Tuesday, December 3, 2013

25 Days of Christmas Stories: COVERT EXPOSURE by Valerie Clarizio

Covert Exposure, A Nick Spinelli Mystery

Detective Spinelli's life is tossed sideways when he is reassigned from the Homicide division to assist in the Child Services division of the Social Services Department for the holiday season. From the beginning, Spinelli and Caseworker Shannon O'Hara generate their own kind of fireworks, causing more than the normal workplace stress. They both have their own philosophies for dealing with the clientele. However, the forces of nature have their own plan for Spinelli and Shannon.
Shannon moonlights as Santa Claus' little helper at the mall, and when Santa and an elf turn up dead Shannon appears to be next on the killer's list. Spinelli is placed back on homicide and goes undercover as Santa to help capture the killer. He catches a great deal of grief along the way but will he capture the heart of his little Santa's helper as well?


Spinelli followed Shannon to her office, unable to peel his eyes from her shapely legs. His nostrils narrowed, sucking in every ounce of the sweet scent that lingered in the air behind her. She gestured for him to take a seat in a chair opposite her desk. Her phone rang and she picked up the receiver as she sat down. As she spoke on the telephone, he scanned her small office memorizing every detail like detectives tend to do. He couldn’t help but notice how just a touch of feminine warmth accented the professional décor. His eyes shifted from the photo of an older couple, perhaps in their early seventies, to a photo of three little red-headed boys. He wondered if the boys belonged to her. He glanced at her left hand, no ring.
Shannon hung up the phone receiver. “I’m sorry about that, Detective Spinelli,” she said as she thumbed through the mounds of neatly organized stacks of case files on her desk, “here it is…the Washington file.”
Spinelli watched as she flipped the file open and lost herself in the information for a brief moment. She blew out a sigh and looked up at him. He could easily see the sadness flood her big green eyes. Shannon cleared her throat. “The authorities picked up Gilbert Washington early this morning as a result of a domestic abuse call.”
“What happened? What did he do?” he asked as he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Apparently the neighbor placed the 911 call when he heard Gilbert and his wife, Charmane, arguing. A loud thud followed the arguing. The neighbor assumed the cause of the thud was Gilbert throwing Charmane against the wall. As it turned out the neighbor was right. Unfortunately the kids witnessed the entire exchange.”
Shannon shook her head. “We’ve offered Charmane assistance for herself and her children but she refuses to leave Gilbert. As a result, today we will be removing the children from the home and placing them in foster care.”
“Why does she refuse to leave him?”
 “Scared perhaps.” Shannon sighed and shook her head. “And he’s probably her crack supplier.”
“Is Gilbert still in lockup?”
“Yes, so it would probably be a good idea to head over there and remove the children before he’s released.”
“I’ll get my unmarked and meet you up front,” Spinelli replied as he sprang to his feet and headed for the door. Before his third step hit the floor he heard Shannon call his name. He turned to find her standing behind her desk holding up a set of keys.
He cocked his head to the side. “What?”
“We’ll take one of the vehicles assigned to Social Services. They’re fully equipped with car seats for matters such as these,” Shannon said as she handed the keys to him. “You can drive so I can review the file some more.”
“Car seats? How many children are we talking about here?”
“Three. The oldest, Lesha is seven, Darius is three and Christina is nine months old.”
Spinelli followed Shannon to the parking lot. She pointed at a dark green Dodge minivan. “That’s the one.”
He shifted his eyes from the minivan to Shannon and then back to the van. “That, we’re taking that?” No red lights, no sirens, no excitement. Life as he knew it was slipping away from him.
“Perhaps you could just get in and drive, and forget the comments,” Shannon said as she climbed in through the passenger door.
Spinelli got in on the driver’s side and started the engine. He adjusted the seat to accommodate his long legs, then the mirrors. Once he finished altering everything, he glanced over at Shannon.
“What?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I’m just wondering how I got here. Yesterday I was a homicide detective and today I’m driving a minivan that smells like sweaty socks.”
“I’m sorry you’re not pleased with your assignment but we need to get going if we are going to remove the children before Gilbert makes bail.”
Spinelli put the minivan in drive and headed toward the Washington home located just north of downtown, on Cherry Street. He knew that area could mean trouble. His senses moved into “full alert” mode.
Review by Melissa Snark
Someone has murdered Santa and it's up to homicide detective, Nick Spinelli, to find the killer and save Christmas. COVERT EXPOSURE is a contemporary mystery thriller with a strong romantic subplot. The cover set my expectations for a pulp noire style reminiscent of Mickey Spillane. (I'm still not sure the similarity is a coincidence.) However, the story contained more emotional depth on the part of the characters and relationship development than I'd expect from a genre pulp novel.

Detective Spinelli begins the story at loose ends due to the retirement of his partner and mentor, “Mad Dog Maxwell”. Since he is in between partners, his ball-busting woman captain assigns him to assist Social Services through the holiday seasons. He isn't happy about the assignment but goes along with it anyway.

Spinelli is a hard as nails cop who has something of a Madonna-Whore complex with regard to women. He is quick to condemn the mothers of children who are the recipient of social services. In contrast, he  identifies heroine (Social Services worker) Shannon O'Hara as “an angel” and places her on a pedestal.

Nick and Shannon are polar opposites who clash in a huge way. He is a cynical realist who doesn't sugar coat the truth but also lacks compassion. She is a selfless champion of the socially marginalized and abused with more empathy than is probably wise in her profession. Sparks fly in what appears to be love-hate at first sight. Good heat and charisma play into a rapid buildup of sexual tension.

As Nick and Shannon go on calls together, the Santa slaying subplot unfolds as first a mall Santa is found murdered and then one of his elves. It becomes clear that Shannon's life is in danger since she helps out as one of Santa's Helpers on weekends.

During his downtime, Nick helps out on the murder case until he eventually winds up going undercover as Santa. The image of the tough guy hero strapping on a fat roll around his gut and donning a red suit makes for a great chuckle.

The scenes involving social service calls were difficult to read. I tended to side more with Nick than Shannon in terms of reaction. It frustrated me when a when children were ripped from their mother because the woman refused to leave her abusive husband.

Understanding evolves between Nick and Shannon, especially once she learn that he grew up in the foster care system and begins to understand the core of his pain. The love scenes are delicious: hot 'n spicy. Action sequences are exciting and plot threads are tight.

The author manages to balance a number of disparate plot elements and tie them all together in a neat little package by the conclusion. The hero saves the heroine and Christmas. The ending isn't a traditional HEA but contains more promise of happiness—along with the potential for future suspenseful sequels.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Available for purchase:


Valerie Clarizio lives in beautiful Door County Wisconsin with her husband and one very spoiled cat. She loves to read, write, and spend time at her cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She's lived her life surrounded by men, three brothers, a husband, and a male Siamese cat who required his own instruction manual. Keeping up with all the men in her life has turned her into a successful hunter and fisherwoman.

Valerie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. She was a finalist in the 2011 Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, Novellas Need Love, Too! Contest.

Where to find Valerie:
Twitter: @VClarizio

Valerie is offering an ebook copy of COVERT EXPOSURE to one lucky commenter chosen by random.org.


  1. Another exciting tale for the holiday. Is this part of a series?

    1. Good morning, Karen. Yes, Covert Exposure is novella #1 in the Nick Spinelli Mystery series. Novella #2 is Craving Vengeance, revolves around Valentine's Day, and came out this past September.

  2. Valerie, Glad to hear this is a series. the intrigue, plot and characters really caught my attention. Sounds like a great read. Good luck.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Carol. I'm hoping to keep the Nick Spinelli Mystery series alive for at least 3-4 books.

  3. Hi Valerie,
    Thank you so much for sharing your Nick Spinelli story with us today. :-)

    1. Melissa, thank you for allowing me to participate in your '25 Days of Christmas Stories' party! This was an awesome idea!


  4. This sounds very good, a little different. I enjoyed the excerpt.

    1. Hi Cara, 'different' tends to be my thing:) Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I love mysteries. Especially ones that are a part of a series so I can read more about characters I grow to love!

    1. Debra,

      I'm with you on the mysteries. I really like quirky ones.

      Thanks for taking the time to visit.


  6. Good morning! The winner of the Covert Exposure ebook is Debra St. John.

    Debra, please email me at valclarizio@yahoo.com to let me know what email address you'd like me to forward the book through.