by Dean L. Hovey
When human remains are found at the Vore Buffalo Jump, the short-staffed local sheriff’s department requests assistance from Park Service Investigators Doug and Jill Fletcher.
ATV tracks lead the investigators to the victim’s boots and a hunting blind constructed on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest. With more questions than answers the Fletchers find themselves pulled into the community dynamics of tiny Aladdin (population 15) where the café and general store are the hub of information for the county.
The surprising identification of the victim only opens more questions about him, and his connection to the location of his murder. When the Fletchers follow up on the few leads provided by John Doe’s identification, they unwittingly open a can of worms.
Drawing a sharp breath, she reached into her back pocket for her cell phone. Punching 911 into the keypad, she waited two rings before the dispatcher answered. “Crook County emergency services. How can I assist you?”
Having not considered what she was going to say when the phone was answered, Peggy stated what came to her mind. “I’m looking at a dead body. Could you send someone over to fetch it?”
“Is the body human?”
Peggy cocked her head to examine details that became clearer as he eyes adjusted to the shadows behind the building. “It appears so.”
“You can’t tell?” The dispatcher asked.
“It’s complicated. It’s kind of tangled in some brush partway up a hill.”
“Do you need an ambulance?”
“No, this soul is well past the ambulance stage.”
“Where are you, ma’am?”
“I’m standing behind the Vore Buffalo Jump Museum building.”
“Where exactly is that?”
“It’s along the interstate, between the Beulah and Aladdin exits.”
“I’ll dispatch a deputy to your location. The nearest officer is in Hulett, so it might take him the better part of a half hour to get there, if he’s through with lunch.”
“There’s no rush. Whoever this is, isn’t going anywhere.”
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I grew up in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. My wife and I now split our year between northern Minnesota and Arizona. I’m a scientist and have spent much of my life doing technical writing. After making a New Year’s resolution to stop watching television, I started my first mystery. A few years later, after hundreds of rejection letters, “Where Evil Hides” was published by a small press. Since then, I’ve written thirty-three more mysteries, across three different series. The Pine County mystery series was my first. It’s set in rural central Minnesota and deals with small town issues. The Whistling Pines cozy series came later when my wife suggested I write a “British-style” mystery where someone dies, maybe by poisoning, and we don’t dwell on that, but focus on the humorous interaction of the Whistling Pines Senior Living residents. The third series, Doug Fletcher Park Service Investigator, started in 2019. Doug’s first mystery was in northern Arizona. Since then, he’s investigated crimes in fourteen different national parks.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
“Western Justice” is set on the Wyoming side of the Black Hills. A body is found in a park and my investigative team of Doug and Jill Fletcher are summoned to assist with the murder investigation. We quickly learn that the victim was murdered, but his body can’t be identified. My investigators are drawn to a tiny nearby town, Aladdin, which serves as the local hub of information and disinformation.
After visiting the Aladdin (population 15) General Store and the Vore Buffalo Jump, I KNEW this was a great location. The people are wonderful, the location is mysterious, and there are enough “characters” to fill several books. I’m drawn to the Black Hills because Jill Fletcher’s family lives there and any local investigations provide me with the opportunity to tie in her quirky and demanding family.
How do you create your characters?
My main characters all “invented” themselves in the first book of each series. Doug Fletcher arose as an investigator in “Stolen Past” when the US Park Service needed a person to investigate a possible murder and discovered that he was a retired detective, who was working part-time in Walnut Canyon National Monument. They tapped into his skills to investigate what turns out to be a complicated crime syndicate. With his backstory of police experience, he grew and pulled in additional characters, including a Navajo National Police officer and Jill Rickowski, who eventually becomes his partner. Beyond that, I create characters, each with a backstory, to fill the cast required for each book. Some characters evolve into recurring roles because they’re so interesting, they keep calling me back.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
As I mentioned earlier, I started because of a New Year’s resolution. (I have to say that was way more effective than my weight loss resolutions have been). I love that the characters “speak” to me as I write, often leading me places I’d never envisioned when I developed the book’s outline. I have found that quiet time, like walking, driving, or showering, allows me to reflect on the plot, and then the characters start speaking and the words flow faster than my fingers can type.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I have my spot in the living room where I can stare at a blank wall, with the laptop at my fingertips. I’m most inspired in the mornings, so I brew a cup of coffee and plop down in my spot. I’ve often been dragged out of bed by one of the characters who is yelling at me to start recording what they’re saying. Jill Fletcher has been increasingly annoying, dragging me out of bed at ungodly hours, demanding that I record what she has to say. My wife often wanders out of the bedroom asking how long I’ve been up. My response is usually, “I’ve been up about three quarters of a chapter.”
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Ideas chase me. I’m literally engulfed with plot ideas. Some are supplied by readers. Others come from the news. Some come from life experiences. I have all kinds of things bouncing around inside my head. Plots, characters, and locations bounce around until they start to mesh, like cogs on gears. One of my consultants calls me billiard-ball brain, referring to the random bouncing of ideas, like billiard balls after the break. At some point, the balls come to rest and the pattern is cast for the next plot.
What do you like to read?
When I have time, I read mysteries. I used to read a lot of older writers, like Ed McBain and Erle Stanley Gardner. Now, I read John Sandford, Lee Child, Tony Hillerman, and William Kent Krueger. In all honesty, I don’t have much time for reading. I’m either researching, writing, or promoting a book all of the available hours of the day.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Start with an outline. Develop a plot, some characters, and a possible ending. Then, write every day. Nevada Barr told me she writes three pages a day. At the end of the year, she has a book!
The other thing to keep in mind is that drafting a book is only a quarter of the process. Once you have that draft, you need to have it critiqued, and you have to rewrite to make it smooth and engaging. Then, there’s the whole finding a publisher and working with an editor issue (more rewrites). The final piece, the part most writers struggle with, is promoting your work. Unless you speak at libraries, sign at bookstores, write a blog, and attend book conventions and events, you won’t have sales beyond your friends and family.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I spend almost as much time researching as writing. Even though I’m writing fiction, I need to make sure the details are correct. I use consultants for police, guns, horses, medicine, anatomy, music, locations, and more. I visit the National Parks I plan to use and speak with the rangers to salt in details like, Saguaro National Park doesn’t have “stay on the sidewalks” signs. They have images of rattlesnakes next to tufts of grass. Some Wyoming back roads have “cows on the road” or “loose stock” signs and cattleguards. It’s those tiny details that take the reader to your location. I hope the “Western Justice” readers can smell the prairie sagebrush and the hint of wood smoke from the pot belly stove in the general store. They will know that the firearms carried by my characters are what real law enforcement officers carry. They’ll know that the beetles and maggots found in the trunk of a car with a corpse are exactly the species an investigator would find when recovering a body. My readers expect me to have those details correct.
Dean Hovey is a Minnesota-based author with three mystery series. He lives with his wife south of Duluth.
Dean’s award-winning* Pine County series follows sheriff’s deputies Floyd Swenson and Pam Ryan through this police procedural series.
Dean’s Whistling Pines books are humorous cozy mysteries centered on the residents of the Whistling Pines senior residence. The protagonist is Peter Rogers, the Whistling Pines recreation director.
In Dean’s latest series his protagonist, a retired Minnesota policeman, is drafted into service as a National Park Service Investigator after a murder at a National Monument.
* “Family Trees: A Pine County Mystery” won the 2018 NEMBA award for best fiction.
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/stores/author/B00J78JMLY/about
Dean L. Hovey will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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