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Mystery links past with the present: Sentinel Butte author writes mystery

Press Photo by Linda Sailer Jane M. Cook holds up the cover of her book titled "Fifty Years Ago Today" on Wednesday at The Dickinson Press. The book was recently published electronically.

While writing an obituary for an elderly woman, a county newspaper reporter thought it was coincidental the woman was recently featured in the 50-years-ago history column. It was interesting, but nothing to get excited about until another person is featured in the column and dies two weeks later.

It happens again and again and again. Are these really coincidences, or is something more sinister going on?

That's the question being pursued by the reporter Jamie Coombs and two of her friends, Lacey Jenkins and Deacon Dan Echlir, in a new mystery story written by Sentinel Butte author Jane M. Cook.

"They start delving into what possibly is going on and why," Cook said.

Cook works in the Beach offices of the Golden Valley News and Billings County Pioneer. She also is an interpretive guide at the Chateau de Mores in Medora. She began writing the story as a fun project in 2010.

She got the idea from an actual coincidence at the newspaper.

"It wasn't a lady, but two guys who were involved in a car accident on a county road," she said.

They were mentioned in the 50-years column and two weeks later, they both died.

"My imagination went wild -- I had to write it down and changed a few things," she said.

The idea wouldn't let go and she started jotting down ideas at the Chateau and news office.

"Every time I'd take a break, I'd be in my notebook writing again," she said.

Cook used initials of her co-workers as names of the main characters.

"My friends at the Chateau know who they are," she said.

The story is set in Sophie's Bluff, a small town in western North Dakota.

"Sophie's Bluff is a combination of Beach and Sentinel Butte -- at one time Sentinel Butte was bigger than Beach," she said.

Passing out the completed chapters of the story, her friends would wait for the next, offering suggestions as to who the killer or killers could be.

When the story was finished, friends wondered when she would publish it.

"I wasn't thinking of getting it published, but my nieces in Colorado love fiction and they said I've got to get it published," Cook said.

With the help of her niece Kimberly McDowell of Johnstown, Colo., Cook's manuscript was submitted online through Amazon.

Learning she also needed a cover, Cook enlisted the help of her niece and husband, Shannon and Nick Weyer from Thornton, Colo., who designed it.

Connie Steele, Granite Falls, Wash., said the plot was well developed.

"I thought it was very well thought out as far as the plot goes and the characters are fleshed out," she said. "It's definitely a fun read, but there are no easy answers as to what's going on. I never figured it out until the end. She does leave clues and if you're paying attention, you'd have gotten it sooner."

Cook was born in Glendive, Mont., and grew up in Iowa. She lived in various states before moving to Sentinel Butte, where her parents were reared. She has worked in a variety of jobs, from a telemarketer to a hotel casino worker and chore worker for the elderly. She started working at the newspapers in 2005, doing everything from typing to photography and reporting.

On May 1, Cook learned she had become a published author online with Amazon Kindle.

"If you like mysteries and trying to solve them, I think you'll enjoy this one," Cook said.

Cook has written other mysteries related to Sophie's Bluff and is working on book No. 10 with the same characters.

"They're not all murder mysteries," she said. "I have one called 'Christmas Phantom.' What's going on, is somebody is leaving Christmas presents to everybody in town but nobody knows who or why they're doing it."

She plans to submit more of these stories online, and would like to try publishing them in print form.

Shannon Weyer described the novel as something her 13-year-old could pick up and read, and yet it's still a murder mystery.

"She's not going to put anything in it to sensor -- anybody can pick it up and read it," she said.

Readers may go to the Amazon Kindle store, click on ebooks and type in the title "Fifty Years Ago Today" by Jane M. Cook.