Title: Black Moon
Author: Jo A. Hiestand
Genre: British Mystery
Each April the members of a mystery writing group gather on Stanton Moon for camaraderie and to fuel their plots. The moody area seems the perfect setting for hatching a whodunit. Unfortunately, an unscripted mystery materializes like an unsolicited manuscript on a publisher’s slush pile—the leader of their group is found on the moor, her head bashed in and very dead.
Lesley Keeton’s murder takes on the aspects of a novel’s first draft: the suspects shadowy and the killer unnamed. Now, a year later, ex-police detective Michael McLaren is asked to tidy up the plot and expose the killer.
McLaren investigates and discovers anger and jealousy cropping up as often as editor’s red marks on a manuscript page. The group members crafted more than stories—they planned a mass exodus, fleeing Lesley’s tutelage, dictatorship and tongue lashings. Add a tinge of blackmail, an illegal business and an affair to this framework, and the deadly combination has the earmarks of a bestseller.
In the midst of this, McLaren’s lady friend arrives unannounced and disrupts the case…and unbalances his emotions. Both are tested one dark night in a churchyard when she stumbles into the arms of the killer…and McLaren must rescue her without letting evil go free.
“If you can spare a bit of time from your stone wall repairing jobs, how’d you like to solve a murder?”
Michael McLaren eyed his friend with a sense of apprehension. The feeling was justified. Several times in the past year McLaren had suffered a variety of assaults while investigating cold murder cases. He wasn’t too anxious to repeat the experiences, and said so.
Jamie Kydd drew in the corner of his mouth and gave McLaren a look that would’ve said “Don’t exaggerate” if he’d spoken. “Why do you always expect the worst? You don’t tangle with everyone on every case you take on.”
“Oh no, of course not everyone. At least Janet Ennis’ seventy-three year old mother didn’t try to slug me or run me off the road this past September, and neither did that teenage girl two months ago, in February. It’s just everyone else who thought I would make a good target for their fists or cars.” He sank against the wooden back of the booth, letting the conversations and clink of metal cutlery fill the pause in their conversation. The Split Oak—the pub born from a seventeenth-century coaching inn in McLaren’s home village of Somerley—seemed overly warm that April evening. He rolled up the sleeves of his blue shirt, seeking some relief from the heat that added to the intimate atmosphere. Despite the modern additions of electricity and Wi Fi, the pub’s slate roof still sagged over the oak beam ceiling; the wooden floor still dipped and creaked; the wind still buffeted the thickset casement windows and moaned into the expanse. At the moment, however, rain pelted the windows and slid down the wavy glass panes to collect in puddles on the sills.
McLaren picked up his glass mug and wrapped his hands around it, then stared at Jamie. “Who’s in such dire need of help? And why doesn’t she go to the police?” He swallowed some beer, then set the mug on the cardboard mat.
“It’s not a woman. It’s a man. A bloke I know via the job,” Jamie explained, lowering his voice.
“He at Silverlands, then?” The question came slowly, as if McLaren was uneasy about an affirmation.
Jamie shook his head, leaning forward. “He’s not at my police station. He’s up in Cumbria. That is, he was.”
McLaren sighed, running his fingers through his blond hair. It was going to be a long explanation. “He’s not in Cumbria now and he’s not in Buxton, with the Derbyshire Constabulary. Where is he? Undercover?” He said it with more skepticism than he’d meant, then flashed a smile, hoping to ease the cynicism he conveyed.
“He’s retired. I know him when we worked together on several cases, when our two constabularies shared information. He’s a nice, decent bloke. Hard working. He retired a detective sergeant.”
“Congrats to him, but I repeat: why does he—or at least you—think he needs my assistance? If the murder case is that bad, why can’t he ring up B Division in Derbyshire and get help?” He frowned, sizing up Jamie’s expression. He didn’t look happy. “He try already and Derbyshire Constabulary turned him down?”
Jamie shook his head and grabbed his beer mug. “He hasn’t talked to anyone at the station, Mike, and he hasn’t asked for any help, either.”
“Brilliant. Nothing like pushing me into something neither he nor I want me to take on. You’re daft if you think I’m going to butt in. And you’re daft if you think he’ll welcome it if I do.”
“Just hear me out, Mike.” A bead of condensation ran down the mug and dripped onto the front of his black tee shirt. He seemed not to notice. “His name’s Holton Lacy. As I said, he’s a retired detective sergeant. He moved from Cumbria to put some distance between him and some of the berks he dealt with.”
“In prison or at his station?”
“Both, probably. You know how it is.”
McLaren nodded. He’d had his own run-ins with colleagues and bosses. And with people he’d arrested and helped send away. The person who most readily came to mind was a former co-worker who’d arrested McLaren’s seventy-year-old friend for defending himself, his wife and his business from a burglar. The absurdity of the co-worker’s action so enraged McLaren that he’d pushed the detective into a handy rose bush. For his act, McLaren had been reprimanded for obstructing a police officer in the course of his duty and given the choice of reduction in rank or being escorted out the door. McLaren had resigned that week and at age thirty-six turned to repairing stone walls as his livelihood. All had gone well during the ensuing twenty-two months until several weeks ago when the former co-worker had stalked and ambushed McLaren, and had died in the resulting life-or-death fight.
Jamie gave his friend several seconds to consider the situation before continuing. “Holton’s turned to writing mystery novels as his main time-filler.”
“Great. I can just imagine them. Tough, noir stuff, right?”
“Actually, they’re not. They’re quite high in the online book rankings.”
“So, what’s he need me for? Surely it can’t be for procedural information if he was a detective.” McLaren leaned forward so their faces were mere inches apart. “All you’ve told me is this brilliant bloke’s retired and now fills his days with concocting fiction. What the hell is this old murder about?”
“He belongs to a writing group, Mike. You know what they’re like—the kind that gets together monthly to talk over members’ writing problems and to offer moral support.”
“They have an annual retreat. It’s a weekend of working on their individual manuscripts and they discuss ideas on book marketing. You know.”
McLaren ran his fingertip around the lip of his glass. “Get to the point, Jamie.”
“Well, during the writing retreat last year one of the group was murdered.”
Trade paper –
What makes this book a must-read and/or what inspired you to write this story:
Being a former member of a writers group, I’m fairly knowledgeable about group dynamics and some personalities. I thought this would make a good core of a mystery. I’m also fascinated with Stanton Moor, a bleak area in Derbyshire that sports a prehistoric stone circle, an old stone tower and cottage, and several disused limestone quarries. The area is beautiful…and slightly spooky. Because I love the Moor, I thought it would make a splendid backdrop for the mystery writers group retreat weekend, and a wonderful spot for a murder. So, I plopped the group and the crime there. I also like to keep track of moon phases and eclipses and the like. I discovered there’s a black moon occurring toward the end of August. It seemed a nice thing to plop into the story—one of the group could also have my moon mania. So the black moon is a catalyst to the murderous deed. It just sort of fell together.
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I grew up reading Dumas, Twain, duMaurier, Dickens and the Brontes. I loved the atmosphere of those books. Add the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce movies and the moods of 1940s/50s movies like Brief Encounter, Night Must Fall, and The Thirty-Nine Steps, and I knew I wanted to write mysteries, and the books had to be set in Britain. That was a must even though I knew only what I’d seen in the movies and read in the novels. But the British pull was tenacious. Three years ago I discovered that I have literally centuries and centuries of English, Scottish and Welsh ancestry. Do genes mean anything?
My first visit to England was during my college years and that cemented my joy of Things British. Since then, I’ve been lured back nearly a dozen times, and lived there for a year during my professional folksinging stint.
I combined my love of writing, mysteries, music, and board games by co-inventing a mystery-solving treasure-hunting game, P.I.R.A.T.E.S.
I founded the Greater St. Louis Chapter of the international mystery writers/readers organization Sisters in Crime, serving as its first president.
In 2001, I graduated from Webster University with a BA degree in English and departmental honors. I live in the St. Louis, MO area with my cat, Tennyson, and way too many kilts.
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