Murder a second time around at a haunted campground

Last week, I picked up a box of books at a club auction. My first selection was “For the Last Time” by Joyce and Jim Lavene. It is listed as a Sharyn Howard Mystery.

Bell’s Creek flows through Diamond Springs, a small city in the middle of Montgomery County, North Carolina. Locals say that Bell’s Creek has been cursed ever since a flash flood swept 30 individuals to their deaths.

The congregation had a summer camp for poor children near the infamous creek. It was said that the builders created all kinds of false entries, stairways to nowhere and other strange tactics to fool the devil if he were to visit the camp.

Twenty-five years ago, 12-year-old Rebecca Liston was found stabbed to death in her bed. No one heard or saw a thing. The case went unsolved, and the camp was turned over to the county and closed. But time and politics have a way of changing things.

Today, a determined group of volunteers is working to spiff up the remaining usable cabins for a grand reopening. One of the workers is Sharyn Howard. She is the sheriff of Montgomery County — fair-minded, dedicated, single and not in favor of reopening the camp.

Her grandfather had been sheriff when the little girl was murdered, and the case made him decide to retire. The law is in Sharyn’s blood. Her father was sheriff until he was gunned down in a robbery. Sharyn left law school, ran for the position and won with ease. As another election nears, she hasn’t decided whether she’ll run for another term, and her opponent is doing his best to convince her not to run.

Senator Caison Talbot pushed to get the camp open, and her mother is now engaged to him. When a young interviewer trips over something in the soon-to-be parking lot, Sharyn is called over. She finds an old suitcase with what appears to be blood on the cover. When the medical examiner checks, they find a blood-soaked dress with stab holes. But it can’t be Rebecca’s because the blood types don’t match.

Suddenly, Sharyn has a second old murder to deal with along with all her other duties. Whoever killed Rebecca can still be out there, and when strange things happen Sharyn is sure of it. Thanks to a ring, some hair and the internet, they learn that the second victim was one of the camp counselors, Elizabeth Peterson. Oddly, no one had seen her since the day Rebecca was killed, and no one has searched for her.

Sharyn is especially curious about the family dynamic between Ezekiel Reynolds, his son Pastor Paul Reynolds and Paul’s adopted son, Keith. It is obvious that the elderly man has some form of dementia and is being protected by his son and grandson. So, she expands her background search.

Against her strong objections the camp is reopened, and within days one of the campers has been stabbed and a counselor taken. The counselor just happens to be Sharyn’s younger sister, Kristie. While camp is in chaos, Sharyn catches a flash of movement. It is Ezekiel Reynolds, and he has Kristie. With no other choice Sharyn shoots, the man falls into the boiling creek and Kristie is free.

When all the details are sorted out, we learn that Elizabeth Peterson met Paul Reynolds at college. When she found out she was pregnant, she fled her abusive father and stayed with an aunt until the baby was born. She went to work at the camp, but Paul’s father contacted her and killed her to keep her from ruining his son’s life. To his amazement, the baby Paul adopted from a closing orphanage turned out to be his own child.

This book has several other story lines so it is a well-rounded work, and I would happily read the next one.

I am happy to note that when it comes to books, there is always a “next one” waiting to be read. That’s the beauty of your public library. Go in and check it out.


“For the Last Time”
AUTHOR: Joyce and Jim Lavene
PUBLISHER: Thomas & Mercer
PUBLISHED: June 1, 2002
PAGES: 192