by Kelly Malacko (@KellyMalacko)

Adult Mystery
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THE FUNERAL GUESTS is an adult locked room mystery, complete at 80,000 words. Told through multiple POVs, with the chaos and emotion of a funeral as the backdrop, it will appeal to readers who enjoy the theme of a woman’s worth in The Man by Taylor Swift and the hidden secrets and complexities of female friendships found in Dirty Laundry by Disha Bose and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

Everyone has a secret at Madison Greene’s funeral, but one of them is a killer.

Detective Kacey Hatley was a rising star in the Drugs section of the Rockport police force until she trusted the wrong source and her partner paid with his life. Returning after a three-month leave to a new position with Major Crimes, she’s tasked with attending the funeral of recently murdered socialite, Madison Greene. Madison’s murder is not a priority to Kacey, especially when the drug dealer who killed her partner is still loose. If she can solve Madison’s murder by the end of the day, she can switch cases and avenge her partner tomorrow.

Between the lavish and heavily scripted viewing, service, reception, and on-site burial, all occurring at the all-inclusive Sandford Funeral Home complex, Kacey must wade through the secrets, false assumptions, and jealousies of the guests to solve Madison’s murder. Nothing is straightforward, and everyone has a motive. When Kacey unearths ties to the drug dealer who cost her partner his life, her two cases collide. Kacey must trust her instincts and solve Madison’s murder to save her career and protect herself from becoming the next casualty in a drug war.

This manuscript is a RevPit 2024 winner and has been revised under the guidance of Miranda Darrow. My author brand focuses on social issues to open readers’ minds and suspense to increase their heart rates. I have a background in marketing and journalism and am active in the writing community as the Marketing Chair for Bouchercon 2026, and a co-host of the #ThrillsandChills chat group on X. When I’m not writing, you can find me coaching boxing to fund my reading hobby.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your feedback at your earliest convenience.

First Five Pages

Chapter 1 – Detective Hatley

8:45 am

Detective Kacey Hatley double-tapped the badge on her hip as she stepped off the elevator. The habit so ingrained the ache didn’t come until a second after she registered the motion.

One tap for those on shift today and one for those who had answered their final call.

Sharp and familiar, the pain lurked in every moment of her routine.

She forced air into her lungs.

This was a fresh start.

Three months had passed.

She was ready to be back.

Kacey used the bustle of the third floor of the Rockburg Police Headquarters as a distraction, cataloging every detail as she walked to the back. The scent of burnt coffee, plasticky bulk office supplies, and something jammy and sweet. Likely, yesterday’s danishes.

Sound-dampening panels divided the pit into dove gray cubicles. Plainclothes officers and staff filled the desk chairs; ten, no twelve officers in the room, mid-twenties to pushing seventy. Coffee cups held to lips, eyes focused on screens, pens scratching on paper.

Four steps in, a prickle at the back of her neck.

Kacey was not the only observant person in the room. She would be scrutinized just as she’d scrutinized them. Probably more.

Her shoulders pinched together, and she lifted her chin.

Let them judge.

Sergeant Miller stepped out of his office and greeted her with a blank expression and a nod toward an open cubicle before he shouted to the room. “Fill your cups. Meeting in four.”

That was the only greeting she was getting from her new boss on her first day in Major Crimes.


Kacey sliced through the room with measured steps. She dropped her bag on her chair, noted the desk, devoid of anything personal, and wondered where she’d put the box of personal items she’d taken with her when she left Drugs.

Probably still in a box. Untouched in a closet somewhere. Where she put it the day she handed back her badge and gun.

She smoothed a damp palm over her hair, checking that it was secure in her low bun and tried not to remember the pictures in that box. Her and Sasha at graduation, uniforms unbearably crisp and new. Her sandwiched between Sasha and Dave at their wedding, posing like Charlie’s Angels.

Don’t go there. Not here. Not today.

People filed into the meeting room, so she headed for the coffeemaker to avoid pre-meeting small talk. Just enough left for one cup. She chose a generic mug so as not to steal someone else’s and poured a thin stream.

“Morning Hatley. Top me up.” Sergeant Miller said behind her as she poured out the last silty drop.

Kacey winced. “How ’bout I make a fresh pot?”

Her boss’ shoulders tightened and he turned on his heel. “Forget it. Follow me.”

Way to make an impression on your first day, Kacey.

In six strides, he crossed the pit and entered the meeting room. The chatter dropped to a mumble.

Kacey hurried to catch up, her five-foot-two frame not meant for covering ground with speed, the coveted coffee heavy in her hand. She hesitated in the doorway, unsure if she should find a chair at the table or stand to be introduced.

Miller dropped a bulging notebook on the table and nodded her toward an empty chair in the back corner. “Folks, this is Detective Hatley. She’s joining us from Drugs.”

The silence rang in her ears. Not one greeting. Everyone knew her story and they weren’t interested in her side of things.

Her smile turned cold, but she kept it in place until she met every pair of eyes in the room. One fresh-faced officer openly shook his head, and she held his for an extra beat. If he could still add up his nightshifts by looking at a calendar, he couldn’t judge.

Ten years’ experience and the highest solve rate in the station for the last five should buy some respect, but they were quick to write her off when things went bad. When her gaze returned to Sergeant Miller’s, he tucked his chin in what could’ve been a sympathetic nod or an exhausted ‘this is how it’s gonna be’.

She knew how the room felt about her, him included, and her anger at the unfairness of it all kept her chin high as she strode to the back. She’d proved the doubters wrong before; she could do it again.

“Round table quick, then I’ve got new assignments.”

One by one, everyone gave updates. In Drugs, she knew who exaggerated, who downplayed, and who hoarded details until cases were solved. She didn’t know anyone’s tics in this room, but each file seemed complex, convoluted, and dark. Drug section could be heart-breaking, but could she face rape, assault, and murder day in and day out?

What would her first case entail? Who would her partner be?

A tremor shook her hand at the thought, coffee sloshing down the front of her gray button-down.


With no napkins in sight, she dabbed it with her fingers, then buttoned her blazer.

“I’m working the Madison Greene murder,” one of the officers said.

Kacey straightened at the name. Even locked up at home, away from the job, she’d heard about this case. Murdered socialite and daughter of the former owner of Experience Air. Stabbed in her Sunset Vista mansion.

That would be a shitty case. Huge public scrutiny. A family with money and access to the media pressuring you to solve it yesterday.

She took in the man. A rangy officer, probably close to her age, around thirty-five with a few too many years working shift work. His nametag said Patricks.

“It’s a cluster of a file. They gathered over a hundred sets of prints from the house. People in and out all day for some party.” He sat back with a sigh. “Funeral’s today. The family wants a presence, so I’ll see if something shakes out there.”

“Alright, keep me in the loop.”

“I need a wheel for today. Garage has Bravo 16 for some brake work.”

“You’ll have to do without until it’s ready. I’ll drop you off.”

Damn. Tough case and no car? Bad day.

Miller slid a stack of folders loose from his notebook. “A few things came in last night.”

“Nelly and Twist, you’re on the Marcus case. I need to know what’s buried on that farm.” He tossed a manila folder across the table.

“Samson, there was an assault in the park on Seventh. I want you to look into it.” Another folder.

“Swazzy, Polsen, Niccoff, you’re with me today.” His voice thinned and his focus dropped to the remaining folder. “Double homicide. We’ll be working with Drugs on this.”

Her eyes snapped up.

She needed details. Familiar talons dug into her chest wall.

Were the drugs stamped with a rhino? Was there a calling card on the bodies? Was it on his turf?

Could this be tied to Rapeccio?

Her breath stuck, trapped in her chest.

Say Hatley. Put me on this case.

“Hatley, you’re gonna work with Patricks today. See if anything interesting happens at the funeral but keep it low-profile.”

“Sir?” She cocked her head, not meeting anyone’s eyes at the obvious slight, though their gazes were hot on her. “I have eight years’ experience in Drugs. I should be on that homicide.”

“I need you at this funeral.” Miller cut her off with a rap of his notebook on the table. “Get to work folks.”

Across the room, Patricks cocked his head to the side, openly appraising her, and his take didn’t look positive.

She slumped back in her seat and bit her tongue. She would not be working to bring in Rapeccio. She would have to sit out a chance to get the man responsible for almost every overdose in the city in exchange for Madison Greene.

Greene’s father made headlines for building his company from nothing, then selling his airline for billions five years ago; Madison made the news when she had to be escorted off one of his planes, drunk and abusive.

Her death had been reported as a sidenote of his life. A successful man’s failure.

This is what Kacey’s career had become. Ten years on the force and she was investigating a catfight turned deadly.

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Photo by panyawat auitpol on Unsplash

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