The story begins when a hooligan named Knecht is chased onto Kamp’s property. Kamp stops the man and takes him to the police station. Subsequently, Kamp is given the chance to be Bethlehem’s first- ever police detective by the family friend and power broker, the Judge Tate Cain. Kamp refuses.
Kamp goes on a hunting trip, where he sees the Judge cut a backroom deal with local captains of industry. When he returns home, his partner, a Lenni-Lenape woman named Shaw is talking to Knecht. Knecht intends to rent a room at the home of Kamp’s neighbor, Jonas Bauer. Shaw is pregnant, and she and Kamp are awaiting the birth of their first child. Shaw’s health problems convince Kamp to take the Judge’s job offer so that he can provide for his family. Kamp becomes a detective.
Knecht moves into Jonas Bauer’s house and gets into a disagreement with Bauer over Bauer’s sixteen-year old daughter, Nyx. The night before Knecht has to move out, Jonas and his wife Rachel are axe murdered in their bed. The neighbors form a mob and hang Knecht from a tree.
Kamp realizes that Knecht didn’t commit the murders, but no one believes him or cares. When he investigates anyway, he learns that the murders were ordered by a secret organization called the Fraternal Order of the Raven.
When Kamp begins to investigate the Order, attempts are made on his and his family’s life. Kamp continues his investigation and learns that the Order’s next target is the local coal magnate, Silas Moyer. Kamp fails to save Moyer, but in the process he learns who’s in charge of the Order and why all of the murders happened. The Fraternal Order of the Raven has been removing business competitors while hiding their existence. Kamp brings all of the wrongdoing to light, only to find that the authorities refuse to prosecute the case.
Kamp calls a truce with his enemies, who agree to stop pursuing Kamp, because the Judge paid them off. Kamp resigns from the police department and goes back to his farm to begin raising his family.
Targeted Age Group:: Adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The crime that’s at the center of the story — a double ax murder — is based on a similar crime that happened in a house about a mile from where I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I’ve always been interested in this event, which gained national notoriety when it happened in 1880. A few years ago I read a newspaper story of the crime and its aftermath, written just after it happened. I was very intrigued by this story, and I began to imagine a fictionalized version. The story developed from there to encompass a much larger, fictional narrative.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Several of the central characters in the novel were inspired by the people involved in the double ax murder and the subsequent execution of the accused murderer. I found very little, if any, biographical information about these people in the brief histories available. But the paucity of information enabled me to imagine fictional characters, which I did.
The men clutched their weapons, slowing down, stepping carefully as they reached the front of the house. The front door hung wide open, just as Knecht had left it. It gaped at them, the darkness inside much blacker than the night sky.
“George, go around that way,” Kamp said. He motioned around the left side of the house. “Hugh, go around the other.” The two men walked off, heads swiveling slowly.
Knecht started up the front steps ahead of Kamp and through the front door. They paused once inside, listening. They could hear crying, muffled through the walls.
Kamp called out, “Jonas Bauer! Are you there? Bauer!”
His voice boomed through the house. They listened again and heard nothing. Then, the children began to shriek. Knecht stole a glance at Kamp, and he touched the four-barrel revolver tucked into his waistband.
Kamp said, “Danny, get us a lantern.” Knecht walked into the kitchen as George Richter and Hugh Arndt walked through the front door.
Richter whispered, “No one out there.”
“Nope. No one,” Arndt said.
Knecht returned with a burning lantern. Kamp turned to him and said, “Where are they?”
“That way.” Knecht pointed into the darkness.
“All right. Show us.”
About the Author:
Kurt B. Dowdle grew up about a mile from the house where the crimes, upon which the novel Ax & Spade is based, took place in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1880. He attended Princeton University and graduated with a degree in English before going on to teach in a number of schools. He also has significant experience in software analysis, design and project management. Kurt currently lives in upstate New York with his family. Ax & Spade is his first novel.
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