FREE Oct 23: MISTLETOE and MURDER in LAS VEGAS #romanticmystery

Mistletoe & Murder in Las Vegas is free on Sunday, October 23! Click on book cover to go to Amazon page. 

Book Blurb

All 31-year-old, Las Vegas criminal lawyer Joanne Galvin wants for Christmas is a client—or three—so she can make ends meet. Instead she’s roped into defending the notorious Timepiece Arsonist; tracked by a hunky special agent and his arson dog; and chased by a serial killer. Just when her life is starting to feel like the Nightmare Before Christmas, she receives an unexpected gift that offers hope that this holiday season could be the most wonderful time of the year...

Praise for Mistletoe & Murder in Las Vegas

Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas” is Colleen Collins at her best. It’s got the charm and humor of the best romantic comedies combined with a genuinely good mystery—an unbeatable combination. I couldn’t put the book down once I started it.
— Nancy Warren, USA Today Bestselling Author
A fun mystery that incorporates a little suspense, romance, and the magical meaning of Christmas.
— Pretty Little Books
The twists and turns are full of interesting story lines. The unique characters make this an interesting read. Really enjoyed this book!
— Cindy O'Brien
A long time murder mystery book lover, this book exceeds all my expectations. Colleen Collins knows the legal milieu well, and shows us the legal pitfalls and potential successful conclusions we can learn from. Kudos to this writer!
— Barbara Graham

eBook Sale: Romantic-Mysteries $1.99 Oct 18-25!

All of my Harlequin ebook romantic-mysteries and other romance novels are on sale for $1.99 starting today, October 18, and ending October 25! 


If you like romantic-mysteries with private eye characters, check out this series set in Las Vegas. (Click on the book covers to go to their Amazon pages.)

Book #1 The Next Right Thing
(sensual content)


Book #2 Sleepless in Las Vegas: Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Finalist
(some sensual content)






Book #3 Hearts in Vegas

2015 Aspen Gold Readers Choice Award Winner: THE UNGRATEFUL DEAD

This past weekend, The Ungrateful Dead: Prequel to The Zen Man (A Humorous Colorado Mystery Book #1) won the 2015 Aspen Gold Readers Choice Award in the short story category! This story was truly fun to write, making its win all the sweeter.  

I loved The Zen Man and really had fun catching up with Rick and Laura’s first case in the prequel, The Ungrateful Dead. These novels have everything I love in a mystery: smart dialogue, a flawed hero, a little romance and a great plot. Murder at a coroner’s conference? What could be more fun!
— Nancy Warren USA Today Bestselling Author of The Toni Diamond mysteries




To read an excerpt, click here.

#WriteTip Crafting Crime Fiction Stories: Motive, Opportunity & Means

(I originally wrote this article for mystery writer Beth Groundwater's blog, which I've updated here. Enjoy!)

Recently a writer friend of mine who’s written dozens of romance novels landed a book contract where the publisher asked for a “complex crime” at the core of the story. My friend contacted me, worried. “I’ve never written a crime!” she said, “can you give me any advice?” “Sure, think M-O-M,” I answered, “which stands for motive, opportunity and means.”

Besides being a writer, I co-owned a private investigations agency for a decade with my husband/PI partner, who has since returned to being a criminal defense attorney. I tell you this because our lives are full of M.O.M., from crafting stories to trying homicide cases.

M.O.M.: Three Sides of a Crime

In U.S. criminal law, M.O.M. encapsulates three sides of a crime necessary to convince a jury of guilt in a criminal proceeding. Did the defendant have a motive to commit the crime? Did the defendant have an opportunity, or chance, to accomplish the deed? Did the defendant also have the ability (means)?

Ways a Character Might Use M.O.M.

Below are four examples for how a private eye/sleuth character might employ motive, opportunity and/or means.

#1: Conduct Witness Interviews

An investigator might ask questions about a character, which could shed light on motive.

An investigator might ask questions about a character, which could shed light on motive.

There’s the direct questions a sleuth might ask, and which we often hear in movies, such as “Where were you at nine o’clock on the night of April 12, Miss Smith?” (opportunity). But also think about your sleuth asking questions that delve into a suspect’s character (motive), history of violence or peacefulness (means/motive or lack of means/motive), or knowledge about using a certain type of weapon (means). A sleuth might also interview other people who’ve seen that suspect use the same type of weapon or conduct certain violent acts.


#2: Examine the Murder Weapon

Let’s say your sleuth wants to prove the killer was someone other than the person charged with the crime. Your sleuth might looks for clues that show lack of means on the murder weapon (such as bloody hand imprints that are larger than the defendant’s or a strand of hair stuck in blood that's a different color than the defendant’s).


#3: Recreate the Homicide Event

A young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln once reconstructed a crime scene to prove a witness was lying

A young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln once reconstructed a crime scene to prove a witness was lying

Your sleuth might reconstruct the event at the scene of the crime to prove a person had access to a weapon (means) as well as opportunity. For example, the reconstruction might show how easily a suspect could have reached for the murder weapon. Or, conversely, that the suspect wasn’t tall enough to reach the weapon, strong enough to lift it, or maybe even literate enough to have read the instructions on how to use the weapon. As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln once reconstructed a crime scene to prove that a witness couldn’t possibly have seen what she claimed to have seen because there wasn’t ample lighting to clearly see at the time the incident occurred.


#4: Find an Alternate Suspect

Your sleuth might research other people who had motive, opportunity and means to commit a crime. For example, the sleuth might analyze someone’s character for motive (such as his/her history of outbursts toward the victim), look for clues tying another person to the murder weapon (for example, his/her knowledge of how to use that weapon), or establish someone had opportunity (by analyzing a person’s timeline).

Keep in Mind: A court cannot convict based solely on motive, opportunity and means. A lawyer must provide convincing proof of all three. Obtaining this proof is, of course, what your sleuth (a detective, private investigator, amateur sleuth) has been doggedly investigating, with the help of MOM, throughout the course of your story.

Book Excerpt: THE UNGRATEFUL DEAD - A romantic-mystery at a coroners' conference

I loved The Zen Man and really had fun catching Rick and Laura’s first case in the prequel, The Ungrateful Dead. These novels have everything I love in a mystery: smart dialogue, a flawed hero, a little romance and a great plot. Murder at a coroner’s conference? What could be more fun!
— Nancy Warren, USA Today Bestselling Author of the Toni Diamond Mysteries

Hello everyone, 

The Ungrateful Dead is a finalist in the 2015 Aspen Gold Reader's Choice Contest! Winners to be announced in early October.

Below is the opening scene from The Ungrateful Dead, a novella that introduces Rick and Laura, a private-eye team who I like to call the "21st-century Nick and Nora" as they attempt to have a romantic weekend at a coroners' conference...that is, until there's a murder. Its sequel, The Zen Man, is a full-length mystery novel that continues the tale of Rick and Laura as they investigate another crime.

Click on the cover to your right to go to its Amazon page.

Excerpt: The Ungrateful Dead

“A Deadhead at a coroner’s conference,” said my date Laura, giving me a look over her martini.  “That’s either too weird or too perfect.” 

We stood in the crowded banquet room at the Independence Lode in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  This hotel and casino was named after a gold mine that was discovered in eighteen-something by a grubstake miner whose find made him the richest man west of the Mississippi.  People still trekked up to Cripple Creek with dreams of striking it rich at the casinos, although mostly they lost money while swilling free booze and trying to get laid.  Not the ambiance I’d have picked for the Colorado Coroners Society’s annual conference, but then ex-junkie, suspended attorneys like me are the last people to pass judgments.  Out loud, anyway.

The lights in the room had been turned down to create a moody atmosphere conducive to mindless chitchat, although it was difficult to imagine anyone in this crowd of coroners, morticians and cadaver groupies doing anything mindlessly.  Especially chitchatting.  Hell, it was difficult to imagine me attending a Dead gig unless the band was playing.  But the CCS, the abbreviated moniker used by the coroner in-crowd, had offered me three nights in a froufrou Victorian B&B, all expenses paid, to speak about what to say, but more important what not to say, in court.  Seemed some rural coroners had gotten loose-lipped and screwed up a DA’s ability to prosecute several key cases this past year, which made me a living-for-the-music Deadhead trying to teach a few courtroom tricks to the dying-is-a-living Deadheads.

“Yeah,” I finally answered.  “It’s too perfect.”

I watched Laura’s lips--their color like dark, sweet cherries--pucker as she took a sip.  Earlier, she’d told me that the lipstick color was called Burgundy Bistro, which had made me wonder if a chef was moonlighting as a copywriter for the make-up company.  But it wouldn’t matter if she slicked on a color called Eggplant Eatery, it was what was underneath those luscious, supple lips that mattered.  Lips I’d gotten to know well these past three months.

She swallowed, lowered her glass.  “Did you ever tell me how that band got the name Grateful Dead?”

Laura’s sincere interest was a far cry from my ex-wife’s, whose hatred of the Dead bordered on the pathological.  After I moved out, she took my original ’67 poster of the Dead at Whisky A-Go-Go in Los Angeles—a collector’s item probably worth several hundred dollars, but priceless to a Deadhead—and stuck it under her Lexus to catch leaking oil.

I like to think of myself as a forgiving kinda guy, but after discovering the plight of that poster I spent an entire week plotting my revenge, which mostly revolved around paying a tattoo-artist buddy to ink a Grateful Dead bear on her sorry ass after one of her too-much-box-wine nights.  But eventually I let it go.  Well, except for referring to her thereafter as Wicked—short for Wicked Wench of the West—but otherwise, I let it go.  Already had enough karma on my plate, plus it would’ve been a waste of good ink. 

I responded to Laura’s question.  “It has something to do with the soul of a dead person being grateful to the charitable person who arranged their burial.  Although more likely, Jerry was stoned outta his gourd and it sounded cool.”  I took a swig of my root beer.  

Laura laughed, making me feel taller and funnier.  

Across the room, a blur of movement snagged my attention.  A woman slouched in the doorway, backlit from the lights in the hallway.  Couldn’t make out her features, but I’d recognize that mop of blond curls anywhere.  The way she dragged her hand through those coils, periodically tugging one as though trying to straighten it, meant she was either pissed-off or nervous.  I’d seen her wear that first emotion a lot.

“Good evening, everyone,” announced a woman’s voice over the speakers.

The chattering and clinking dropped several decibels.

“This is Dr. Susan Kebler.  I invite you to direct your attention to the podium at the front of the room and welcome Mr. Kevin Voight, Executive Director of the Aspen Community Medical Foundation, who will be announcing this year’s recipient of the Forensic DNA Research Grant.”

A smattering of applause.  At the podium there was some fumbling, followed by static thumping noises.

“Is this on?” asked a male voice.

“Turn up the lights,” someone yelled.

Overhead fluorescents popped to life, their stark light leeching the room of its party atmosphere.  At the podium stood a man I presumed was Kevin Voight, pushing forty, dressed in a summer linen suit that set off his seamless tan. 

“He looks familiar,” I murmured to Laura.

“Probably because he looks like Tom Cruise.”

“Really?  Ask me, Tom’s a bit past his sell-by date.”

She flashed me a jealous-are-we? look, which I pretended not to see.  

Truth was, yeah, Kevin had that Tom Cruise thing going for him.  Although after Kevin-Tom started talking, I realized movie-star looks can only take a dude with no personality so far.  Kevin came across like a robot.  Stiff and in dire need of some inflection when he spoke.  On and on he went in that relentless tone, acknowledging anybody and everybody who’d ever set foot on the planet.  Finally, he gave the award to the Colorado Association of Clinical Something-somethings.

Afterward, Laura and I mingled and made small-talk with several coroners I hoped wouldn’t see either of us again for a long, long time.  When she and I were alone I typically did most of the talking, but put us at a social gathering and Laura morphed into an expert schmoozer, a skill I chalked up to her years as an executive at TeleForce, a telecommunications giant based in Denver.  She’d once tried to explain to me exactly what she did, but my brain had liquefied when she started talking about technology infrastructure and scalable architecture.  Laura had the brains of a geek underneath her wild-girl rocker Grace Slick looks, the way Slick looked in her ultra-cool Jefferson Starship days when she had raven hair and wore dramatic eye make-up.  

Although sometimes Laura’s left eye squinted slightly, as though she were scrutinizing something you’d just said.  Minor nerve damage, she’d once explained, the result of a teenage motorcycle accident.

Several root beers and an assortment of canapés later, I heard a buzz in the room.  People were whispering fervently, sharing some piece of news.  And from their closed, tight looks, it was bad news.

An athletic, fiftyish woman with short-cropped gray hair nudged her way past me.  As she paused to sneeze, holding a tissue to her nose, I read her name tag.  Dr. Susan Kebler, Coroner, Teller County.  The county for Cripple Creek, the site of this conference.  Tucking the tissue into her pocket, she crossed the room to a grim-looking cop, who briskly led her away.

I caught snatches of conversations around me.

“…on the premises…”

A snorting laugh.  “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”

“Where’s his wife?”

The cell phone in my shirt pocket vibrated.  I checked the unfamiliar caller ID, figured it might be a new client.

“Levine Investigations,” I answered.


She’d always exaggerated her a’s—a Connecticut thing, she’d said—so whenever she said her name it sounded like a traffic jam of vowels butting up against consonants.

I glanced at the doorway where I’d seen her, but she’d split.

“I think I’m in trouble,” Natalie continued.

Through the phone, I heard background noise.  Sirens.  People yelling.

“Can you come to the construction area behind the casino?” she asked.  “Police just arrived.”

Thoughts T-boned in my mind.  Cops?  Natalie was obviously free to make calls, so how much trouble could she be in?  On the other hand, she was the last person who’d want to call me unless she really needed my help. 

 “Be right there.”  I ended the call and glanced at my watch.  Twenty to ten.

Laura’s brow furrowed.  “What’s up?”

“Not sure.”  I looked around, noticed others were migrating toward the exit, punching numbers into their cells.  “How ‘bout I meet you back at our room?”

I took her by the elbow and guided her toward the exit.  As we passed a tray, she drained the last sip of her martini and set the empty glass on it.

“Think it’s something I can’t handle?”  Laura asked.



I flashed on the cop’s stony expression as he spoke to Dr. Kebler.  “Probably.”

Laura halted, her wide-set blue eyes boring into mine.  “If I was game enough to join you for a romantic weekend at a coroner’s conference,” she whispered huskily, “I’m game enough for whatever’s in store.”

Gruesome had never been so alluring. 

“Laura,” I murmured, trying not to let her I’m-game look override my better sense, “I don’t doubt you’re strong enough to handle many things, but I’m guessing there’s a body.  A dead one.”

She rolled her eyes.  “I worked at a nursing home the summer after high school.  I’ve seen dead bodies before.”

“Yeah, aging ones succumbing to natural causes.”

“Dead is dead.”

“True, but I’m guessing this is more like ugly dead, something a lady like you shouldn’t see.”  I gave her my best tough-guy-with-a-heart smile.  The kind Tom Cruise wished he could give, and one I wished I felt.

Truth was, I didn’t know if I could handle the reality of what lay out there.  Not the sight of a corpse—I’d seen photographs of dozens over the course of my criminal defense career—but the harrowing reminder of what death demands from the living.

The truth.

I’d failed to seek that that in the Willard case.  

Of course, only a stupid defense attorney actually asks a client for the truth, as in did he or she do the dirty deed.  You don’t want to hear your client say he killed the victim because your role is to fight for your client’s rights, win the best deal, hell if you play it right your client walks away as if he’d never committed the most egregious, heinous act possible to another human being.  I still remembered watching Willard damn near skip down those courthouse steps, flashing a cocky grin that chilled me to my marrow…because at that moment I knew I’d helped free a killer…

I barely felt Laura’s arm as she wove it through mine and steered us toward whatever lay ahead. 

For fans of The Zen Man, this novella provides a more comprehensive background story for Rick and Laura, the characters who have already captured your imagination. For newcomers to Colleen Collins’ mysteries, this is a perfect introduction to the full-length novel.
— Christopher Gill, author