By Laura Oles
For fans of M.E. Browning’s Shadow Ridge, the author returns with the second installment in the Detective Jo Wyatt series. Detective Wyatt has been called to investigate the disappearance of an eleven-year-old girl in the small Colorado town of Echo Valley. Today, Browning gives us a glimpse into Detective Wyatt’s world.
Mercy Creek, just released on October 12, is already garnering glowing reviews. Kirkus Reviews called Mercy Creek “a heartfelt procedural” and The Sun Sentinel calls it “a strong police story.” Browning’s extensive career as a police detective (she retired as a captain) informs this series well and does so in a way that the details of the work weave seamlessly through the larger narrative of the story.
LO: I’m sure readers are pleased to see that Jo Wyatt is back! What has happened in her life since Shadow Ridge was published?
MB: First, thank you for inviting me back to the Austin Mystery Writers blog. A lot has happened in Jo’s life in the months following the blustery winter depicted in Shadow Ridge. She’s moved forward in her personal life. Her divorce became final (although the thought of dating leaves her cold), and she’s made the decision to continue living in her childhood home with her father while she socks money away for a down payment on her own home. The biggest change on the work front is the appointment of a new Echo Valley Chief of Police. The opening pages of Mercy Creek find Jo working an extra-duty assignment on the night shift at the Echo Valley Fair. It turns into a very busy night with tremendous repercussions.
LO: Tell me about Mercy Creek and the current case that has Jo Wyatt’s attention.
MB: A young girl goes missing, but the circumstances surrounding it are murky—including exactly when the young girl disappeared. For Jo, the case is personal. She was friends with the parents, Tilda and Lucero, in high school, but like many things that happened in high school, well, it’s complicated, and the friendships didn’t last as long as the hard feelings. The whole mess was a lesson, even if Jo didn’t quite know at the time what she’d learned. As she grew older, the lesson became clearer. People will do anything to protect the thing—or person—they love.
LO: You’ve written a series before with your Mer Cavallo books. What was different about continuing a new series character? What did you enjoy? What did you struggle with?
MB: Marine biologist-turned divemaster Dr. Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after her regimented schedule on an Arctic research vessel, but of course, that wasn’t the case. In Adrift, she finds herself serving as the safety diver of a documentary crew in search of paranormal activity when one of the crew goes missing. As a scientist she is very analytical and methodical, which makes her a natural sleuth, but when she turns her focus to the disappearance, she quickly finds herself in over her head.
In contrast, Jo is a detective who has been on a rural police department tucked into the southwest corner of Colorado for fourteen years. She knows exactly what she’s signed up for and she’s good at her job, but that still leaves plenty of room for conflict when evidence doesn’t appear to match the situation. One of the perks about writing Jo was that she allowed me to return to my own law enforcement roots and incorporate my training and experience into her stories.
What I enjoy about writing series is that I get to deepen relationships and explore new corners of Echo Valley that were established in the first of the series. The hard part is introducing returning characters or foundational settings so they are engaging to new readers without being repetitive for my established audience. To combat that, I focus on showing how a character’s environment influences who they’ve become and how it impacts their actions and reactions to their current situation. I wrote both Adrift and Shadow Ridge as stand-alone books. I thought I’d left everything on the table in those first books. But series are like a life well lived. There might be a passage of time, but the adventures never really stop.
LO: You write fondly about your home state of Colorado. Tell us more about why you chose to set this series there.
MB: It was an honor to spend the last eight of my twenty-two-year law enforcement career as a member of the Durango Police Department. I was the first woman in the agency’s history to promote to Captain, I made lifelong friends there, and most importantly, Durango is where I met my husband. I’ve cycled the mountains, rafted the river, snow-shoed the trails, drank great craft brews, watched amazing plays and heard fantastic music. It’s a rural area steeped in tradition, while remaining forward looking and progressive. And yet, anytime you have a rural area, you have an elevated risk of danger. Like most of Colorado, the weather changes on a dime, animals encountered aren’t always friendly, and if you crash your mountain bike or suffer an injury on the trail, you could be on your own for quite some time. What better place to set a mystery?
LO: If you had to describe the themes of Mercy Creek in three words, what would they be?
MB: Family. Loyalty. Secrets.
About M.E. Browning: Colorado Book Award-winning author M.E. Browning writes the Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction. Visit mebrowning.com to learn more.
To pick up your copy of Mercy Creek, please visit here.