The Website of Russ Heitz
This suspense novel could be called a 'police procedural' except it is set in a small factory town in the wilderness area of north-central Pennsylvania, miles from the nearest big city. Revenge is its primary theme.
Life in Klinkton County -- a large, mountainous and sparsely populated area of north-central Pennsylvania -- has always revolved around deer hunting, trout fishing, four-wheel-drive-pickups, and the Grizzly Snowmobile factory. It is a place where scope-mounted hunting rifles are as plentiful as trees, and shooting accidents are as common as rattlesnakes. But this year, something new has been added: Klinkton County's first serial killer.
Some of the victims include a kerosene route salesman from Allentown, a political organizer from Philadelphia, and a local arts and crafts worker. The person who has to stop this killer is newly-elected sheriff Jesse Eichenlaub.
In addition to his own secret demons from the past, however, Jesse already has three strikes against him. He doesn't like guns. He has no law enforcement experience at all. And the man he defeated in the election is now his boss.
The central questions that Sheriff Jesse immediately faces are these. Who is the shooter? What connects the victims? And how will he cope with the expanding chaos that suddenly surrounds him.
"It's terrible, just terrible," mailman Billy Banks said again.
His long hound-dog face was developing a kind of greenish color that I'd seen before. I gave Banks one of my official and freshly-printed, sheriff's department business cards and told him to call the office if he remembered anything else, anything at all. Mr. Banks assured me that he would and quickly turned away.
I called out to him. "What did you say the neighbor's name was?"
Banks kept on walking. "Pickens," he called back over his shoulder. "Ed Pickens."
The mailman's rapid walk became an awkward trot as he headed back down the lane toward a small blue sedan that had a "U.S. Mail" sign fastened across the roof. Before he reached the car he lost his breakfast in the weeds.
"I know how you feel, Billy Banks," I said softly. "I've never experienced anything like this before, either."
A wave of queasiness washed through my own stomach when Banks retched again, wiped his mouth with a glaringly white handkerchief and then climbed into his small car. Stones flew as the mailman pulled away from the shoulder and out onto the narrow road.
I took a breath, turned around and started walking toward the body. The queasiness turned into a churning sensation when I stopped again about a foot away and looked down at the woman's face.
The eyes were still partly open and frown lines furrowed her brow. Her skin had blanched to an unnatural whiteness and it was easy to see why. Even though much of the blood had drained into the gravelly driveway, the scarlet stain had spread well beyond the exploded throat.
Near the victim's hip was a small ring of keys. It appeared to have fallen out of her pocket when she fell to the ground. I picked up the keys, looked at them for a moment and then put them into my pocket.
I was glad to turn my attention to the Springer spaniel which was still crouched by the body, the grizzled muzzle resting on the chalky hand. The moist brown eyes looked up at me with the most mournful gaze I'd ever seem.
I squatted down next to the dog and gently stroked the broad bony head. "Looks like you've lost your best friend," I said softly. "Hurts, doesn't it. Hurts like hell."
The dog whimpered and licked my hand.