Cover image for Deadly kin : a White Mountains mystery
Deadly kin : a White Mountains mystery
Eslick, Tom.
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Publication Information:
New York : Viking, [2003]

Physical Description:
258 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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You might call Will Buchanan a Renaissance man-high school science teacher, avid hiker, sensitive lover, and six feet of rugged good looks, wit, intellect, and forest savvy. His beat is New Hampshire's fabulous White Mountains with their rushing waters, sun-dappled woods, and still, moonlit nights. This dramatic terrain is where Tom Eslick sets Deadly Kin, a mystery filled with breathless scenic beauty and taut suspense. When Will's former girlfriend Laurie, sheriff of Saxton Mills, asks him to escort her seventeen-year-old niece Erin to an overnight hut at Zealand Falls, Will promptly agrees-for, try as he may, he cannot forget Laurie. There the lovely young Erin is to meet up with her brother, Josh, who is hiking the Appalachian Trail. Erin's hostility disturbs Will-but even more disturbing is the passionate embrace between her and her brother. And when Josh mysteriously falls to his death that night, Will, Laurie, and Erin are thrown into a tangled web of family relations and relentless mayhem that makes them, in heart-stopping mountain chase scenes, the quarry of an unlikely-yet familiar-killer.

Author Notes

Tom Eslick is also the author of Tracked in the Whites , the book that first introduced Will Buchanan, and Snow Kill . He is an English teacher who has been hiking the White Mountains for more than twenty-two years.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

It is not that teacher-outdoorsman Will Buchanan goes looking for murders to solve, although he does so once again in this well-crafted, often gripping entry in Eslick's White Mountains series (Tracked in the Whites; Snowkill). Rather, between his romantic entanglement with the local sheriff and the troubled family background of one of his students, Buchanan has little choice-especially when he finds himself accused by that student of rape, thrown in the county jail and put on leave from the prep school where he works. What else is a man to do but rescue the student from the psychosis of her dysfunctional family, win back the woman he loves and restore his own and his school's good names? Buchanan is a man's man: at home in New Hampshire's rugged wilderness, partial to fine whisky, emotionally restrained, a straight talker. Buchanan even fights bare-knuckle with a former navy SEAL. Little surprise, then, when along comes a character named Jacob Barnes, Eslick's homage to Hemingway. If occasional lapses into melodrama hardly evoke that literary lion, Eslick may surpass the master in the strongly individualized portrayals of the story's female characters. In the meantime, the autumnal colors of the White Mountains beckon. Though the woods prove dark, deep and deadly, readers should enjoy the excitement of joining Will Buchanan on the trail. Agent, Alison Picard. (Sept. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter 1 THE TRAIL TO THE ZEALAND FALLS HUT WAS FLECKED with early signs of fall color, the birches just beginning to show yellow, the swamp maples, a deep blood maroon. The afternoon light, slanted and brilliant, brought the woods into sharp relief. In an effort to break an icy silence, Will Buchanan said, ìSee the way the sun hits the stream? Makes the water jump, doesnít it.î Erin Wickham stopped and shielded her eyes against the glare off the water. She hadnít said a word since they had started up from the parking lot. Will wondered if the whole trip was going to be like this. She turned away from the water and eyed him curiously. ìWhen did you and my aunt break up anyway?î she said. The question, unexpected and blunt, caught Will off guard, and now it was his turn not to say anything. He fiddled with the sternum strap on his backpack. Erin pressed. ìShe said you two used to live together.î ìThatís right.î ìWhat happened?î Will wasnít about to talk to anybody about Laurie, but especially not to a teenager he didnít know well. ìWeíd better get going,î he said. The trail was wide enough for them to walk shoulder to shoulder. Will hated the idea that Laurie had talked to this kid about their relationship. He was sorry now he had agreed to lead Erin to the hut to meet up with her brother, who was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. As they came to a footbridge, Erin stopped. ìIím sorry, Mr. Buchanan,î she said. ìI was out of line.î ìThatís okay.î ìI just donít like to see my aunt so unhappy.î Sheís unhappy? He almost said it out loud. ìI guess Laurie and I have to work out a few things.î ìYeah. Thatís what she said.î ìShe told you that?î Before Erin could answer, an elderly couple approached the footbridge from the other end. Even though the busy summer season was over, the trail to Zealand Falls remained a popular destination, an easy, flat day hike in. ìAfternoon,î the man said. He pulled off his snap-brim hat and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Will studied the hat. There was a hole right where the crease came together. It was a great hat, once elegant, now sweat stained. ìYou folks come from the hut?î he said. ìThatís right.î The old man raked the top of his head with his fingers. His white hair stood up like a roosterís cap. The woman, diminutive, smiled attentively. ìWe stayed there last night,î she said. ìYou headed that way?î ìWe are.î The hut system in the White Mountain National Forest provides hikers with the amenities of a bunk room and a meal. It costs about as much as a decent motel room to stay overnight, but it feels like a real bargain and a luxury when youíve been in the woods for a while. ìWell, weíve got to keep moving,î the old man said. He stuck his hat back on his head and ran his finger along the brim. The old woman smiled as they passed Will and Erin. Her walking stick plunked on the bridge. ìSay hi to Kevin for me,î she said. ìKevin?î Will said. ìThe hutsman.î Erin said after they left, ìThey seem like nice people.î ìHikers usually are.î ìSo this hut is really a fancy place?î ìI wouldnít call it ëfancy.í Comfortable, maybe.î ìIt will be great to see Josh again.î ìHow longís your brother been on the trail?î ìSince April.î They started walking again. The encounter with the elderly couple seemed to have dispelled the awkwardness Will had felt with Erin, and she grew more voluble with her increasing excitement over seeing her brother. ìHeís been hiking the trail in honor of Jacko,î she said. ìDid Aunt Laurie tell you that?î ìWhoís Jacko?î ìOh, Iím sorry. I forgot you werenít family. You and my aunt have been so close....î Will wondered if she really did forget he wasnít family and her comment was just another attempt to pry into his life. ìSo who is he?î ìJackson Lloyd. My mother married him after she divorced my father. When he was a little boy, Josh couldnít pronounce his name and called him Jacko. It stuck, and the whole family started to call him that.î ìAnd Jacko died?î ìYes.î ìAunt Laurie didnít tell me anything about that.î Erin stopped. She pulled on Willís arm and held on to his sleeve. ìWhat did she tell you about me?î ìNothing. She just said she had to be on duty and couldnít take you in to meet Josh and would I be so kind as to do it.î Will had been used to doing favors for Laurie. As a small-town chief of police, she had little time off. Erin let her hand drop. ìYou really donít know anything about me, then, do you?î ìOnly that youíre Laurieís niece. That youíre new to the school.î ìI appreciate you doing this.î ìYeah, sure. No problem.î ìYou still like my aunt, donít you.î Will stared at her for a moment, then turned up the trail again. Erin caught up to him. ìOkay, so I wonít mention it again.î ìIíd appreciate it.î ìI know why youíre doing this, though.î Will stopped. ìLook. Your aunt Laurie asked me to help. I said yes.î ìPoints.î ìWhat?î ìYouíre doing this to get points with her.î ìIím doing this because she asked me to,î Will repeated. ìIím doing her a favor.î ìNobody does something for nothing,î Erin said. Will and Erin climbed up on to the porch of the Zealand Falls Hut and found Kevin beating the dust out of a floor mat with a stubby broom. Kevin sported a full but stringy beard. He grunted as he swatted the mat. The sound of their boots on the porch startled him, and he whirled around. ìGuess I didnít hear you coming.î ìSorry,î Will said. Kevinís face was red from his efforts. ìYou must be the two Iíve been expecting.î Equipped with a two-way radio, each hut has a reservation system linked together and with the headquarters in Pinkham Notch. Laurie had called in to make sure there was still room left and had reserved a spot for them. Will dropped his pack on the porch, and Kevin led them into the front room of the hut. He wore hiking boots and shorts that, because of his stumpy legs, draped over his knees. The one- floor log building was the size of a double-wide mobile home, and the front room served as kitchen/dining room as well as souvenir shop. A bunk room on each side, one each for male and female, completed the layout. Kevin checked his clipboard. ìSo youíre Josh and Erin.î ìNot quite,î Will said. ìThis is Erin. Josh is on his way.î Kevin looked puzzled. He pushed his ball cap back. His head was shaved bald. ìI guess I donít have you down.î ìIíll be staying outside,î Will said. ìThe reservationís for brother and sister. Heís coming in off the AT.î ìGotcha.î ìAny good places to camp nearby?î Kevin didnít look up but pointed his pencil to the southwest. ìAnywhere upstream.î He put the clipboard down on the glass case that housed souvenir T-shirts and ball caps, maps, candy bars, and compasses. ìYou must be closing for the season soon,î Will said. ìTwo weeks. The twenty-third, officially.î ìSo this hut doesnít stay open for the winter?î ìWell, sort of. Itís self-service, with a caretaker.î Erin suddenly cut in. ìIíll be out on the porch,î she said. Kevinís head snapped back. He had apparently been so busy with his clipboard that he hadnít gotten a good look at her. ìYeah, I guess all this talkís kinda boring.î He stumbled over his words. Erin nodded, turned, and headed toward the porch. Kevinís eyes didnít leave her, and it took a while after the screen door slammed for him to turn them back to Will. Will grinned at him, and Kevin colored. ìSo,î Will said, ìpeople snowshoe in here in the winter?î ìWhat? Oh, yeah. Or ski.î ìGet many thru-hikers?î The term was reserved for those attempting to hike the entire length of the AT. ìSometimes. Only two can stay the night, though.î ìI guess you have to limit the number.î ìWe let them work for their keep. Donít charge them anything.î Kevin was still looking over Willís shoulder at Erin on the porch. ìSheís seventeen,î Will said. ìShe is?î ìA student at Saxton Mills.î ìA boarding school, right?î Will nodded. ìJust down the road.î He pulled out his wallet. ìHow much for the two of them?î ìOh, yeah. Guess Iím not being too professional, here.î Kevin flipped over a well-used, laminated price chart and ran his finger down one of the columns. ìOne-twenty. Includes dinner and breakfast tomorrow.î Will peeled off six twenties. ìYou sure you donít want to stay? I just baked a carrot cake.î Will shook his head. ìI sleep better in a tent.î Will pushed open the screen door and found that Erin had left the porch. He leaned over the railing and scouted her out down on the ledge where the falls drop a good fifty feet. The hut was nestled in close to the edge of the wateróa healthy, rushing stream, no moreówhich cut through a series of ledges, leaving exposed rock on either side. Erin was sunning herself on the rocks, her legs stretched out, back arched, face raised to the October light. It reminded Will of poses that forties starlets assumed in grainy black-and-white photos. The light was catching her short-cropped auburn hair, giving the impression that it was dancing with fire. Yes, Kevin. She is only seventeen. Maybe seventeen going on thirty. Will couldnít put his finger on it, but something about her, besides her obvious beauty, spelled trouble. He remembered what Erin had said earlier that afternoon about not really knowing who she was, and he guessed that Laurie had not told him everything about her niece. Will walked down the steps of the porch and strode out onto the rocks. He passed a sign that read CAUTION: LEDGE IS STEEP AND SLIPPERY . He whistled a nondescript tune so that his approach wouldnít startle her, but apparently the sound of the water drowned him out. She jerked sharply when his shadow fell over her. ìSorry. I tried to let you know I was coming.î Will sat next to her, and she assumed her glamour-girl pose again. ìThis is cool,î she said. ìI could sit here for hours.î ìIt is pleasant.î ìIf I had come here on SMOOT, I would have been a happier camper.î ìWhere did you end up?î ìGod knows.î ìWell, who were you with?î ìMrs. Lawerizack and Ms. Campbell.î Will thought a moment. ìThen you were in the Pemi.î ìThe what?î ìThe Pemigewasset Wilderness.î Erin sighed. ìWhatever.î SMOOT stands for the Saxton Mills Outdoor Orientation Trip, five days of backpacking in the Whites, run at the beginning of each school year for all incoming students. He imagined that the trip with Lawerizack and Campbell had challenged Erinís hiking abilities as well as the leadersí patience. Todayís hike had been a short one, but Will already surmised that Erin was not in her element. ìHave any idea when your brotherís supposed to be passing through?î ìHis letter said in the afternoon.î The mention of her brother brought her upright to a sitting position. She hugged her knees. ìI miss him so much.î ìWhen was the last time you saw him?î ìNot since he left last April. I could have met him in Hanover, but I had to do the stupid SMOOT thing.î ìYou say heís doing this trip in honor of his father. Mind telling me how Jacko died?î She looked out over the falls. ìThey say he drowned.î She didnít add to that, and Will let her words sit a moment. ìItís been really hard on Josh,î she said. ìHow old is he?î ìJust turned twenty.î ìHe drop out of school?î ìNever went to college. There was a big argument with Jacko about it. Then Jacko drowned, and Josh is, like, you know, carrying this big sack of guilt now.î Will tried to imagine what a sack of guilt looked like. ìThey never patched things up?î Erin shook her head no. ìAnd to make it worse, Josh inherits a big chunk of his estate when heís twenty-one.î This is a burden? When Willís grandfather died, he left him a set of woodworking tools and the balance of a thirty-year mortgage to pay off. Will didnít mind. He felt he was giving back to a man whoíd raised him after his own parents had passed away. He also got land and a hunting camp in Quebec, something he didnít mind paying for. Will listened to the rushing water. He wanted to ask more questions, but he knew that it was better to mind his own business. ìIf they could just find him,î Erin said. She let her head rest on her arms. ìWhat?î ìOh. Sorry. I guess I was thinking out loud.î ìFind who?î ìJacko. They never found his body.î By the time Will and Erin made it back to the hut, another hiker had arrived. Will glanced at the backpack leaning against the porch, a brand-new Kelty. The hiker, a stout woman Will guessed to be in her mid-fifties, sat on the porch steps, preoccupied with taking off her boot. ìIím going to kill him,î she said to no one in particular. With a theatrical grimace, she gave the boot a final yank. ìKill who?î Will said. She looked up. ìThe damn salesman who sold me these things.î She began to work on the other boot. Her accent was gutturalóGerman or Austrian. Will picked up the discarded boot and stuck his hand inside. ìLooks like it could stand some breaking in,î he said. ìTell me about it,î she said. ìYour toes hitting the end?î She thrust her foot forward. ìFeast your eyes,î she said. The sock was bloodied at the toes. Will knelt down. ìLetís have a look,î he said. ìNo. Donít touch it.î She pulled her leg back abruptly, and her foot accidentally hit Willís hand as he reached to examine it. ìOuch. Damn you.î ìHeís only trying to help,î Erin said. ìMind your own business, young lady.î ìOkay. Letís all just calm down,î Will said. ìItís my business if youíre being rude to a friend,î Erin said. ìI said thatís enough.î Will stood up and put his hands on Erinís shoulders. She tensed. He let his hands drop and said calmly, ìWhy donít you stand down there at the head of the trail and watch for Josh.î Erin hooked her thumbs in the belt loops of her jeans and smiled at Will. ìWhatever,î she said. As she turned to leave, her eyes met the womanís dead-on. The woman shouted at her back as she descended the stairs, ìYou are an impudent young woman!î The voices brought Kevin to the porch. ìEverything okay out here?î ìEverythingís fine,î Will said. ìIs that little brat staying here tonight?î the woman said. ìThis is all my fault, Kevin,î Will said. ìI should have asked this woman first if she wanted my help.î Willís arguable admission of guilt had the effect of letting the air out of the woman. ìNo. Itís my fault.î Tears welled up. ìI donít know why I came. I thought Iíd never get here.î Kevin looked first to the woman, then back to Will. ìI donít want any trouble.î ìYou have a med kit, Kevin?î Will said. ìSheís got some really sore toes.î ìSure thing.î Will watched the woman as she choked back sobs. He felt like putting his hand on her shoulder, but he didnít want to get bit again. ìI understand it must have been tough walking,î he said. ìYou can doctor the toes yourself if you want. I wonít touch them. You just need to take care of them.î Kevin came out with the med kit and handed it to Will, who opened it for the woman and held it out to her. The woman looked at it like she didnít know what it was. She started shivering. ìYou feel cold, maíam?î Will said. ìNo. Iím okay.î It hit Will suddenly that her ill temper might be due to factors other than mere personality. She was probably hypothermic. ìWhatís your name, maíam?î ìHelga.î ìHelga Holt?î Kevin asked. ìYes.î ìYouíre on my list,î Kevin said. ìLetís get you inside, Helga,î Will said. ìItís warmer in there.î He and Kevin helped Helga up, and she leaned on Will as he led her into the hut. Kevin gathered the med kit and followed. As Will walked her inside, he admonished himself for not using his head. One of the early signs of hypothermia is crankiness, and he should have suspected that Helga was tired and exhausted, that the feet werenít the real problem, long before the argument on the porch broke out. At times he wondered if he was beginning to lose what he had always trusted most: his instincts, his woods savvy. ìGot a blanket, Kevin?î Will asked, helping Helga to a chair. ìIím really tired,î Helga said. ìI want to lie down.î ìLetís get some tea in you first,î Will said. ìYouíll feel better.î ìThe waterís on,î Kevin said. ìYour blood sugar might be a little low, too,î Will said. ìHow about a candy bar?î ìI guess so. Iím not very hungry, though.î ìBelieve me. Youíll feel better with something in your stomach.î ìIf you think so.î ìYou have a jacket? Another layer?î Will said. Helga nodded. ìIn my pack.î Will headed back outside to retrieve the jacket. Before he reached the porch, he heard Erin yelp, ìOh, my God! Youíre here!î He pushed open the screen door in time to see her embracing someone who could only be her brother Josh, who had just thrown his pack down and lifted her off the ground. It was the deep kiss that froze Will in his tracks. Heíd seen sisterly kisses before, and this was not one of them. Excerpted from Deadly Kin: A Wil Buchanan Mystery by Tom Eslick All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.