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How Many Teens Have to Die for a Killer to be Satisfied?

Two small town single parents race to stop a wicked serial killer.

Yellow "Do Not Enter" tape stretched over a pile of debris.
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  • Photo Credit: Mae Dulay/Unsplash

Granite Harbor is a beautiful small town in coastal Maine. Life there is simple, quiet, and peaceful. That is, until a local teen is found brutally slain in the Granite Harbor Living History Settlement.

The pressure is on for Alex Brangwen, a single father, failed crime novelist, and the town's only detective. This is his first murder case, but as fear grips Granite Harbor, everyone is looking to him for answers.

Grieving single mother Isabel Dorr is tossed in the middle of the investigation when she starts working at the Settlement. The murder hits close to home, as her son and Alex's daughter were close to the victim.

When a second body is discovered, Isabel and Alex race to uncover the truth buried in the town's past, desperate to make sure their children aren't the next teens to die. Peter Nichols's gripping crime thriller will have your heart racing 'til the very end.

We are so excited to include this book in the April/May Creepy Crate—our last Crate ever.

Read on for an excerpt of Granite Harbor, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy!




Granite Harbor: A Novel

By Peter Nichols


The air was frigid, condensing Isabel’s breath into plumes above her face. It was October and she was no closer to being able to pay for a new furnace than when it had died in August. She had to throw the thought aside like the down comforter as she jumped out of bed, turned on the space heater in her bathroom, and went downstairs to let the dog out. 

Back upstairs, with no hot water, she used a washcloth at the sink. Then she began to dress.

She’d laid out her costume the night before. Roger Priestly had given her a photocopied illustration showing the name and arrangement of each particular layer: linen shift (over her own cotton underpants and L.L. Bean sports bra), large-weave woolen hose stockings, petticoat, free-hanging pockets of some rugged burlap material fastened around the waist like empty udders beneath outer layers, front-lacing bodice, thick homespun woolen dress, apron, cape, and the linen “coif,” shaped like a loose-fitting bathing cap. Finally, those awful shoes, like black orthopedic clogs with a large ornamental buckle—pirate shoes from some Disney cartoon. All of it purchased for her from a theatrical costume house in Boston.

Good lord, Isabel thought, looking at Goodwife Swaine in the tall bedroom mirror. You poor woman! You milk cows, chop wood, nurse infants, churn butter, slaughter pigs, chickens, God knows what else, cook over an open fire, and entertain your husband . . . in this getup?

At least she felt warm.

Ethan was still asleep as she passed his bedroom door and negotiated the narrow staircase with her voluminous layers, making a noise as if she were dragging a canvas tent down the stairs.

When she opened the door to let the dog back in, Flynn barked at her and stepped backward.

“Quiet, Flynn! Come inside.”

Warily, the dog edged in, giving her a wide berth. He looked at her and growled.

“Oh shush. It’s just me. Now lie down in your bed.” Isabel pointed.

A high-strung Australian shepherd, Flynn had difficulty with change, surprises. He slunk to his bed in a corner of the kitchen and lay down.

Now the house was still. No noise—not even the rumbling of a furnace in the basement. She’d never noticed the sound until it had stopped. No shouting—one of the mercies of the new regime of Ethan’s “unschooling.” Her doubts at pulling him out of school allayed for now by the extraordinary peace in the house every morning. Ethan had stopped throwing up from stress before slouching off to the bus with that insanely overloaded backpack. She should have done this five years ago. Or maybe from the beginning. He knew everything anyway. And he had his ships to build.

She grabbed her mug and pushed herself and her outfit out the kitchen door.

The girl at the Granite Deli & Bagel drive-through window didn’t bat an eye at the cape, the bodice, the voluminous dress and apron bunched under the steering wheel. Isabel felt like someone on her way to a Halloween party.

She sipped her latte and let out a long heartfelt sigh. Again, she was awash with relief that Ethan was no longer in school. Better now they were both out. As a high school teacher, she’d grown sick of pushing her students through the prescribed mass of facts, dates, summaries, training them for tests, abetting the notion that education consisted of the rote repetition of

curricula. Trying to get Ethan to do his homework, repeating all the tired and tedious rationales, had only made him angry, frustrated, and, in recent months, physically ill. Almost every kid she knew in school was anxious, bored, heading for or already suffering deep depression. Half of them were on the standard prescriptive response: Zoloft or Ritalin.

They should all be outdoors! she’d screamed inside her head a hundred times, watching them bent over their phones at school, on the way to school, after school, at home. They should be in the woods! On the water! Making things, breaking things! Digging holes! Climbing and falling out of trees!

A few other teachers and parents agreed with her. Others told her kindly that the problem was hers: she was burning out. She needed to take up yoga, qigong, cut out gluten. Quit mourning and get a relationship. She’d tried that.

It was a relief when the high school fired her. Afterward, four years of copyediting on the Penobscot Bay Journal had been peaceful, dull, but it paid the bills, until the magazine had folded. Then an additional year of getting up in the icy predawn to prepare the sourdough had made it easy to quit the Red Barn Bakery and, at Nancy’s urging, join the crew at the Granite Harbor Settlement.

The Settlement paid even less than the bakery, but “it’ll be fun!” Nancy promised. “Dressing up! Gardening! Making fires! Physical things! Educating people who want to know everything you can tell them! And you’ll go back in time!”

She sipped her latte, still warm—the new commute was not far. Two miles north of town, she slowed as she approached the sign and turn for the GRANITE HARBOR LIVING HISTORY SETTLEMENT.

A woman holding an embroidered cloth, in clothes and a setting reminiscent of the past.
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  • Photo Credit: K Adams/Unsplash

Roger had filled her in on the history of the place, ancient and modern. Sometime in the 1970s, picnickers had found a half-buried scattering of old tools, broken ceramic pieces, and colored glass in the gravel bank of the stream that ran through the marshes to the rocky beach two miles north of Granite Harbor. The archaeology department at the University of Maine dated them from the early seventeenth century. Subsequent investigation of the site unearthed rusted pieces of flintlock mechanisms, stones arranged in the shape of a crude forge, rotting half-buried timbers roughly the size of the cabins erected by early European settlers in what was then still part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

A single paragraph among the many histories of the colonization of this part of the Maine coast mentioned the landing, in 1643, of a ship from Wareham, England. Here, a band of English colonists founded and later, for reasons unknown, abandoned a small settlement.

After it gave up its small, buried artifacts, the dig was also abandoned in the 1980s. A group of investors decided to erect over the scrabble of unfilled holes an imagined re-creation of the original settlement. They built four small shingle-roofed log cabins, a blacksmith’s forge, laid out a split-rail stockade fence perimeter, installed a gift shop, a parking lot, and charged an entrance fee. Local “players”—retirees, history buffs, burned-out schoolteachers—were hired to inhabit the roles of the settlers. They dressed in seventeenth-century clothing and interacted with visitors. Operating as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit enterprise, Granite Harbor Living History Settlement became a popular midcoast attraction. Tourists, schoolchildren in buses, came and chatted with the “settlers,” asking them about their daily lives.

Isabel had been trying to imagine Goodwife Hannah Swaine, the settler she had been assigned to represent. A scant record, listing the owners of cattle in 1649, recorded her age as thirty-two, and her husband, Samuel Swaine, thirty-six.

Nothing more was known about Hannah—whether she and Samuel had children, if she loved her husband, was a cheerful soul or a bitter, complaining shrew. Nor why they had left England for the sketchy perils of the New World. They were simply two names in the aspic of history. They lived and struggled here, at the mouth of this river, before, at some unknown date, the settlement had been abandoned.

At forty-two, Isabel Dorr was ten years older than Hannah. She had grown anxious, broker, and finally, despite fighting it with all the usual remedies—drugs, alcohol, yoga, Buddhism—deeply depressed since her husband, Joshua Dorr, had disappeared on a yacht race to England eleven years earlier. Without a body, a funeral, or witnesses, she’d had a problem with closure. She hadn’t passed through the predicted five stages of grief but gotten stuck in an unending rut between denial and anger.

She suffered from trichotillomania—a childhood tic that became a fullblown disorder after Joshua’s disappearance—and couldn’t stop pulling out the hair on both sides of her head with fingers like tweezers. More recently, coinciding with Ethan’s adolescence, it had gotten worse, resulting in bare patches over her ears. Finally she’d cut it all off, an eighth of an inch all over, too short to get a purchase on it with her fingers, maintaining a Sinéad O’Connor buzz cut that her friends insisted made her look sexy and awesome. She’d adopted chemo headwear fashions, fleece cloches, beanies, watch caps, or a scarf knotted at the top of her head, and sometimes she wore no covering at all on the rare occasions when she felt she could carry off sexy and awesome, or when she was at home. She was five foot nine, and with her height and slim hips she looked “awesome in jeans!” her friends told her. She practiced yoga with Kathy McKinnon at Mountain Hall when she could find the time, walked the two miles out and back to Calderwood Point with Flynn most mornings around dawn. She’d become aware of incipient vertical lines above her lips and the suggestion of gathering flesh beneath her jaw, but on good days she felt she was still holding her own—whatever that might still be.

But she was probably doing better than Hannah. From what she’d read, the early colonial settlers had been worn to nubs and early death by hardship. There was no knowing when Hannah had died, but at thirty-two, she’d reached what would have then been considered solid middle age, or older. Isabel imagined her: weather-beaten, with scarred, chapped, thickened hands, dirty, broken nails. Her hair, if she wasn’t pulling it out, was no doubt thinning from stress and poor nutrition, lank with unwashing, beginning to streak with gray. Her face reddened and broken-veined, vertical lines, worse than Isabel’s, furrowing lips habitually pursed with worry and resignation.

But this didn’t allow for character: a woman who might have been warm, humorous, feisty, shy or assertive, strong or weak, forgiving, tender, meek or mean. As a person, Hannah was a blank.

But a voice—Hannah’s— started in her head. A kind of earworm that suggested a character with a tongue in her, who began to make unsolicited comments. Look at the state of this place! the voice scolded inside Isabel’s house. Have you no shame, woman? And, on seeing the closed door to Ethan’s room: That lad of yours—idler! Lie-abed!—why isn’t he up helping you?

Hannah or not, Isabel got a sense of someone there. She began to like her.

• • •

The road ended in a gravel parking lot beside the gift shop: a modest National Park–style building that also housed a small office and naturally composting toilets.

And today, a police car, its roof light flashing.

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Featured image: Mae Dulay/Unsplash; Additional image: K Adams/Unsplash