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?
The acrid smell of smoke woke him. He lay in bed, trying to understand what was happening. As the significance of the odor occurred to him, he threw back the duvet and got up quickly.
He forgot that he’d looked up a few things last night. He must have fallen asleep without putting away the laptop, for it flipped off the top of the bed and crashed onto the floor. “Damn.” He bent over and picked it up. The top dangled, gripping the keyboard by its left edge. McLaren punched the power button but nothing happened. The screen stayed black. He tossed the laptop onto the bed and quickly slipped into his jeans and shoes as the odor intensified.
He ran into the front room. Fingers of light gray smoke threaded through the air and he coughed, but he saw no other sign of fire. He checked the back room, kitchen and second bedroom, but encountered nothing more than smoke. As he dashed back into the front, he glanced outside. The land was on fire.
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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3.75 out of 5 stars
An Unwilling Suspect by Jo A. Hiestand is a mystery set in England that is part of the ‘McLaren Mysteries’ series. Michael McLaren has availed himself of a countryside retreat in Windemere offered him to use while he tries to recover from his recent tragedy. A neighborly act somehow enmeshes him in a murder investigation with him as the number one suspect. The more he tries to discover the true murderer, the more complicated the case becomes, even when he calls in a former colleague. Danger mounts until it is possible he may not live to uncover the true murderer.
There are beautifully emotional elements in this story and some vividly described scenes that evoke a countryside retreat. The story starts on a gentle mournful note and gains momentum as McLaren interacts with various denizens while battling grief and ultimately, while conducting his own investigation of the murder he is accused of. Clues and red herrings abound until the final exciting twists, and there is a mystical element that adds another layer of mystery to the story.
There are a few elements that were uncomfortable for me, including the shifting and numerous points of view that don’t quite sync with the third person omniscient, as well as the apparent preponderance of characters who seem amazingly bloodthirsty and amoral. Not everything is tied up in a tidy bow, so I still have plenty of questions. Although this is part of a series, there is enough detail that one is not completely lost, but the allusions to previous events definitely encourage one’s curiosity about what would have brought McLaren to this point. I think that those who like mysteries with a somewhat sobering British flair will enjoy this tale.
A copy of this title was given to me for review