St. Croix Valley residents will recognize the landmarks in the latest novel from former Afton resident Glenn Ickler.
Places such as the Lowell Inn and Afton City Hall figure prominently in “Murder on the St. Croix,” released by St. Cloud’s North Star Press in September. The book is set in Stillwater and the surrounding area, and residents have a chance to meet the author this weekend.
When an Afton public works employee ends up dead in the freezing cold St. Croix River near St. Mary’s Point in March, St. Paul Daily Dispatch reporter Warren “Mitch” Mitchell and his sidekick, photographer Alan Jeffrey, are there to cover the story.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department is ready to pass the case off as an accident attributed to the victim’s schizophrenia, but Mitchell isn’t sure it’s that simple. After a few phone calls, he gets authorities
to investigate the case as a possible homicide — but he plans to do his own investigation. His work on the case is overshadowed by the threat of layoffs at the paper and his girlfriend’s job being transferred to Fargo.
Narrated in first person by Mitchell, this novel is the ninth in the Mitch Mitchell series, which Ickler began writing when he retired in 1999. Ickler’s first book was published in 2002.
Although Ickler worked in the newspaper industry — including St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press — as a reporter, feature writer, theater critic, columnist and editor, he wanted to write fiction since his days at Hamline University.
“I’d always wanted to do fiction from the time I was in college, but I was always too busy,” he said. “Between working and raising four kids, there really wasn’t time.”
Now Ickler draws heavily on his own experience to inform his writing. His journalism career is what led him to choose a reporter for his protagonist.
“I know the process for interviewing and investigating and dealing with the police and courts and all that stuff, having done that for years,” he said. “And I think my writing style is sort of influenced by the journalistic (style).”
He also models some of his characters after former co-workers, and his main characters are named after his sons: Alan, Mitch, Jeffrey and Warren. The pun-filled banter between Warren Mitchell and Alan Jeffrey that adds levity to the story reminds him of the back-and-forth between him and a friend.
Similarly, Ickler chose the setting for this and many of his other stories because he’s familiar with the area.
A resident of Hopedale, Mass., Ickler has roots in the St. Croix River Valley. Born in Woodbury, he also lived St. Mary’s Point and Afton. His maternal grandparents lived in Stillwater.
Several of Ickler’s other books are also set in the Twin Cities area, including the eighth book in the series, “A Carnival of Killing,” set at the St. Paul Winter Carnival. Ickler enjoys writing about places he knows, and he thinks it’s also easier for readers to visualize a story if it happens in a familiar location.
“If you recognize the area, you knowwhere the people are, and you can see yourself in that place,” he said. “I’ve had two or three people say, ‘I knew right where you were.’”
Ickler isn’t sure where the idea for “Murder on the St. Croix came from, except that he wanted to write a story about the area.
“I remember having an ice storm like … the one that starts the book,” he said. “And I was looking for something in thatsetting, inthat area. … I got started with the first scene, and it just kind of took off.”
That’s how most of his writing goes, he said.
“I know where I’m starting, and I know where I want to end up and have a rough idea of how I’m going to get there, but I don’t outline,” he said. “Since high school I’ve hated outlines.”
Ickler says his stories are quick reads with humor laced throughout.
“They’re not quite cozies, but they’re light,” he said. “I don’t make them bloody, but somebody always dies.”
“Murder on the St. Croix” may not be for children, however. Although not graphic, it references sex frequently and includes some cursing, including at least one F-word.
Ickler will sign copies of “Murder on the St. Croix” at Valley Bookseller, 217 N. Main Street, Stillwater, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16. He’ll also read from the book and sign copies at Ginkgo Coffeehouse, 721 Snelling Ave., St. Paul, at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17.
For more information on Ickler and his books, go to glennickler.net.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]