Sunday, February 16, 2020

Today I'm joining 
Berkley Mystery 
in celebrating the January 21 release of  
A Shana Merchant Novel
by Tessa Wegert

Note from Lisa: You'll notice this is not a cozy. Honestly, when I agreed to host this book, I was under the assumption it was a cozy. It was on a list with other cozies for me to choose from to host. When I realized my mistake, I wanted to follow through. So, this one is for my readers who read mysteries beyond the cozy genre. πŸ˜ƒ

A storm-struck island. A blood-soaked bed. A missing man. In this captivating mystery that's perfect for fans of Knives Out, Senior Investigator Shana Merchant discovers that murder is a family affair.

Thirteen months ago, former NYPD detective Shana Merchant barely survived being abducted by a serial killer. Now hoping to leave grisly murder cases behind, she's taken a job in her fiancΓ©'s sleepy hometown in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York.

But as a nor'easter bears down on her new territory, Shana and fellow investigator Tim Wellington receive a call about a man missing on a private island. Shana and Tim travel to the isolated island owned by the wealthy Sinclair family to question the witnesses. They arrive to find blood on the scene and a house full of Sinclair family and friends on edge.

While Tim guesses they're dealing with a runaway case, Shana is convinced that they have a murder on their hands. As the gale intensifies outside, she starts conducting interviews and discovers the Sinclairs and their guests are crawling with dark and dangerous secrets.

Trapped on the island by the raging storm with only Tim whose reliability is thrown into question, the increasingly restless suspects, and her own trauma-fueled flashbacks for company, Shana will have to trust the one person her abduction destroyed her faith in—herself. But time is ticking down, because if Shana's right, a killer is in their midst and as the pressure mounts, so do the odds that they'll strike again.

Making a Scene: 5 Mysteries That Nail Setting
By Tessa Wegert

A hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands. The rugged Shetland Islands. A vacation community in Coastal Maine. Settings like these don't just incite readers to pick up a novel, but can motivate them to turn the pages all night long.

Setting is a key component of every good mystery. Regardless of where the story's action takes place, setting creates atmosphere, grounds the reader, and can even shape the characters and story. Peter May's Entry Island, with dual storylines in the Hebrides and Magdalen Islands, would be unrecognizable if it occurred anywhere else. And imagine Jane Harper's The Dry without Kiewarra, or Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache without Three Pines.

Culture, community, and proximity to civilization all play a part. That's because crime fiction is largely about breaking the rules laid out by society, and exploring what could lead to such an appalling act of rebellion. There are practical issues created by setting as well. Dilemmas like where to hide the body and how to escape the authorities dogged me when I was writing Death in the Family, which is set on a private island in the St. Lawrence River (let's hope the local police never see my search history).

When an author gets setting just right, it feels indelible, and the story unfolds effortlessly around it. These five books serve as excellent examples of how to master setting in a mystery.

The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley

Isolation factors into many mystery novels, for obvious reasons. Setting your story in a place where there's no escape from a killer and help is hard to come by rarely fails to ratchet up the tension.

In Lucy Foley's The Hunting Party, seven friends gather at a hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands for New Year's Eve. Climate – an offshoot of setting – is equally important to this story's action. When a winter storm leaves the guests snowed in, and one of them turns up dead, the setting provides the opening for a tense locked-room mystery.

The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware

Like The Hunting Party, Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key plays up the isolation of a house in Scotland. This time, it's a nanny who finds herself in a remote location, and the house is a "smart" home owned by her employers.

Rowan Caine's new job is taxing, the work more solitary than she expected – which is why she's so alarmed when she starts to hear footsteps in the space above her room. With a nod to the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, this book is part ghost story and part murder mystery, all set in a place where history and technology collide.

Raven Black, by Ann Cleeves

You'll hear it said that setting can become a character in its own right – but characters can also become who they are because of setting. This is surely the case with Ann Cleeves' Shetland series.

In an interview, Cleeves told a Canadian magazine ( she thinks of herself as a "human geographer," and feels that "place isn’t just a pretty backdrop to the action." DI Jimmy Perez exists because of his connection to the Shetland Islands (just as another Cleeves character, Vera Stanhope, embodies the county of Northumberland). It's clear that Cleeves gave much consideration to Shetland's traditions, lifestyles, and the troubles faced by its community, as they're part of Perez's very identity.

The Last House Guest, by Megan Miranda  

Welcome to Littleport, Maine, a seaside community where wealthy holidaymakers live alongside the locals, and the chasm between them can be deadly.

In The Last House Guest, the setting supplies the book's premise, and readers will find themselves searching the village and its seaside cliffs for a motive. Megan Miranda's description of cheerful summer rental cottages stands in contrast to the treacherous ocean bluffs where Sadie Loman loses her life. Miranda's choice of setting is important not only for the disparity between social classes, but because of the seasonal nature of the area, without which there would be no story to tell.

Knots and Crosses, by Ian Rankin
Even if you've never been to Edinburgh, you'll come away from Ian Rankin's Knots and Crosses feeling as though you've experienced its bars, alleys, and inhabitants first-hand. For authors, setting determines whether a protagonist speaks with an accent, and what kind of colloquial expressions they use. In the case of Detective Sergeant John Rebus, it ensures that he oozes authenticity.

Something else setting can do? It can drive your plot by creating unique challenges and opportunities for your protagonist and killer. Rebus is searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack as he struggles to decipher the killer's cryptic clues and track him in a bustling city.

As is often the case with crime fiction, the setting becomes a playground for a deranged criminal. But you'll still want to visit when you've finished the book.

As always, please leave a comment and 
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  1. Thanks, Lisa. Hope you have a great day!

  2. I may be a cozy mystery author, but I read lots of different kinds of mysteries. On Amazon, this one is not yet available, but it is on order at my library. I'm looking forward to reading it.

  3. This sounds great! I love a mystery set in an isolated location.