Murder mystery has true Western flavor

Jessica McClelland’s first murder mystery, “Snow at Midnight,” came out in June and her second, “Drawn to the Mean,” will be released in October. McClelland plans a series of seven murder mysteries. Her books are available locally at Grand Valley Books, 350 Main St.

It was, in fact, a dark and stormy night, but not the tremolo-violins kind. This was a raging squall, the type specific to southern Montana, and Marley Dearcorn was huddled alone under the covers. Several pages later, she’d discover that the storm had not only shattered her kitchen window, but shot a screwdriver into the wall.

She wouldn’t know it at the time, though, because she finally just dove under the bed, then pondered how long it had been since she’d vacuumed under there.

“For the most part, writing a good story is all about creating a character that you would like to sit down and have a beer with,” explained Jessica McClelland, from whose imagination Marley sprang. “Even if that person has flaws.”

Marley Dearcorn is the center of what McClelland, 44, plans to be a series of seven murder mysteries. The first, “Snow at Midnight,” came out in June and the second, “Drawn to the Mean,” will be released in December and available locally at Grand Valley Books, 350 Main St. They are semi-self-published through Cold River Studio in Nashville, Tenn., and are the culmination of a longtime dream of writing.

“I used to own a bookstore in Wyoming, and I’m a librarian,” McClelland said. “Being in the book world is so satisfying, just about the best crowd of people you can be around. I wanted to write so I could get back into that world.”

Growing up on a ranch outside Sheridan, Wyo., she was an avid archer and outdoorswoman, but didn’t begin writing in earnest until she entered the University of Wyoming to study social science. She cut her teeth on academic writing, she said, “but it’s not as fun.”

Inside her imagination, thoughts of murder (the fictional kind) were brewing.

It helps, she said, that she’s always been a voracious reader and, thanks to owning a bookstore and being a librarian, got to meet and become friends with many writers and published authors. Their advice, as well as that of people she met at writing conferences, guided her when it finally was time to just sit down and write. Marley wasn’t going to wait anymore.

As a person, Marley is flawed: determined to the point of stubborn, impulsive and occasionally defensive. She was fired from her job with Montana Fish and Wildlife under suspicion of tipping off poachers before a bust and returned to her tiny hometown of Killdeer, Mont. It’s there in Killdeer, after that fierce opening storm, that she discovers the body of her wealthy neighbor in his home.

McClelland said she drew from her own experiences working for Wyoming Fish and Wildlife and, more importantly, living in a small, isolated Western town: “If you have sharp edges, it’s going to knock them off,” she said. “It tempers you, teaches you patience — whether you like it or not.”

“Snow at Midnight” highlights not just a murder, but the nuances of Western culture: the conflict between old ranchers and new money, the independent self-sufficiency that comes from living an hour down a dirt road from the nearest hospital, the power struggles, the endless sky arching from the jagged horizon.

For information about McClelland her books, go to


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