“In the heartless cruelty of my sixth-grade year, I sat behind Ned Fisher in English class, joining in the snickers of my     friends. Ned had ears that stuck out from his head like Dumbo the elephant, and he probably wished he could fly away. Now, decades later, I found myself once again occupying a seat behind Ned Fisher.

But this time I was in the back of his police car.

I wasn’t laughing.”

This opening to my next book doesn’t sound much like Grace Kimball, retired teacher, from Endurance, Illinois, does it? That’s because my next book, launching June 8, 2022, will begin a three-part series called The Art Center Mysteries. Its title is Death in a Pale Hue. The following two books will come out June 2023 and June 2024 from my new publisher, Level Best Books.

photo by Michael Fallon at unsplash.com

 While aspects of this series are different from my Endurance mysteries, my voice is still the same. This time, however, it will come to you in first-person instead of third. The voice you hear at the top of this page is that of Jill Madison, thirty-year-old oil painter, who has returned from Chicago to her hometown of Apple Grove to be executive director of an art center named for her mother, a world-class sculptor. I find myself calling my thirty-three-year-old daughter-in-law for advice on wording. It’s a stretch.

At first, Jill finds it weird to come home after all this time to work as an adult in a town where everyone remembers her as a kid. She has two older brothers whom she believes are over-protective. Tom, age thirty-eight, is a detective for the Apple Grove Police Department, and Andy, six years older than Jill, is a business owner of a gift shop. Tom is married and has two preteen children. He’s quite serious and watches over his younger sister. Andy, the crazy brother, and his partner, Lance, own a gift shop and are in a band that often plays at Priscilla’s Pub. It’s a bar owned by Jill’s best friend, Angie, and her husband. Tom’s ringtone on Jill’s phone is the theme from “Law and Order,” and Andy’s ringtone is “Welcome to the Jungle.” That pretty much sums up the difference.

Jill’s new job at the art center is governed by a board of directors, a group of people from many walks of life, some of whom are not sure a thirty-year-old can handle this job, but they are willing to give her a try. Jill’s nemesis, Ivan Truelove, presides over this board, and his pointy-shaped head, buggy eyes, and polka-dotted bowties are always a lurking presence over Jill’s shoulder. He’s a CPA who doesn’t want Jill to spend a nickel. On the other hand, Ron Spivey, a retired judge, is treasurer of the board and was a friend of Jill’s parents. He leads the group that is willing to see if she’s up to the job. Nevertheless, Jill can’t afford to make any mistakes or bring any bad publicity to the art center, which is housed in an old building.

Jill’s first huge task is to make the 19th century Lowry Building safe for the new art center patrons. This means hiring a company to come in and lift the second floor of the building several inches and secure the first floor, all accomplished from new timber and a system of pulleys in the basement.

And therein lies the problem.

It’s what they find in the basement…