I have a new mystery series. Did you know?
Yup. In addition to Sarah Armstrong, I'd now like to introduce you to Clara Jefferies. The first book in this new series, THE FALLEN GIRLS, came out in June. And today the second book debuts, HER FINAL PRAYER.
A Dallas detective, Clara has an unusual past: she was born and raised, lived her first twenty-four years in the small town of Alber, Utah, a polygamous enclave in a mountain valley high in the Rockies. She fled Alber in fear for her life and spent ten years in Texas. In book one, THE FALLEN GIRLS, Clara is pulled back to Alber to try to find a missing sister. What Clara finds is a town in the midst of change as the feds have made arrests, including of the religion's prophet. Outsiders are moving in and barriers are falling. But rather than a welcomed homecoming, Clara has become a stranger, even to her own family.
So in book one, THE FALLEN GIRLS, Clara is pulled into a string of horrific crimes as she searches for her sister.
In book two, as I said out today – you may be able to tell that I'm pretty excited – Clara is called to the Johansson bison farm, outside of Alber, and what she finds there are some of the most gruesome murders she's ever encountered in her years in law enforcement.
From that heart-pounding start, Clara is propelled into an investigation where nothing is as it seems, and where she's forced to confront her own troubled past.
To set up the series, I'd like to tell you a bit about the inspiration for Alber, my fictional town.
It all began in 1988. At the time, I was a magazine writer, a contributing editor at Ladies' Home Journal. I'd written for them for about four years at that point, and a case caught my editor's attention. It was unfolding in Hildale, Utah, one of the fundamentalist Mormon towns in what's known as the Short Creek area. The court case involved a polygamous family. The husband, Vaughn Fischer, and his first wife, Sharane. The Fischers wanted to adopt the six children of Vaughn's third wife, Brenda Thornton, who'd died the previous summer. Brenda and Vaughn had only been married for two months at the time she died, and none of the children were his biological offspring. The adoption was being contested by Brenda's two sisters, Patricia and Janet. My editor at LHJ sent me to Utah to interview Vaughn Fischer and his family.
So that summer, I drove my rental car into the town of Hildale, Utah, just across the border from Colorado City, Arizona, two towns controlled by a fundamentalist Mormon group. From the beginning, it was eye-opening. I was there in the summer, and it was so hot. But the girls and women were all clad in prairie dresses, and the boys and men in long pants. Everyone had their arms covered, and the women even wore socks with their sandals.
The houses were huge! Some housed three, four, five or six wives and their children. The Jeff's mansion, the one near the center of town where Rulon Jeffs, the sect's prophet at the time, lived, had small cottages throughout the yard. Someone told me that he had dozens of wives and an unknown but large number of children. The town is dusty but the setting is beautiful, bordered by impressive red mountains. A complicating factor during my visit was that they didn't have street signs.
You see, the sect was very secretive – perhaps because polygamy was illegal – and they didn't actually want strangers like me driving through town. They also didn't have a restaurant or a hotel. The biggest problem was that no one would give me directions. I'd see women with children in fenced yards, but by the time I got to the gate, everyone had disappeared. Poof! They were gone.
In the end, I did find the Fischer house, and I ended up spending a week in the area. I interviewed folks like the Fischers who swore that they were happily polygamous and that it was the best way to live and bring up children; and I talked to those who'd been drawn into the sect only to later decide it wasn't all they'd expected
One of my most vivid memories is of sitting in the Fischer's living room surrounded by what seemed like scores of children. I had on a short-sleeved dress. While we were talking, a group of the younger children surrounded me, and they began to run their hands over my arms. I couldn't understand why until one of their mothers said, "It's that they've never seen a woman's arms uncovered before."
As I got more into the interviews in Hildale, I discovered that there are things to consider when you live in a polygamous community. One is that boys and girls are born in fairly equal numbers. That presents a problem when one man can have dozens of wives. The main concern: there weren't enough women to go around. This was solved, unfortunately, by weeding out the boys who weren't wanted in the community, the ones who the sect's leaders would rather disappear. They were called the lost boys.
What I was told during my time in Hildale was that the boys the sect planned to keep were groomed to stay, and the others, beginning in their early teen years, were manipulated to leave. The deed was accomplished by pushing and pursuing the unwanted boys, making the town uncomfortable for them.
The other thing was that the girls weren't allowed to choose who they married, but rather assigned to husbands by their prophet's decrees (based on revelations from God).
So, that's the inspiration for the setting of my Clara Jefferies mystery series. I drew on those experiences to create the town of Alber and its rather unusual residents. I hope you enjoy the books as much as I'm enjoying writing them. I'm currently hard at work on book three, and I am loving every minute of it.
Oh, and if you read the books and love them, any of my books actually, I'd be delighted if you'd write a review where you purchased your book. It means a lot to have reader recommendations.
Thank you, and happy reading!