March 2 2016 11:48 AM

Local author explores sexuality, small-town politics in ‘Twisted Minds’

“Twisted Minds,” the latest mystery from local author Jody Valley, opens with a morbid and moody scene. A brutal murder is in process, but we don’t know the identity of the victim or the killer.

“She gave out another groan as the freezing water iced its way into her consciousness and awakened any remaining awareness,” she writes.

“Twisted Minds,” a follow-up to 2014’s “A Venomous Cocktail,” once again features Kera Van Brocklin as lead protagonist. In this installment, Kera has transitioned into a career as a private detective. She’s still suffering from Iraq War-induced PTSD and still self-medicating with marijuana — much to the chagrin of her identical twin, Dee. Her service dog, Lakota, a Rottweiler/ shepherd mix, helps keep her on an even keel.

Marijuana and PTSD aren’t the only complications facing Kera. She believes her girlfriend, Mandy, may have eyes on another woman. She’s also concerned that Dee may be experimenting sexually. These relationship problems do get complicated, but not as complicated as the murder mystery that unfolds. The murder uncovers a web of secret relationships, including a ménage a trois, a Wiccan coven, Satanism and a politician with a bisexual spouse.

These entanglements create tension that Kera must overcome if she hopes to solve the complicated murder before another victim is added to the tally.

The mystery is set against the backdrop of a conservative western Michigan city that is considering including LGBT people in its civil rights ordinance. Initially, Kera is hired to locate a missing person. After a little sleuthing, she gets the feeling that something is terribly wrong. The woman she is looking for is in a gay relationship, which she has kept secret because her partner is a high school teacher and a girl’s basketball coach.

When the woman is found in a shallow grave, Kera thinks to herself, “Jesus. So many secrets.”

Although a protagonist with PTSD is becoming a cliché in mysteries and thrillers, Valley, an East Lansing resident, pulls off descriptions of the condition with expertise, assisted by her experience as a former psychiatric social worker. She has also been an activist in local civil rights activities, which adds authenticity to Mandy’s role in local politics.

Valley celebrates “Twisted Minds,” which was officially released Feb. 23, with an author talk and book signing Tuesday at Schuler Books & Music’s Eastwood Towne Center location. The author has been an avid reader of mysteries and thrillers from an early age.

“Growing up, I always wanted to a reporter or a spy,” she said.

Valley read books from the Nancy Drew and Mr. Moto series when she was young and still enjoys thrillers like “Gone Girl.” She began writing her own mystery series as a challenge to herself. It took her two years to finish “A Venomous Cocktail.”

After finishing the book, she submitted it to Bella Books, a publisher of lesbian-themed books. It was quickly accepted and went on to be a finalist for the Golden Crown Literary Society awards, which recognizes the best in lesbian-themed literature.

Valley particularly likes to weave strong psychological elements into her books. Sexuality is also an important theme, but that doesn’t always come naturally.

“The hardest thing for me is to write love scenes,” she said. “I hate them. They are absolutely the worst thing.”

Valley said it’s much easier for her to write dialogue, an area where many novice writers find themselves tongue-tied.

“I hear them talking in my head, and I’m able to put myself in their heads,” she said. “The characters move me.”

In the book, Kera practices Shamanism, which is also based on experiences in Valley’s life.

“I practice it and I have for years,” Valley said. “My character experiences healing through Shamanism — not Jesus.”

Jody Valley presents “Twisted Minds”

Author talk and book signing 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 8 FREE Schuler Books & Music (Eastwood Towne Center location) 2820 Towne Center Blvd., Lansing (517) 316-7495,