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SunLit Interviews

This real-life Garden of Eden — in Kansas — offered a perfectly diabolical setting for a murder mystery

The actual history on which author Charlotte Hinger bases "Fractured Families" may be even creepier than the double-murder plot

Charlotte Hinger is a multi-award winning novelist and Kansas historian who writes the Lottie Albright series published by Poisoned Pen Press. Simon and Schuster published her first novel, “Come Spring.”

What inspired you to write this book?

The beginning setting for “Fractured Families,” The Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, actually exists. The joined sculptures created by a Civil War veteran, S.P. Dinsmoor, feel like they fill a city block. It’s so mysterious — and frankly creepy — that it’s the ideal place for a murder. Some of these sculptures are 40-feet high. After his death, his second wife sold the place for taxes and one of the owners offered $100 dollars to anyone who would bulldoze it to the ground.  None of the townspeople would go near it.

The garden was reopened in 1969 and recognized as outstanding primitive art. Dinsmoor was a genius in his ability to master so many skills and technologies. He was also an avid populist and a talented artist. One of my favorite statues is Reaching Woman. She’s held back by an octopus representing corporate trusts. Dinsmoor blamed doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers, and preachers for crucifying labor. These 40-foot-high statues are joined around the perimeter of the property and tell the story of the crucifixion of mankind. He didn’t think much of God, either.

He dug up the remains of his first wife and moved them to a stone mausoleum in the Garden of Eden. Then he dictated that his own coffin rest on a steel vault that held her remains. He was beautifully preserved until the 21st century, when the seal on the glass window into the crypt failed and he decomposed very quickly. But even as he shrinks and blackens, he’s still on display. It’s in his will! You won’t catch me there after sundown.

“Fractured Families” author Charlotte Hinger. (Handout)

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

As to contemporary mystery authors I’m a devoted fan of Louise Penny. There’s something about her characters — especially Armand Gamache—that make me yearn for stories with satisfying endings. I appreciate books featuring decent people trying to make moral choices. At the other extreme, I like Lisa Gardner’s edgy, suspenseful books. In the past, Daphne du Mauier was a master of suspense. I enjoy a wide variety of books. I love well-researched historical novels.     

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

It covers so much territory in about 2,100 words. The reader is introduced to Lottie Albright, and the poor abused child, Franklin Slocum. The really grim series of murders is outlined, and it establishes the past history of similar crimes. Sometimes weaving in backstory is tricky. Because I became so caught up in Franklin’s story, I was very pleased when Publisher’s Weekly said that “the diary of a severely handicapped child proves both riveting and pivotal.”

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

Ha! Visiting the Garden of Eden again was the most fun. Even though it gives me the creeps, the place is amazing. As to rewarding, I was touched by number of people who empathized with Franklin Slocum.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

I did extensive research on sociopaths. I became intrigued and read a number of books and was appalled by what I learned.  

What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?

Four percent of the population are sociopaths and feel absolutely no remorse. Very few are sadistic criminals. Nevertheless, even standard-brand, everyday sociopaths have no conscience whatsoever. There is a tremendous variation in abilities. Some are of simply average and specialize in bringing people down and sabotaging projects. They are often very lazy and resentful of the breaks others get. They delight in screwing up the office — especially if they can manipulate and bully their coworkers.

“Fractured Families” by Charlotte Hinger. (Handout)

A really smart sociopath can obtain tremendous power and influence because he or she will do anything necessary to succeed: cook the books, shred evidence, stab people in the back, lie and run right over anyone in their path. Keep out of the way of anyone who just will not make any effort to fit in, lies a lot and lives on the edge. A sociopath can be super impulsive and irritable. You can’t count on them. Not ever. But they are masters in getting others to do their work for them due to their charm and ability to persuade.

The sociopath’s attraction to high risk is due to the need for stimulation that will make them feel something. Anything! No conscience, remember. I’ve read that a lot of politicians and corporate CEOs fit the profile of a successful sociopath.

What project are you working on next?

My fifth Lottie Albright mystery, “Silent Sacrifices.” However my next published book is a historical novel, “The Healer’s Daughter.” It will be published in February.

Correction: This interview was updated Jan. 29, 2019, at 10:26 p.m. to correct the spelling of the name of S.P. Dinsmoor, the creator of The Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. The file also was edited on Jan. 30, 2019, to correct the description of the size of the folk-art installation, the events related to the transfer of his first wife’s remains to a mausoleum at The Garden of Eden, and the circumstances around the failure of the glass top of his own coffin. 


Buy “Fractured Families” at BookBar.
Excerpt: “Fractured Families” by Charlotte Hinger.

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