Former police detective Michael McLaren arrives in Scotland, ready to immerse himself in the fun of the Highland Games and to enjoy a holiday with Melanie. But the old saying of plans oft going awry rears its ugly head: Simon Shaw, a member of McLaren’s folk group, dies. Murdered a year to the day following his uncle’s death.
McLaren is determined to find out who killed Simon. Needing justice for his friend is only half of his incentive. He also needs to appease his guilt for suggesting the group sing there in the first place.
As McLaren becomes immersed in the investigation, he wonders if the two deaths are linked, or have to do with the family or their clan. Perhaps Simon’s former wife killed him, bent on revenge more powerful than mere divorce. Or was the killing tied to an old hunt for diamonds? After all, diamonds aren’t only a girl’s best friend. Sometimes they birth greed and murder. And entrap the innocent.
Jo A. Hiestand grew up on regular doses of music, books, and Girl Scout
camping. She gravitated toward writing in her post-high school years and
finally did something sensible about it, graduating from Webster University
with a BA degree in English and departmental honors. She writes a British
mystery series (the McLaren Mysteries)—of which three books have
garnered the prestigious N.N. Light’s Book Heaven ‘Best Mystery
Novel’ three years straight. She also writes a Missouri-based cozy
mystery series (The Cookies & Kilts Mysteries, of which “A Trifling
Murder” is the second book) that is grounded in places associated with her camping haunts. The camping is a thing of the past, for the most part, but the music stayed with her in the form of playing guitar and harpsichord, and singing in a folk group. Jo carves jack o’ lanterns badly and sings loudly. She loves barbecue sauce and ice cream (separately, not together), kilts (especially if men wear them), clouds and stormy skies, and the music of G.F. Handel. You can usually find her pulling mystery plots outof scenery—whether from photographs or the real thing.
I have only a few right now. At the moment, I’m halfway through the first draft of a new McLaren mystery. It’s titled “The Cottage”. He’s in Cumbria, England, helping his love-interest pack for her move south to Derbyshire, to buy a house in his village. While he’s there, a woman asks him to investigate the cold case murder of her parents. He’s caught between wanting to find the killer (McLaren is a former police detective who is very keen on catching killers) and wanting to help his lady love.
When that book is finished, I need to start writing “Crumbs of Defeat,” the fourth book in my Cookies & Kilts series, a cozy series set in the mid-Missouri town of Beaudin Trace. My protagonist, pet bakery owner Kate Dunbar, enters the town’s annual bake-off contest. The contestant at the neighboring table is making life in general difficult for Kate because the woman says Kate is a pro and, therefore, should be disqualified from the contest. The judges disagree. Needless to say, after a bit, the contestant winds up dead, and Kate is suspected of the murder.
Probably at the beginning of the summer “Overdue,” another McLaren mystery audiobook, will be recorded and up on Audible and Amazon for sale. Callum Hale, my narrator, has won the “best narrator of the year” award and helped my book “Hide and Seek” attain “best audiobook of the year.” He’s an actor who lives in London, and he can do most any British accent that I need, a really amazingly talented chap. His current offering, the audio edition of “The Low Road,” has already racked up impressive reviews. He might get another book out toward the end of the year. That one will probably be “Related By Murder,” but we’ll see if he has time for that—the holidays might get in the way!
After the audiobook of “Overdue” comes out this summer, I will probably have time in the autumn to plot a romantic suspense book. I’ve not written one before, so it may prove I’m out of my comfort zone! And might turn out to be an utter flop! But I’d like to give it a try. Something different. I have the kernel of a plot, but characters and title elude me for the moment. Not a problem, right?
For “The Low Road” I posted a very simple question that needed answering. Contestants found it on my website (www.johiestand.com). They had to read a few paragraphs from the story, then answer a question – the answer was found in the excerpt. They emailed me their answers, and I did a drawing for the winners. I had four winners. The prizes were things associated with the story, which takes place during a Highland Games event in Scotland—a beautiful quaich, several silver bangle bracelets and a rose quartz necklace, a silver and jade necklace, and a Luckenbooth thistle brooch. In addition to that PR event, I made my usual book trailer and posted that on my Facebook page and on my YouTube channel. I’m doing some virtual book tours—review tours, also—and highlighting the book at a local Highland Games event I will attend in May.
This is a tough question! So many things. But probably the thing I like best is creating the storyline. I love my characters, the protagonists and secondary ones, both—and I like putting them in situations and seeing how they will fare. Along the way, in my McLaren mysteries, I add little bits of history, if called for, or touches of Celtic myths, like the McLaren clan mermaid legend in “The Low Road.” I love describing the areas for the various scenes, and hope I can set my readers down in the places and that they will think it is as beautiful or mystical or tension filled as I do. I like seeing my characters change during the course of the series—either for better or worse. McLaren has gone from being a near-hermit in book one, to losing his finance thru murder in book six, to finding someone to love in book eight, and now we’re watching that romance slowly develop. I don’t know if he’ll marry Melanie, but it’s possible! A character changing for the worse is McLaren’s long-time nemesis, Charlie Harvester, who was a detective inspector (as was McLaren) in the same Constabulary. Throughout his appearance in ten books, we see their animosity develop, learn what caused it, see Harvester’s attempts at retaliation, his mental problem, and finally his demise.
Research, without a doubt. I can look up most things online, and I’m a stickler for getting things right. Nothing irritates me more than sloppy research. Mistakes are jarring, and yank the reader out of the story if they know what is correct. Some mistakes can’t be avoided, but I try to get things correct: types of fish found in the Mississippi River near St Louis, MO; moonrise time in October in Scotland; what British Army regiments fought in the Netherlands in WWII; age range for British soldiers fighting in the Falklands War and types of service medals awarded; what distinguishes a British barrister from a British solicitor, and what’s the difference in their duties, education, and how their cases are appointed; breeds of dogs and their personalities. Things like that. Some answers I have a difficult time getting, no matter how much I search online. When that happens, I cross my fingers and choose what I think sounds reasonable. But I try my hardest to get things correct. Most of the places I write about come from my own experience, so I can describe those well, but there again, I do plop down fictitious roads and such in my stories, so I can always blame mistakes on my invention!
About the best thing I ever heard, and what I’d like to pass on, is to not give up. It is so easy to get discouraged. Rejection is hard to take. Unless you’re the next JK Rowling, or Diana Gabaldon, or Stephen King, you might not get a huge book contract with your first book. Most of us struggle for years to get any type of notice from the reading public. It’s a long and hard process, but if you quit, you’ll never achieve your dream. So, please keep writing and submitting.
I still have book ideas, and I’ve written thirty-three books to date. I have ideas I know will never materialize into books, and I have ideas for several McLaren mysteries that I’ll get to in the near future. I’ve had ideas for an historical series, but I know that will never happen because I’m fearful of getting something wrong, like saying so-and-so was using a Colt revolver in 1800 but the gun wasn’t developed until 1835. I have enough problems with plotting and keeping my characters in line without adding to my potential errors!
“Mike, would you do me a favor?”
“If I can, of course. What?”
“Take the day off.”
“The day off?“
Melanie poured some milk into her tea and stirred it. The spoon made soft clinking sounds as it tapped against the china. “We could walk up the hill in Balquhidder, the one that’s associated with your clan. I’d love to see that. Or we could go into Callander, if you’d rather play the tourist. It’s also drowning in history. Or,” she added, her voice growing excited, “we could drive up to the Holy Pool. I’d very much like to see that. Maybe take a sack lunch and then drive north to Glencoe.” She hesitated, looking as if she shouldn’t have made the suggestions.
“I’d love to do those things with you.”
She smiled, grabbing his hand.
“But just not now. We’ll do our sightseeing when I’ve nabbed my friend’s killer.”
Melanie withdrew her hand, her smile fading. Nodding, she shifted her gaze and concentrated on her meal.
“I’ll be back today for tea. We can talk then. We’ll map out what we want to do…afterwards.” He cleared his throat, sensing things weren’t going too well between them. “After breakfast, you can think of things for us to do, and we’ll spend the evening together.”
She picked up her fork.
“I’m sorry, Melanie. I didn’t plan on our time up here to be like this. When I suggested coming to the Games I thought we would be spending the entire week together. I thought we would have a dinner with Nick, Colin and Simon, maybe drive over to Loch Lomond or up to Loch Ness, perhaps take in a concert or art exhibit in Stirling…” His voice broke off as she attacked the fish and hacked it into chunks. “Give me another day or two. I should be finished in two days…tops. Then we’ll do whatever you would like. A drive up the Great Glen road or take a boat to the Hebrides. You’ll love the islands.” He eyed her. She still didn’t look at him. “Please understand, De¾” He paused, catching himself in time. He had nearly called her Dear Heart. He took a breath, finishing with, “Please understand. I urged Simon to come here. I wish to hell I hadn’t, that I hadn’t accepted the performance invitation in the first place, but I did. And look what happened.”
She laid down the utensils and looked at him. “Mike¾”
“I know the police are working on it but that’s not enough for me. It’s too slow. The nerk might get away.” He wadded up the table napkin, his fingers practically strangling it. “It’s my fault he came. If he’d stayed home…” He took a breath, a vein in his neck throbbing. “I’m responsible for his death. I have to solve this, to avenge his passing.” His voice had risen, emphasizing his need and emotions. “Please don’t be cross. I… I couldn’t stand it if you were angry with me.”
She looked up, giving him a faint smile. “I’m not cross, Mike. I’m just…disappointed. Mainly in myself. I do this all the time. I envision something in the future, have myself convinced whatever it is will be exactly as I assume it will be, and then I’m frustrated and let down that it hasn’t turned out like my vision. It’s no one’s problem but mine. I shouldn’t do this, but I do. It’s as natural as breathing to me.” She slid her hand around his neck and pulled him close to her so that their faces were just inches apart. “We’ll have years yet of playing tourists together. I understand you need to find Simon’s killer. You won’t be fit to live with until you’ve caught him.”
“I’m sorry, Melanie. It’s the way I am. I can’t change. If I see someone in trouble, some injustice¾”
“I know. That’s one of the things I like about you. Now.” She touched his cheek. “Go on.”
He laid his fingers beneath her chin, tilted her face up, and kissed her on the forehead. He grabbed his leather jacket and left without looking back.
Fighting back the tears, she laid down her napkin and ran up the stairs to her room.
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