A new Chloe Ellefson Mystery: Mining for Justice by Kathleen Ernst

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Chloe Ellefson is excited to be learning about Wisconsin’s Cornish immigrants and mining history while on temporary assignment at Pendarvis, a historic site in charming Mineral Point. But when her boyfriend, police officer Roelke McKenna, discovers long-buried human remains in the root cellar of an old Cornish cottage, Chloe reluctantly agrees to mine the historical record for answers.

She soon finds herself in the center of a heated and deadly controversy that threatens to close Pendarvis. While struggling to help the historic site, Chloe must unearth dark secrets, past and present . . . before a killer comes to bury her.

Character Interview with Chloe Ellefson

Chloe, welcome to Island Confidential. Can you tell our readers something about yourself? 

I work as curator of collections at a huge outdoor museum, Old World Wisconsin. As you would guess, I am passionate about history. My special focus is on the 19th-century immigrant experience, especially involving women. I love shining a little lamplight on long-gone everyday women who left no handy diaries or breathtaking folk art behind, but faced and survived extraordinary challenges.

What might come as a surprise is that I attended forestry school at West Virginia University, majoring in environmental education. My background is unusual in the history world, but it helps me understand early settlers within the context of their physical environment. Oh – and it also left me with a blue ribbon in a Jack-and-Jill crosscut saw competition! I’m pretty proud of that.

Who’s the character you get along with the best?

That’s an easy one:  my special guy, Officer Roelke McKenna. He’s a beat cop in the Village of Eagle, close to Old World Wisconsin. He’s nothing like the man I imagined settling down with. He’s a few years younger than me, doesn’t have any particular interest in history, can be a wee bit intense when focused on police work. He’s still working on managing his temper when dealing with bad guys. He also is a man of enormous integrity, who’d do anything to protect someone in need – especially people he loves. In the beginning we didn’t always get along so well…but we grown a lot since then, and I can’t imagine life without him.

Which character do you not get along with so well? 

Equally easy! My boss, Ralph Petty. Petty is a misogynistic megalomaniac with a graduate degree in micromanagement. He’s been on my case since the day I started my job at the site. I try to protect the seasonal employees from the worst of his wrath. I also do my best to protect program integrity in the face of his often-bizarre ideas. He’s already tried to fire me once. I’m committed to Old World Wisconsin, and to living with Roelke at his family farm nearby, so every day at work is like walking a tightrope.

Just between you and me: What do you really think of your author?

For the most part, she does a pretty good job. I sometimes wish she didn’t write about my quirks and personal challenges, but I guess she has to be true to the stories. She doesn’t depict me as some stereotypical ever-brave heroine, but as a real person who tries to do the right thing in sometimes difficult circumstances.

What’s next for you?

Since Ralph Petty’s favorite sight is my tail lights disappearing in the distance, he’s always finding reasons to send me off on special assignment. I’m about to leave for a week’s gig as volunteer curator at another historic site. I’ll be studying the immigration history of an ethnic group that’s new to me, so I’m excited. But I can’t say more than that!

About The Author  

Kathleen Ernst is a social historian, educator, and author. Her Chloe Ellefson mysteries reflect the decade she spent as a curator at a large outdoor museum, and feature historic sites in the Upper Midwest.  Library Journal says, “Ernst keeps getting better with each entry in this fascinating series.” Kathleen has also written many mysteries for young readers.  Honors for her work include a LOVEY Award and Agatha and Edgar nominations.  Kathleen lives and writes in Wisconsin.

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Author Interview: Kathleen Ernst, A Memory of Muskets

“Veteran Ernst provides a new perspective on the Civil War woven together with a compelling mystery.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Kathleen Ernst knows how to spin a tale, weave an intricate plot, and hide clues in the embroidery. A Memory of Muskets takes two stories separated by more than a century and knits them together into one thoroughly satisfying read.”

―Kathy Lynn Emerson, Agatha Award-winning author of How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries


Curator Chloe Ellefson is happily planning to spotlight home-front challenges and German immigrants at Old World Wisconsin’s first Civil War reenactment―but her overbearing boss scorns her ideas and proposes staging a mock battle. And when a reenactor is found dead at one of the historic site’s German farms, Chloe’s boyfriend, cop Roelke McKenna, suspects murder.

The more Roelke learns about reenacting, the more he fears that a killer will join the ranks at Chloe’s special event. Then Chloe discovers a disturbing secret about Roelke’s Civil War-era ancestors. Together they struggle to solve crimes past and present . . . before Chloe loses her job and another reenactor loses his life.

Q: Kathleen, it’s great to have you back at Island Confidential! Can you tell us a little about your protagonist, Chloe? 

A:  Chloe Ellefson is a 33-year-old Norwegian-American living in Wisconsin.  She is employed as curator of collections at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor living history museum focused on the lives of European immigrants and American settlers who arrived in the Upper Midwest in the 19th-century.  She is in a long-term relationship with a slightly younger man, Officer Roelke McKenna of the Village of Eagle Police Department.  She’s not always practical but she is passionate about treating people well and doing her job to the best of her ability.

Q: How much of you is in Chloe?  How would you feel about her if you met her in real life?

A:  Chloe is not me, but there is quite a bit of me in Chloe.  I worked as a curator at Old World Wisconsin for over a decade.  Chloe and I went to the same college (West Virginia University) and the house she lives in at the beginning of the series is the house I once rented.  But her emotional backstory is different from mine.  She’s also braver than I am, and more likely to speak her mind regardless of the consequences.  I admire her.

Q: Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series?

A:  Yes, they change and grow over the course of the series, and also within each book.  I develop plot ideas based on whatever life issue or challenge the main characters are facing, so their personal struggle is reflected in the mystery.

Q: Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean? 

A:  I’ve never written a character who is absolutely based on a single person from real life, although  I may take certain traits from an individual and make those part of the mix.  That said, yes, I have considered fictionally killing off a couple of people.

Q: How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?

A:  I write about real historic sites and museums, so I do my very best to present an accurate picture.  The series is set in the early 1980s; sometimes, if being accurate about something that has no bearing on the plot would confuse readers familiar with a site, I’ll stick with a modern description.  I try to let readers know, in an Author’s Note or on my website, about any deliberate liberties taken.

Q: When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?

A:  Oh my, what an exciting thought.  Scarlett Johansson for Chloe. I’m not sure who would play Roelke.  Maybe Alex O’Loughlin?


Q: What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?

A:  I tend to shy away from any advice presented as an absolute.  In college I studied with a wonderful instructor who taught me a great deal, but he insisted that I get up early and write in the morning before classes.  The idea was to write while I was fresh, but I am not a morning person.  If I had stuck with that advice I wouldn’t be a writer today.

Good advice?  Someone once said “If you don’t write what you know, know what you write.”  I love the freedom inherent in that thought.


About The Author  

Kathleen Ernst is a former museum curator who remains passionate about history!  In addition to the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites series, she has written many books for American Girl, including nine about the historical character she created, Caroline Abbott. Over 1.5 million copies of Kathleen’s 33 titles have been sold. The Chloe series has earned a LOVEY Award for Best Traditional Mystery, and several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.

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