Monday, November 23, 2020




When a beloved nun is murdered in a sleepy Catskill Mountain town, a grieving young widow finds herself at the center of the turmoil. Bianca St. Denis is searching for a job and seeking acceptance in her new home of Batavia-on-Hudson. Agatha Miller, the nun's closest friend and the ailing local historian everyone loves to hate, shares her painful personal history and long-buried village secrets with Bianca. Armed with this knowledge, Bianca unravels the mysteries surrounding the death while dealing with the suspicions of her eccentric neighbors.

However, Bianca's meddling complicates the sheriff's investigation as well as his marriage. Can Sheriff Mike Riley escape his painful past in a town where murder and infighting over a new casino vie for his attention?

Danger stalks Bianca as she gets closer to the truth. Can the sheriff solve the mystery before the killer strikes again? Can the town heal its wounds once the truth has been uncovered?

Book Details: 

Title: Winter Witness

Author: Tina deBellegarde

Genre: mystery, women’s fiction
Series: Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery Series
, book 1
Publisher: Level Best Books (September 29, 2020)

Print length: 298 pages

On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours



Things you need in order to write: time. Once I have time, anything will do—my laptop or paper and pen. Even my voice memo recorder on my phone. Some of my best scenes were “written” that way.
Things that hamper your writing: phone calls.

Things you love about writing: I love when the characters take over my writing. I am a planner; I know where my story is going. But often, once I start a scene, the characters take over. They handle a problem better than I may have outlined. They behave “in character” but not necessarily the way I would expect. An added bonus is that they often tie things up nicely, or create a lead in to the next scene that was never planned. It’s amazing really. I know intellectually that I am the one who is doing it, but there is definitely a sense of channeling. For example, I recently wrote a scene for the upcoming book in the Batavia-on-Hudson, Dead Man’s Leap, where a character created a dramatic twist that worked so well with the planned story that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t planned it that way. (I can’t tell you more . . . it contains serious spoilers.)
Things you hate about writing: I am doing my best to create a “full-time” writing practice but I haven’t mastered it yet. I have enough time to produce the books in the series (two more are in the works right now . . . hopefully more down the road), but I need to manage my time so that I can work on other writing projects. I want to write more short stories and flash fiction. And I have other standalone book projects on the back burner also. It’s a problem similar to reading, so many books so little time.

Easiest thing about being a writer: working in my pajamas!

Hardest thing about being a writer: it changed my relationship to reading. When I read now it is very hard not to analyze, critique, or try to learn something about good (or bad) writing. It is much harder now for me to read just for the pleasure of it.

Things you love about where you live: I live in essentially the setting of my book Winter Witness. Batavia-on-Hudson is a fictitious village in the Catskill Mountains, but I live outside a village just like it. It is cozy and welcoming. Everyone knows everyone. Gossip abounds, we don’t always agree, but mostly we all find a way to get along. We have to, because we live too intimately to not get along.
I also love the scenery, the fresh air, the wildlife. This morning alone on my front lawn—six does, two bucks, and a flock of turkeys. (Actually I had to stop and look this up – a group of wild turkeys is a gang or a rafter! New knowledge! Gotta love it!) My home is isolated so we have no need for window treatments. Every window frame is a painting. Each one looks out on something like a green hill, a blue sky, autumn leaves, an expanse of snow. It’s all lovely. I am grateful for it every day. (Oh! And living in the country means I have enough room for a writing “she shed”—the perfect place to write!)
Things that make you want to move: nothing . . . I could live here forever.

Things you never want to run out of: books and paper.
Things you wish you’d never bought: the exercise equipment I never use.

Favorite smell: lavender and citrus.

Something that makes you hold your nose: killing a stink bug.

Last best thing you ate: lemon ice cream.

Last thing you regret eating: half a bag of gummy bears in one sitting . . . don’t ask me why I did it.

Favorite places you’ve been: Japan, Italy, Spain.

Places you never want to go to again: Florida in the summertime.

Favorite books: books with well-developed characters— Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout

Books you would ban: never!

Things that make you happy: cappuccino and croissant like Bianca in Winter Witness.

Things that drive you crazy: being asked to solve problems at night.

The last thing you did for the first time: I participated in a live book reading last night. I was very nervous, but I survived.

Something you’ll never do again: I thought I would write that I'd never do a live book reading again, but I know I will do more. And now that I’ve done one, I’ve decided they are fun. 



Thursday, December 15

She could have been sleeping, were it not for the gaping gash in the back of her head and the bloody stone next to her limp body.

Sheriff Mike Riley stood alone on the shore of the near-frozen lake. At his feet, Sister Elaine Fisher lay face down, ice crystals forming around her body where it met the shoreline. The murmuring water of the nearby stream imparted a peacefulness at odds with the scene. In the waning winter light, he paused ankle deep in the snow illuminated by the beat of red strobe lights.

Murder seemed so extreme. The villagers would be baffled. Murder didn’t happen in sleepy Batavia-on-Hudson. An occasional stolen bicycle, some were paid off the books, but that was hardly worth mentioning. Lately, there had been a handful of amateur burglaries. Murder was another story altogether.

But there was no denying it. Elaine’s body was there before him, lifeless on a cushion of snow at the edge of the lake.

Sheriff Riley ran his chapped hands through his salt and pepper hair. A knowing person might have noticed that he used this motion to disguise a quick brush at his cheek, to eliminate the one tear that slipped through.

He feared this day, the day his lazy job would bring him face to face once again with the ugly underbelly he knew existed even in a quiet place like Batavia-on-Hudson. Mike Riley wasn’t afraid of death. He was afraid of the transformation a village like this was bound to go through after an act of murder.

He cried for Elaine; though he barely knew her. But also, he cried for the village that died with her that morning. A place where children still wandered freely. A village that didn’t lock doors, and trusted everyone, even the ones they gossiped about. Now, inevitably, the villagers would be guarded around each other, never quite sure anymore if someone could be trusted.

He thought he could already hear the locks snapping shut in cars and homes as word of the murder got out. Mothers yanking children indoors, hand-in-hand lovers escaping the once-romantic shadows of the wooded pathways, and old ladies turning into shut-ins instead of walking their dogs across the windy bluff.

Sheriff Riley steeled himself not just to confront the damaged body of the first murder victim of Batavia in over seventy years, but to confront the worried faces of mothers, the defeated faces of fathers and the vulnerable faces of the elderly.

He squatted in the slush, wincing as his bad knee rebelled, and laid his hands on Elaine’s rough canvas jacket, two-sizes too big—one of her thrift shop purchases, no doubt. As reverently as was possible in the muddy snow, Mike Riley turned over her body to examine the face of a changing village.

Sister Elaine had no one left, she had no known siblings and of course, no spouse or children. Only Agatha Miller, her childhood companion, could have been considered next of kin. How Elaine had tolerated her grumpy old friend was a mystery to everyone.

The sheriff knew that Elaine’s death would rock the community. Even a relative outsider like Mike understood that Elaine had been an anchor in Batavia. Her kindness had given the village heart, and her compassion had given it soul. No one would be prepared for this.

Mike knew from experience that preparation for death eases the grief. You start getting ready emotionally and psychologically. You make arrangements. You imagine your life without someone. But Mike also knew that when the time comes it still slaps you in the face, cold and bracing. And you realize you were only fooling yourself. Then somehow, in short order, work becomes demanding, bills need to be paid and something on the radio steals a chuckle right out of your throat. For a brief second you realize that there are moments of respite from your grief and perhaps someday those moments will expand and you may be able to experience joy once again.

But for now, Elaine’s death will be a shock. No one had prepared for her death, let alone her murder.


Excerpt from Winter Witness by Tina deBellegarde.  Copyright 2020 by Tina deBellegarde. Reproduced with permission from Tina deBellegarde. All rights reserved.



Tina deBellegarde lives in Catskill, New York with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby. Winter Witness is the first book in the Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery Series. Tina also writes short stories and flash fiction. When she isn't writing, she is helping Denis tend their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro. Tina did her graduate studies in history. She is a former exporter, paralegal, teacher, and library clerk.

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