The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

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On a stifling mid-summer day, eleven-year-old Claire Hofer sets out carrying lunch to her father, who is raking hay. As she nears the field, she hears no rumbling tractor and sees only a skinny, unfriendly-looking manTownship Constable John McIntire. Claires father is dead.

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Rogue: An Ike Schwartz Mystery #7

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On a stifling mid-summer day, eleven-year-old Claire Hofer sets out carrying lunch to her father, who is raking hay. As she nears the field, she hears no rumbling tractor and sees only a skinny, unfriendly-looking manTownship Constable John McIntire. Claires father is dead.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Hills's gripping fourth John McIntire mystery (after 2006's Witch Cradle) introduces the Hofer clan, who move to rural St. Adele, Mich., in the 1950s. When Reuben Hofer, an abusive father and husband, is shot dead in his tractor, town constable McIntire investigates and finds few who will miss Reuben. During WWII, Reuben spent time in a camp for rebellious conscientious objectors, not far from St. Adele. His extremely ill wife raised their children mostly on her own, only to have Reuben walk back into their lives and run the household like a prison camp. As word of Reuben's death spreads, strangers show up in town, as does Reuben's rigidly religious sister. Hills weaves her tale skillfully with a plot as richly textured as her Midwestern landscape. Her characters-untamed, reticent, lonely and proud-are exquisitely rendered in this postwar morality tale. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In the rural 1950s Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the father of a dysfunctional family is murdered in a field. Soon Constable John McIntire (Witch Cradle) discovers that the man was far from ordinary and that this case will haunt him for life. Hills uses little-known historical events and facts to give her series pizzazz.

—Jo Ann Vicarel
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590584767
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2007
  • Series: John McIntire Series
  • Pages: 307
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathleen Hills spent the first forty years of her life in rural northern Minnesota before leaving for the real world and a career in speech and language pathology. After determining that ten years in the real world should be all that is demanded of anyone, she turned to writing. Her first novel, Past Imperfect, is available from Poisoned Pen Press. Kathleen divides her time between her home in Duluth, Minnesota and North Scotland and is currently at work on a third John McIntire mystery.

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Read an Excerpt

The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

By Kathleen Hills

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2007 Kathleen Hills
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-476-7

Chapter One

The thing about protecting yourself is knowing what your enemies are up to. Claire figured that as long as she could hear the tractor she was safe. When she got high enough she'd be able to see it, too; then she could keep an eye on the old bastard. She put one foot on the ladder and whispered, "bastard," then tried it aloud, but low and under her breath. "Bastard."

"Old son-of a bitch," she added in her every-day voice, and felt a thrill of guilt and daring. Spike stopped snuffling around the foundation and looked up at her, whining way down in his throat. "Lay down. Stay!" She said it like she meant business, for all the good it would do. The minute she was out of his sight he'd be off like a shot, getting in to who knows what kind of trouble. She could tie him up, but then he'd start howling, and Ma would wonder what was going on.

The rungs of the ladder were rotten and cracked, and Claire kept her feet far to the sides and was careful to never put both feet on the same rung. Once she got onto the hen house roof, she ran as fast as she dared, both on the chance that Ma might be looking out the window and because the corrugated metal was blistering hot on the bottoms of her feet.

The big pine tree grew against the building, so close that the edge of the roof cut right into its bark. When she stretched up, she could just reach the lowest branch. She tucked her skirt into her underpants, dug her toes into the rough bark, held on tight, and scrambled, until there she was, sweaty and scraped, straddling the branch. From here on it was easy, just climbing up until she got to her spot.

The branches grew in a curve to make a perfect chair; one to sit on and another to brace her feet against in case of a sudden gust of wind. What if a tornado came? Would she go flying off above the barn and swoop over the chicken coop like she sometimes did in her dreams? It wasn't such a scary thought now. There wasn't a cloud in sight. Thinking about climbing back down was kind of scary. She didn't need to worry about that until the time came.

She leaned her shoulder into the trunk and lifted her butt enough to pull her skirt back down around her legs. Then she settled back and looked up into the green needles and blue sky. The tree swayed just enough to make it creak where it scraped against the roof, and the breeze made a whooshing through the needles. If she shut her eyes she could imagine herself perched in the crow's nest of a ship on the sea, hearing the ocean's roar and the grate of ropes against wood as she sailed over endless green waves.

In books, running away to sea was an adventure and the best way ever to escape. No one ever found you. Years later you'd come back home grown up and rich. At first people wouldn't know it was you, but when they figured it out, they were sorry they'd been so mean. But that was only if you were a boy; girls couldn't run away. It wasn't fair. When boys got big enough, they just did as they darn pleased, anyway, so they didn't really have to bother to run away. They only did it for fun. Girls had to stay at home and put up with things no matter what.

Claire wasn't sure she was brave enough to run away even if she could. Go off by herself? Leave Ma and Joey? If she just stayed in the tree, how long would it take for them to find her? They'd hunt everywhere, for days on end, but never think of looking up. And all the time she'd be watching them.

She undid the rusty safety pin that held the pocket of her dress closed and brought out an apple—hard, green, and no bigger than a chicken egg. She rubbed it on her dress, polishing it, screwing up her courage, and then nibbled off a tiny piece of the skin, and spit it out quick before it had a chance to touch her tongue. A crack in the tree where her backrest met the trunk made a hiding place where she kept her salt, a solid chunk chipped from the block in the barnyard and wrapped in a scrap of oilcloth to keep it dry. She rubbed the salt into the white flesh of the apple and sank her teeth into it. Pa'd skin her alive if he knew she had either the salt or the green apples. Well, he didn't know. She ate all five of them, salting before each bite, loving the crisp sour taste, until her gums felt fuzzy and her stomach queasy, all the while keeping her ears open for the rumble of the tractor. As long as she could hear it, it meant Pa was a half mile away, raking hay. He wouldn't waste gas by driving the tractor back to the house until he'd raked the whole field. She'd have to take his dinner out to him. If he needed to come back for something else, he'd walk. She could shinny down out of that tree and be pulling weeds in the garden long before he'd make it home.

If she leaned around the tree and looked behind her, she could see the tractor, a bright orange speck in the green field, inching along, like a ladybug crawling across a leaf. It was all that moved or made any noise. Otherwise everything was hot and lazy and still.

Until the crack of a gunshot broke the spell. People were always shooting at something around here, crows, tin cans ... chicken-killing fox terriers. She hung over the branch to look down. Spike wasn't there. Her stomach felt even queasier. She said a little prayer and crossed herself.

Pa didn't like guns. He might stop mowing to see what was going on. But no, the tractor had just turned around and was heading for the other side of the field, not orange now, but a black shadow against the narrow blue band on the edge of the world that was the lake.

Lake Superior was almost like the ocean, probably. You couldn't see across to the other side. Claire'd never heard of anybody running away to spend their life sailing on it, though, but maybe sometimes people did.

Once, right after they moved here, Pa went to Gibb's Bay. He said he'd be gone for the whole day, so after they'd done the chores, Ma let them go to the lake. They took peanut butter sandwiches and a jar of cottage cheese, and walked through the pasture and along the railroad tracks.

The lake was bigger that she ever thought a lake could be. The water was clear as glass, not greenish like the lakes back home, and it didn't have any lily pads or weeds around the edges. Claire waded in and squealed when she felt its icy grab on her ankles. She hadn't been in for even a minute before she had to scramble out and wiggle her feet into the warm sand. Jake and Sam took off their clothes and dived right in just wearing their undershorts. Maybe boys were tougher and braver, or maybe they were just ornerier. Jake and Sam wouldn't admit they were cold even if they turned into icicles. Joey had tried to follow them, but he was still little enough to be smart, and pretty soon he came out, too, and spent the rest of the afternoon helping Claire build a sand fort.

Jake said he could tell time by the sun, but he was just bragging, because when they got back six o'clock had come and gone and they weren't at the supper table. Pa was. He threw their food to the chickens, and they ended up planting beans until two o'clock the next morning. Even Joey had to come out and hold the lantern.

Still, that lake was worth seeing, and that cold water would feel good today. She'd go again, next time the old son-of-a-bitch got out of the way.

She was jolted out of her daydream by a screechy twanging sound. She swung around again to see the tractor struggling along by the fence at the edge of the field.

"Claire! It's almost eleven-thirty!" Ma yelled out the window, and Claire didn't get the chance to see what happened next. Maybe he'd sink into the ditch and drown.

Hurrying down didn't give her enough time to be scared.

It was cooler in the house, but not much. Ma had the fan on low and the radio loud. Our Gal Sunday was just starting, so Claire had plenty of time to get Pa's dinner out to him. She put the bread and butter on the table and went to the cellar for salad dressing and cream for the coffee. When she got back up, Our Gal was having trouble with her wealthy and titled Englishman again, and Ma had laid out the slices of bread and started spreading on the butter. "We're almost out of cheese. Who do you suppose I should give it to?"

"How about we eat it ourselves? That'll take care of the problem."

Claire hadn't meant it as a joke, exactly, but Ma laughed and said, "Oh well, I'll give some to Pa and save the rest for Joey. Where is he?" She folded a piece of the buttered bread and put it in her mouth.

"He's upstairs. I'll get him." Joey probably didn't want to come down. He was up sick in the night, and went out to the garden to pick the last of the peas before the rest of them were done eating breakfast. After that he'd stayed out of sight, so Ma wouldn't see that he wasn't feeling well. He wasn't going to want to take Sam and Jake's dinner out to them either, because it was the fight that Jake had with Pa that scared him so bad, and that was probably what made him sick, too. And boys were supposed to be so tough.

"Get him to dig up a few potatoes to go with the peas for supper."

They put potted meat on the rest of the sandwiches. Claire twisted salt and pepper into wax paper for the boiled eggs and cut three pieces of yesterday's spice cake. She scraped the crusty parts from the corners of the pan and popped them into her mouth. Then she cut a small extra piece for herself, and poured coffee into the thermos jugs.

She yelled up the stairs for Joey, but he didn't answer, so he must have gone back outside.

He was coming out of the can, looking green around the gills.

"Are you still sick?"

"I puked again."

"You shouldn't have eaten all those fried potatoes. They're too rich for you." He never listened to her, anyway. "It's almost a quarter past."

Joey looked so scared, and so white, that Claire gave in. "Oh, all right. I'll do it." It meant she'd have to make two trips. One for Sam and Jake and one for Pa. And that meant it'd be past twelve-thirty when Pa got his dinner and he'd be mad. She'd have to think up some kind of story. Lying was bad, but Claire would sooner have God mad at her than Pa. If you went to confession, God would forgive you. Pa wouldn't.

"Go on inside. Ma's got some cheese for you." He looked like he might puke again, and Claire took off. She ran all the way to the potato field with the dinner pails bumping against her legs. She couldn't even see the boys; they'd sneaked off somewhere. Smoking, probably. She left the lunch bucket and thermos in the pickup and honked the horn so they'd know it was there.

She trotted back to the house for Pa's lunch, and after that her side hurt too bad to run anymore. She'd just have to be late. Most of the time, she liked going to the fields. She could hurry there and take her time walking back through the woods, or along the river. It was a cheat. She hollered back to Joey, "You have to take my turn pumping water!"

She could fake that she'd sprained her ankle, but then she'd have to remember to limp for a couple of days. Better to just leave the dinner pail and high-tail it back to the house before he had a chance to say anything.

She couldn't hear the tractor anymore, so he was either waiting, or he'd dropped dead of starvation. Too bad. She looked down at Spike, "Wouldn't that be too damn bad?"

Chapter Two

It wasn't just in the house. Even the outdoors felt empty. The horses' heads jerked up at the slamming of the screen door. After a bug-eyed stare at McIntire standing on the porch, they went back to twitching and stamping at flies. Did horses really care? Wasn't the occasional bucket of grain all it took to keep them happy? Did it matter who brought it? McIntire wasn't sure, and he didn't have a bucket of grain handy to test the hypothesis.

Kelpie, he was sure about. He knelt and pulled the spaniel's floppy ears around her chin. "It'll only be another month." He tried to raise the pitch of his voice and imitate Leonie's London accent. Kelpie wasn't fooled. McIntire picked her up in his arms. She felt boney.

A grinding of gears announced a car navigating the corner a half mile away. McIntire sank to the steps and settled the dog onto his knees. "Who do you reckon that is?" Judging from the roar of the accelerating engine, it was not someone out to take in the view. "Driving a B-52, you think?" McIntire leaned back into the railing. "What have we come to? Two old codgers sitting in the shade watching the world pass by."

The car didn't pass by. Gears screeched again, and tires spit sand, as it slowed just enough to swing into the driveway. A dark maroon Buick headed straight for McIntire and stopped with its blinding shark's maw grill two yards from his feet. The man who leapt gracefully out was slim and dark, with a later-than-five-o'clock shadow. He was the last person McIntire expected to see and one of the last he wanted to see. Father Adrien Doucet leaned on his open car door and demanded, "Don't you answer your phone?"

"No." McIntire considered standing up, but sitting on the steps kept him at about the same level as the diminutive priest. Besides, it was too hot to make any unnecessary moves. "Have you come to chastise me for my backsliding ways? Somebody spill the beans that my wife's not around to protect me?"

Doucet didn't smile or turn off his car's engine. "Maybe you can give me a rain check. There's been an accident. A death, near as I can see."

McIntire couldn't bring himself to respond. He couldn't bring himself to think. A death. The words meant that he needed to get into that Buick and let himself be driven somewhere. Further than that, his brain refused to take him. He got to his feet and carried Kelpie into the kitchen. Struggling to keep his hand steady, he slopped a dipperful of fresh water into her bowl and reached for his hat. This time when the door whacked shut the horses didn't look up.

The Buick was a flashy but comfortable vehicle, or would have been if the seat wasn't pulled so far forward that McIntire's knees bumped his chest, and if it hadn't reeked of cigarette smoke.

He braced himself as they careened down the driveway and asked the question that would set in motion a ritual with which he'd become far too familiar, "Who?"

Doucet's flock was small. Outside of McIntire's own family, all either moved away or dead, and Nick Thorsen, fellow backslider, the only Catholics around that he could think of were Indians. The only Indians he knew personally were the Walls. Twila Wall was older than Methusela, but her death shouldn't require the constable's presence.

The father pulled out onto the road and hit the gas pedal. Hard. "Reuben Hofer."

McIntire didn't even try to quell the relief. The man had only been around since late spring, when he'd moved his family into the old Black Creek schoolhouse and set to farming the land around it. Unlike most newcomers to St. Adele, the Hofers really were newly come, not 'returners' or shirt-tail relatives of some current resident. McIntire wasn't acquainted with him, but he'd heard enough gossip to know Hofer wasn't Catholic.

"His wife is." Doucet steered with his elbow as he stuck a filtered cigarette between his lips. "And the children." His priestly vocation must extend into even the most mundane facets of his life; the man drove like he was in a race with Satan. Maybe he figured he had divine protection. Or possibly it was a plan calculated to urge McIntire into a desperate plea to his maker and thus back into the fold. Mercifully the ride was short, and the flirting with deep ditches and fishtailing around corners kept McIntire's mind off its conclusion.

They turned into a narrow side-road, not much more than a strip of weeds and grass between two sandy tracks that went nowhere. The sawmill it once led to had been abandoned years before when its young owner was drafted into the war, not to return.

The road was bordered on one side by a wide hayfield and the other by swamp thick with alder. They rounded a bend and skidded to a stop inches in back of Doctor Marc Guibard's Plymouth coupe.

A side-delivery rake blocked the way. The tractor that had pulled it there rested at a forty-five degree angle, nose in the roadside bushes, its front wheels sunk in the mire.

Guibard emerged from the brush, soaked to the knees of his impeccably creased trousers. He sagged against the fender of his car and wiped his sleeve across his brow, chalk white despite the heat. His words, "We'll need the sheriff," crushed McIntire's hopes that Hofer's premature death had been the result of a simple stroke or heart attack.


Excerpted from The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies by Kathleen Hills Copyright © 2007 by Kathleen Hills. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2012

    Not the book it claims to be.

    Appears in my library on my Nook as "Kingdom where noboby dies" but the actual book when it is opened on the Nook is "Rogue." As a book, Rogue rates a 4.5. I would still like to be able to purchase/read "Kingdom where Nobody Dies," assuming it actually exists.....somewhere.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    strong entry in one of the best 1950s mystery series

    In St. Adele, Michigan, the Hofer family is led by an abusive patriarch who treated his wife and two young offspring (Claire and Joey) as prisoners. A decade earlier, Reuben Hofer learned how to control people when he was interred at a nearby Civilian Public Service camp for those conscientious objectors the church refused to deal with. Those lessons in behavior he brought into his marriage and family. Thus for instance his eleven years old Claire knows that if the noise from the tractor goes silent hide as her bastard father is coming home, which most likely means punishment for no reason except his dictatorial rule. Thus, in that environs, someone could not take Reuben¿s heavy handed discipline any longer that person shot and killed the martinet while he was on his tractor. Town constable John McIntire investigates the homicide, but finds no one who had a kind word for Reuben. Additionally almost the entire town except for Dr. Gulbard, who tendered the obese ailing wife, and Father Doucet had any dealings with the Hofer brood. John¿s initial reaction is that a family member could not take it anymore but it would have had to have been a preadolescent child as the mother could not have walked that far. However, he reconsiders his assessment when strangers from the victim¿s camp days and Reuben's fundamentalist sister arrive in town although no new motive surfaces. --- The fourth John McIntire 1950s police procedural (see WITCH CRADLE), PAST IMPERFECT, and HUNTER¿S DANCE) is a fabulous look at an impoverished family suffering from abuse just after WW II in Michigan. The key to this unique thriller is John¿s adversary Claire a tough but frightened preadolescent protecting her younger brother and her ill ma. She proves quite a capable opponent as fans will appreciate this strong entry in one of the best 1950s series on the market today. --- Harriet Klausner

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