Trying to leave painful memories behind her, Chloe Ellefson is making a fresh start. She's the new collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor ethnic museum showcasing 1870s settlement life. On her first day, Chloe meets with an elderly woman who begs her to find a priceless eighteenth-century Norwegian ale bowl that had been donated to the museum years ago. But before Chloe can find the heirloom and return it to her, the woman dies in a suspicious car crash.
Digging up the history and whereabouts of the rare artifact quickly turns dangerous. Chloe discovers that someone is desperately trying to cover up all traces of the bowl's existenceby any means necessary. Assisting Chloe is police officer Roelke McKenna, whose own haunting past compels him to protect her. To catch the covetous killer, Chloe must solve a decades-old puzzle...before she becomes a part of history herself.
"Clever plot twists and credible characters make this a far from humdrum cozy."Publishers Weekly
"This series debut by an author of children's mysteries rolls out nicely for readers who like a cozy with a dab of antique lore. Jeanne M. Dams fans will like the ethnic background."Library Journal
"Information on how to conduct historical research, background on Norwegian culture, and details about running an outdoor museum frame the engaging story of a woman devastated by a failed romantic relationship whose sleuthing helps her heal."Booklist
"Old World Murder is strongest in its charming local color and genuine love for Wisconsin's rolling hills, pastures, and woodlands...a delightful distraction for an evening or two."New York Journal of Books
"A wonderfully-woven tale that winds in and out of modern and historical Wisconsin with plenty of mysteriesboth past and present. In curator Chloe Ellefson, Ernst has created a captivating character with humor, grit, and a tangled history of her own that needs unraveling. Enchanting!"Sandi Ault, author of the WILD Mystery Series and recipient of the Mary Higgins Clark Award
"Propulsive and superbly written, this first entry in a dynamite new series from accomplished author Kathleen Ernst seamlessly melds the 1980's and the 19th century. Character-driven, with mystery aplenty, Old World Murder is a sensational read. Think Sue Grafton meets Earlene Fowler, with a dash of Elizabeth Peters."Julia Spencer-Fleming, Anthony and Agatha Award-winning author of I Shall Not Want and One Was A Soldier
"Museum masterpiece."Rosebud Book Reviews
"A real find...5 stars."Once Upon a Romance
About the Author
Kathleen Ernst (Madison, WI) is an award-winning author, educator, and social historian.
She has published fourteen novels and one nonfiction book, earning her nominations for the Agatha Award, among other honors. She served as project director/scriptwriter for several instructional television series, one of which earned her an Emmy Award.
Visit her online at www.KathleenErnst.com.
Read an Excerpt
Old World Murder
By Kathleen Ernst
Midnight InkCopyright © 2010 Kathleen Ernst
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAs Chloe Ellefson walked from 1982 into 1870s Wisconsin, a white frame church emerged from the trees, prettily framed against a cloud-studded blue sky. The view alone was enough to make most visitors pause, appreciate the simple elegance of the restored church, perhaps even wonder about the lives of those women and men and children who had first worshiped within its walls.
For Chloe, the historic site's newest employee, the scene represented a fresh start.
A cadence in her mind kept time with her steps: Must – make – this – work. Must – make – this – work. Dr. Eberhardt could no doubt have written a thesis about that obsessive little drone ... but Dr. Eberhardt was still in North Dakota with his white pills and his spiral notebook and his guttural grunts that had reminded her all too often of Markus' father. Visiting a psychiatrist who reminded her of the people she was trying to escape seemed counter-productive, but Solomon, North Dakota—population 793 on a good day—hadn't offered many options in low-cost mental health care.
Anyway, Chloe had come to Wisconsin to stand on her own two feet. Although, she thought as she reached the church gate, it would be more accurate to say she'd come home to Wisconsin. The last thing she'd ever expected to do. But she was here now. A new job. A new life. And she was determined to make it work.
After all, her chosen field was all about façades. Curators at living history sites presented impressions of the past. The bustles and bonnets (or braces and boots) that interpreters wore hid more than modern clothes and hairstyles. Well, she thought, nothing wrong with a good façade. In fact, a huge historic site intended to create and present illusions wasn't a bad choice for someone wanting to rewrite her own history.
Chloe had visited the outdoor museum during open-hours only once, the day before her interview almost a month earlier. As she'd wandered the sprawling grounds that day, her spirits had unexpectedly begun to rise. Over fifty historic structures had been restored among the Kettle Moraine State Forest's woods, prairies, and kettle ponds. Interpreters in period clothing brought the farmsteads, homes, and service buildings to life by telling tales and churning butter and making shoes and weeding gardens, and giving visitors as many participatory and sensory experiences as possible. Old World Wisconsin, the state's newest historic site, was spectacular.
Now, she was hoping to recapture some of that good vibe. It was a late Monday afternoon. The last group of shrieking school children had tramped from the site, quickly followed by the interpreters' stampede toward the parking lot. Chloe's first day on the job, a blur of paperwork, staff meetings, and behind-the-scenes orientation, was winding to a close. This was the best time of day to visit any historic site. And having after-hours access was one of the true perks of becoming an employee.
Chloe knew it would take a long time to become truly familiar with Old World Wisconsin. She planned to visit a building or two after-hours each day. Starting with ... she consulted her map ... St. Peter's Church.
She mounted the steps and, feeling important, used her new master key on the lock. Once inside she paused, letting impressions of the place come. St. Peter's Church offered nothing too striking. Good.
Next, she took a quick curatorial survey: plain wooden pews, a pump organ, painted stations of the cross hanging on the walls. Most of the window panes were thick and distorted—original, amazingly enough. The altar cloth needed cleaning, and she scrawled a note on her pad.
Outside, tires screeched on gravel. A moment later heavy steps thumped up the stairs and a stocky, white-haired, red-faced man burst into the sanctuary. "Who are you?" he demanded.
Chloe blinked. "Who are you?"
He scowled. "Look here, lady, the museum closed at four o'clock. You can't be in here!"
Belatedly Chloe noticed the vague uniform: dark brown trousers, tan shirt, patch of some kind duly sewn on his sleeve. His official attire contrasted sharply with the non-uniform she'd mustered for the day: tan chinos and a royal blue cotton shirt, long blonde hair captured in a single braid and coiled behind her head.
OK, Chloe told herself, time to get one more working relationship off to a good start. "My apologies. I should have introduced myself. My name is Chloe. I'm the new curator of collections." The security guard rubbed his chin. "Marv left something in the log about a new curator starting ... but that's not the right name. It was something Scandihoovian. Inger? Ingrid! Yeah, that was it. Ingrid—"
"I go by Chloe. But I am the new curator."
"Well ..." He still looked suspicious. "You can't come out on the site after hours without letting us know."
Chloe mustered her brightest smile. "I'm really glad to know that site security is so tight. But I'll need after-hours access on a regular basis. Can we consider some other solution, um ... what did you say your name was?"
The guard hesitated. "Hank," he said finally. "Well, just be sure to check the alarm before you go barging into buildings. The Village buildings have been switched over to the new security system. Did Marv give you the access codes?"
Had Marv given her access codes? She couldn't remember. She couldn't even picture Marv. The day had been full of too many names and too much information. "I'm not sure, to be honest. I'll have to look through my notes."
Hank showed her the security touchpad hidden behind a door, and gave her an access code. "That'll work for every building in the Village," he told her. "There are different codes for the German and Finn-Dane areas. The Norwegian buildings are still on the old microphone system, so you'll have to call. You'll be outta here within the hour?"
"Less," she promised. "I've got a five o'clock meeting in the restoration area. I'll probably just visit one more building here before heading out for the night."
Hank made a big show of seeing her out of the church. Lovely, Chloe thought, as she watched him get back into his car and drive slowly away. Day One, and she'd already annoyed a security guard.
"Just keep trying," she ordered herself softly. She had a new position—and a permanent one, which was hard to come by in the mostly seasonal world of outdoor museums, complete with benefits and a salary that actually covered rent with enough left over for a bit of food each week. "I will," she announced, "stay positive."
That resolve fled as soon as she oriented herself on the visitor guide and map. The next building was a small cobblestone cottage across the road from the church. She'd skipped the Tobler House on her earlier visit, but the new curator of collections couldn't ignore one of the exhibits just because its first occupant had happened to come from Switzerland.
Chloe knew that her Swiss connection had helped land the job. "I see you spent five years at Ballenberg," Ralph Petty, the site's director, had said during her interview. He'd tilted his head to peer at Chloe over the half-glasses that perched on his nose. "The Europeans have so many excellent outdoor museums. Did you enjoy living in Switzerland?"
"Oh, yes," Chloe assured him blithely, as her fingernails dug angry red trenches into her palms. "I adored Switzerland."
"We're currently restoring the home of a Swiss immigrant in the Crossroads Village," Petty said. "Aldrick Tobler emigrated from Switzerland to Green County, Wisconsin, in 1872. We were able to get our hands on the small structure that served as both his carpentry shop and living quarters."
"Will—will I be expected to furnish the Tobler building?" Chloe stammered. If so, they might as well end this interview right now. No way was she up to that.
"Unfortunately ... no. We want to open the building to the public later this year, and we couldn't wait for your position to be filled. I hired a freelancer last winter to develop a furnishings plan." And Director Petty had rattled on enthusiastically about the project for at least another ten minutes. Chloe had tried to nod in appropriate places.
She could skip the Tobler house today. Just mosey on down the path to the Hafford House. Mary Hafford had been an Irish laundress, and Chloe was eager to visit her home.
But ... no. Just check the place out and be done with it, Chloe told herself. She let herself inside and quickly punched in the access code on the security box hidden behind the door.
As she turned, Chloe paused to get a feel of the century-old building. She got a brief glimpse of half-papered walls; a worktable covered with tools. Then the impression came. It was not the distant jumble she'd felt in St. Peter's Church. Instead, a sense of palpable unhappiness crackled in the air.
Chloe clenched the doorknob. The sensations grew stronger, although she couldn't quite define the root emotion: Frustration? Discontent? When her skin began to tingle, she bolted from the building.
On the front step she wiped her forehead with suddenly trembling fingers. What the hell was that? After a lifetime of absorbing impressions of old buildings, she'd learned to take the occasional flash in stride. But that sensory barrage had been unexpectedly strong. Chloe pulled the door tightly shut and snapped the lock.
It probably wasn't even the house, she thought, as she hurried away. Poor old Mr. Tobler had probably lived a hum-drum life and died without leaving any bad ju-ju behind. Surely her own bad ju-ju had caused her reaction. It had been a mistake to enter the Swiss exhibit alone. She'd come back some day when the site teemed with hyperactive fourth graders. That energy would dispel bad vibes of any vintage.
Chloe checked her watch. Time to head out, anyway.
Once she retrieved her green Pinto from the main parking lot, she drove down the site's twisting entrance road. The village of Eagle lay to the left, but Chloe turned right onto Highway 67. She passed the 1940s-era house that inconveniently held Old World Wisconsin's administrative offices. Another right turn onto County Highway S took her past a tree-lined prairie that marked, if she remembered correctly, the edge of the museum's German area. The huge historic site warranted several access gates for staff use.
A mile or so later she slowed and turned right again onto a gravel drive with a fading sign that proclaimed "Restoration Area." In front of her was a long, low building that housed the maintenance staff. A pole barn held a few large artifacts and two of the big trams used to haul visitors around the site.
Two ancient trailers squatted off to the left, almost hidden in a grove of pines. The words "Celebrate The Bicentennial! Visit the History Mobile!" were barely legible in peeling paint on one. The other, an ugly pinkish-gray rectangle on cinder blocks, gave no hint of its lineage. Both trailers had been pressed into temporary service for collections storage, and were crammed with shelves of artifacts.
Chloe climbed rickety steps to the pink monstrosity. The tiny kitchen area had evidently provided desultory office space to a curator who, in a whirlwind of energy, had furnished the exhibit buildings before Old World's grand opening six years earlier, in 1976. The burned-out curator had soon after joined the Peace Corps and moved to New Guinea. State-imposed budget cuts had left Old World Wisconsin without someone to oversee its collections ever since.
The office held a miniscule table and two chairs. It was cramped and dusty, and smelled of mice. Chloe had been aghast that morning when the museum's receptionist had handed her a note with the meeting arrangements on it. "You told a potential donor to meet me at the trailer?"
The receptionist—what was her name?—had shrugged. "Look, once this lady heard you'd actually been hired she called half a dozen times, wanting to know when your first day was. She was determined to come out today."
Chloe turned on the ancient faucet. After several moments of agonized burbles and clanks, a dribble of rust-colored water reluctantly emerged. She used the tap water and a few paper towels to wipe down the yellow Formica table and two wooden folding chairs. She jumped when a phone rang. She hadn't known she had a phone in here. By the fifth ring she'd located the ancient rotary-dialed monster—an artifact in its own right—behind a stack of black notebooks.
"Chloe? Listen, are you expecting a Mrs. Lundquist? She ended up over here at Ed House by mistake."
Chloe mentally fast-forwarded through a filmstrip of her morning. Ed House ... yes, she remembered. Education House. Another of the empty homes left behind when the state bought out the few properties that infringed on the projected Old World Wisconsin site, now used by research and interpretation staff. If she wasn't mistaken, this male voice belonged to the curator of interpretation.
"Right," she said. "I'm waiting here at the trailer."
"I'll send her along."
"Thanks ..."—she went for broke—"... Brian."
Small silence. "It's Byron."
"Byron. Right. Sorry."
"I'll send Mrs. Lundquist over."
"Thanks," Chloe began, but a dial tone already rang in her ear. Evidently Byron was a tad touchy about his name.
Day One. She'd annoyed a security guard and irritated the curator of interpretation.
A few minutes later car tires crunched slowly over gravel, and Chloe went outside. The big Buick dwarfed the elderly woman who emerged. She wore Easter Sunday-best—a pale yellow linen dress, white pumps, matching handbag. Chloe winced, picturing what the trailer's dust would do to that outfit.
"Mrs. Lundquist?" she asked. "I'm Chloe Ellefson. I'm so glad to meet you."
The hand that clasped hers seemed fragile, like wrapping paper stretched over a toothpick model. Mrs. Lundquist's carefully permed white hair framed a thin face with anxious blue eyes. "How do you do?"
"I'm well, thank you," Chloe said, as she led the way into the office. "Please forgive the dust. It's my first day, so I haven't had a chance to tidy up."
"I understand." Mrs. Lundquist settled gingerly on one of the chairs, put her purse on the table, and folded her hands in her lap. "It was kind of you to see me so quickly."
Chloe sat down with legal pad and poised pencil. "The phone message I got didn't contain much information," she began. "You're interested in making a donation?"
"Oh, no!" The tiny woman sat up straighter. "I need to get one of my family antiques back."
"Um ... back? Back from where?"
"From here!" Mrs. Lundquist pulled a piece of paper from her handbag and presented it.
Chloe read the faded photocopy. It was an acquisition form confirming the accepted donation and legal transfer of an item described as a "Hand-painted Norwegian ale bowl with cow heads, nineteenth century" to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. At the bottom was a neat signature—Berget Lundquist—and the date: November 10, 1962.
"Well ... it seems this item was transferred to the Society twenty years ago," Chloe said. "This is your signature?"
"Oh, yes. I made the donation. My son had died, you see. My only child. I didn't see any point in hanging onto family heirlooms."
"But ... now you want it back."
Chloe studied the paper again. The donation had been made when Old World Wisconsin was no more than a gleam in some architectural historian's eye. "Ma'am, I think that you need to contact one of the curators at the Historical Society headquarters in Madison."
"I've already done that, weeks ago. And I was told that my ale bowl was transferred here when this site opened."
Shit. "Mrs. Lundquist, I'm new, so I'm not familiar with Society collections policies yet—"
"I'm sure you're doing your best, dear." Mrs. Lundquist patted Chloe's hand. "You seem like a sweet young woman. And with that hair ... you must be Scandinavian also?"
"Just like me!" Mrs. Lundquist awarded Chloe a delighted smile. "So you understand."
No, I don't! Chloe insisted silently. "Mrs. Lundquist, once a donation has been made, it can't be undone. It's a legal transfer of ownership."
Excerpted from Old World Murder by Kathleen Ernst Copyright © 2010 by Kathleen Ernst. Excerpted by permission of Midnight Ink. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Chloe Ellefson has just taken a job as collections curator at Old World Wisconsin. On her very first day, a woman comes in wanting back a bowl that she had donated to the State Historical Society in 1962 which had been transferred to Old World Wisconsin when it opened in 1977. Chloe, having just arrived on the job, puts the woman off and gathers her contact information. As she's driving home, she comes upon the woman's wrecked vehicle. Why was the bowl so important to the woman? Chloe vows to find out. There isn't a murder until well after the midway point in the book. This book is weak in character development. Chloe is troubled by her past and severely depressed, but the manner in which this is revealed is not satisfying to the reader. There also seems to be a lot about Officer Roelke McKenna that remains hidden from the reader. Ultimately I was not satisfied with the manner in which the main plot involving the bowl or the subplot involving gambling unfolded. It's just a so-so read in a series that looked like it might hold great promise. I'm not in a hurry to read the second one in the series.
Chloe Ellefson returns home to Wisconsin and a position at Old World Wisconsin, a living history type museum highlighting the area's past. An eldery woman, Mrs. Lundquist, is one of Chloe's first meetings as the new collections curator. She is looking to retreive an old family piece, a rosemaled ale bowl she gave to the historical society years earlier. Chloe is new and faced with piles of items in storage, so she puts off Mrs. Lundquist. After Mrs. Lundquist's untimely death, she finds she can't let it go and begins researching this interesting artifact herself. Local policeman Roelke McKenna warns Chloe about detecting on her own, but also winds up being interested in the case. One thing I really enjoyed about this story was its setting. Ernst has brought us this story in 1982 Wisconsin and it's a perfect way to retain some of the historical/modern day aspects of the story. I don't think I would have enjoyed Chloe's research so much if she just had to check Ebay for pictures of Norweigian ale bowls. The secondary characters in the book are well thought out too. I really liked Roelke's relationship with his cousin and her children, and certainly Chloe's nearby family turned out to be very useful. I will definitely keep an eye out for another Chloe Ellefson story set at Old World Wisconsin, this was a great read.
The story was fine, but I found the almost all the characters hard to like.
This is the second book about Old World and I enjoyed both.
In "Old World Murder", Kathleen Ernst shows her knowledge of writing and the history of Wisconsin artifacts. She melds both into an entertaining look into the life of a real museum curator, creating likeable, believable characters (and a few you won't like). Who know rosemaling would ever be the reason for a murder?
Kathleen Ernst's Old World Murder (Midnight Ink) is a splendid read with all the elements of a good, meaty mystery. An award winning author of children's books, Ernst has made a successful debut in adult mystery with Old World Murder. When Chloe Ellefson starts a new job as a collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor ethnic museum, she finds herself embroiled in a missing artifact, an unexplained death, uncooperative co-workers, and a past she'd like to forget. To confuse the issue, she keeps running into this cop who insists she needs protecting. Officer Roelke McKenna, all business and efficiency, is drawn to Chloe and, even though he can't officially be involved in the case, finds himself immersed in the mysterious events which seem to get more complex each day. Ernst, herself a former professional in the realm of outdoor living history museums, writes with knowledge of the complexities of a curator's life. Suspense is maintained throughout the book, keeping the reader engrossed in the various story elements. Old World Murder is the first of a series. It will be fun to follow Chloe Ellefson in The Heirloom Murders as she pursues a career discovering old-world history while working through her own past heartaches. .....Mary E. Trimble, author of Tenderfoot
Chloe Ellefson returns home to Wisconsin and a position at Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum highlighting the area's past. An eldery woman, Mrs. Lundquist, is one of Chloe's first meetings as the new collections curator. She is looking to retreive an old family piece, a rosemaled ale bowl that she gave to the historical society years earlier. Chloe is new and faced with piles of items in storage, so she puts off Mrs. Lundquist. After Mrs. Lundquist's untimely death, she finds she can't let it go and begins researching this interesting artifact herself. Local policeman Roelke McKenna warns Chloe about detecting on her own, but also winds up being interested in the case. One thing I really enjoyed about this story was its setting. Ernst has brought us this story in 1982 Wisconsin and it's a perfect way to retain some of the historical/modern day aspects of the story. I don't think I would have enjoyed Chloe's research so much if she just had to check Ebay for pictures of Norweigian ale bowls. The secondary characters in the book are well thought out too. I really liked Roelke's relationship with his cousin and her children, and certainly Chloe's nearby family turned out to be very useful. I will definitely keep an eye out for another Chloe Ellefson story set at Old World Wisconsin, this was a great read.