Saturday, July 5, 2014

Contemporary Mysteries and Traditional Westerns: The Two Jeff McQuedes

Vickie Britton
Loretta Jackson




















by (sisters) Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson

We are asked many times why we choose to write in two different genres, westerns and mysteries. This is the result of a long process, one that evolved over time.

We launched our co-authoring career with a mystery novel.  Later we decided to try our hand at writing a western, but we couldn’t quite leave the element of mystery behind.  We became interested in gambling in the Old West, and that led to our three-book series: The Luck of the Draw.  In this series Sheriff Jeff McQuede is a side character interwoven into the stories.  He is suspicious of our hero, Drew Woodson, but has a sense of frontier justice and helps him solve crimes.  He is not above breaking the rules when he feels it’s justified.

Our Latest Western with a Touch of Mystery

The early day sheriff, Jeff McQuede, inspired the westerns that followed.  Our new western, Rails and Aces, although not part of the gambling series, carries on the western gambling theme, as does our single title, Death Comes in Pairs.  In Rails and Aces lawman Sheriff Deakin might be involved in the local train robbery ring.  Our hero, Jace Keeler, a free and easy gambler, falls in love with Deliah Cade, a mysterious woman he meets on a train slated to be robbed.  He discovers Deliah is the “intended” of the much-feared outlaw, Jonas Grisby.  Jace must face his wrath as well as a gang of outlaws who suspect him of taking the missing money from the recent train robbery.

How modern-day Sheriff Jeff McQuede came about

The contemporary Sheriff McQuede began as a character in a short story—the first one in our anthology, A Deal on a Handshake.  A trip to the annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in Riverton, Wyoming, inspired us to use the rendezvous as a background for our story.  Its history is intriguing.  In 1838 and following years, rough and tumble traders gathered in Riverton to barter, to swap stories, and have a good time.  We found the modern day rendezvous a great place to contrast the concept of Old West values with new ones.  The story called for a contemporary sheriff, and because we liked the standards Jeff McQuede represents, he became the hero in several more short stories and of the novel, Murder in Black and White.  Since we wanted to write another novel about Wyoming and further develop our lead character, we created the High Country Mystery series.
         
Our inspiration for these novels came mainly from living in Wyoming and South Dakota—Vickie, in Laramie, Loretta, on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  This gave us a deep interest in both the contemporary and historic accounts of the West.  We wander from museum to museum, research in libraries, and, most of all, talk to the local people.  For example our Jeff McQuede short story. “Never Trust a Coward,” was written after we heard how after committing a robbery two criminals had actually checked into a modern Wyoming motel as Frank and Jesse James.  Needless to say, they were quickly found and apprehended.  Many of the stories in our anthology, A Deal on a Handshake, concern the difference between justice in the Old West and justice today.

These stories are set in the fictional, rugged Black Mountains, near an Arapaho Reservation and a coal mine.  While writing Murder in Black and White and the short stories, the fictional towns of Durmont and Black Mountain Pass, Wyoming, began to take form, as real to us as any actual place.  The characters also became real to us—Jeff McQuede's girlfriend, Loris Conner, curator of the local museum, his close friends, Professor Barry Dawson, and Nate Narcu, who runs Nate's Trading post, as well as the two rascals the sheriff is never quite able to convict, Ruger Larsh and Sammy Ratone. 

In our High Country Mystery Series, contemporary sheriff, Jeff McQuede, is fascinated by his early-day relative, a local legend whose picture and history are displayed in the local museum.  He tries to live up to his namesake’s common-sense code.  When faced with a problem, he remembers a quote of the old sheriff, “When you think you have the answer, it’s time to go back and take another look.” 

McQuede finds that the code of the Old West still exists in the minds of many people, some who aren’t above a shootout and still believe in vigilante justice.  But unlike his namesake, he is sometimes conflicted about what he wants and how to achieve his goals as the sheriff of Coal County.  He wants to be a good, fair sheriff and stay within the boundaries of the law, no matter how tempted he is to cross them as his namesake had no qualms in doing.

Our Fourth Jeff McQuede Novel: The Executioner’s Hood

Our latest book in the Jeff McQuede series, The Executioner’s Hood, is a blend of both worlds as McQuede embarks upon a case where a highly respected judge, Phil Grayson, is found murdered—an ominous hood placed over his head.   Among the judge’s many enemies, one in particular, Darin Keefe, had been given a harsh sentence and has just been released from prison.  Was the killer seeking revenge, or was the judge murdered by a robber wanting some item from his macabre collection of Old West law items, among them a priceless death mask and valuable guns from famous outlaws?  Or is his murder a conspiracy to cover up a crime committed by Durmont’s city commissioners fifteen years ago which surfaces now in the form of modern-day vigilantes?

Because both of us love the rugged West and the characters who inhabit it, we will continue working on the High Country Mystery series.  At the present time we are beginning a fifth novel. 

3 comments:

  1. Welcome back to Writers of the West, Vickie and Loretta. I look forward to reading THE EXECUTOR'S HOOD.

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  2. Very interesting. The Executioner's Hood sounds like a real winner. Good luck with the series.

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