There’s something comfortable about writing a crime series. You get to know your characters, their location and other aspects necessary to plotting the story. Still, sometimes those characters surprise you and demand a bigger role.
Such was the case in Shares The Darkness, seventh in the Hetrick series. Officer Flora Vastine, one of Hetrick’s proteges, wanted the lead in this book. What’s a writer to do? I just let her have her way. And I’m rather pleased with the results (of course that’s the author speaking and not a reader).
My original idea for the book’s title was The Accidental, a birding term for a species found outside its normal range. Then I realized it was inaccurate, because the victim had told her mother she planned to go birding in the area where she’s murdered. Deciding on titles is sometimes more difficult than writing a book. Anyway, here’s the book blurb:
Jan Kepler and Swatara Creek Police Officer Flora Vastine were neighbors and schoolmates, but never close.
When Jan, a school teacher, avid birder and niece of a fellow officer, goes missing and is found dead in a nearby tract of woods Flora finds herself thrust into the middle of an examination of the other woman’s life, as she searches for clues.
As usual, the police have more than one crime to deal with. There’s illegal timbering and a series of vehicle thefts taking up their time. And there are other issues to deal with. Flora is concerned there’s some shakiness in her relationship with Cpl. Harry Minnich who seems to be making a lot of secretive phone calls.
Still Flora maintains focus on the murder. Despite evidence implicating other suspects, the odd behavior of another former classmate rouses Flora’s suspicion. Flora’s probing opens personal wounds as she observes the cost of obsessive love and tracks down the killer.
There were a number of well-defined trails criss-crossing the expanse of woodland. Convinced it was unlikely Jan Kepler would be found on these trails, Brubaker ordered his searchers to fan out. Broken into two teams, comprised of police, Finkbine’s men and Flora’s father and his friends, the searchers made repeated passes across the expanse of the woodland, shouting the missing woman’s name and blowing whistles in hope of getting her attention in the event she was lying injured somewhere in the vicinity. Despite some grumbling about the mud and clothing being snagged on brush, they moved slowly and carefully, trying to cover as much ground as possible. Corporal Harry Minnich and Officer Brent Taylor, both of whom had worked the night shift, had been called back for town duty and Minnich conferred with Brubaker periodically to let the chief know all was well in the community. Harry, who was Flora’s boyfriend, called her twice, too, for updates on the search.
Near noon, after a call from his son, Elmer Finkbine sent out a truck with lunch for the search team.
“That was nice of him,” Brubaker commented, accepting a bag lunch from the younger Finkbine.
Jimmy grinned and nodded. “I know what you think about him, but the old man haint all bad.”
Brubaker reddened. “Now, Jim I never…”
Finkbine raised a hand and grinned again. “Don’t go gettin’ flustered on my account, Aaron. I know he can be a bastard as a boss. I’m just sayin’ there are times when you least expect it that he does surprise you.”
The two sat side by side on a convenient log and gave attention to their sandwiches. Fred Drumheiser, a sandwich in one hand and a styrofoam container of steaming coffee in the other, squatted opposite them. “I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t a waste of time,” he said.
Fred swung his sandwich in a circle around him. “I’m just sayin’, how many times we traipsed around this bush and we haint seen a sign of Jan?”
“There’s a lot of woods we haint hit yet,” Jimmy told him. “I hunt out here, so I know how big the place really is. Haven’t even been on the state lands yet.”
“Jim’s right. Your niece is a tiny thing. She could be down in a gully unconscious and we could walk right by without seeing her.”
Fred scowled. “If she’s even out here in the first place.”
“Whadya mean by that?”
Fred sighed. “Look, I hate to say it but since Ken died my sister has got real clingy with Jan. She always was over-protective of the girl, but it got worse these last couple years. Jan complained to me about it. When I broached the subject to Sylvia she got pissed. Hasn’t talked to me since–and that’s been months.” He exhaled again. “That’s probably why she went to Flora instead of me this morning.”
“So what do you think happened, Fred?”
“I’m just sayin’, maybe we’re wasting our time. Maybe Jan just got tired of her mom’s naggin’ and took off on her own for a while.”
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