Completed Works

The Royce Toliver Series – Historical Mystery

A Blackness More Than Night
Deni Starr

Photo: D. Starr

It’s 1885 in Portland, Oregon, and Royce Toliver is starting his second year as a lawyer in a major Portland firm. He is asked to handle a case charged as capital murder, but is assured it will be reduced to manslaughter, his client can plead guilty and it will be very simple.  However, the deputy district attorney refused to lower the charge and Royce’s client won’t plead guilty. Royce discovers his client may have a defense, but he needs to know a great deal more about what happened and why.

When he can’t get the case to go away, he is fired from his law firm and his legal career now consists of this one case he is doing for free. He almost loses that, as well as his life when he is arrested for the murder of his doctor, with whom he had had a very public argument hours before the doctor was murdered.

With the help of his best friend, Perry, his aunt, and a new love interest, Royce learns about Portland’s underworld of vice, corruption, and the nightmare his client had been plunged into when Shanghaied three years before.  But, having turned his attention on the criminals. they turn their attention to him. Perry ends up disappeared, perhaps also Shanghaied, perhaps murdered.

Men were kidnapped for slave labor and held in the miserable Shang Hai tunnels underneath Portland’s streets. When a merchant ship needed crew, they were forced on board to sail for the Orient.  Photo: D. Starr

It isn’t enough for Royce to discover the identity of the major players in Portland’s organized crime. He has to figure out who can help him in a law enforcement community riddled with corruption, before his client ends up hanged, and he ends up dead.

This draft is in ready to publish condition.

A Whiter Shade of Pale
Deni Starr

The Dalles
Wasco County Courthouse, The Dalles, Oregon. Photo: D. Starr

After losing his second job with a reputable law firm in Portland, this time due to the after- effects of his first murder trial, Royce’s family exiles him to the hinterlands by finding him a simple clerk’s job in The Dalles. Bored to death by copying the same timber sales contract over and over, Royce jumps at the chance to do something actually requiring a lawyer’s skill, in this case, asking for an order of enforcement of previous ejectment orders on a mining claim.

It all seemed simple enough when he first agreed to help Raif Higgins, who, as it turns out, wants squatters ejected from his mining claims which are not being worked because his Chinese wife and her entire extended family were murdered by hired marauders. Stirring up interest in the matter after everyone thought the one man hanged solved the problem, Raif Higgins gets arrested and charged as the man behind the murders and Royce finds himself with a new murder case.

Trying to find his client an experienced criminal defense lawyer doesn’t work out in a small western town because the local bar refuses to represent a man they think is part Chinese who has had the audacity to pass himself off as a white man. This means Royce is once again way over his head with a client who is looking at being hanged.  But in this case, it won’t be enough to convince a jury that his client wasn’t the man behind the murders. If Raif Higgins is acquitted, that will be the excuse a local psychotic minister needs to drum up a posse to wipe out a band of peaceful Nez Perce who live near the mining claims.

If that weren’t bad enough, someone, quite possibly his own client whom he knows has been lying to him, has been selling confidential information about the case to the local newspaper, earning Royce the contempt of everyone in town, not to mention handing the prosecution all the information they need about his defense. Still, with the help of  an Indian woman who is fluent in English, several local Native languages, and Chinese, Royce sets out to find the real killer, and prove it.

The first draft of this novel is completed.

The Rosy Fingers of The Dawn
Deni Starr

Hung Far Low

Returning triumphantly to Portland after winning his second murder trial, and being well funded, Royce sets up himself up in his own law practice and starts looking for wealthy clients and well-paying cases.

While not interested in handling more criminal cases, having done two, things are slow at first so he accepts a pro bono appointment to represent a Chinese man accused of a Tong murder. His new client speaks no English and as Royce speaks no Chinese. He accepts the services of a translator without checking the man’s credentials, assuming these people are appointed by the court and somewhere along the line get vetted by the system. The case seems hopeless. His translator keeps telling him that his client is admitting guilt, wants to just plead guilty and be hanged but this seems inconsistent with the man’s affect. No matter how hard he tries to get his translator to pry a few facts out of the accused, he never seems to get any.

Royce eventually finds out his translator has been deliberately lying to him, and when he gets new help, he finds his client is claiming innocence, but knows nothing about the crime. He does, however, know the people involved, and the conflicts between the Tongs. Now Royce starts sorting through the few clues he has, which seem to only deepen the confusion, and point to connections between two other murders, one of an English merchant, and the other of an Irish maid.

When Royce can’t get the trial postponed because someone in the system somewhere is pulling some strings, he realizes much more is involved than a feud between Tongs, and it doesn’t make him feel any better to learn his house fire was caused by arson. Now he has to pull things together in a matter of days before his client is hanged, or he isn’t around to try the case.

This novel is in the conception stage. The research has been completed.

The Girl Scout Series

Contemporary Legal Suspense Mysteries Set in Portland


A Girl Scout is Honest
Deni Starr

K.C. Kavanaugh is trying to rebuild her legal career after a three year suspension from law for problems related to her depression and alcoholism.  The disciplinary prosecutor had been hoping to get K.C. disbarred, and is ready to jump on the first new allegation of misconduct to get K.C. out of the profession permanently.

K.C. knew this when she took on the case from Hell even though she was pretty sure that her new client was lying to her. Rita Chavez’s financial solvency had been destroyed due to her depression from the murder of her husband followed by a downward spiral of legal events courtesy of the lawyers she had hired to help her. When Rita hires K.C., she is in bankruptcy and on the verge of letting her lawyers strip her of nearly a million dollars in assets to pay the fees they charged her to bankrupt her.

K.C. has her hands full taking on half a dozen greedy lawyers and a dysfunctional legal system so she barley notices the odd things going on until one of the lawyers is murdered and the evidence indicates the killer is the same one who killed Rita’s husband.  K.C. has managed to anger her fellow member of the bar to the degree that now the disciplinary prosecutor is coming after her again, which is now the least of her worries since it seems the killer has targeted her and Rita and now is a race against time to find out who it is and why.

The first draft of this novel has been completed.

A Girl Scout Is Loyal
Deni Starr

When K.C.’s close friend, Jennifer, asks her to help out on a murder case, K.C. would have said no if she hadn’t needed the money. Their client is a young man who shot and killed a clerk at a late night sandwich shop during a botched robbery committed to get money for drugs. K.C. first reaction is to think the young thug should go to prison for life for being so stupid, if nothing else. But then she learns that there is more to the case.

Their young client David, had gotten lost in the foster care system because his family was an army family since they had to move constantly, leaving David behind.

homeless teens in Portland
Photo: Jan Sonnenmair

All but abandoned in the system for juveniles, David becomes as dysfunctional as the system himself, finally running away from foster care and ending up on the streets of Portland where he is exploited by a vicious drug dealer who fronts drugs to runaways until they become addicted and then forces them to commit crimes or sell their bodies to pay off their drug debt.

revolverDavid swears the gun went off accidentally and he didn’t mean to kill anyone. Given how strung out he’d been, K.C. finds this believable and can understand how it might have been an accident. What she doesn’t understand is why the police are so interested in anyone but David, and have offered his drug dealer immunity in exchange for testimony. She and Jennifer are determined to track down all the witnesses of this “street family” and expose what was going on to show the mitigating circumstances in David’s favor.

Then Jennifer dies suddenly from ovarian cancer and is replaced by another court appointed attorney who has no interest in the case but only in the money it can bring in. When that gets cut off by a new strict fiscal policy on indigent defense, the lawyer determines to do no further work, but just cruise through the trial putting on a sham of a defense. When K.C. protests, she gets fired off the case.

Determined to stay loyal to her young client, K.C. convinces the family of the young man David killed to file a civil suit for damages against the drug dealer. In the civil wrongful death case, she is able to expose the horrid circumstances that had trapped David, and the district considers a plea offer to a reduced charge is in order.

In the meantime, K.C. notices that the references so many witnesses made to the corrupt cop who had gone missing, presumably before being busted, and follows the clues to prove he’d been murdered by the member of the drug gang who had always stayed out of the legal system.  But can she prove his guilt before he comes after her?

This book is in the outline stage.

Stand Alones

Sinister Explanations
Deni Starr

Columbia Gorge HotelWhen Catherine was five years old, she was left with a babysitter while her parents went to an exclusive hotel in the Columbia River Gorge to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary with friends and family. A freak late spring snow storm traps everyone in the anniversary party in the hotel and at the end of the week, both her parents are dead, pronounced victims of a suicide pact.

Grown up with a law degree and now an inheritance from her adopted father, Catherine discovers evidence that her parents did not have a suicide pact. Determined to discover what really happened, twenty years after the fact, she convinces everyone who was in the original party to come back to the hotel, to share what they know with her hired private detective, a retired “cold case” police homicide investigator.

As it turns out, they are not alone in the old hotel, which has its dead residents as well as is live ones, and not long after this experiment is started, there is another death. Catherine and her investigator must sort through old memories and even older tragedies to piece together what really happened twenty years ago.

The first draft of this novel has been completed

All My Children
Deni Starr

Psycho-Crime Drama

When little five year old Diana Spencer is found drowned in the family pond, everyone in Prendeville believes it’s a tragic accident, everyone except the local district attorney who is running for re-election. The DA’s best hope for a major bust close to the election went up in smoke when the local motorcycle gang’s major drug dealer dropped a lit cigarette onto his bed covers during the night. The district attorney instructs the local sheriff, John Stone, to get something on someone, preferably the parents, of Diana Spencer to show the death was not an accident.

Large familyThe assignment was not as simple as it seemed since Diana’s adoptive parents were the celebrity parents who had the “open table family” which included ten adopted children and twelve foster children all on one large farm. Even so, Stone diligently investigated all possibilities for anything but accident and came up nothing. He was just about to close the file when he got an anonymous phone call reporting that of all the children at the “Open Table” family, Diana Spencer was the only one her adoptive parents had taken out a life insurance policy on. Digging a little deeper, Stone finds out that several years ago, the parents had lost a different five year old blonde girl to a drowning accident. The parents are charged with murder

Ray Goodlin is a struggling local lawyer with a modest solo practice who is assigned to represent Diana’s adoptive mother, Beryl, on charges of murder. Ray can’t imagine a worse fate than having your child murdered, and then being falsely accused of being the killer. He feels deeply compelled to protect his client from what he sees as a malicious prosecution with political motivation.

At first, his client says she has no memory of the day Diana died having gone into shock. The physical evidence is all inconclusive. Her husband admits to filling out the life insurance policy and signing his wife’s name to it, but he claims he had her permission. Then, a local reporter digs up reports that the husband was having an affair, and now all of a sudden, his client’s memory has returned and she claims she distinctly remembers facts that incriminate her husband and she insists on testifying against him.

Searching for clues that will help make some sense of these two deaths, Ray goes back even further in time and discovers shocking evidence that these two murders had their genesis in a crime that occurred half a century earlier and now he must find a way to do his duty to the truth, and to his client without betraying his integrity as a person, or as a lawyer.

The first draft of this novel has been completed.

Murder by the Sea
Deni Starr

A Whodunit

B.J. was in prison when her half-sister Cindy was murdered in a small town on the Oregon coast. It was nine more months before she was out and could try to find out what had happened. No one had been arrested, all the leads had played out, and law enforcement had no suspects.  B.J. can only hope that as heir to Cindy’s estate and thus with access to Cindy’s home and personal papers, she can come up with something.

With the help of a sympathetic café owner, two local writers, a “sister” police officer, and several people in the antique business, B.J. starts turning up some clues. She discovers that her sister had recently had new locks installed on her door, had bought a gun, and had her phone line cut.

The antique store Cindy worked for, and some other shops, appear to owe Cindy money for antiques she had bought for them at estate sales, some of which seem to have mysteriously disappeared. She also finds out that Cindy accidentally sold a special-order sea-chest to the wrong customer. B.J. can’t restore it to the right owner because no one can find it, and the right owner ends up dead shortly after B.J. arrives in town, the victim of an apparent drowning.

And then there is the mystery of Cindy’s car which also disappeared after her death, and all of this seems to tie into another antique store in Seattle.  Then B.J. discovers someone may be coming after her as well, and she’d better put the pieces of the puzzle together very fast.

This book has been re-written twice and recently line-edited.

Woods Children
Deni Starr

Suspense Thriller

When the savagely mutilated bodies of seven members of the Army Corp of Engineers are found deep in the woods of the Appalachians, local county sheriff, Jackie Taylor, is actually relieved to have the state police take the investigation away from her on false accusations of incompetence, which won’t be much of a help in the up-coming contested election for county Sheriff. Even without being official responsible for the murders in the woods, Sheriff Taylor has plenty on her plate, trying to manage a town over-run with world-wide media reporters after photos of the death scene was leaked and having a deputy in her department out to undermine her authority. But even this does not stop her from noticing that a peculiar lot of octogenarian men are dying in droves, some in very mysterious circumstances.

Her job becomes even more complicated when a special task force appointed by the governor announces that the killings in the wood clearing were due to satanic activity and promptly launch a local witch hunt, harassing everyone from the Daniel Boone Boys to the local girl scouts.  Half of her time is spent protecting her citizens from the God Squad and then the Squad from themselves.

abandoned mineStill, she turns up some interesting clues. Her Pawnee tracker, Green, found prints of large people with club-feet, going deeper into the woods, not coming out of it, and several slugs from home-made ammunition used in old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifles. She learns of an old abandoned mining town lost in the forest, and two hunting parties in the past whose members didn’t all come home and whom no one talks about any more. Clues continue to accumulate. Not long before the Corps of Engineer men were murdered one of their helicopter pilots had gone missing, something else no one was talking about. While she and her chief detective are investigating another old man’s death, they make a grisly find at an old farm, followed by arson, and an even grislier find is revealed by the fire. But just as her detective gets close to connecting the dots, he ends up dead in an apparently single vehicle drunk driving accident, one her own people will not allow her to investigate least she besmirch his reputation. Now all she has for help are a handful of inexperienced patrol officers and an extremely attractive news reporter who may be willing to get Jackie to compromise the investigations, in exchange for a scoop.

The God Squad then gets the map they need to put themselves in harm’s way, and in rescuing them, Jackie gets the answers to all the mysteries as the story reaches is shocking conclusion buried in forest mountains in the deserted town of Tomb.

The Evil That Men Do
Deni Starr

Traditional Haunted House Story

San Francisco

Disbarred lawyer, Telin O’Reilly, doesn’t care why Alan White is dead. All she cares about is that his death gives her a job right out of prison. An old ally from her law school’s Lesbian caucus, Laura Benning, has been hired to probate Alan White’s estate, and Laura has just hired Telin to act as executor.  On the other hand, San Francisco Police Detective Quinn wants to know why a well-to-do day trader dressed himself very peculiarly, went to a local park, smoked a cigarette, sat down, and allowed himself to freeze to death.

Telin’s main focus is on re-starting her legal career which had been rudely interrupted when she was framed by her law partner for tax fraud. Telin was lucky enough to have her conviction vacated on appeal, but even though she isn’t being re-prosecuted, the IRS comes after her for the unpaid taxes. She finds her attempt to be reinstated by the Oregon State Bar blocked by her former law partner who framed her.

Old black carSo preoccupied is she with these matters, she barely notices all the oddities about Alan White’s house until she realizes that its trying to kill her. Once it gets her attention, she starts to learn about its past with the help of information from a disreputable private eye whose “historical research” on the house consisted of a box of copies of newspaper clippings on the lives of three people from the 1920; Lily Waters, a talented young jazz singer who commits suicide at age 25, Jonathan Robert Cavendish, a local wealthy Oxford educated playboy who is known on the jazz scene as a crooner-pianist going by the name “Johnny Frisco” and a ‘”visiting Haitian dignitary” named Etienne DuValier who is very popular at seances sponsored by the local spiritualist crowd otherwise known as “The San Francisco Society for the Investigation of Manifestations.”


Telin consults her own psychic, a cellmate from prison, who believes the builder of the house was a practitioner of magic, most likely also a student of the dark occult, and possibly even worse. If evil was sealed into the house, there would be seven guardians like the gargoyles, of which Telin has already found five. Two more are hidden somewhere. The concentration of evil cannot be dissipated until all seven guardians are exposed.

Strengthened by time with her family, and armed with information about the occult, Telin returns to San Francisco determined to find out more about the mystery of the house, what happened to turn it evil, and how she can stop it from killing her or anyone else.

But the evidence indicates that Johnny took his diabolical fun with him when he left the city, and there was no reason to think he ever stopped his murders, and Quinn opines that he had eventually returned to San Francisco.

This novel has been professionally line-edited and needs one re-write before being in publishable form.

And A Mariachi Band
Deni Starr

Romantic Caper

Red CadillacBerit’s troubles start when her ninety year old father, Robert, escapes from his care-givers due to the negligence of her younger brother Ken, who is Robert’s legal guardian. They have only one clue as to where he may have gone in his uninsured Caddy; a website from Back Page for a woman offering “personal services.”

They find out what their father has been up to when Berit gets a call from her Aunt, Robert’s sister Ellie, saying that Robert decided, on a whim, to drive down from Seattle to visit her in Weed, California, after picking up his “woman friend” in Portland and stating an intention to stay in a hotel with the young woman in question  and planning for the two to drive down to San Francisco the next day.

Ken demands that Berit drive down to Weed that night to retrieve their father, noting his time is much more important than hers, an attitude he displayed even before Berit retired from her job as a homicide detective with Seattle police department.

motelOnce in Weed, Berit has no trouble finding their father’s candy apple red Caddy with its white walled wheels and white drop top at a local motel, only to also find that her father has gone on to his reward.  Aunt Ellie, a famous and wealthy romance writer who secretly also writes erotica under a pen name, is well liked in Weed which allows some of the logistical difficulties of the situation to be smoothed over, but some decision have to be made by the personal representative of Robert’s estate, Ken, who can’t be bothered to either answer his phone in a timely manner, or deal with the situation on a schedule convenient to anyone but himself.

Not too long afterwards, Ken announces that under no circumstances will Berit be allowed to sell the Caddy locally, she will have to manage to find a way to return it to Portland, and their father’s body has been prepared for transit and placed in a trailer by a local mortuary and Berit is to bring it back to Seattle.

The problem of the Caddy is solved due to Summer, the young woman who had been accompanying Robert, who finds a nice young man needing to drive to Seattle to join his traditional Aztec dance troupe, and his mariachi band. The young man in question speaks no English and has no papers, or cell phone but Summer is sure he understands to drop off the Caddy at the parking lot of the largest Catholic church in Seattle. It is only after he is gone that the mortuary admits to a minor mistake; they had removed Robert’s organs and packaged them separately in an appropriate cooled container and mistakenly placed it in the trunk of the Caddy rather than in the trailer.

Berit attaches the trailer to her jeep, packs in her Auntie Ellie who wants to attend the funeral, and Summer, who needs a ride back to Portland and who is expecting to get paid for her services. Berit is assured by Ken that he has checked with his lawyer and she is not doing anything illegal by hauling a dead body. Ellie checks with her lawyer and finds out it is actually a criminal offense.

The three of them (four counting Robert) have a number of adventures on the way back including being stopped by the police, having a hotel try to rip them off with extra charges, winning a fortune at the craps table and having thieves from the casino steal the jeep and trailer hoping to get the casino winnings. These various adventures require Berit to utilize her police skills, Summer her street survival skills, and Aunt Ellie to channel the various characters from her novels who always travel with her.

On the way back to Seattle Berit learns that her family wants to exclude her from the funeral which is being held at her uptight Aunt Betty’s homophobic church. Berit leverages being put in charge of the reception when Ken ends up in jail after trying to re-claim the caddy after the police have found it full of human organs. The reception allows Berit to further her budding romance with Summer and get revenge on her family for having excluded her from the funeral.

The Great Sword of Kestra
Deni Starr

Young Adult Gynocentric Fantasy Fiction

sword hiltThe women of Avia could easily defend themselves from the invasion from their northern neighbor but for the theft of the jewel from their great sword by a raiding party from their southern neighbor. Without the jewel in the hilt, the great sword cannot be drawn from its scabbard. A handful of Temple guards must now track down the raiding party, recover the jewel, and reunite it with the sword, and take it to the defenders in the North. Every chapter presents the women with a new challenge to overcome as they must find allies defeat enemies and meet new challenges to win their quest.

This work has been revised several times but not yet line-edited.


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