Title: A Hasty Grave
Author: Jo A. Hiestand
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, Mystery
Finding a large hole on one’s property is one thing; finding a body in it the following day is quite another.
Rona and her ex-husband, Johnny, also discover a sheet of paper at the gravesite, symbols looking like code or treasure hunting glyphs. What’s it mean? Does it have any bearing on the man’s death?
Add to this mix the old Finley-Tennet feud and an elderly Finley’s nebulous recollection of James/Younger outlaw days. Does she have the clue to the cache’s location?
When a second death pushes Rona and Johnny into a deadly game of hide-and-seek with the killer, she learns—nearly too late--just how deeply Johnny still loves her.
She told Johnny later she didn’t know what woke her or how long she’d been asleep. Perhaps Drew’s growl pulled her from her dream; perhaps it was a sixth sense. She eased out of bed, barely breathing, and grabbed her flashlight. Drew was at the bedroom door, alternately looking from her and then back to the hallway.
Clutching the flashlight like a club, she stepped into the hall. Drew followed beside her, his presence and growls reassuring.
“Who’s there?” Her voice sounded thin in the stillness.
No voice or noise answered. No scuffle of footsteps, no crash of a falling lamp or thud against furniture signalled the invader’s presence. She swallowed and called again, forcing more volume into her words. “Whoever’s here, I’m going to let my dog loose.”
As if to underscore her statement, Drew barked.
She stooped, patted him, and whispered, “Let’s see who’s here.”
Drew barked again and padded down the hall. When he got to the den, he stopped and looked back at her.
The room was dark but she didn’t want to turn on the lamp or her flashlight for fear of announcing her location to the intruder. Enough moonlight sifted through the tree branches outside and into the room for her to make out the dark forms of the furniture. Besides, she knew the layout and could most likely navigate it in total darkness. Still, she sensed someone in the room, someone who revelled in the dark.
She slipped into the room, keeping close to the doorway. Drew brushed against her leg, then sat beside her, his growl growing more guttural. The pattern of leaves and branches swayed in a silvery rectangle of moonlight against the wood floor. As if to assure her of the reality, a branch tapped against the window, drawing her attention and catching her breath in her throat.
She eased along the wall, keeping the solidity against her back. The wall came to a corner, and for a moment she halted, unnerved by the depth of shadow. She held out her arm as though a caricature of a sleepwalker, and pawed the air before her. Nothing more than the leather chair greeted her. Sliding her hand along the chair, she stepped to her left. When she felt the stone of the fireplace, she abandoned her inch-by-inch progress and stepped to the end of the coffee table. Drew followed her, growling, his attention somewhere in front of them.
A movement by the bay window pulled her concentration from the fireplace area. Had someone slipped behind the long draperies? Was he waiting to jump her? What did he hope to burgle¾money from the bakery?
Drew growled, a deep-throated sound that urged her to do something.
She took a step forward. “Come out now.”
No movement other than the fluctuating curtain; no sound other than Drew’s whine.
She swallowed and renewed her grasp on the flashlight. “Drew, get him!”
The dog barked and dashed toward the window.
Rona paused, unsure of what to do. Drew thrust his head between the two draperies, growling. When no cry or figure burst into the room, Rona ran to the window. She pulled the draperies apart, prepared to battle the intruder. She stared at the open window and the night-drenched landscape beyond it.
She flicked on the flashlight and shone its beam behind the drapes, flinging them to make certain no one was wrapped in them, then played the light along the windowsill and the floor below it. The light revealed a long, dark object. Rona grabbed the hem of her nightgown and, using it as a glove, picked up the object and walked to the couch. She turned on the table lamp and angled the thing beneath the light.
It was an iron crowbar.
A puff of wind stirred the drapes, emphasizing the significance of the tool. Someone had pried open the window and entered her house.
She dropped the crowbar onto the couch and grabbed the flashlight again as a club. “Anyone in the house, Drew? Is he in the kitchen? Find him, Drew.”
She crossed the space between the hallway and the kitchen, and turned on the overhead light before she entered. Drew walked into the room, making no sound, and walked to his food dish.
“Shall I take that as a no to him being in the kitchen?” She gave him a pat, then went through the remainder of the rooms, turning on the lights and looking around. Drew joined her in the dining room and accompanied her as she hunted through the house, but he made no indication anyone was there.
She retraced her route, turning out the lights, and returned to the kitchen. “No one here, Drew. You scared him away.” She pulled a box of dog biscuits from the cupboard, gave him one, and picked up the phone.
The 911 call was answered on the first ring. A feminine voiced answered, “Klim Police Department. What is your emergency?”
“This is Rona Murray. I live in Linn House.”
“I…someone broke into my house. Just now. Well, maybe five minutes ago.”
“Are you all right, ma’am?”
“Yes. Well, I’m a bit nervous, but I’m okay.”
“That’s understandable, ma’am, just so you’re all right. I’ll send someone out.” She hung up before Rona could thank her.
She wandered into the dining room but with no windows and the heavier, darker old furniture it felt claustrophobic. The Lilac Room was marginally better, with its tall windows and ceiling and the lighter wall color, but it felt formal and stiff, as rooms of the early twentieth century many times were. She finally grabbed her jacket from the coat peg by the side door and slipped into it. Clutching the flashlight and her cell phone, she headed outside to the gazebo.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
I included a few of the things that interest me, so I hope I’ve made them interesting for other people to read! I love history, so the backbone of this plot is the Jesse James/Cole Younger outlaw days in Missouri. I love codes and ciphers, so Rona and Johnny find a mysterious message on her property that they need to decipher to help solve the mystery. As with my first book in this series, The House on Devil’s Bar, I’ve sprinkled A Hasty Grave with the Mississippi River, tug boats and barges. So, if someone likes these elements, I think this book would be a good read. And there’s the underlying pseudo tit-for-tat verbal sparring between Rona and Johnny, that I love, reminiscent of the 1930s/40s Thin Man movies. Oh, the audiobook edition should be out by the end of June. The talented Shirley Ponthieu McCoy (an author in her own right) narrates it, so you might be interested in that.
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Jo A. Hiestand can usually be found at her computer, which is good, since she writes three mystery series. It seems a natural progression from her job as a graphic artist – crafting word images on a sheet of paper instead of creating graphics on the computer screen. Between the two computer stretches, she lived in Britain for her semi-pro folk singing career and became friends with several English police detectives. The latter relationship was not a consequence of the former calling, however, but all these UK aspects find their way into her British mystery books.
Jo also writes a US-based amateur sleuth series that features a divorced couple in their 50s. As one reviewer states: “It was refreshing reading about an older female protagonist taking charge for once…to read one in a slightly darker setting is exciting.”
When not tapping on the keyboard, Jo enjoys reading, baking, and photography. She lives in the St Louis area with her cat Tennyson, and way too many kilts.
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