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BookMark: "Nighthawk's Wing" By Charles Fergus Brings Mystery To 1830s Central Pa.


As someone who helps others find great books to enjoy, I have little patience for books that don’t deliver. Luckily, choosing a book by State College native Charles Fergus never disappoints. I really enjoyed Fergus’ first Gideon Stoltz mystery, “A Stranger Here Below,” published in 2019. Now I’d like to recommend the second book in the series, “Nighthawk’s Wing.” Both books are set in the early 19th century in a fictitious county right here in Central Pennsylvania.

Gideon Stoltz is the young sheriff appointed to serve Colerain County at the discretion of its residents and other officials. Many of the locals are suspicious of this young Pennsylvania Dutch outsider. The town’s name, “Adamant,” and Colerain County are both made up, but anyone familiar with Central Pennsylvania will recognize the nod to the area and its early history. But even if these books weren’t set in our region, I’d still find them engaging and riveting. I admire Stoltz, the young “Dutch” sheriff, because he always seeks the truth, even if it means implicating himself in the crime he’s investigating. Having suffered a recent head injury, Stoltz can’t recall why or how he knows the young murder victim. I was riveted making discoveries alongside the characters as they uncovered more intrigue and haunting possibilities.

Although Stoltz is the main character, his wife, True, propels the story and Gideon’s growth as they work through marital difficulties that in no way seem exclusive to their time period. Fergus also introduces medicinal plants and witchcraft to the plot. The way he skillfully weaves these details into the narrative makes for an even more compelling story. I was thrilled to learn that local herbalist Jennifer Tucker provided Fergus with many fascinating details about local plants and their uses to augment the rich setting of “Nighthawk's Wing.”

Fergus doubly pleases this reader by deftly observing the natural world through his characters. I especially admire his ability to illuminate the characters’ inner dialog without weighing down the action. His extensive research and familiarity with the area add to the beauty of his writing as he shows reverence for Central PA. Consider this simple passage that transports the reader to the early spring of 1836: “It was the time of year that some called the six-weeks’ want: a time for digging the last wizened apples and shriveled turnips out of the sand barrels, cutting the last smoked meat off the bone, picking dandelions and nettles and pokeweed for the pot.” Although spring may seem like a season of abundance, readers are keenly aware that survival has been made all the more tenuous for residents now that a murderer and witchcraft are at work in their small town.

I found myself rushing through--or maybe even ignoring--necessary tasks to return to Fergus’ book and Colerain County. I appreciated being fully engaged in the book’s fictional world, especially because it has stayed with me long after finishing the story. 

Fergus is already at work crafting the next Gideon Stoltz mystery. I eagerly await its release!

Elaine Meder-Wilgus is the owner of Webster’s Bookstore Café in State College.

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