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A father-and-daughter duo become embroiled in small-town politicking and murderous family feuds in this mystery set during the golden age of coal and coke mining.

During what was supposed to be a brief stop en route to California, Jenny and Marc suffer a bizarre twist of fate when they end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and stand accused of murder. While preparing their defense in the face of a trial that could lead to their hanging, they discover the town’s dark, hidden underbelly. Although picturesque, Mount Hope, Pa., is ruthlessly controlled by a few puppet masters who make their own rules, aided by lax laws and geographical isolation. Founding families have a heavy hand in the region, providing a cast of characters who are rich, spoiled, greedy and possibly murderous. But helpmeets abound, too. The tale is rounded out by a boyish young doctor, John—a romantic prospect for Jenny—and a kindly innkeeper and his wife, who attempt to aid the father and daughter in proving their innocence. After Marc suffers a heart attack, Jenny matures as she takes on the bulk of the murder investigation. The plot is peppered with the appealing ingredients of the mystery/crime genre, including wealthy heiresses, double crosses, cover-ups, blackmail, legal maneuvering and adultery. Altman convincingly sets Jenny and Marc’s evolving father–daughter relationship and Jenny and the doctor’s blossoming romance against the seedy corruption of the coal-rich town, all the while teasing out the mystery and hiding the real culprit until the very end—no small feat for a debut author.

A perfectly framed mystery with the twists and turns of mine shaft.

Pub Date: July 8th, 2012
Page count: 215pp
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Program: Kirkus Indie
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IndieTHE COAL PICKER by Martin J. Hula
by Martin J. Hula