It’s a few days before Christmas, 2012. Bad weather is on the way and Woodrow “Woody” Stanton, the 63 year old retired Chief of Police of West Hepzibah, is hunkering down – resigned to another uneventful and vaguely disappointing holiday in this small valley town in the North Carolina mountains. Always wary of being seen as the “kept man” of his wife, Margot, a successful writer of romance novels, he hacks at golf, occasionally offers advice to the new Chief, and babysits his eleven year old great-nephew Daniel “Bruiser” Stanton. The boy has Asperger’s Syndrome – a variant of autism – and is Woody’s frequent companion.
Woody’s routine is abruptly changed by the escape of an eccentric mountain man – Morris Kearsey – charged and institutionalized as insane for the brutal murder of his family eight years previous. Shortly afterwards, Woody finds the body – bizarrely hidden – of a member of the Villains, a notorious biker gang, that Woody always suspected might may have had an undiscovered role in the Kearsey family killings.
As the weather deteriorates, Woody’s old friend Everett Hartsell, the elderly, widowed, highly respected, and often reelected Sykes County Coroner, suddenly disappears in the company of a much younger redheaded waitress. Rusty Kinkaid – termed a “tough cookie” – has a history with one of the Villains, but claims she has left that life behind. Woody wonders: is she really a bad girl going good, or is the Coroner being used for some sinister purpose? And Woody has a thought even more troubling – Is there a connection between the Kearsey family slaughter of eight years ago and the vanished Coroner in the company of someone who may have been associated with that crime?
Brooding over all of this is ‘Old Hep’ – the wind blown, derelict ghost town that looks down on West Hepzibah from the top of Foster Mountain. What might be up in the old town that perhaps ties everything together?
Woody and The Bruiser do some sleuthing. The boy’s savant observational skills compliment Woody’s dogged unwillingness to settle for the irrational why of things, when, somewhere, there must be a rational what. They enlist the help of several allies: ‘Old flame’ County Librarian Harriet Metzler, Sheriff Floyd Shores, Patrolman D-Day Ardell, and others, as they try to solve an old mystery and come to grips with a new one.
Chuck Thurston will publish The Coroner Takes A Ride later this year. Cover art is by Curt Thurston.