“Kingdom Come” is a murder mystery set in Amish country with a romance subplot (m/f). It’s being published by Penguin/Berkley in the Berkely “Prime Crime” line. It will be published under my ‘other author name’ Jane Jensen since it’s more mystery than romance.
And here’s the first excerpt — the first scene in the book.
The Dead Girl
“It’s . . . sensitive,” Grady had said on the phone, his voice tight.
Now I understood why. My car crawled down a rural road thick with new snow. It was still dark and way too damn early on a Wednesday morning. The address he’d given me was on Grimlace Lane. Turned out the place was an Amish farm in the middle of a whole lot of other Amish farms in the borough of Paradise, Pennsylvania.
Sensitive like a broken tooth. Murders didn’t happen here, not here. The last dregs of sleep and yet another nightmare in which I’d been holding my husband’s cold, dead hand in the rain evaporated under a surge of adrenaline. Oh yes, I was wide-awake now.
I spotted cars—Grady’s and two black-and-whites—in the driveway of a farm and pulled in. The CSI team and the coroner had not yet arrived. I didn’t live far from the murder site and I was glad for the head start and the quiet.
Even before I parked, my mind started generating theories and scenarios. Dead girl, Grady had said. If it’d been natural causes or an accident, like falling down the stairs, he wouldn’t have called me in. It had to be murder or at least a suspicious death. A father disciplining his daughter a little too hard? Doddering Grandma dipping into the rat poison rather than the flour?
I got out and stood quietly in the frigid air to get a sense of place. The interior of the barn glowed in the dark of winter morning. I took in the classic white shape of a two-story bank barn, the snowy fields behind, and the glow of lanterns coming from the huge, barely open barn door. . . . It looked like one of those quaint paintings you see hanging in the local tourist shops, something with a title like Winter Dawn. I’d only moved back to Pennsylvania eight months ago after spending ten years in Manhattan. I still felt a pang at the quiet beauty of it.
Until I opened the door and stepped inside.
It wasn’t what I expected. It was like some bizarre and horrific game of mixed-up pictures. The warmth of the rough barn wood was lit by a half dozen oil lanterns. Add in the scattered straw, two Jersey cows, and twice as many horses, all watching the proceedings with bland interest from various stalls, and it felt like a cozy step back in time. That vibe did not compute with the dead girl on the floor. She was most definitely not Amish, which was the first surprise. She was young and beautiful, like something out of a ’50s pulp magazine. She had long, honey-blonde hair and a face that still had the blush of life thanks to the heavy makeup she wore. She had on a candy-pink sweater that molded over taut breasts and a short gray wool skirt that was pushed up to her hips. She still wore pink underwear, though it looked roughly twisted. Her nails were the same shade as her sweater. Her bare feet, thighs, and hands were blue-white with death, and her neck too, at the line below her jaw where the makeup stopped.
The whole scene felt unreal, like some pretentious performance art, the kind in those Soho galleries Terry had dragged me to. But then, death always looked unreal.
“Coat? Shoes?” I asked, already taking inventory. Maybe knee-high boots, I thought, reconstructing it in my mind. And thick tights to go with that wool skirt. I’d been a teenage girl living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I knew what it meant to care more about looks than the weather. But even at the height of my girlish vanity, I wouldn’t have gone bare-legged in January.
“They’re not here. We looked.” Grady’s voice was tense. I finally spared him a glance. His face was drawn in a way I’d never seen before, like he was digesting a meal of ground glass.
In that instant, I saw the media attention this could get, the politics of it. I remembered that Amish school shooting a few years back. I hadn’t lived here then, but I’d seen the press. Who hadn’t?
“You sure you want me on this?” I asked him quietly.
“You’re the most experienced homicide detective I’ve got,” Grady said. “I need you, Harris. And I need this wrapped up quickly.”
“Yeah.” I wasn’t agreeing that it could be. My gut said this wasn’t going to be a cut-and-dried case, but I agreed it would be nice. “Who found her? Do we know who she is?”
“Jacob Miller, eleven years old. He’s the son of the Amish farmer who lives here. Poor kid. Came out to milk the cows this morning and found her just like that. The family says they’ve got no idea who she is or how she got here.”
“How many people live on the property?”
“Amos Miller, his wife, and their six children. The oldest, a boy, is fifteen. The youngest is three.”
More vehicles pulled up outside. The forensics team, no doubt. I was gratified that Grady had called me in first. It was good to see the scene before it turned into a lab.
“Can you hold them outside for five minutes?” I asked Grady.
He nodded and went out.
I pulled on some latex gloves, then looked at the body, bending down to get as close to it as I could without touching it. The left side of her head, toward the back, was matted with blood and had the look of a compromised skull. The death blow? I tried to imagine what had happened. The killer—he or she——had probably come up behind the victim, struck her with something heavy. The autopsy would tell us more. I didn’t think it had happened here. There were no signs of a disturbance or the blood you’d expect from a head wound. I carefully pulled up her leg a bit and looked at the underside of her thigh. Very minor lividity. She hadn’t been in this position long. And I noticed something else—her clothes were wet. I rubbed a bit of her wool skirt and sweater between my fingers to be sure—and came away with dampness on the latex. She wasn’t soaked now, and her skin was dry, so she’d been here long enough to dry out, but she’d been very wet at some point. I could see now that her hair wasn’t just styled in a casual damp-dry curl, it had been recently wet, probably postmortem along with her clothes.
I straightened, frowning. It was odd. We’d had two inches of snow the previous afternoon, but it was too cold for rain. If the body had been left outside in the snow, would it have gotten this wet? Maybe the ME could tell me.
Since I was sure she hadn’t been killed in the barn, I checked the floor for drag marks. The floor was of wooden planks kept so clean that there was no straw or dirt in which drag marks would show, but there were traces of wet prints. Then again, the boy who’d found the body had been in the barn and so had Grady and the uniforms, and me too. I carefully examined the girl’s bare feet. There was no broken skin, no sign her feet had been dragged through the snow or across rough boards.
The killer was strong, then. He’d carried her in here and laid her down. Which meant he’d arranged her like this—pulled up her skirt, splayed her thighs. He’d wanted it to look sexual. Why?
The doors opened. Grady and the forensics team stood in the doorway.
“Blacklight this whole area,” I requested. “And this floor—see if you can get any prints or traffic patterns off it. Don’t let anyone in until that’s done. I’m going to check outside.” I looked at Grady. “The coroner?”
“Should be here any minute.”
“Good. Make sure she’s tested for any signs of penetration, consensual or otherwise.”
Grady barked orders. The crime-scene technicians pulled on blue coveralls and booties just outside the door. This was only the sixth homicide needing real investigation I’d been on since moving back to Lancaster. I was still impressed that the department had decent tools and protocol, even though I knew that was just big-city arrogance talking.
I left them to it and went out to find my killer’s tracks in the snow.