Thursday, October 11, 2012

Small Towns, Big Mystery

Shelley Freydont (Guest Blogger)

What is it about small towns that attract so many murderous thoughts? There are shelves and shelves of mysteries set in small town USA. And readers never seem to tire of small town settings.

I’ve always been infatuated with small towns. I’ve never lived in a really tiny one. And I’m sure they may not always be the Norman Rockwell wholesome places we imagine. If they were, what would happen to all those fabulous mysteries? Miss Marple would be up to her neck in knitting but no sleuthing. Jessica Fletcher would probably have written three hundred books but never caught a bad guy.

And what would happen to all the wonderful characters of my fellow mystery authors? They would quietly spend their time quilting, cooking, embroidering, hair styling, dog grooming, book selling, spatting with their mother-in-laws, dating hunky policemen, and all sorts of wonderful things, but without a murder. I mean where’s the fun?

That’s why readers love a cozy. They appeal to people who love to learn about something new and enjoy reading about people they can relate to, but who are thrown into unusual and sometimes dire circumstances. How will they react? How would we?

I firmly believe that it takes a village, whether it’s living a good life or getting a daunting job done. When I first thought about writing my new mystery series, I knew I wanted a small country town filled with loyal, optimistic, hard-working folk.
And I wanted a sleuth that had to learn about that kind of loyalty, the kind of perseverance that keeps a town going through the bad times as well as the good. So I invented a town, Celebration Bay, whose economy had once depended on the local cannery. When it closed, they didn’t give up and bemoan their fate (well, maybe just a little), they threw a party, and then another and a new industry was born, tourism. Now every day’s a holiday in Celebration Bay.

In fact their festivals have grown so large, they need to hire a professional event organizer. My sleuth Liv Montgomery is a successful Manhattan event planner who’s had enough of big city stress. She longs for a simpler life where people appreciate her and her work, where she can enrich people’s life, not just arrange events to wow the corporate competition or surpass the last year’s society wedding, and where her Westie terrier, Whiskey, can roam the great out of doors.

So I had my fish out of water and my good folks of Celebration Bay. Both with a giant learning curve ahead of them. As Liv gets to know her neighbors, we do, too. And with so many festivals, I get to play with different seasonal props and settings. Food, quilts, crafts, choirs, hayrides, mystery mazes, Revolutionary war reenactments. Quaint stores, barns, Lake Champlain, haunted houses.

For such a small town, the possibilities for murder are endless.

And since Celebration Bay is a popular destination town with festivals for every holiday or season, there will be plenty of outsiders to provide victims and murderers, thereby avoiding the Saint Mary Mead and Cabot Cove syndromes. I don’t really want any of my favorite characters to die or go to jail.

But you never know what will happen when you start getting to know your characters. Some take life in stride, some go over the edge. Some are just oblivious. And some become good friends (So maybe they’re imaginary, they’re still friends.) And suspicion can bring out the very worst in people you thought you knew. It can also bring out the best.

And like in so many small towns, once Liv has solved a murder, everyone expects her to solve the others, and of course, being locals, they all are curious, have their own theories of whodunit, and want to help her find the killer, even if they just make things crazier.

That’s another good thing about a cozy set in a small town. With each book the characters become more familiar. And if we, the authors, are successful, the reader will begin to love them as much as we do. Become invested in how their lives turn out and can’t wait to meet them again over the next body.

Shelley Freydont is the author of eight mysteries that have been translated into seven languages. She loves puzzles of all kinds and when not writing or reading mysteries, she’s most likely working on a jigsaw, Sudoku, or crossword. As Shelley Noble, her first women’s fiction novel, Beach Colors, will be published by William Morrow in 2012. More about Shelley at and


Anonymous said...

Shelley, I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment - people want the simple life.. They assume in a small town or village life will be simple - in cities often the buildings and bustle cover up individual lives - but we mystery writers know small town life is anything but simple! Enjoyed your post today - Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Janet C said...

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and the setting. I'm looking forward to getting to know all of them better.

Irene said...

If the only folks murdered in a small town lived there, pretty soon the town would be empty. There has to be a reason for strangers to go to the small towns and a celebration, a festival or fair would be a great reason! BTW, I loved the book! Can't wait for the next "holiday".

Shelley said...

Thanks everyone.
small towns are rife with emotions and antagonisms, I guess because people know each other. LIke Miss Marple and St Mary Mead.