Title: Killer Heart: A Vermont Mystery
Author: Carolyn Haley
Genre: Small-town mystery
Her near miss at becoming a murderer helps Jane Brown find the person who really is …
Every day, the media remind Jane of global atrocities, injustice, and pollution. Heartsick and helpless to change anything, she fantasizes about assassinating the greedy, violent, and immoral individuals causing problems for all. But she can’t kill, not even kill herself to escape reality. She can only retreat to rural Vermont and do the one thing in her power to influence change: write inspirational adventure stories for girls. For that she needs monastic peace, but instead her darkest fantasy arrives at her doorstep. Someone is thinking globally but acting locally by slaying everyone in town who has harmed others for their own gain.
Nothing connects the crimes except the victims’ evil natures, and the only evidence exists in Jane’s mind. To her, the killer’s motive is transparent. However, being new to the community, she has no idea who might have the motive; and to help the police, she must expose her inner demons that she moved to Vermont to bury.
She’s most afraid to reveal her demons to her one remaining friend, Luce—a joyous extrovert—and Jane’s surprising new chance at love: the enigmatic postman, Ned. Alienating them would lose the only support Jane has to hold herself together. Ned and Luce, aware that Jane is fighting an internal war without knowing why, conspire to tug her back into caring involvement, believing that light is the only true weapon against darkness. Jane must learn this for herself by facing the killer and choosing between right and wrong when they are the same face in the mirror.
Over the years of our friendship, Luce has been searching for the proper term to describe what ails me, so she can help fix it.
She favored “agoraphobia” after I reversed from being a girl happy to travel solo around the world to someone who only goes out when necessary and feels compelled to have an escape route from every location.
When she realized my malaise was more about people than places, she decided I must have “anthromopophobia,” and I really needed to get out of the city. She had already pushed me out of office work, but that wasn’t doing the trick.
My loss of joie de vivre and ambition led her to think “clinical depression”; then she figured “premature menopause” when my desire for sex and romance disappeared, too.
I poo-poohed them all when I found the right word: “weltschmerz,” which my dictionary defines as “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” I did not tell Luce that my weltschmerz had curdled into misanthropy—“a hatred or distrust of humankind”—because by then it was turning dangerous.
Yet I resisted her urgings to get professional help. My state comes from disillusionment, not a chemical imbalance or psychic trauma. Disillusionment can’t be fixed by drugs, therapy, or religion, unless you want to numb yourself to living, or replace disillusionment with delusion.
No, the only cure for weltschmerz is to keep on keeping on. That’s my choice of recovery program, based on the maxim “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” You don’t have to feel hope to recognize that you’ll never feel it again if you close the door to possibility. I’d slammed shut just about every door when dumb luck proved that the impossible can sometimes happen, which reignited hope in my broken heart.
That’s why I’m now the astonished owner of a little house in a Vermont hilltown—found for me by Luce. My new life contains just me, my furry children, and my writing, with Luce and my editor, and a few remaining cyber-friends, my only links to the outside world. I’ve jettisoned everything known to trigger my demons, and created a refuge where I can salvage what goodness is left in myself and life.
Unfortunately, doing this results in an isolation most people consider antisocial and abnormal—particularly exuberant extroverts like Luce. But she refuses to give up hope on me, and I hope to not let her down.
I stopped writing, clicked off the kitchen light, and put my slippered feet up on the table with a contented sigh. Outside, the third consecutive day of rain battered the roof; inside, the first official day of my new life promised twenty-four hours of rest. Everything vital was finally done, delivered, installed, and connected. The only thing missing was cell-phone service, which didn’t exist in these hills so I could consider it crossed off the list. I was ahead of schedule for resuming work tomorrow on the latest Katy Fox novel, so today I could unpack nonessentials at leisure, or just kick back with a good book written by somebody else.
I decided to split the difference—read in the morning, unpack in the afternoon—and rose to refill my coffee. Its aroma didn’t quite mask the eau de fresh paint throughout the house. I had cracked open most of the windows when I’d gotten up, but now more chill was coming in than odor going out. I did a circuit to close the windows, assigning priority to cartons and piles as I passed them.
Back in the kitchen, I looked through the rain-streaked window beside my chair. For the first time since moving in, I could see across the side yard. Somewhere beyond the weeping clouds out there lay a mountain vista, which I might see tomorrow if the forecaster was right. That small hope brought a smile as I settled back into my padded chair with fresh coffee and a halfway-read book.
But I couldn’t stick with it, distracted by the sounds of silence. Instead of honking horns, farting buses, thumping bass notes of rap and rock music, wailing sirens, and arguing neighbors, I heard the rain changing tempo and the refrigerator starting and stopping. My chair creaked when I shifted and my mug thumped when I put it down between sips. I even heard tires hissing on the road out front, so intermittent that each car drew attention. I could tell what direction it came from and track its approach, passage, and departure. In its wake rain and refrigerator noises settled in again until the next vehicle came along, five, ten, twenty minutes later, and tugged my hearing outside.
After half a dozen of these passings, I found myself tense and waiting. I could have eliminated the suspense by booting up my sound system or setting up audio or video streaming on my computer—radio and television having long ago been abandoned; instead, I considered moving to the armchair by a front window so I could see what went by.
I didn’t have time for the switch before a car entered hearing range from the kitchen side. Unlike its predecessors, this one slowed then thump-splashed onto Rock Maple Road. That dead-end dirt lane formed the side border of my twenty acres. I pivoted to look through the kitchen window and saw a flashing yellow light atop a black squarish blur go by. Ah, the mailman’s Jeep.
I relaxed and went back to my book. Just as I got absorbed into the story, the Jeep growled and whined back into hearing range. A moment later it bucked by the kitchen window at twice the rate it had passed the first time despite hub-deep muck caused by late-melting snowpack saturated with April rains. But then, instead of pushing for refuge at the paved intersection, it cut the corner across my front lawn!
I yelped and scooted to the front window. The Jeep gouged ruts into the grass and jerked to a halt across my walkway. The driver, bug-eyed, sprang out and pounded on my storm door.
“Please—I’ve got to make an emergency phone call!” he yelled through the glass.
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Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels as an author, editor, reader, and reviewer, all from her home in rural Vermont.
Through her editorial business, DocuMania, she writes magazine articles and business/commercial copy, while helping other book authors through editing, production, and education. She is a regular contributor for the “Thinking Fiction” column on the An American Editor blog, and writes reviews for New York Journal of Books and Feathered Quill.
Besides working with words, Carolyn enjoys outdoor pursuits, such as gardening, paddling, walking, and riding, along with autosports and aviation.