First things first. Every blessed day of Elsie Arnold’s life starts with a cold can of Diet Coke. She drinks it down and dirty, straight from the can. No time wasted pulling a plastic tumbler from the cabinet of her one-bedroom apartment, filling it with ice. The Diet Coke kick starts the day.
Elsie likes coffee, but that can wait until she gets to work at the McCown County Courthouse, which sits in the middle of the town square of her small home town in the Ozark hills. As assistant prosecuting attorney, Elsie is obliged to be at work before nine o’clock, when the courtrooms begin the day’s business. Brewing a pot of coffee at home would waste precious minutes; and the pot would go down the sink when evening comes. Elsie is a single woman, living alone.
Though it’s a habit she can’t seem to acquire, getting an early start at the courthouse would be undeniably wise. Her court appearances generally involve serious felonies, from murder to sex crimes to major property offenses. But on other days, she lounges in Associate Circuit Court, handling traffic tickets and misdemeanors. For a prosecutor in a small county, some days are fraught with high stakes and high tension advocacy, while others are routine.
There is nothing routine, though, about Elsie’s latest assignment: she is prosecuting a juvenile offender for the crime of murder in the first degree. She’s been waiting for a murder case; it’s a badge of honor for a prosecutor. But trying a case with a 15-year-old defendant was not the high-profile assignment she had in mind.
Lunch will involve a dash by a run-through: McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Sonic Drive In. Elsie lives in a small town in the Midwest, where gastronomical choices are limited and appetites are hearty. After she polishes off a foot-long coney dog and tater tots, she might feel a twinge of regret. If only she had skipped the tots, she might aspire to a slim figure someday. But she’s keeping company with Bob Ashlock, the chief of Detectives at the local police department. Ashlock likes a girl with a healthy appetite and an hour-glass figure.
After work, Elsie will head straight for her regular haunt: the Baldknobbers Bar. It’s an old dive, the kind of bar that keeps the windows covered day and night, and where a smoky haze hangs inside like a London fog. Elsie’s boss, the refined Madeleine Thompson, regularly warns her away from the venue; and though Elsie has stumbled into trouble at the Bald more times than she’d like to admit, she always returns. Maybe it’s the hometown vibe; or the friendly barmaid; or the greasy burgers, sizzling from the grill.
Or maybe it’s because Elsie likes to slam beer like a frat boy. And with her new trial assignment, where she has the task of locking up a teenage boy for life, she needs a drink. Or two. Or more. . .
It’s a good thing that Elsie is dedicated to her job, and passionately committed to seeing justice done in her neck of the woods. If not for Elsie’s stellar trial skills, her boss would have shown her the door long ago. Elsie Arnold—a cussing, hell-raising, beer chugging wild child of the Ozarks—is not Madeleine’s idea of a model employee.
But she’s a lot of fun to be around.
You can read more about Elsie in A Killing at the Creek, the second book in the “Ozarks” mystery series, published by HarperCollins. The first book in the series is The Code of the Hills.
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Meet the author
Nancy Allen practiced law for fifteen years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She’s tried over thirty jury cases, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University. Her Ozarks Mystery series is published by HarperCollins/Witness Impulse. Her first novel, The Code of the Hills, was released in 2014. A Killing at the Creek is her second novel.