Road Trip with Annette Dashofy

Edith here, so happy to host my good friend (and many-time Agatha finalist) Annette Dashfy on the blog once again. Under the Radar is her latest Zoe Chambers mystery and she’s here to tell us about a research road trip she took – and to give away a signed book! But first, let’s hear about the story.

Paramedic and deputy coroner Zoe Chambers responds to a shooting and discovers her longtime friend, Horace Pavelka, has gunned down a man who’d bullied him mercilessly for decades. Ruled self-defense, no charges are filed. When another of his tormentors turns up dead in Horace’s kitchen, Police Chief Pete Adams questions the man’s innocence in both cases…especially after Horace and his girlfriend go into hiding. 

While fighting to clear her friend, Zoe is handed the opportunity to finally learn what really happened to her long-lost sibling. What starts out as a quick road trip on a quest for answers leads her to an unfamiliar city in the middle of a November blizzard, where she finds way more trouble than she bargained for. Pete’s own search for Zoe and a missing murderer ultimately traps him in a web of deception. Face-to-face with one of the most cunning and deadly killers of his law enforcement career, Pete realizes too late that this confrontation may well be his last.

Road Trip!

My Zoe Chambers Mysteries have mostly been set in “Monongahela County,” Pennsylvania, a fictionalized version of Washington County where I’ve lived my entire life. Zoe, like me, has grown up in the farm country and small towns of the area. I took her out of her comfort zone for the fifth book in the series, No Way Home, when I had her travel to New Mexico. In Under The Radar, she once again hits the road for unfamiliar territory—although not as far or unfamiliar as the American Southwest.

This time, Zoe, her cousin Patsy, and friend/investigative journalist Lauren pile into a behemoth rented SUV with Zoe’s mother Kimberly for the road trip from hell. And that’s before they even get to Erie where an early winter blizzard is whipping in from Canada.

Writing this journey and unlikely travel team was some of the most fun I’ve had sitting at a computer. Kimberly is always a hoot. Self-involved, overbearing, and—as a resident of Florida—never quite prepared for winter, Zoe’s mother can be exasperating to those around her. But now, as the domineering mother of the bride, she takes the concept of control freak to a whole new level.

The trip is only supposed to be a quick run to Clarion, a very real town about three hours north and east of Monongahela County. Zoe, with Lauren’s help, is trying to locate information on her missing half-brother when Kimberly shows up unannounced with cousin Patsy grudgingly in tow. Kimberly, while loathing the idea of her late husband having a child prior to their marriage, insists they settle this once and for all by simply driving to Clarion, the last known location for the missing sibling’s mother. Besides, Kimberly can plan Zoe’s wedding on the way.

Snow in Erie. Photo by Marianne Main.

Of course, it’s never that easy. Answers lead to more questions, and ultimately to a name and an address. In Erie. Except Kimberly has quickly tired of the mission—and the cold—and wants to return to Monongahela County and her scheduled flight back to sunny Florida. Instead, Zoe and friends head north. To Erie, and straight into the heart of a blizzard. And into the hands of a killer.

Lauren stood and approached Kimberly. “There’s another option.”

Hurricane Kimberly turned her gale-force bluster on the reporter. “And what might that be?”

We split up.” Lauren pointed at Kimberly and Patsy. “You two head home. Zoe and I’ll rent a car and go on to Erie to find her brother.”

That’s the stupidest idea yet.”

Why?” Lauren demanded. “Because it’s not yours?”

The room fell silent, all the air sucked out of the eye of the hurricane. Zoe waited for Kimberly to flatten Lauren verbally if not physically.

For what felt like an eternity, the only sound was the soft tick of ice crystals tapping on the window. When Kimberly again spoke, her voice was quieter. “No. Because I was always taught you leave the dance with whomever brought you. We all came together. We stay together.” She looked at Zoe. “If you insist on continuing this wild goose chase…” Kimberly stood taller and lifted her chin. “I’ll reschedule my flight.”

Zoe stared at her mother. Who was this woman?

Why Erie? Because it’s one of my favorite places to visit, although preferably in the summer. Lake-effect snowstorms are the stuff of legends. The story is set in November, a time of year when my area is usually cold and very gray. And wet. Snow is definitely possible, even likely, but most of the time, we get a lot of rain. The trees have largely been stripped of leaves. It’s just…bleak. But east, in the Laurel Highlands (where, by the way, Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams is searching for a missing couple wanted for questioning about a murder), and north toward the lake, larger accumulations are a regular occurrence.

It was fun getting Zoe and Pete out of familiar territory. Research wasn’t an issue since I already knew both areas well.

Kimberly? She didn’t have so much fun. But we do see another side of her—one I always knew was there, but readers, Zoe, and maybe even Kimberly herself did not.

Readers: Have you ever taken a road trip? And if so, what unexpected bumps along the road created unforgettable memories?

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. Annette has garnered five Agatha nominations including her current nomination for Best Contemporary Novel for FAIR GAME. She is the vice president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime Chapter and is on the board of directors of Pennwriters. UNDER THE RADAR is the ninth in her series.

41 Thoughts

  1. Okay, Annette, when I read Kimberly and Zoe were in an SUV together my mouth dropped open and I hoped it was the size of an behemoth RV! Not sure a simple SUV could hold them. Talk about instant conflict. I absolutely cannot wait to read Under the Radar.

    Road trips, of course, most of my favorites were when I was in college and my roommate and I would pile into her bright orange Dodge Charger and take off for Key West. This was in the days of the old bridges and supersized cars. We always left school at 11 PM and drove through the night arriving around 3 AM to sleep in the car behind the Holiday Inn. Best adventure was meeting a man on Smathers Beach who took us into the closed and shuttered Casa Marina. He was a writer who was fascinated by the history of the place and had broken in and rigged a door so he could visit often. Told us lots of stories about movie stars and parties that had taken place in the 20s and 30s. I wish I could remember his name.

    1. Wow, Kait! That sounds like an awesome road trip, although the idea of schoolgirls going into a closed and shuttered building with a stranger screams murder mystery to me!

  2. Congrats on the new book Annette!

    I’m not one for taking road trips. I hate being trapped in a car for long periods of time. I’m also not one for being excited by what you might see along the roadside as you travel to your eventual destination.

    The one time I had to do a road trip it was to drive to Virginia with my brother to pick up his daughter for a summer visit. We got lost in Maryland, stopped to get directions and despite telling the guy we wanted the quickest route and didn’t care about scenic routes, that’s what he gave us. So a 12 hour ride ended up becoming 15 tiring and annoying hours, all so we could turn around and go back the next day once we picked her up.

    Never again.

    1. Jay, I’ve done the unwanted scenic route thing too, and it was on the way to Virginia. Makes me wonder if there’s some plot out there to try to have us see more of Maryland and Virginia than we ever intended.

  3. I can’t wait for Under the Radar! When I was growing up my family took lots of road trips, sometimes for vacation and sometimes for short weekend trips. My dad always had a shortcut — we almost always ended up lost and the shortcut ended up adding extra time to our trip! I have such great memories of those trips.

  4. We’ve taken many road trips through the years. Each one seemed to have some sort of bump in them – some big and some small. One that stands out in my mind is going to Tombstone, Emmett Kelly Jr.’s, famous clown and friend, hometown for his 80th birthday. As a child with a military father who got from point A to point B with no variations, I had driven past the Grand Canyon 9 years in our travels from Fort Ord, CA to the southern states where relatives lived. I had laughingly told hubby that if he drove me by there would be a funeral to attend – his. Can’t describe the shock and awe I felt when I finally got to see the canyon’s majesty. Our trip was in November so we had the added beauty of snow. We had rented one of the cabins right on the rim for the night. Neither of us knew squat about fireplaces but decided that a nice fire in the fireplace in our cabin would be a nice warm touch to the evening. Let’s just say we learned the hard way that you have to open the flue. Although very cold with snow everywhere, we had to open door and windows to air the cabin out. Thanks to the rapid winds it didn’t take that long but long enough to chill up to the bone. We still instantly think of the fireplace in the Grand Canyon right after the amazing views when we talk memories of the trip.

    Another time, we were traveling with out chihuahua and had made reservations some time in advance only to get there late one evening to find out they no longer take pets. It was a mad rush researching for a new place to stay with no help from the first motel. After a frantic search we found not only a better place with free breakfast, but the rate was lower too. This one experience shaped our future trips in that even though I may make reservations some time ahead of time, I always call the motel direct a short while before the trip to make sure our reservation is all correct including having a pet that we travel with. Lesson learned from that little bump.

    Have “Under the Radar” on my TBR list and can’t wait for the opportunity to read it. Excited to see what adventures Zoe gets into this time. Appreciate the opportunity to win a copy.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Oh, Kay, that Grand Canyon trip must have been amazing. I love going out West, but like you, I never manage to stop there. And your experience with you doggie created an excellent lesson!

  5. I’ve taken many the epic solo road trips! When I was younger, I’d keep a jar of instant coffee at hand. If I felt sleepy, I’d stop for a chocolate milkshake and stir coffee crystals into it. Then I’d be good for another few hours! Can’t wait to read the new adventure, Annette.

    1. Edith, I’ve discovered that audiobooks are fabulous for solo road trips…like the ones to a certain retreat house near Philly!

    2. Edith you just brought back some sweet memories that made me laugh. Back when I was a child there wasn’t radio signals everywhere and they sure didn’t broadcast late into the night. When Dad was on furlough, we would drive straight through from CA to TX – the first stop on our usually route. I can remember when my Dad felt like he was getting sleepy he would tell Mom. She would put a hand towel down in the bottom of the ice chest where the ice had melted. Then she would place the rag on top of my Dad’s head. This was usually when we were traveling through the dessert and there was no a/c in the car so I’m sure it felt good. My Dad always said when the water tinkled down his back it sure woke him up. Thanks for jogging a happy memory!

  6. I’ve been on many road trips, Annette – most of them with you, so you know all about them! But one memorable one was from college. Me and three friends crammed in a 1991 Chevy Cavalier road-tripping from Olean, NY to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see a basketball game. One of the girl’s parents insisted on us getting a room so we’d at least get a couple hours sleep (it was a 14-hour drive).

    The sunset heading west was gorgeous. But I do remember a friend of mine, who’d never been in Ohio (she was from Connecticut) insisting she could drive across the whole state. “It’s flat, this is easy!” Somewhere around Cleveland she begged me to take over.

    1. Oh, yeah. All of that flat “scenery” for hours and hours and hours is worse than driving through mountains and winding roads.

  7. Congratulations on the new book! My family was big on road trips and of course as a military spouse we had multiple trips driving back and forth across the country. After watching my husband and daughter almost get in an accident as I followed behind in one of our early moves, I insisted we travel together.

    1. Thanks, Sherry. And WOW! How terrifying. I’m glad that story has an “almost” is it!

  8. I left Illinois and spent several winters in Arizona where my kids/grandkids live. I would drive out there (2600 miles) with my trunk packed full and rent a place for three months. The very first time I did this, two friends went with me and we ended up in a dust storm between Tucson and Phoenix. Never been in one before. It was harrowing–totally dark and you could hear helicopters overhead– and the cars in front of us that went on (because we had stopped for lunch), were in a huge, 58-car pile-up with deaths and injuries. We finally got off the highway at the last exit we could use after hours of creeping along with bumper-to-bumper, fairly invisible cars. My friends told me they loved me, but didn’t think they’d do this again. I would call this the road trip from hell, but then I did it four more winters. Call me foolish!

    1. Ugh. I experienced a dust storm in Colorado once. Hope to never experience another. And mine wasn’t nearly as awful as yours sounds, Susan.

  9. Welcome back, Annette! This new Zoe sounds like there’s a whole lot going on. Wow!

    I love road trips. You could say my husband and I take two every year, when we migrate from Maine to Key West in the winter and back in the spring!

  10. Road trips are a combination of fun and miserable, I think. One we all remember fondly was years ago when our kids were pre-teens and teens. We decided that we would drive until either half the money or half the time allotted for vacation was gone. We drove up the Norther California coast, stopped wherever we wanted and had a wonderful time.
    Your series is new to me and sounds fabulous. Definitely going to check it out. Thanks for the giveaway.

    1. Sally, that sounds like a fun way to spend a vacation. And my husband always says the miserable trips make for the best stories!

  11. What a memorable road trip you’ve created for your characters! I don’t tend to take many road trips since I prefer to fly but I did enjoy one most of the Wickeds took when we traveled to Malice together one year. Barb did an amazing job of the driving and the entire trip was well worth taking! Thanks for being on the blog today!

  12. I think my first solo road trip was driving from NJ to CT for work. I had to stay overnight for a meeting. This was before the days of cell phones or GPS. Surprisingly I made it there and back without getting lost.

    1. Sandy, road trips were definitely scarier before cell phones and GPS, especially solo ones!

  13. With my missing sense of direction, we have adopted the slogan, “Not lost, exploring,” and truly I’ve met some of the nicest people along the way. I just read “The Road Trip” by Ann Rule and was reminded of the times truck drivers have helped me along the way.
    The most memorable was the time my mom accompanied me to ETSU for a storytelling workshop, staying in a dorm room/efficiency apartment and learning from Jackie Torrence. Leaving Johnson City, there was a slight diversion because road workers had removed the signs for the highway ramps, too much traffic to stop to ask, so we took one, wrong of course, exited when able and crossed to the other direction. It always works out. <3
    Now awaiting your book, I'd say patiently, but that would be a lie.

    1. Mary, I hope you didn’t have to travel too far in the wrong direction before turning around!

  14. My Sister and I try to a Road trip every year. One year we went to New York and got to see Niagara Falls and the Erie Canal. Last year we went to Marietta, Ohio and visiting the Columbus and Cincinnati zoo’s. We also took a boat trip on the Muskingum River. Road trips are a great way to see the country.

  15. My dad and I drove my brother’s car from Ohio to California when he moved out there. It had a temporary license plate since my dad had transferred the title to my brother. When we stopped for lunch in Texas, we realized the license plate was gone. It was paper, so we weren’t sure if it blew off or someone took it. Thankfully, we made it to California without any issues and my brother got a license plate once we arrived. Looking forward to reading this book!

    1. Wow, Melissa. You lucked out. A missing license plate is rather noticeable. Glad you made it!

  16. One roadtrip that was full of craziness was when we went from Oklahoma to Nevada to my husband’s parents house for Christmas back in 1999. We were traveling in a caravan with my husband’s brother and his family. The trip out had a stop in the middle of the road for hours due to a jack-knifed semi about a mile ahead of us… with no turning around. Try that for several hours with our 2 kids and their 4! We had a good visit for several days before heading off to Salt Lake City where my sister-in-law’s brother lived. This was an impromptu visit so we got rooms when we got there… big mistake! Her brother said there was a motel just down the road that the cast from Touched By An Angel stayed when they were filming… NOT POSSIBLE! At least not the stars. It was very late and you had to pay through this little window that said no check-ins after midnight, which it almost was. We go to the rooms and found them disgusting… the shower didn’t have a showerhead, just a pipe out of the wall. The sink had nasty standing water in it. And the bed had hair on the sheets. The other room wasn’t any better, although it had a showerhead. The guys went to get the money back and since it was after midnight no one would answer the window, but we left to find ANYWHERE else! The funny thing was, it didn’t look bad at all from the outside. So we are there for a couple of days and then head out and go through Wyoming, which was something we all wanted to do. Well, a snowstorm took a veer into the path we wanted to go, so we were once again slowed down. Eventually we get back on the road and we spent New Year’s Eve in Kansas, so close to home, but everyone was too tired to continue on to get back home that night. Thankfully we woke up the next morning and the world as we know it hadn’t ended! LOL! That was New Year’s 2000, and if you remember, people were predicting wild and crazy things for Y2K with computers and all. I think everyone was happy to get back home after that trip!

  17. Short cuts and washed out slippery roads are what I remember. Funny how the disasters stick in your memories.😳

  18. I’ve never gone on a real “road trip” although we travel from NC to CT every couple of years to visit inlaws and sometimes make little side trips on the way back. Love this series so much and I’ve already preordered the kindle version, but I’d love a signed copy!

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