Title: In A Wintry Wood
Author: Jo A. Hiestand
Genre: British Mystery
DS Brenna Taylor and DCI Geoffrey Graham are summoned to investigate a drowning in a wintry pond during a family 12th Night party. The case quickly turns personal for the CID team, for one of their own detectives becomes prime suspect. Brenna finds herself caught between the police investigation and her belief in DS Mark Salt’s innocence. Yet even her faith is strained when Mark’s parody of “The 12 Days of Christmas” hints that he was having an affair with his murdered sister-in-law, Mercedes. It’s easy to believe Mark’s guilt: he attracts women like Christmas presents entice kids. As the investigation progresses, other ‘attractions’ in his past are revealed, and Mark’s guilt intensifies with each one. Now that Brenna finally views Mark as a human being, will she lose him if he’s charged with murder?
Even if spatters of florescent orange from police personnel jackets hadn’t shown through the bare trees, I could’ve found the spot. Police work lights illuminated the area and a camera flashed in the gloomy surroundings. I looked for Mark as Graham and I entered the clearing through a break in the stand of conifers.
Mark stood at the edge of the clearing, a statue among the milling Crime Scene investigators and police officers. He nodded at me as Graham and I came up to him.
The pond spread before us like the cap of the wood mushroom, flat and white under its own cap of ice. A gaping hole in the ice indicated where Mark’s sister-in-law, Mercedes, had plunged to her death. The edges of the hole were jagged and rigid, like mushroom gills.
Mark and Graham stepped aside as officers moved in equipment to secure the body. I noticed a pile of work garments—white paper jumpsuits, shoe covers and face masks—and asked Graham if he wanted to suit up.
“I’ll watch from the sidelines, thanks. The photos and video will be enough.”
As if prodded by Graham’s statement, the technician moved his tripod, ready to photograph the body as it was recovered from the pond.
“Let’s get out of the way. They really don’t need me.” Which wasn’t exactly true. He might not do the hands-on recovery of the body, but as the officer in charge of the operation, Graham held the responsibility and reported to the Detective-Superintendent. We walked to a large willow and watched as several constables prepared to drag the pond.
It was fed by the stream on its northern edge. The stream then escaped the stagnant water at the pond’s southern edge, gurgling freely through its rocky journey to the river. Clumps of willow, aspen and birch circled the pool while burdock, water chickweed and ragged robin would cling to the damp fringes in summer. Beyond that, wood dock and black mustard would bloom. Now, of course, nothing but brown, dried stalks showed pencil-like through the patches of snow. I scraped the toe of my boot across a mass of frozen leaves, brown and frozen together, and thought Mercedes had indeed found a charming spot in which to sketch.
“You know for certain she’s here, then?” I asked as we watched the hook of the recovery tool as it was lowered into the hole.
Mark nodded, his eyes fixed on the pond. “I saw her about a foot below the surface of the ice.” He broke off, swallowed and wiped his mouth. His skin had lost its color, and it seemed to have leached all his energy. When he spoke again, his voice was faint. “I didn’t want to risk lying on the ice to drag her out. It seems like it’s thawing in a few spots.”
The edge of the pond, where the water was shallowest, showed signs of melting ice, and the ground was damp. And a few areas of the ice surface seemed a different hue and texture, as though the sun had chosen those spots to thaw. On the whole, the pond seemed solid enough, but crawling onto the icy surface was not the way to test it.
“Besides,” Mark said, “there didn’t seem to be any hurry. I didn’t have to worry about CPR.”
This time he turned away and leaned his forehead against a tree. I walked over to Graham as the body broke through the surface of the ice. The camera clicked as Mercedes hovered over the surface, the water weeping back into the pond. Luckily, she wasn’t swollen and discolored as the few water-soaked corpses I’d seen, but mud and vegetation clung to her. Our local police surgeon waited in the background for the body to be lowered to the ground. Mark had evidently thought of everything, even ringing her up.
“Nothing really signifies it’s other than an accident. The ice looks thin at the edges.” I pointed to the flimsy covering and the air bubbles that danced beneath the frigid surface every time the water was disturbed. “You’d think she would’ve noticed, been more careful. It’s been warm the past two days.”
“Early days yet, Taylor,” Graham said. “Let’s not rush our fences. We’ve had stranger scenarios.”
“Yes, sir.” Of course it was death to any officer who decided a case without proper investigation, and I hadn’t meant to imply I had formed an opinion. But if it was murder, there could be enough suspects in the immediate family.
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Share a holiday family tradition:
We would make a Twelfth Night cake, complete with the hidden charms in it. It was great fun seeing who ended up with the bean and the pea, and the ensuing chaos that followed. The years that my sister or I could lord it over our parents always seemed the best, for some reason!
Why is your featured book perfect to get readers in the holiday mood:
In A Wintry Wood revolves around the old tradition of Twelfth Night. The family is having their annual party and of course emotions erupt, ending in a murder. Readers will learn a bit about the Twelfth Night tradition, which should add to their enjoyment of the day. And it lengthens the holiday season a bit too!
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Runs December 1 – 31.
Drawing will be held on January 3, 2020.
A month-long trip to England during her college years introduced Jo to the joys of Things British. Since then, she has been lured back nearly a dozen times, and lived there during her professional folk singing stint. This intimate knowledge of Britain forms the backbone of both the Peak District mysteries and the McLaren mystery series.
Jo graduated from Webster University in 2001 with a BA degree in English and departmental honors.
Her cat, Tennyson, shares her St. Louis home.
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