Christine Sterling notices cracks in her happily-ever-after retirement dream almost as soon as she and husband, Jesse, settle in Grass Valley, a quiet California town in the scenic foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Jesse gleefully dives into new hobbies, but loneliness, boredom, and discontentment reduce her to snooping on neighbors, which fuels her active imagination. Jumping to conclusions is one of Christine’s best skills.
One morning, Christine spies a man she has never seen before. In the dilapidated house down the hill, lives Will Payne. His wife, Lila, barely exists in a disturbing state of neglect. Painful secrets swirl around them like smoke. Longing to rescue the emaciated woman, Christine enlists the assistance of Zora Jane Callahan. Impatient to begin, Christine disregards Zora Jane’s advice to wait for God’s timing. However, Christine’s well-intentioned efforts soon meet with strong resistance.
Bizarre incidents assault the tranquil community. Jesse returns from an out-of-town trip to find that Molly, the family dog, has disappeared. They find Molly’s dog tags beside the Payne’s garage. A mysterious brown car flees the neighborhood, and now Lila is missing, too. The same night, a four-year-old boy is struck down by a hit-and-run driver in nearby Nevada City.
Worried sick about the whereabouts of her beloved dog, Christine breaks into the Payne’s house searching for answers. Instead, she uncovers more questions. Next morning, a blazing inferno destroys all evidence of Lila’s pathetic existence. Christine, Zora Jane, and husbands, Jesse and ED, present the problem to various authority figures, but no one is interested.
When hope seems almost gone, Molly is found and they connect with Russell Silverthorne, a former Iowa deputy sheriff turned PI. With Silverthorne onboard, official interest in the complex case ignites.
Christine happens upon Lila’s brother, Alan Kliner, and Will’s sister, Helen Sterne, exiting a local motel, which adds another layer of confusion to the mix. During lengthy interviews, Will maintains an evasive attitude, Helen contradicts herself, and Alan becomes belligerent. The official investigation stalls without enough hard evidence to make an arrest. But one night Christine follows Will to his house again where she discovers him clutching a page from Lila’s poem book. In great pain, he confesses to disposing of Lila’s body after her suicide and plotting with Helen to make it appear that Lila ran away. Will sinks into unconsciousness before the ambulance arrives, leaving a tangled mass of unanswered questions regarding Lila’s demise. Was it truly suicide or was she murdered? And if so, by whose hand?
Before Helen can be interrogated again, she vanishes. Alan is apprehended breaking into the Payne house and taken into custody. When Helen resurfaces, she is searching Will’s house. Helen catches her, produces a gun, and forces Christine to help her locate treasure she believes Will hid on the property. The ruckus attracts rescue.
With Alan incarcerated and Helen facing charges for the hit-and-run fatality, Christine and Jesse hold vigil at Will’s hospital bedside, praying. Several other important puzzle pieces fall into place. In light of accumulating evidence, Helen’s attorney advises her to confess rather than endure a trial she probably can’t win. Christine learns that pain is inevitable but misery is a choice and that God has been working all along, answering prayers and weaving circumstances together for good. Armed with these new insights, she and Jesse embrace a closer connection. She also begins the journey toward a deeper relationship with God.
Catherine Leggitt is the author of the Christine Sterling Mysteries, Payne &Misery, The Dunn Deal, and Parrish the Thought published by Ellechor Publishing. A native Californian, Catherine raised two daughters, taught school, and cared for aging parents before retirement drove her to the keyboard. The complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–which Catherine devoured during her high school years–birthed a lifelong love for mysteries. These days Catherine crafts her own suspenseful and convoluted plots—exploring God’s mysteries through fiction.