women for this crime unless they can prove they fled home to escape violence and took refuge with a relative or in an approved Department of Women’s Affairs shelter.

In May 2013 the Afghan parliament held a debate where portions of the EWAW law—specifically the bans on child and forced marriage, as well as restrictions to female health care and education—were criticized as “un-Islamic”. Although signed by President Hamid Karzai, EWAW has never been ratified by the Afghani parliament. In fall of 2013, the lower house of parliament passed a draft criminal-procedure code barring a female victim’s own relatives from testifying in a criminal case dealing with violence against her, making the prosecution of domestic violence against Afghan women virtually impossible. As of December 2013, the draft code is still pending a vote in the upper house of parliament.


Graham Bowley. In-Laws Sentenced in Afghan Girl’s Torture Case. New York Times. 4 May 2012.

Graham Bowley. Wed and Tortured at 13, Afghan Girl Finds Rare Justice. New York Times. 11 Aug 2012.

Rod Nordland. Critics Question Karzai Choices for Human Rights Panel. New York Times. 1 July 2013.

Matther Rosenberg and Jawad Sukhanyar. Afghan Court Reverses Convictions in Torture of Girl. New York Times. 3 July 2013.

Marisa Taylor. Afghan Law barring violence against women stalls, UN says. Al Jazeera America. 8 Dec 2013.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. A Way to Go: An Update on Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan. Kabul, Afghanistan December 2013.

Manizha Naderi. World must stay engaged in Afghanistan, or hard-won progress will be erased. Women for Afghan Women. 17 Dec 2013.

Photo credit: isafmedia


Today we’re thrilled to announce the release of Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries #2 – NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL, our first series novella. *opens champagne and tosses confetti*

I’ve been asked many times why we wrote a novella instead of sticking to our annual hardcover release schedule. In the end, the answer was twofold. We wanted to give our readers content while they waited the eleven months between DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT and A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH. I’m a series reader myself, and I know how hard it can be to get involved in a series and then have to wait six or twelve months for the next installment. We wanted to fill that gap with a short case that falls between the longer and more complex cases in the novels. But we also wanted to introduce the series to new readers who might be willing to try a new author in a short piece, and who might then be interested in continuing the series with us. It’s an experiment of sorts—instead of putting our money and effort into more classic marketing methods, we decided that the best form of marketing was series content because that was what our readers really wanted. As an added bonus, for the first time, the first three chapters of A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH are included to give you a taste of what’s to come in the series.

Huge thanks go to Ann who bravely volunteered to do all the formatting required (and it was A LOT!) to get the novella into proper electronic publishing format. It looks great, and I had absolutely nothing to do with it. :)

We wanted to include a sneak peek at the novella with the first chapter below (please don't mind the lack of indents; HTML likes to strip them all out...). Enjoy!



Exposure: a measure of the amount of light hitting the surface of a light-sensitive photographic material while creating a latent image.

Friday, 1:37 p.m.

Boston University, School of Medicine

Boston, Massachusetts

Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott hesitated at the open door to the laboratory. Her gaze instantly found her onetime partner—Boston University forensic anthropologist Dr. Matthew Lowell—huddled with his graduate students around an examination table across the room. Tall and dark, his physique spoke of long hours spent at the oars out on the Charles River, and he stood a full head above his students, except long, lanky Paul Layne. The discussion was too quiet for Leigh to hear distinct words, but there was a thread of remorse in Kiko’s tone, followed by cool logic in Matt’s. Between Juka and Paul, she caught a glimpse of smooth ivory bones on the stainless steel table. The group was hard at work, examining human remains recovered from the charnel house beneath Boston’s historic Old North Church.

Guilt coiled with anticipation in her gut. It had only been a few weeks since she’d first interrupted their work to pull them into a case. And yet here she was, proverbial hat in hand, once again.

She tapped two knuckles against the door frame.

Matt looked up from beneath the slightly shaggy hair that tended to fall into his eyes—a tactic she knew he employed to hide the twisted scar that ran from near his right eyebrow into his hairline. His expression warmed as their eyes met. “Trooper.” He raised two fingers to his temple in a brief salute, the formality of the gesture tempered by a wide grin. “This is a surprise.”

“Can’t I just drop by the lab?” As Leigh approached the group, Kiko Niigata, Matt’s senior grad student, stepped aside, making a place for her at the table. The group closed ranks around her, bringing her naturally into their circle. “What are you working on?”

“More remains from the charnel house,” Kiko, a slender woman with delicate Japanese features, pointed to the tiny, anatomically-arranged skeleton, topped by a blossom of skull fragments.

“It’s a newborn baby who probably died during childbirth, possibly along with its mother.” Juka Petrović, stocky and solid, with the dark coloring of his Bosnian ancestors, gave her a short nod of greeting and a small smile. Always restrained, Juka’s acknowledgement was the equivalent of the exuberant Paul greeting her with a trumpet fanfare.

“What happened to the skull?” In her peripheral vision, Leigh could see Paul’s expression of cocky expectation, his gaze fixed on her face as if trying to read her mind. He knows something’s up.

Matt picked up a tiny, gently curving piece of bone rimmed by ragged edges. “Nothing sinister. The fetal skull is actually comprised of forty-four unfused pieces. It’s the flexibility of the unfused skull that allows passage through the birth canal. Later in life, the progression of skull fusion helps us determine age.” He set the bone back into place in the human jigsaw puzzle. “Kiko’s going to do the skull reconstruction, and then try to give our baby a face.”

Kiko stroked an index finger over the curve of a tiny eye socket. “It’s going to be a tough reconstruction because of all the suture lines, but Matt’s willing to let me try.”

Matt patted her shoulder. “It always bothers you to work with kids.”

“And babies are the worst.” She frowned down at the table. “So many died so young back then.”

“Enough with the small talk,” Paul finally exploded, drawing everyone’s eyes. “You have a case for us, don’t you?”

Leigh’s gaze shot to Matt as confusion and then suspicion streaked across his face. She closed her eyes, guilt suddenly weighing heavily across her shoulders. She’d known there was a good chance Matt would misconstrue her arrival, especially considering the very private dinner they’d enjoyed last week—a dark restaurant, a good meal, fine wine, and a warm goodbye to end the evening. An evening his students and her sergeant were totally unaware of. “Well, now that you mention it . . .” she said weakly.

Matt stepped back from the exam table, his eyes narrowed as he considered her. “I should have seen it.”

“Seen what?”

“You.” One extended hand panned down, then back up her body. “This isn’t a social call. You’re in cop mode—hair tied back, plain business suit, sensible shoes, no jewelry.” He crossed his arms over his broad chest and Leigh felt the space between them grow wider even though neither had moved. “I guess I called it right after all. What have you got for us, Trooper?”

Guilt started to dissipate as irritation rose. She knew how well they worked together . . . once they struggled to get on the same page. “Now don’t go getting all out of sorts before I’ve even had a chance to bring you up to speed.”

“I knew it!” Paul fist-pumped the air. “We’re back, baby!”

“You really have a case for us?” Kiko asked. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Interested?”

“Damn straight.” Paul did a quick-footed hip-hop shuffle. “We’re back to crime fighting. Cool!”

Leigh turned to Juka to find his gaze fixed on Matt, as if trying to temper his own response based on his supervisor’s. “Juka? Are you willing to help out?”

The young man shifted uncertainly from foot to foot. “I’d be interested in another case. But only if Matt is. This should be his decision.”

“I agree,” Kiko said. “I’m happy to get involved again, and I know we were a valuable part of the last investigation. But this has to be Matt’s call. He’s the one who’ll end up in court as the expert witness at the end of the case, not us.”

Taking a deep breath, Leigh faced Matt. His hazel eyes were fixed unblinkingly on hers and his face was carefully blank. “So . . . can I give you a rundown on my new case?” she asked cheerfully. She tried to match her words with an enticing smile, but it slipped when he continued to silently stare. “Matt?”

Instead of answering, he took her arm, drawing her toward his desk and out of earshot of his students. “You had this planned all along didn’t you? You were going to use my students as leverage to get me on board. You knew they’d be interested, especially Paul. And you banked on their enthusiasm to drag me in whether I wanted to or not.” He turned his back to the young people across the room, the only privacy afforded in the big, open lab. “Couldn’t you have trusted me with the truth? I don’t like games, Leigh. After all we’ve been through, I expect better from you than this.”

Her head bowed, she rubbed a hand over the back of her neck, trying to ease some of the prickly stress suddenly lodged there. “I’m not playing games. I just really need your help. And I felt desperate enough to try to force your hand.” She looked up when his hand closed over hers, pulling it from her neck to hold it in his, his thumb softly stroking over her skin.

“Then just ask me.”

His gentle tone had her blinking up at him in surprise. “Really?”


“Even after the last time?” Their successful first case together had brought them very much to the attention of the media and her superiors. But this wasn’t the essence of her question—there were personal elements in play here they were both aware of, even if they seldom spoke of them.

Her gaze flicked up over his dark hair where a new scar joined the others cruelly carved into his flesh. “You got shot, hit on the head, and then we were both nearly killed by a maniac. And all those victims. Not to mention I practically blackmailed you into coming on board in the first place by threatening to take the case to a rival anthropologist.”

“You didn’t blackmail me.”

She grimaced. “Actually, I did. I knew walking into the Old North that you didn’t like Trevor Sharpe, so he was my last ditch ace-in-the-hole if you wouldn’t sign on voluntarily.” She tried to tug her hand from his, surprised when he didn’t let go in disgust, and then shocked when he gave a short bark of laughter. “You’re not mad?”

“How can I be mad when it got us here? Even I have to admit you were very resourceful. You knew what you wanted and went after it using any and all means at your disposal.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze and then surreptitiously dropped it. “But next time, why don’t you just pick up the phone. By this point, we can cut right to the chase. Now, how about you fill us in?”

They rejoined the group, the three students watching them warily until Matt said, “Leigh’s going to tell us what she knows. Then I assume we need to get out to a site right away? They’re holding it for us?”

“Yes.” She loosed a long sigh, her first relaxed breath since setting eyes on her victim. She pulled her notepad from her blazer pocket, flipping it open to the relevant details. “A call came in over the tip line yesterday reporting a body dumped in Lawrence’s municipal landfill.”

“A call? From who?” Matt asked.

“People don’t usually leave their name on the tip line. Anonymity is the whole point. But it sounded like a girl.”

“How do you find a body in a landfill?” Juka asked. “That must be a huge endeavor.”

“Clearly they’ve found it or Leigh wouldn’t be here,” Matt interjected. “I’m betting they used a cadaver dog.”

“Got it in one. They searched all yesterday afternoon without one with no luck. So this morning they brought in two dogs. One found the body stuffed in a garbage bag near the surface.”

“I bet it blended right in like that.” Paul pushed a hand through his dark blond hair, making it stand up in small spikes. “Without the phone tip, it might never have been found.”

“It was clearly a recent addition, but would have been completely buried in another day or two. I was called in and I only needed one look to know that I needed you guys.”

“There’s no way the body’s in good shape,” Matt said. “Was the bag sealed?”

“It was until the local cops cut the bag open to confirm they had a victim.”

Matt winced. “We need to move fast then. Birds and bugs infest dump sites in a big way.”

“I left several officers with the remains, keeping the birds away.”

“Bugs are the bigger contaminant at this point.” Matt quickly moved through the lab, pulling equipment off shelves and out of drawers. “Get your field kits. Full Tyvek and sampling supplies.” He glanced at Leigh. “I’ll throw in coveralls for you too. You can’t go rooting through garbage dressed like that.” He paused for a moment, tapping an index finger against the benchtop. “I suspect a body bag might not do it for this one. Paul, you know that really big plastic transport container?”

“The one stored down the hall?”

“That’s the one. Get it. We’ll need it to hold the body bag.” He turned back to Leigh. “Call in a morgue van. If we transport the body in my SUV, I’ll never get the smell out.”

“They’re already on alert and waiting for my call. And you’re right. I don’t think a body bag will do it.”

Matt stopped short, glancing back over his shoulder at her. “How bad is it?”

Leigh had spent the last hour trying to forget what she’d seen inside that plastic bag. “I’d use the word ‘soup’ but then I might never eat lunch again.”

Matt nodded as if this was what he expected, and continued gathering his things and stuffing them into a backpack. “The body won’t necessarily have been there long. Heat produced by landfill sites combined with warm weather and possible direct sunlight would turn the bag into an oven, speeding up decomp. It’s going to be a putrefied mess. But that will probably save us maceration time.”

Guilt and some of the stress lifted from Leigh’s shoulders as she watched Matt and his students efficiently move around the lab, getting ready to start a new case.

Together they’d stopped a killer who’d flown below the radar for years, until she’d joined forces with Matt and his team. After the case ended, she thought their work together was done. But it looked like she was wrong.

The team was back.

NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL is available today on Amazon for the Kindle. But you don’t need a Kindle to read it—the free Kindle app for PC, Mac, Android, and iOS products is available here. And if you enjoy the novella, we’d love it if you reviewed it on Goodreads and Amazon. Happy reading!

Cover Shoot and Reveal for NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL

The second instalment in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries releases November 26th as an e-book. We wrote this novella to bridge the gap in publishing between DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT and A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH. Matt and Leigh’s second case together occurs very soon after their first in the timeline. As an added bonus, the first several chapters of A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH will follow the novella itself as a taste of what’s next in the series.

Since Ann and I are self-pubbing this series entry, we also decided to tackle doing the cover ourselves. No easy task when we’re fitting into the framework of excellent existing series covers:

Luckily, my eldest daughter is currently in the second year of her Bachelor of Applied Arts in Photography program and she offered her skills and artistic eye—as well as the school’s professional studio—to produce the cover.

We did the cover shoot last week. My youngest daughter was kind enough to be our model, so it was a real family affair. Here are a few behind the scenes shots from the cover shoot in progress.

Model positioning and lighting set up:


The moment that turned into the final shot:

After the shoot came post production. I knew the shot I wanted as soon as I saw it, but we needed to play around with the possibilities of full colour versus black and white:

While we wanted to convey the starkness of the victim’s plight, we decided that black and white was too monochromatic. In the end, we decided that a desaturated version of the full colour photo best conveyed our theme.

Then came cropping, image correction, and adding authors’ names and the Abbott and Lowell series banner. We decided on a title font that had a touch of Sanskrit flow to it, and we were done.

We’re proud to present our final result:

Only the joint forces of science and law enforcement can help when a young woman is found brutally murdered with her identity erased.

Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott and forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell come together to solve their second case when the remains of a young woman are found, thrown away like garbage at a local landfill. But what seems straightforward becomes something much more sinister when the victim’s bone damage reveals a shocking history of abuse. It will take reliving the horrors of Matt’s military background, all the team’s forensic skills, and Leigh’s intuition combined for them to catch the killer and give the victim the justice she deserves.

So what do you think of our new cover?

We’re in the finishing stages of putting together a mini street team for this release. So if you read and loved DEAD, would like to get early, free access to our material and would be willing to write reviews on the book for Amazon and Goodreads to help create buzz, please let me know and I’d be happy to add you to our list!

Photo credit: Jessica Newton Photography