by Jo A. Hiestand
GENRE: British mystery
From the moment ex-police detective Michael McLaren arrives at his friend’s house, he’s plunged into a nightmare of a case. Two men, hanged a year apart, each killed on a Good Friday. A barrister. A solicitor. Related careers. Related by murder. Related motives?
Pottery shards, a torn newspaper article, and biscuits are found in each man’s pocket. What do they signify? And the blackmail letters Melanie receives… Are they related to the murders, or are they separate, terrifying in their own way?
Professions, calendar date, McLaren’s attack. Could it all be entwined? Or is the motive for murder something else, something so secret that keeping it is worth attempting a third one?
NOTE: The book is on sale for $0.99.
McLaren had been there during the daylight hours on his previous visit. Now, at night, the place was eerie, mystical. The circle—one hundred yards in circumference—had originally held forty stones, but now just thirty-three remained. None were upright. Still, if he used his imagination he could easily conjure up the feeling of ancient cultures.
He walked farther into the circle, the grass damp and clinging to his boots, the odors of sodden soil and sheep droppings mixing with wet stones. A small puddle, most likely left from the evening’s rain, glittered from the moonlight that seemed trapped within the dark water, and he stepped around it. A bit farther on, he came to what he hoped would be a good vantage point. He knelt behind one of the taller stones, though none of them were more than a yard tall. From this perspective not only was he hidden if anyone approached from the lane, but also distanced enough from the entrance so no one would suspect he was there.
Minutes passed. The wind picked up, stirring the dampness in the air and pushing it into McLaren’s bones. Or at least that’s how it felt. Even his sweatshirt felt incredibly thin and unequal to keeping him warm. He chastised himself for not wearing his jacket, and rubbed his arms.
A barn owl soared silently overhead, its ghostly-white feathers oddly appropriate in this strange-feeling landscape. It’s appropriate, McLaren thought, watching the bird sail over a copse of trees. We’re both out hunting.
A Word With the Author
1.Did you always want to be an author?
I grew up reading Dumas, Twain, duMaurier, Dickens and the Brontes. I loved the atmosphere of those books. Add watching the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce movies and the moods of 1940s/50s movies like Brief Encounter, Night Must Fall, and The Thirty-Nine Steps, and I knew I wanted to write mysteries, and the books had to be set in Britain. This all came upon me during my school years, and by college I decided I had to give it a try.
2.Tell us about the publication of your first book.
It took me some years and many tries before my first book, A Staged Murder, came into print.
I got a fair number of rejection slips, though not so many that I could wallpaper my room with them, and I kept wondering what was wrong with the book or my writing. Some editors scribbled a few words at the bottom of the slips, giving me an encouraging word, but I couldn’t break through the barrier. After all, I had done all the research and had all the tools for my writing, which are British mysteries, by the way. Since I’m an American, I had to overcome several obstacles right off the bat.
The first problem was language. Britons and Americans almost speak the same language, and the vocabulary can trip up the Unsuspecting. Luckily, I’d lived in and vacationed in Britain for a number of years, so I had some word exchange down well. Biscuit instead of cookie, registration plate instead of car license plate, knackered instead of worn out, full whack instead of retail price... I had a British dictionary and English friends I could email for translation help. I knew that the English bobby of the 1940s movies who strolled around quaint villages was now usually stationed in town police stations; some drove vans on a set schedule to villages to help residents that way. I felt confident that most of the hurdles to correct writing had been cleared. All but medical help.
I’d asked various people if they knew a doctor who’d be willing to answer on-going questions, but couldn’t find anyone. I was bemoaning my problem to a co-worker one day when she said, “Oh, maybe my sister could help you.” Thinking her sister was a regular patient of an M.D., I asked, “Who’s your sister?” She replied, “A pathologist/coroner.” Bingo!
The medical question was solved, and I knew I had good writing credentials: I’d graduated from Webster University with departmental honors in English. So with all of this in place, why couldn’t I get a novel published?
At the time, mystery author Shirley Kennett was a member of our local Sisters in Crime chapter. She had five novels out, and I wanted her opinion on my writing but I was afraid to approach her since she wrote grittier, more hard-boiled stuff than I did. When I got up my nerve to ask and she did read the manuscript, she gave me a thorough critique and three major suggestions:
· Turn one of the two male protagonists into a female
· Tell the story 1st person from the female’s POV
· Give the major female a female friend in whom she can confide, so the reader can know the major female’s thoughts and feelings
I was hesitant to make these changes. After all, it was my book. I’d developed the characters I liked and I’d given them their personalities and relationships. But I wasn’t getting published with my approach, so why not try Shirley’s suggestions?
I went through the manuscript, made the changes, and picked a publisher from the list I still had. Amazingly enough, they offered me a book contract.
Getting that first book accepted had been a struggle, and at times I really felt like giving up. But I knew I’d never be published if I did that. I kept trying, seeking help from everyone I met. It finally paid off. With twenty-six published novels now on the shelf, the rest, as they say…
3.Besides yourself, who is your favorite author in the genre you write in?
The Golden Age mystery writer Ngaio Marsh is my idol. Her writing is beautiful, her characters well drawn and full of detail, her plots ingenious. I think her superb character development stems from her years of working in the theater as an actress and directing plays both in her native New Zealand and in London. She’s accustomed to characters acting out their emotions and thereby strengthening the storyline. Her theater experience has also given her a great ear for dialogue, which she used quite well. When I read her books, I can so easily feel and hear and see what her characters feel and hear and see. They are real people moving in their own world, not mere props used to convey a story.
4.What's the best part of being an author? The worst?
Whew… This is difficult to answer. I get a great joy from holding the physical books and I love the covers. But as much as I like that, I think the best thing is doing the second edit. The drudgery of the first draft is over, getting the story down and reading through it to find holes in the plot or obvious goofs. The second draft is when I add scenes I’ve thought of, or add descriptions or perhaps more dialogue. I make sure the word choice is what I want—does ‘hint or ‘whisper’ better suit the situation. It’s intensely gratifying and a sense of relief to complete that draft and consider the book nearly finished.
The worst part of being an author is seeing bad reviews. Of course I’m not going to garner five stars on every book all the time, but some reviews are downright nasty. I never know if the reviewer is a frustrated writer who can’t get published so she takes it out on others who are, or if the reviewer glories in the power of the written word. I remember one review: the writer gave me a one star because my characters didn’t always speak in complete sentences! Now, who in the world does? I bet she doesn’t. And I bet she’s in middle school and just had an English class on sentence structure. Those types of reviews are laughable, but the ones that sting are the ones that make me wonder why I keep on writing.
5.What are you working on now?
Well, just a few days ago I began plotting the next McLaren book, HAUNTED WATER. McLaren investigates the cold case of a young man drowned in a lake in Cheshire, England. The lake is associated with the myth of a morgen, a Welsh water spirit who drowns men. In the past few days I’ve created my characters (names, ages, occupations) and given them relationships to each other and to the victim. I’ve invented my fictional village and located it near Congleton, Cheshire. It’s a place I actually visited once, so that will help with my description of the area. Now I’m working on motive and whodunit!
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
I grew up reading Dumas, Twain, duMaurier, Dickens and the Brontes. I loved the atmosphere of those books. Add the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce movies and the moods of 1940s/50s movies like Brief Encounter, Night Must Fall, and The Thirty-Nine Steps, and I knew I wanted to write mysteries, and the books had to be set in Britain. That was a must even though I knew only what I’d seen in the movies and read in the novels. But the British pull was tenacious. Three years ago I discovered that I have literally centuries and centuries of English, Scottish and Welsh ancestry. Do genes mean anything?
My first visit to England was during my college years and that cemented my joy of Things British. Since then, I’ve been lured back nearly a dozen times, and lived there for a year during my professional folksinging stint.
What do I write? Well, at the moment, I write two British mystery series: the McLaren Mysteries and the Peak District Mysteries. The McLaren novels feature ex-police detective Michael McLaren, who investigates cold case murders on his own. The Peak District books feature a different British custom/tradition that is the backbone of each book’s plot. These are a combo cozy/police procedural, and members of the Derbyshire Constabulary CID Murder team work these cases.
I combined my love of writing, mysteries, music, and board games by co-inventing a mystery-solving treasure-hunting game, P.I.R.A.T.E.S.
I founded the Greater St. Louis Chapter of the international mystery writers/readers organization Sisters in Crime, serving as its first president.
In 2001, I graduated from Webster University with a BA degree in English and departmental honors. I live in the St. Louis, MO area with my cat, Tennyson, and way too many kilts.
Jo A. Hiestand will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
a Rafflecopter giveaway