Author Spotlight | Jo A. Hiestand breathes new life into the British mystery genre #mystery #bookser


Jo Hiestand knew as a child she wanted to be a mystery writer. So, she laid down experiences she could use in her novels: camping throughout her Girl Scout years, working summers as a canoeing instructor and camp counselor, singing in a folk group, attending a citizen police academy, learning to fire a gun, riding along with police officers on patrol… Which was all well and good, but she needed to immerse herself in the British countryside and villages for the mysteries she wanted to write. She wanted the ‘feel’ of the locations and perhaps chat up a police bobby to get her questions answered. England beckoned and she accepted.

Jo bee-lined to Derbyshire, feeling it was the ‘home’ of her books. Derbyshire also bestowed the essential English police contacts and transformed the St. Louisan into an Anglophile. The bond was made stronger when a retired Detective-Superintendent of C.I.D. and a working Detective-Sergeant agreed to read her manuscripts for police procedure accuracy and to provide investigation techniques information.

She was fortunate to add a pathologist friend to her list of helpful people. Her friend supplies vital medical information for each book’s plot.

The first few books were eventually written and published, but something still was lacking. A different outlook to complement the main perspective? The genie appeared in 2006 in the form of friend and American police detective Paul Hornung. Paul’s sub-plot ideas stem from his thirty-plus years as a police officer and his love of reading thrillers. But his wish granting didn’t stop there: he also writes first-person chapters as a specific character in their Peak District mystery series. Their first writing collaboration resulted in The Stone Hex. His male street cop’s viewpoint underscores the female detective’s predominant narrative. “Like pie crust pastry,” Paul jokes. “The wealth of shortening transforms mundane flour and water into something incredibly flaky.” He refuses to divulge how flaky Jo was before he came along.

Jo and another friend, fellow mystery author Pam DeVoe, teach a mystery-writing course at a St Louis-area community college, something they’ve been doing for more than half a decade. Jo also speaks to groups on odd British customs, seeing Derbyshire through a writer’s eye, how she overcame obstacles to her book publications, and the origins of Groundhog’s Day—a talk complete with animal fun facts and Groundhog Day carol singing.

Jo has returned nearly a dozen times to England, researching and photographing for her two mystery series: Detective Sergeant Brenna Taylor & Detective Chief Inspector Geoffrey Graham and the CID team solve mysteries when British customs run amuck in the Peak District mysteries; ex-police detective Michael McLaren investigates cold cases on his own in the McLaren mysteries. During each trip to Britain, she explored the rural beauty of Derbyshire and Cumbria and the area around Edinburgh and Balquhidder in Scotland—all for use in her novels. She has also participated in and watched English customs, performed in English folk music clubs, cooked British food, toured English police stations, wandered around castles and manor houses and villages…

She also has been fortunate to have had a book signing at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, been interviewed during a live BBC radio broadcast, and been the subject of a half-page article in the Derby Telegraph newspaper.

Jo founded the Greater St. Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime, serving as its first president. Besides her love of mysteries and early music, she also enjoys her backyard wildlife, photography, reading, and playing the guitar and harpsichord.

Her love of music has carried over into the McLaren Mystery series. In each book, a song is important either to McLaren, the murder victim, or the story. Jo wanted her readers to hear the music that is so essential to the novel, so professional musicians or university music students have recorded the songs. The majority of the music is folk songs, but “Never Leave My Side” features Jo’s lyrics and original music by the song’s singer and pianist. Another original composition by Robert Chamberlin soon followed: a four-movement piece for two pianos (characters/scenes illustrated for Arrested Flight) and an arrangement of “Scarborough Fair” for the book Empty Handed. Musical styles for all the songs range from a cappella quartet and jug band to classic jazz instrumental, a Handel aria, and folk. The music is available for purchase on single-song CDs from Jo’s website.

Jo has employed her love of music, writing, and board games in other ways by co-inventing a mystery-solving game, P.I.R.A.T.E.S., which uses maps, graphics, song lyrics, and other clues to lead the players to the lost treasure.

In 1999 Jo returned to Webster University to major in English. She graduated in 2001 with a BA degree and departmental honors.

Her cat, Tennyson, shares her St. Louis-area home.

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Title AN OLD REMEDY

Author JO A. HIESTAND

Genre BRITISH MYSTERY

Publisher COUSINS HOUSE

Book Blurb

Year after year, the villagers near Stanton Moor celebrate May Day with bonfires and the laying of rowan branches to seek protection for home and cattle. But the men who gathered this May evening hadn’t come for blessings. They had come for murder.

The dead body is discovered on a lonely moor, decapitated in the fashion of a sacrificial killing of sheep or chickens.

The members of the Derbyshire Constabulary’s Murder Team are called in to investigate, and soon a series of decapitated animals appears on the moor.

As fear over a second murder grips the villagers, the Team discovers this dead man may have had connections with an organization that smuggles illegal products into Britain. That’s bad enough, but the smuggling turns from a mere criminal case to something that hits closer to home for Brenna.

In the midst of the tangle of smugglers, murder, and village secrets, Brenna struggles to keep focused on the case and nab the one person who may be responsible for the trail of villainy that threatens to engulf everyone - cop and villager alike - connected with the moorland murders.

Excerpt:

Darkness claimed the valley and now reached out in lengthening, murky fingers to the hilltops. Barely visible above the farthest hill, a sickle-shaped moon rode low in the ashen sky, trapped in the leafy branches of willows growing in clumps around the perimeter of the stone circle. It was a remnant from Druid times, many believed. And even now many avoided the area after sunset, acknowledging in private what they scoffed at in public that the Old Magic still lingered in the stones, that the spirits still inhabited the trees. Especially when night embraced the circle. In another hour the darkness would be complete, having swallowed any distinguishing mark on the moor or in the village lying snug against the winding road beyond the purple expanse. Dark but for the dots of fire that even now pricked the gloom.

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Title SEARCHING SHADOWS

Author JO A. HIESTAND

Genre BRITISH MYSTERY

Publisher COUSINS HOUSE

Book Blurb

The watchers that night who saw only blackness and the suggestion of trees massed against an ebony sky claimed later that they knew something would happen. Some probably cursed their ill luck that they hadn’t chosen the right hour to watch; others probably feigned disappointment but secretly rejoiced that they hadn’t seen it. But one watcher, enveloped in fog and superstition, neither rejoiced nor cursed, viewing the spectacle merely as an eyewitness to the centuries-old custom and accepting the dubious honor that added his name to the meager list of Those Who Had Seen. A watcher didn’t see a ghost every night.

The ghost seen this year is tied to the custom of Watching the Church Porch ¾ a sighting of a person’s spirit foreshadows that person’s death within the year.

Frightening, but not unusual. But it is odd, because someone else dies. And in circumstances leaving no doubt the death is murder…by a human hand.

A string of burglaries in the village adds more to the detectives’ load. And questions. Does the village’s former police constable volunteer to help the Team because he really wants to be back in the job, or is he there to hinder their investigation?

It isn’t until another death and a life is threatened that Brenna finally uncovers the ruthless murderer who has devastated so many families.

Excerpt:

I opened my mouth to reply when his mobile rang again. He swore more loudly when he checked the name on the display panel, but answered it. A few sharp words later, he rang off. I must’ve looked puzzled, for he said, “All right. It’s a woman. Satisfied?”

“I didn’t say a thing, Mark.”

“Yeah?” He frowned, as though trying to remember what’d happened one minute ago. “Well, now you know, so don’t make a big deal of it.”

“I’m not, but you are.”

“Keep out of it, Bren.”

“You haven’t told me enough for me to be in it, Mark. I haven’t said a word. It’s just that when a phone rings and the person who owns the phone ignores it…”

“Yeah, well, like I said, it was a woman.”

“Okay.”

“A woman I’ve been dating.”

“Super.”

“Going out with. To dinner and stuff.”

“Fine, Mark.”

“Not too often, but a few times.”

“Whatever. Great.”

“Only, she likes me more than I like her.”

“Fine, Mark.”

“It seemed like a good idea. At the time, you know. Dating someone else, I mean.”

“Sounds like it.”

“Only, now I’m not sure. About her and me, I mean. About us dating.”

“That’s life, Mark.”

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Title THE STONE HEX

Author JO A. HIESTAND

Genre BRITISH MYSTERY

Publisher COUSINS HOUSE

Book Blurb

Things seem comfortably routine one Ash Wednesday evening in the English village of Hollingthorpe. The regulars have come together to turn the Devil’s Stone, the age-old custom of shifting a one-ton boulder in the churchyard. An odd, back-breaking tradition that defies logic¾except that to dispense with it always brings misfortune on the villagers during that year. Yet within minutes of shifting the great boulder, misfortune strikes. One of the participants lies beside the stone, very bloody and very dead.

Detective-Sgt Brenna Taylor and the CID Team join their boss, Geoffrey Graham, who’s already at the village. In the midst of their murder inquiry, one of the Team is attacked¾left for dead, beaten in the same manner as the original murder. Has she discovered something in the wood pertaining to the killer? Add a missing boy days later and a convicted felon who has it in for Graham… Things threaten to spin out of the Team’s control.

This quickly comes true in a midnight, rain-lashed forest, plunging Brenna into very personal emotions. And through it all, the killer silently slips into and out of their lives, thumbing his nose at her and the entire CID team, ready to strike again.

Excerpt:

Harry shook his head and waved his hands. “He’s up there. On the hill. Up there. He’s waiting for me. He wants me to go there!”

“Who’s up there, Harry? Who is he?”

Harry rubbed his hand across his lips, as though afraid to say the name. He shook his head again and snatched the rock out of my hand. He held it over his head and waved it in the air. “He wants me. He wants the stone. I have to go!”

Ian grabbed Harry’s arm and turned him slightly so he was facing him. “Who is he, Harry?”

Harry waved the rock again as though it were a battle flag. “He wants me. I have to go now.”

“Is it Enrico?” I asked, thinking perhaps Harry had seen the police activity last night, perhaps had hidden in the shadows to watch as Enrico had been deposited into the body bag and taken off to the mortuary. Perhaps even seen the murder. An experience like that might certainly be the cause of Harry’s anxiety this morning.

Harry’s eyes were large and shiny when he looked at me. He brought the rock to his chest, cradling it in his left arm. He shook his head. “No. Not Enrico. He’s not there. It’s the other man who wants me. The devil.”

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Title A RECIPE FOR MURDER

Author JO A. HIESTAND

Genre BRITISH MYSTERY

Publisher COUSINS HOUSE

Book Blurb

December bullies its way into the village in a swirl of snow and biting wind, threatening to cancel the annual St. Nicholas festival. But winter’s slap pales when a body is discovered in the candlelit church. Someone is not living up to the seasonal wish of ‘peace on earth, good will towards man.’

But the village harbors more than Christmas gifts, DS Brenna Taylor discovers as she and her colleagues from the Derbyshire Constabulary begin working the case. There is the feud between two rival authors; a wife’s open disdain of her husband and his secret comfort in the arms of another woman; the pent-up emotions of a vicar’s wife forced to conform to idealistic conceptions; the tacit threat of a troubled teenager and his delinquent girlfriend.

Brenna also discovers emotions she didn’t know she had when DS Mark Salt, her harassing macho cohort, makes overtures of genuine friendship. Now Brenna must not only examine her love for her boss, DCI Geoffrey Graham, but also consider the likelihood of its ever being returned.

As if sorting through the affairs of the heart and the tangle of motive and suspects in the case weren’t hard enough, a series of arsons threatens the very village itself. And Brenna wonders if they are looking for two felons or just one very disturbed individual.

Excerpt:

I had never believed in ghosts. They seemed more the stuff of fiction and ancient castles than of churches. But as the massive door closed behind me with all the heaviness of a coffin lid settling into place, I considered there might be some basis for the stories after all.

It was the hinges that first startled me—great, metal things groaning into the stillness like an atmospheric prerequisite of a gothic novel. The disturbance echoed against cold stone and hard wood; it multiplied into a dozen voices that tumbled down the aisles or rolled up the tower steps, dying as they nudged a bell into song. A deep tone, soft as an angel’s voice, sighed from the tower and cajoled sympathetic ripples from neighboring bells. In the ringing chamber below, their ropes swayed as if pulled by invisible hands, the sallies dancing ghost-like in the dark.

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Title PHOTO SHOOT

Author JO A. HIESTAND

Genre BRITISH MYSTERY

Publisher COUSINS HOUSE

Book Blurb

Michael McLaren returns home from working a cold case in Cumbria to learn that he’s missed his uncle’s wedding in Scotland. Angry and fearful that his absence has re-opened the family rift just as it’s healed, he drives to the ancestral home, hoping his appearance and explanation will be accepted. He’s more than welcomed. His uncle asks him to investigate the murder of his first fiancée.

Fiona Lennox was found in a rowboat on a Scottish loch, shot to death during a late night photo shoot. Why would she rent a boat after dark? Did she take it out to photograph the moonlight on the water? She could’ve done, being a professional photographer, but she was also a proponent of civic and environmental causes, which she documented with her camera. Did someone linked to one of her crusades kill her, or was the motive personal?

As McLaren uncovers layers of Fiona’s life and the reason for her nocturnal outing, he and his family are targets of intensifying attacks. But it’s not until he races against a kidnapper’s deadline and the threat of a loved one’s death that he realizes who killed Fiona - implications that are as deep and dark as the Scottish loch.

Excerpt:

Brandon shrugged, clearly at a loss as to Fiona’s activities. “Her car was gone, so she had to have driven somewhere but I had no idea where. I called her flat and gallery for six days. I reported her missing to the police on the third day. I kept thinking she would be back.” He exhaled slowly and picked up the fireplace poker. He jabbed at the log in the grate as though it would relieve his frustration. “Each day I drove to one of her favorite spots, hoping I’d see her car or find some trace of her. I finally thought of Loch Truagh and drove up.” He paused, his hand on his throat. “The police were there when I arrived. They had a section of the shoreline cordoned off. A rowboat was beached and some officers were carrying one of those…body bags over to it.” His head hit the back of the chair, his face white and looking as though he would be sick. “A farmer was there, too. He stood outside the secured area. He was talking to a detective, I guess, because the man was taking notes. I learned later the farmer had found her.”

It was a strange scenario: a person shot to death, lying in a rowboat. McLaren watched a handful of sparks float up the chimney before asking if the shotgun had been found.

“No. Unless it’s at the bottom of the loch, the killer must’ve taken it with him.”

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