My new release, “Kingdom Come,” is a murder mystery set in the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Detective Elizabeth Harris is the protagonist and, in many ways, her story is my story.
In the book, Elizabeth grew up in Quarryville Pennsylvania, a small town in Lancaster County. As a teen, she wanted desperately to leave her small town life, and she succeeded. She went to college in New York City and stayed there. She became a New York cop, got her Criminal Justice degree, and finally ended up a detective. But that’s all before the novel begins. At the start of “Kingdom Come”, Elizabeth is a new transplant back to Lancaster County. Like me.
I grew up in small town Pennsylvania and moved to California for my first job right out of college. I lived on the West Coast for the next twenty-odd years, both in California and Seattle. In 2010 my husband and I bought a farm in Lancaster County and moved back. My feelings about this place, and the transition home, form the bedrock of “Kingdom Come”.
Can you go home again? And is the simple life of the past really as idyllic as you imagine?
These are some of the themes of the book. Elizabeth is burnt out as a New York cop, sick of the violence, and suffering from PTSD. She also had a horrendous personal loss when her husband was murdered in a random shooting. She dreams that by moving back to Lancaster County, she will find a place without the senseless violence of the city, a place where she can remember the good in the world, in people. She craves peace and quiet. But as a new detective for the Lancaster Bureau of Police, she’s about to encounter one of the most disturbing cases of her career—and learn that there can be snakes in the grass even in paradise.
My own experience of moving back to Lancaster County has been equally fraught with good and bad (though not as dramatically or fatally as Elizabeth’s). This is a place where my childhood memories walk out of my head and into real life. For example, I remember my mother and aunts wearing silky polyester dresses, often in floral patterns, and having short permed hair. This is not something you’d ever see on the West Coast, but here at the local farmer’s markets, you will see older women still in that same mode—and that’s not even the Amish women. The Amish and Mennonites are heavily populated in this area and they harken back even further, to the 1800’s. I carry my smart phone and check my messages next to a lady in a bonnet selling homemade canned peaches. Time seems to have stopped here, and, honestly, I love that. It’s like being a time traveler in a way.
I have always been drawn to old things—old barns, antique furniture, old cobblestone roads. One of my favorite places to travel is the British countryside, where you can still walk through sheep herds on the hills and sit in a stone-walled pub that’s three hundred years old. This part of me adores Lancaster County, where I ride over covered bridges and see men plowing fields with horses on the bike ride loop I take from my own home. Hell, parts of the farmhouse we live in dates from 1732.
But. But. The past has its own problems, doesn’t it? Dark secrets can lurk there, as Elizabeth finds out. For myself, I’ve had to make peace with the fact that most of my neighbors have religious and political beliefs far more conservative than my own, that women’s rights and animal rights are in rather prehistoric states in many places here, and that I can face more dismissal and sexism as a female than I ever did on the West Coast.
There are many little incidents and encounters that we’ve experienced since returning that have ended up in “Kingdom Come.” And the descriptions of the barns, fields, farmhouses, and streams in the story are based on our farm too. Will Elizabeth come to regret her decision to return, or will the good out-weigh the bad in the end?
I’ll give you a hint: We have no plans to move.
I’ve included some photos from our own Lancaster odyssey.
The old bank barn on our farm, the interior of which provides the setting for several key scenes in the book.
Our fieldstone farmhouse, which dates from 1732.
The author (Jane Jensen) helping to install a new kitchen garden on the farm.
The kitchen garden months later with our bulldog, Lola.
The author’s husband in the pasture with our cow, Trueheart, and her new calf, Bessy.
Our barn’s free stall is open to the pasture and stream just like the ones in the book. This wintery scene is very much like the day Elizabeth is called in to investigate the body found in an Amish barn.
The stream on our farm is the basis for the stream in “Kingdom Come”