Sheriff Deidre Johnson is in the middle of several awful dilemmas. Her favorite former high-school teacher is under surveillance by the FBI. A former fellow student, now a deputy under her command, has been giving her a hard time on the job. A plot in her hometown is cooking, but she doesn’t yet know what the plot is or how to connect the dots.
All the while, Deidre suspects she may be falling in love.
Deidre is the main character in a new suspense novel by Sartell resident Dennis Herschbach. The book, entitled “Convergence at Two Harbors,” is a page-turner about a plot by terrorists to blow up the iron-ore loading facility at Two Harbors on the coast of Lake Superior north of Duluth.
All through the book, the readers know more about what’s going on than Deidre and many others in the story, although there are more than a few surprises for readers, too, all the way up to the shattering climax that takes place near Gooseberry Falls.
In telling his story, Herschbach, like a movie editor, switches scenes swiftly – from the Middle East to the high school in Two Harbors, from a remote abandoned fisherman’s shack in the woods to a one-room apartment above a bar in Two Harbors.
Gradually, as the action in the book builds, the lives of the characters intertwine in sometimes dark and tragic ways.
The main characters are Deidre, a feisty woman with a broken-family background, who succeeds in becoming a deputy, then sheriff, through abilities, determination and true grit; David, a high school teacher who befriends and helps Deidre get through school and triumph over her family background; Ben, a high school student who harasses Deidre through law-enforcement training and then continues to give her a hard time as a deputy himself; Zaid, a Palestinian who grew up in Honduras and who endures horrific violence and the death of his wife at the hands of vicious Israeli border police during a trip to his ancestral land, Palestine; John, an FBI agent who plays an informational cat-and-mouse game with Deidre.
Anyone who has been to the city of Two Harbors and other places on the North Shore will instantly relate to Herschbach’s landscape and cityscape descriptions. He knows the area like the back of his hand and no wonder since he taught biology for 34 years in the high school in Two Harbors.
Herschbach was born in Grand Rapids and grew up in Blackberry, a small town on the Iron Range. After decades of teaching school and raising a family, Herschbach never thought about writing creatively. It wasn’t until seven years ago, when his wife, Dorothy, died of melanoma cancer that Herschbach took up writing as a kind of emotional release for his deep grief. He showed his first poem to several people, and they were very impressed. At the time, Herschbach was a member of a grief support group. The director of that group liked the poems so much she wanted to publish them.
Herschbach’s first book is entitled “Grief Journey.” On the pages on the left side are his prose diary of his grieving process. Then, on the opposite pages, on the right, are poems that comment on his prose thoughts and feelings.
Herschbach then wrote two other books, “Brown Sugar Syrup and Jack Pine Sand,” which is a memoir of him growing up on the Iron Range; and “South First and Lakefront,” a book of more poems. The memoir was awarded the Northeast Minnesota Book Award for Best Memoir of 2011. A short story he wrote entitled “Healing in the Morning” won first-place for fiction and was published in “The Talking Stick.”
It was a short story, in fact, that led Herschbach to write Convergence at Two Harbors. He wrote a short story about a man fleeing from sinister, unnamed pursuers across a rocky landscape on the North Shore. As soon as he finished the story, he had a tantalizing notion in his head the story would naturally progress into an entire novel. Two years ago he began work on the novel and pursued it sporadically until his final draft was finished and the book was published by North Star Press of St. Cloud.
“I’ve had unbelievable luck as a writer,” Herschbach said, noting he seemed to be at the right place at the right time and happened to meet supportive people who encouraged him and helped him get published.
Although Herschbach’s novel is entirely a work of imagination, his own experiences helped shape many of the scenes: his being a teacher like “David” in the novel; his love of boating on Lake Superior and elsewhere (as “David” does); the scene of a violent domestic dispute in the book in which a man threatens to kill his wife and children with a butcher knife. Many years ago, a male student in Herschbach’s class broke down emotionally. Herschbach brought the boy into the hallway where the devastated boy blurted out that his stepfather had lined him and his siblings up in a row and told them he was going to shoot and kill them all.
Herschbach, who has been a lay minister, has made several mission trips to Honduras. Those trips also inform his novel, as one of the plot’s triggers involves a Honduran-born Palestinian. Palestinians are a large immigrant group in Honduras. Many emigrated to that Central American country after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s.
Herschbach moved to Sartell a couple years ago because of serendipitous coincidence. Decades ago, when Herschbach’s wife-to-be, Dorothy, was in nursing school, she had a close roommate who later landed a job at the VA Medical Center in St. Cloud. After Dorothy died, she contacted Herschbach via email, telling him she would like him to meet a lady friend of hers. The “lady friend,” whose name is Vicki Schaefer of Sartell, had been a VA work colleague of that woman for years.
Herschbach, after some nervous hesitation, contacted Vicki. They hit it off and decided to marry.
Herschbach and his former wife, Dorothy, have three grown children and eight grandchildren.
He has already finished the first draft of a sequel to Convergence at Two Harbors. It’s going to be entitled “Seven Graves, Two Harbors” and will re-introduce many of the characters from the previous novel.
Convergence at Two Harbors can be purchased at North Star Press, amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.