Showcase // Last Seen By Jo A. Heistand
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Mr. McLaren, I know you were a police detective with the Staffordshire Constabulary. What made you leave that job?
A year ago a burglar broke into a pub that was owned by a 70-year old friend of mine. My friend hit the burglar with a fireplace poker in the process of defending his wife, himself and his job. The senior investigating police officer arrested my friend for assault, a charge that was obviously revenge and aimed at me for our personal differences. I was outraged at the arrest and threw the officer into a handy rose bush. When I was given the choice of taking a reduction in rank or resigning from the job, I left.
Goodness! That was a life-changing decision. What do you do now?
I repair and build dry stone walls in Derbyshire. I like the work because it’s solitary — that way, I don’t have to deal with people or their betrayals. It also gives me time to think.
I understand you’ve solved some cold cases on your own, mostly murders. When did you get your private investigator’s license?
I’m not a PI. I look into cold cases strictly as a private citizen. People I question have no obligation to answer my questions, but I find most of them are happy to assist me. When I need something official done, like arresting a suspect, I phone the Derbyshire Constabulary and they handle it.
When you’re not busy with our stone wall job or investigating cold cases, what fills your time?
I have a girlfriend, Dena, and I try to spend as much time with her as I can. We’re both busy, though–she volunteers at a tiger sanctuary and I, of course, have my two jobs. But I also play guitar and sing with my folk group. That’s strictly amateur stuff, however. We sing in a pub for drinks. I also like to cook and bake. My mum taught me while I was a kid–basic, simple British dishes. When I was on my own, I ventured into international cooking somewhat, but I still prefer making simple things like cider-baked potatoes, leek soup, and honeyed turkey. I think I like baking better than cooking, and I usually make something at least once a week. Things like scones or shortbread or a cottage loaf. Kneading bread is very relaxing.
Cooking and baking are great ways to unwind, yes. Does Dena like to join you in the kitchen?
Not really. I have her over for dinner about once a month, and she’s very content to let me do the whole meal! She says her culinary skill extends to opening a tin of soup and microwaving that, but I know she’s jesting. Dena’s involved in a lot of charity work and hasn’t the time or energy for cooking, although she can whip together a brilliant Lancashire Hot Pot when she really wants to.
Had you always wanted to be in law enforcement?
I think I became interested in my late teen years. My family lived in Scotland, in Auchtubh, north of Edinburgh, until I was two years old. My grandfather assumed my dad (his older son) would follow in the family tradition of overseeing the family business one day. My grandfather owns Strathearn Brewery. It’s been in existence for three hundred years. When my dad moved our family to Derbyshire, England to help out another branch of the family, we put down roots there. I grew up in the English environment and, since we weren’t involved in the running of the brewery, I became enamoured with law enforcement. I really don’t know how or why that evolved, but I loved the job and made some smashing friends.
You mentioned your folk group. Tell me a bit about that.
It’s a quartet: three lads and a lass. We do mainly British and American folk, mainly traditional things but we’ll sneak in a contemporary song or two at times. I play the guitar. We took our group name, Woodstock Town, from one of the first songs we worked up, “Near Woodstock Town.” That was a smash hit when we performed it, probably because we had fewer wrong notes in that than in the others we sang.
If you sing in a folk group, you must like music. Do you have any other type of music or group in particular as a favorite?
Obviously, I like folk. But I like classic jazz and many Romantic and Baroque era pieces quite a lot. Things by Handel, Bach, Telemann are favorites, as are Grieg and Mendelssohn. I like Marian McPartland a lot too. I lean toward traditional folk, but if you want names of contemporary artists, I’d include the American a cappella group The Wee Heavies and the Scottish lads The McCalmans.
Getting back to your cold case investigations… Have any cases been particularly difficult to solve, or have any of the victims touched your heart?
I’d say the case I just finished was difficult emotionally for me. Dena, my girlfriend, had tried to get me interested in the case. She did a bit of amateur sleuthing so she could present me with some facts to entice me to investigate–her sleuthing was highly dangerous, by the way, and got her into grave danger. I had to rescue her and also solve the case.
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Runs Dec. 15th-21st?Open internationallyLast Seen Giveaway: $25 Amazon Gift Card
Jo A. Hiestand can usually be found at her computer, which is good since she writes three mystery series. It seems a natural progression from her job as a graphic artist – crafting word images on a sheet of paper instead of creating graphics on the computer screen. Between the two computer stints, she lived in Britain for her semi-pro folk singing career and became friends with several English police detectives. The latter relationship was not a consequence of the former calling, however, but all these UK aspects find their way into her books. When not tapping on the keyboard, Jo enjoys reading, baking, and photography. She lives in the St Louis area with her cat, Tennyson, and way too many kilts.