A young police woman who had just finished her shift is almost home on a densely foggy night when she takes a wrong turn and drives deep into the darkness of the northern Minnesota woods.

It's there that she encounters a sadistic killer who has been tormenting women living in farmhouses and invites her to join him in his fun.

Meanwhile, authorities hunt for a baby who has vanished from the home of a prominent Grand Rapids doctor and try to determine whether her father had anything to do with the girl's disappearance.

The chilling tale of two crimes with ever-twisting and intersecting plots unfolds in "The Burying Place," a novel by Woodbury author Brian Freeman that is a finalist for Best Novel at the International Thriller Awards July 6-9 in New York City.

"It's a tremendous honor," said Freeman, 48. "I'm delighted with the nomination, but more so with the company I keep."

Stillwater's John Sandford, with his novel "Bad Blood," is also among the finalists, along with bestselling authors Michael Connelly for "The Reversal," Jeffery Deaver for "Edge" and Mo Hayder for "Skin."

Freeman penned five full-length novels that never saw the light of day, but his passion for writing eventually led to his first published novel, "Immoral." He spent 2 1/2 years crafting the drama about the disappearance of two teenage girls, completing many pages on notepads while in hotel rooms or riding the bus to his day jobs that have included stints as a mortgage banker, a fundraiser for colleges and work in the marketing department at the Minneapolis law firm of Faegre and Benson. The 2006 book won him the Macavity Award for the Best First Mystery Novel.

He's published five more novels, including his most recent, "Bone House," which currently has a two-week waiting list at Washington County Libraries.

Freeman attributes his growing fan base to developing complex, flawed characters that readers can relate to and a pace that keeps them turning the page. "When I hear readers tell me it kept them up to 3 a.m., I like that," he said. "One woman told me she took illicit bathroom breaks just to squeeze in a chapter. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing from readers. "

Readers also have played a role in the settings for some of his novels, most of which are set in the rugged wilderness of northern Minnesota. A reader e-mailed Freeman and suggested he use an abandoned schoolhouse north of Duluth. That was a key location in "The Burying Place."

"A lot of great writers use urban settings, but I scout for real locations," Freeman said. "I like the more remote, outdoor feel. I capture the flavor of those places so you feel as if you are there."

Look for Freeman's seventh novel, "Spilled Blood," to be released later this year. He also has another novel under the pen name of Ally O'Brien.

Tim Harlow • 651-735-1824 Twitter: @timstrib