Since his infancy, Michael McLaren has been the target of his paternal grandfather’s anger. So when the patriarch sends an invitation to heal the rift, McLaren travels to Scotland, eager to meet and finally end the feud. But the welcome never happens. If Grandfather hadn’t invited him, who had? And why?
In Edinburgh, a man standing beside McLaren in a bus queue is killed in a hit-and-run accident. After an attack leaves McLaren for dead on a wintry moor, he’s convinced someone from his past is trying to murder him.
As McLaren trails the hit-and-run driver from the medieval ‘underground city’ of Edinburgh to the Boar’s Rock the MacLaren Clan’s ancestral meeting place the assaults intensify, and he’s plunged into a very personal hunt for a World War II treasure. The puzzle is fascinating; he just has to stay alive to solve it.
The upper landing was dimly lit, so as not to spoil the theatricality of the underground scene. But tiny strips of lights shone from beneath the stair treads, defining the path to the bottom. His left hand slid slowly along the metal railing, gripping more firmly as he paused to find each successive step. He felt the small torch in his jacket pocket but didn’t remove it. He needed his eyes to acclimate to the darkness.
He came to the second landing and the railing snaked back on itself, yet still angled downward. McLaren could see a small pool of light at ground level, a dozen stairs below. It seemed to come from a small door to the right. He took a deep breath, steeling his nerves, and descended.
At the bottom of the spiraled staircase he stood for moment, letting his eyes become accustomed to the near darkness. The ceiling was not much more than head high and seemed to mock his fear of confinement. Ahead he heard a voice relating the Close’s history. The voice sounded thin, bouncing off the hard walls.
He took a few steps past the bottom landing and looked around. The gloom intimidated him, threatened to suffocate him. Ahead and to his right pinpricks of weak yellowish light displaced some of the gloom and defined the areas through the maze, but murkiness filled the majority of the expanse. He moved slowly, his feet gliding over the rough ground, his hand skating over the wall. His fingers touched the bumps and small protuberances, skimming over them as though he were reading Braille.
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Protagonist Michael McLaren
In what situation is your self esteem most at risk?
I guess it depends who you ask. It sounds flippant, but you’ll get different answers from Jamie, Dena, my sister or me. But since you’re asking me, I’ll say when I’ve taken on someone’s case. People expect me to solve these cold cases in a snap. Some are as old as five years, and witness memories aren’t as good as they were. It’s hard to search a crime scene so long after the fact—things aren’t the same. My experience as a former police detective, my present day skill, and my reputation are at stake. It’s a lot of pressure. Add to that, I’m working alone, and I now have an audience of sorts: my mate, my fiancée, and the person who employed me. I don’t want to fall on my face and let the grieving family down. So yeah, my self-esteem could suffer if I fail.
What are you keeping a secret?
My claustrophobia and fear of the dark.
What are you lying to yourself about? To others?
That I can make a marriage commitment. Maybe it’s obvious to everyone, even my fiancée, but it took me a while to propose to her. Even after that, I was reluctant to talk about the future and to settle on a wedding date. It’s not that I don’t love her—I love her more than my life. But I’m scared of what might change inside me after we’re married. I want to continue helping people with my investigations, but marriage should involve putting the spouse first. I don’t know if I can do that when someone’s counting on me to find the killer of his or her loved one. So I’m in a dilemma. If I don’t marry Dena, I’ll lose her from my life. And I couldn’t live with her gone. But marriage might limit the time I can help others. So the easiest way out is to tell myself and her that we’ll set the wedding date “next month” and then “next month” and so on.
Is there anyone in your life that you are attracted to?
Dena, my fiancée.
What scares you about this person?
She can read my soul.
How do you decide if you can trust someone?
Police officers, at least good or experienced ones, tend to be able to read people fairly quickly and accurately. Their lives may depend on it. I don’t know how to explain it, but we can sense lies and truth and read a person’s personality. I rely on that, and I understand if the person is trustworthy. The quality also comes from testing a person in unusual circumstances. If my mate, Jamie, for instance, ever lets me down in a serious situation, I’d drop him like a hot potato.
How do you know you love someone?
Wanting to be with her constantly, sharing joy and pain, helping her through rough times, laying down my life for her if it would help her.
What parts of loving come easy to you? Hard?
Being together on a date, whether it’s a picnic, a concert, or dinner at my house is easy. Actions like this speak of love, that I want to be with her. Don’t misunderstand--I can declare my love with words. The hard part is being affectionate when she wants me to be. From day one, a police officer is taught Control—our emotions, victim’s emotions, traffic, spectators at the scene. Control your voice tone and expressions. Don’t let the suspect know you’re scared or repulsed or angry or sad or humiliated—I’ll lose my power. So we learn to suppress our emotions for the safety of our jobs. We can’t turn them on and off like a water faucet. Sure, my love is deep for Dena, but I have a hard time letting the emotion show. A cop can’t cry and effectively do his job. So that’s something I’m battling, and it’s hard to drop twenty years of police training.
What are you most afraid of?
Dying alone and unloved.
If you had one wish, what would it be?
There’d be no crime in the world.
What do you like best about yourself?
My tenacity. If I’ve told a person I’m going to find his or her loved one’s killer, I’ll keep at it until I do. Or die trying.
What do you like least about yourself?
My tendency to be pessimistic and cynical. I guess it comes from being lied to when I was in the job—witnesses, suspects and even some colleagues lying to cover their backsides. I have to remind myself not everyone’s like that, but it’s difficult when I continue to encounter that even now in my private investigations.
What do you like best about your best friend?
Jamie risks his career getting information for me. I’ve warned him that it’s not worth it, if he gets caught, but he insists he wants to help. He’s the most loyal mate a bloke could have. He’d literally die for me, I think, but I hope it’ll never come to that. I place a high value on loyalty. It’s the reverse of the lies and treachery I get from others.
What do you think other people think of you?
Teachers: a curious chap. He might make something of his life if he can focus his energy
Other kids: too honest to associate with if some of them want to pull pranks. They know I’d squeal on them
Best friends: always there for them, supportive, good fun in a small group
Parents: sensitive, thoughtful, steadfast
Siblings: bit of a bore, too staid but can ask him for opinions and help
Colleagues: trustworthy, he’ll watch his partner’s back, honest. However, Charlie Harvester, my former colleague, is another matter. Besides hating my guts, he thinks I’m a know-it-all who’s overdue for a downfall
If you could change anything about your life what would it be?
Not waste so much time—it’s a precious commodity. Not let the years of separation build up between my grandfather and me. It’s devastating when you realize how much joy you could’ve shared, how close you could’ve been.
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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.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Jo-A.-Hiestand/e/B0057SO7VI