An Unwilling Suspect by Jo A. Hiestand
GENRE: British mystery
McLaren’s fiancée tragically died one month ago. Trying to heal emotionally from her death, McLaren settles into a rented farmhouse in the woods near picturesque Lake Windermere, in Cumbria. But he’s barely had a chance to rest when Helen, the woman in the neighboring cottage, is killed…and is discovered near his front door.
Because McLaren had spent much of the previous day with her, and his snowy footprints lead to and from her house, he becomes the prime murder suspect in what the police label a frustrated romantic advance.
Motives for Helen’s murder are as chilling as the outdoor temperature. There’s the hands-on garage mechanic who’d like to put his hands all over her, the affluent fishing guide, and Helen’s former boyfriend who wanted to renew the relationship.
Can McLaren find the killer before the police jail him for murder?
Holland took a deep breath and glanced around the room. “Are you alone here, sir?”
“Am I alone…”
“Your wife or a friend, perhaps, staying with you?”
McLaren followed the sergeant’s gaze, as though expecting to see his sister or Dena or Jamie sitting on the sofa. The shadow of a pine bough swaying in the breeze pulled his attention from the fireplace to the window. He swallowed, perturbed with the images he had so easily imagined. “No. No one else. I’m here alone. Is something wrong with that?”
“Just asking, sir.”
McLaren noticed the slight tonal shift of the man’s voice. It conveyed Procedure and Distrust.
“So, no one either here or in town nor elsewhere can account for your whereabouts last night, is that correct?”
“Yes. You’re making this sound like you suspect me of something.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~ AUTHOR Bio and Links:
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 Taylor & Graham mysteries and the McLaren cold case mystery series.
Jo’s insistence for accuracy, from police methods and location layout to the general feel of the area, has driven her innumerable times to Derbyshire for research. These explorations and conferences with police friends provide the detail filling the books.
In 1999 Jo returned to Webster University to major in English. She graduated in 2001 with a BA degree and departmental honors.
Her cat Tennyson shares her St. Louis home.
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This story caught my attention from page one. The pacing is good, the writing tight. Ms Hiestand tells a cracking tale. It starts when McLaren, who is grieving the loss of his fiancée, rents a farmhouse in a remote woods. He makes the acquaintance of his neighbor, Helen, when she comes to ask him for help with her faucet. The next day, her door is broken and again McLaren helps her out. McLaren is still too shocked by his fiancée’s death to really pay attention to Helen, but he does notice when her ex-boyfriend shows up and bothers her, and when a mechanic makes nasty comments about her, and he is gentleman enough to agree to help her when she asks. He also notices when someone cuts down a tree next to his house. However, when Helen’s body is discovered near his house, McLaren becomes the main suspect- a twist for him – usually he’s the one investigating. The case against him looks watertight – no other prints but his, his tire tracks the only ones going to Helen’s house – there are no signs of anyone else in her cottage. This is a real “Whodunit” English country style, with a cast of interesting characters and a story that moves swiftly from start to finish.
I enjoyed the relationship between McLaren and his friend, Jamie. The police procedure was interesting, and Ms Hiestand takes the time to develop the characters in a way that makes you care about them. There are a few red herrings, but that kept me guessing until the end. A good, solid English mystery for a cozy read. Recommended.