by J. R. Lindermuth
Though murders sometimes occur without apparent motivation in real life, readers of mysteries seem to prefer a motive for the crime.
The murders in previous books in my Sticks Hetrick series have resulted from the characters participation in other crimes. These have included the stealing of rare books, an insurance scheme involving race horses, theft of antiques from the Amish, identity theft and embezzlement.
This time I’ve chosen arson as the trigger, though the actual murder is only indirectly connected to that crime and the killer has his own motivation.
Ideas for novels come to writers from a variety of sources. In this particular case I’d been reading newspaper reports about some volunteer firemen who began torching properties to augment the number of fires to which they were called out. It sounds perverse but, based on my experience as a newspaper reporter, I can assure you this wasn’t a unique case. This has happened more than once.
But what initially sparked my interest in this case was a report of one of the firebugs having a play list of music to inspire his activities. I began inventing a pyromaniac who emulated this behavior. I had my son (more of a pop music fan than me) assist me in compiling a list of fire-related songs to motivate my character.
FBI statistics reveal arson increased 3.2 percent over the previous year in the first six months of 2012. That figure showed little or no change in 2013. This was a higher percentage than recorded for other serious crimes such as robbery, aggravated assault and larceny-theft.
The Internet makes researching for background on such a topic comparatively easy. I also had sources from my newspaper background, including police and fire marshals.
Daniel ‘Sticks’ Hetrick, my protagonist, is a retired small-town police chief who has also served with the Pennsylvania State Police. In the previous novels, he served as an unofficial consultant to his less experienced successor as police chief. I’ve now given him a new job as a county detective. This allows him to move back and forth in two jurisdictions.
Though Sticks is the main character, I’ve built an ensemble cast in the previous books and they’ve become popular with readers. These include Chief Aaron Brubaker, Hetrick’s protégés Officer Flora Vastine and her beau, Cpl. Harry Minnich, other members of the police department, the owner and wait-staff of a local diner and even a (somewhat) reformed thief and pool-shark.
The stories generally take place in the vicinity of Swatara Creek, a fictional rural community near