By Jake Betz, Managing Editor
THARPTOWN - John Richard Lindermuth's former colleagues at The News-Item always knew he was an excellent writer. But they didn't appreciate just how extraordinarily good and versatile he really is.
The proof is in his first published novel, "Schlussel's Woman," a historical novel set early in the 19th century in an area that would shortly become the thriving anthracite coal region. It is not just another "coal region novel," however. The emerging coal industry is but a backdrop for what becomes a mystery story, a psychological thriller with so many twists and turns that the reader has a hard time putting it down and, when finished, is dazzled by the ending.
The central mystery is, "Who shot Isaac Schlussel?" Schlussel is seriously wounded in a tavern in the opening chapter by an assailant whose identity the reader doesn't yet know. As he lies suffering and dying, Schlussel, a self-made man who founded a town and made a fortune by producing blasting powder, muses on his life and the people in it - and what it all means in the end.
Lindermuth, known to his many friends as "Jack," skillfully uses flashback scenes to introduce and gradually define the central characters around Schlussel. As the book develops, readers mentally assess which of the people in Schlussel's life were most likely to pull the trigger. The title character, Schlussel's second wife, dominates the story in ways that are surprising, ironic and subtle.
Lindermuth, who retired as a News-Item editor in 2000, has always had a love for coal region history, so a book about the region's early days was a natural for him. He knew a lot of background about those early days, but additional research was needed. Since the protagionist, Schlussel, devoted his life to powder-making, Lindermuth made sure he learned as much about the process, too, which he describes in colorful detail in the book.
The idea for "Schlussel's Woman" came to Lindermuth about 15 years ago when he read about an actual person, Isaac Myer, founder of Myerstown in Lebanon County, who was shot by an unknown assassin. That is the only similarity in the story, Lindermuth notes; the character Schlussel is in no way based on Isaac Myer.
So, over the years, Lindermuth kept the idea for a book on the back burner while writing other things. He began work on the novel in earnest after he left The News-Item, with eight months of solid writing required to complete it. Although this is Lindermuth's first published novel, it is the fourth he has written. Another novel, a mystery titled "Something in Common," is now in serialization on the Web site, keepitcoming.net
Lindermuth, who is the librarian for the Northumberland County Historical Society, has written outdoor pieces and short stories, and has had work published in Pennsylvania Game News, Susquehanna Life, American Bowhunter, Real West and Wild West magazines.
A native of Shamokin and a 1956 graduate of Coal Township High School, Lindermuth is a son of Verna Lindermuth and the late Robert C. Lindermuth. A resident of Coal Township, he has two children, Mike, of Tharptown, who is chief clerk to the Northumberland County commissioners, and Nina Weir of Point Township, and four grandsons.
He worked for the Shamokin Citizen, Shamokin News Dispatch and the Lebanon Daily News before joing The News-Item staff, where he worked first as a reporter and then as an editor.
To obtain a copy of the book, visit the Web site www.iuniverse.com, call 1-877-823-9235, or contact Lindermuth.
The News Item 2004