“You heard about Fred’s niece?” my friend Roger Steinbauer asked as I joined him and his friend Edna Fleming in a booth at Lena’s Diner.
Town has been abuzz with gossip and rumors since the news broke Jan Kepler, Officer Fred Drumheiser’s niece, had gone missing. Jan is a local schoolteacher and an avid birder. Her mother reported her missing after she failed to come home from a birding jaunt.
The additional news Roger shared now gave me a jolt. The search team had found the girl–apparently murdered–in the woods of the Preserve, a tract of woods and bog, just outside of town.
I should explain my interest isn’t idle curiosity. I’m Dan Hetrick, known to my friends as Sticks. I’m a lifelong resident of Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania (well except for my time in the Navy and with the State Police), former police chief of the town and now a county detective. These people aren’t strangers to me. Fred served under me when I was chief. He’s contrary and headstrong, but a good man. Jan’s mother, Sylvia, and me went to school together. They are my friends and must be devastated.
Another person who would be in shock would be Peg Peabody, who was leaving as I entered the diner. Peg, a retired teacher, now operates birding tours, spring and fall. She and Jan were close friends, despite the age difference. Peg had mentored the girl since high school and Jan had assisted with the birding tours in her free time.
I was pleased when Roger informed me Flora Vastine had volunteered to go with Fred and help break the news to Jan’s mother. I’m proud of Flora. I’ve been sort of her mentor since she joined the police department. There was some initial opposition to the hiring of a female officer, but Flora had all the right qualifications. Her four brothers, two of them State Troopers, honed her skills in driving, self-defense and marksmanship. Everything else she did on her own. I’m also pleased she and Corporal Harry Minnich, another of my proteges, are now engaged. Flora had her mind set on that big fellow even before she joined the force.
Later when I conferred with Chief Aaron Brubaker I learned Flora is doing the brunt of the investigation on what happened to Jan. The rest of his troops are busy with a rash of vehicle thefts, illegal timbering and the usual trouble they deal with on a daily basis. I’m glad Aaron had confidence to give Flora point on a murder investigation. Still, it doesn’t stop me from being worried for the girl. Flora is competent, but she also has a tendency to sometimes let her enthusiasm take her off on a lead when she should have back up.
I think I’ll keep an eye on her and the case.
Shares the Darkness is the seventh book in the Sticks Hetrick murder mystery series, published by Torrid Books, September 2016.
Jan Kepler and Swatara Creek Police Office Flora Vastine were neighbors and schoolmates, but never close.
When Jan, a school teacher, avid birder and niece of a fellow officer, goes missing and is found dead in a nearby tract of woods, Flora finds herself thrust into the middle of an examination of the other woman’s life, as she searches for clues.
As usual, the police have more than one crime to deal with. There’s illegal timbering and a series of vehicle thefts taking up their time. And there are other issues to deal with. Flora is concerned there’s some shakiness in her relationship with Cpl. Harry Minnich, who seems to be making a lot of secretive phone calls.
Still, Flora maintains focus on the murder, and despite evidence implicating other suspects, the odd behavior of another former classmate rouses Flora’s suspicion. Flora’s probing opens personal wounds, as she observes the cost of obsessive love and tracks down the killer.
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Meet the author
The author of 14 other novels, including seven in his Sticks Hetrick series, J. R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaper editor who now serves as librarian of his county historical society, assisting patrons with research and genealogy. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. To learn more, visit his website at jrlindermuth.net.
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