M. E. Browning’s main character Detective Jo Wyatt finds clues that twist and change the theories of how the child went missing and where she may be found. This case development spurs the reader through the pages of Mercy Creek. As a mom, I shy away from reading about child abductions or whenever a child is harmed, but Micki (M. E.) blunts the raw emotion with facts, logic, and the interplay among police department personnel—for which I am grateful.
The complication is the child’s parents and Jo’s history together, which makes all of them conflicted. It’s a small place where everyone knows one another, and yet the new police chief is an outsider, and he operates as if he’s got blinders on.
This is the second book in the Jo Wyatt mystery series, and it intrigues just as the first book did. The cases are very different. Here’s a link to my interview with Micki on the first book.
Welcome back to WWK, Micki! E. B. Davis
We know from how you structured the book that the older sister lied. Then Jo finds out the child’s father lied. As an officer, was it your experience that everyone lies?
First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me back to Writers Who Kill! It’s a pleasure to be here.
As to your question, the answer is absolutely not. Sure, there are always going to be those who have a vested interest in misleading an officer, but the majority of people want to be helpful. The kicker is that everyone has their version of the truth—and there are a lot of reasons why someone might say something that doesn’t align with other known facts. Trauma is certainly one reason. Crisis, PTSD, eye witness recall, group think, fear, embarrassment, ignorance, and embellishment can all unintentionally skew the truth as the individual believes it to be. That’s why witness statements are only one facet of a comprehensive investigation.
What is Calliope music?
The short answer? Creepy. A calliope is a musical instrument that has a keyboard, looks a bit like an organ, but the musical notes are produced by forcing steam or compressed air through whistles. It’s the amusement ride music at most traveling fairs.
Where were the 4-H leader and her fellow 4-Hers when Lena, the missing girl went missing?
Everyone was outside the livestock pavilion watching the fireworks at the end of the night.
In high school, Lena’s mother, Tilda, and her father, Lucero, had a fight. Tilda accused Lucero of abusing her, which Jo reported to her cop father. Tilda backed down and said Lucero was not the cause of her injuries, but even though not convicted, Lucero lost college scholarships. Why are both of them mad at her? Why is it that the person doing right is always wrong?
I know there are people who are convinced that no good deed goes unpunished, but that’s not Jo’s mindset—even though in this instance it destroyed her relationship with her childhood friends. In reality, it's not uncommon for officers to respond to a domestic dispute and have two people who were moments ago at each other’s throats, now a united front against the officers. The stakes are high—most domestic violence offenses are felonies—emotions are raw, and the consequences of an arrest are real. Jo did what she thought was right, but it was Tilda and Lucero who had to deal with the repercussions—both individually and as a couple. They scapegoated Jo.
“Squint tended to focus on the facts at hand. Jo dwelled on what seemed to be missing.” (Kindle Loc. 306) What does this say about Jo and her partner’s personalities?
The strength of any police department is in their diversity, be it in terms of gender, ethnicity, or interests. While everyone is trained to the same standards, there are a lot of career paths in law enforcement that capitalize on an individual’s strengths and focus. SWAT team members and crisis negotiators have different skill sets. Some officers are wonderful investigators, others want to stay in patrol their entire careers. Squint is a very pragmatic person and deals with what is in front of him as issues crop up. Jo is more idealistic, capable of seeing things that may not actually be there. Together, they make a great team.
What’s a pancake holster?
It’s a no-frills holster that sandwiches the gun between two pieces of material and tends to be more concealable than the typical retention holsters many officers carry on patrol.
For a father of a missing child, Lucero is quite hostile. Even if he had a beef with Jo (which seems to be a case of convenient transference), doesn’t he want his child found? Can’t he cooperate?
Lucero has a lot of secrets and initially believes Lena is with her mother. After that? Now we’re moving into spoiler territory…
What are 5.11 cargo pants?
Why are German Shepherds just as good of trackers as hounds?
Oh, I’m not going to wade in the middle of that argument! Handlers gravitate towards favorite breeds and can cite chapter and verse as to why, but the individual animal is more important than its lineage. Hounds have the best nose, but there is far more to search and rescue tracking than merely following a scent trail. Jo, however, is personally partial to German shepherds.
Why doesn’t Jo leap for joy when the new Chief wants to promote her to Sergeant? After all, she lost out on the promotion to her ex previously.
Every police department has policies and procedures in place regarding who is eligible to test for promotion and what the process entails. Circumventing those policies would open her up to accusations of favoritism, or being handed a job she wasn’t qualified to hold at the expense of a better candidate who was denied the opportunity to test. It’s hard enough being a woman in law enforcement without inviting mean-spirited and sexist speculation that she slept her way to the top.
During a meeting about the case with the new Chief, the detectives and close associates read each other’s expressions and body language. Why the politics and pressure?
Getting a new boss is a lot like dating. There’s a period of getting to know each other, seeing how the new person settles in, what different expectations they bring to the job. Chief Prather came from another state and a much larger jurisdiction. Rural and urban police agencies share many similarities, but there are considerable differences as well. The new chief is trying to make a name for himself without understanding the small-town dynamics, and he shows no indication he wants to listen to the input of his staff officers or investigators. It’s behavior that wouldn’t bode well on a date nor in the command post.
Marisa, Lena’s older fifteen-year-old sister, helps her mother Tilda with a press conference. It’s her idea, and she knows all about leveraging. How did she become so media savvy?
No. Most missing children either left their home voluntarily by running away, or were thrown out by their parents. If a child was abducted, however, it’s most likely the child was taken by a family member. Stranger abductions happen rarely, but they generate the most attention because they often end in tragedy. Statistically, most children are found or return home on their own, but that’s cold comfort to the family of a child who doesn’t.
How is chaos the great equalizer?
Most people don’t train for crisis management and when they find themselves in a critical incident, higher reasoning goes right out the window. It doesn’t matter what your net worth is, your level of education, or who your friends are, in a life-threatening situation, we all tend to either fight, flee, or freeze.
Lena was not put on an AMBER Alert. Why?
The AMBER Alert Plan is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement and the media and not all agencies or media outlets participate. For those that do, law enforcement is tasked with determining if a missing person case meets the requirements for triggering the alert, and many do not. First, law enforcement must believe an abduction occurred (versus a voluntary missing such as a runaway). Additionally, the child must be seventeen years old or younger, and the officer believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death. The most difficult requirement to meet is that there must be sufficient information known to the officer about the circumstances of the abduction—this means there is actionable information such as the identity of the abductor or information about the vehicle used in the abduction. In Mercy Creek, there was not enough information about Lena’s disappearance to trigger the alert—much to her mother’s dissatisfaction. Even though an AMBER alert wasn’t triggered, the information regarding Lena’s disappearance was still shared with the media.
At one point, Jo resists the urge to hip check a reporter into a lake. At another, she has to suppress her glee at taking down a suspect. Is suppressing emotion elemental in police work?
Actually, no. Officers needs to be compassionate, understanding, and fair in order to be effective on the job. They also need to acknowledge their fear—it’s an early warning device that should be heeded. That said, officers need to control their emotions. Those who don’t risk overreacting and making poor decisions because they’ve allowed their fear or anger to dictate rather than inform their actions. Police work is full of emotionally charged calls that require officers to compartmentalize their feelings. The emotions I chose to display on duty helped build bridges between me and the person I was with—victim or suspect. Then there are the calls that follow officers home, and may take days or weeks to sort out. So, while Jo wanted to hip check a reporter into the lake, she didn’t. And after mentally likening the arrest of a suspect who fled from the officers to a team roping event and suppressing a whoop, Jo changed gears and went to help another officer. The trick is finding the balance.
What is next for Jo?
That’s the beauty of police work. There’s always another case!