Please welcome Dean James to Maine Crime Writers today. Dean is the New York Times bestselling author (as Miranda James) of the “Cat in the Stacks” mystery series featuring librarian Charlie Harris and his cat Diesel . . . who just happens to be a Maine Coon. Good choice, Dean! Dean is also the author of several nonfiction books and another mystery series under his own name and two other mystery series under different pseudonyms. We’re delighted to have him here.
Murder in the “M” States
As Miranda James I currently write a series set in fictional Athena, Mississippi, which is far removed – geographically, at least – from Maine. When I received the invitation to write a guest blog post, I wondered what I could write about that might be pertinent to both my “host” state of Maine and my state of origin, Mississippi. Is there any comparison between my fictional Athena and a town in Maine?
Mississippi is a bit larger than Maine and more densely populated: 63.5 persons per square mile as opposed to 43, while Mississippi has almost 3 million people and Maine only about 1.3 million. Maine is 13.5% water while Mississippi is only 3%. Mississippi became a state three years before Maine broke off from Massachusetts (another “M” state, see?) and became an independent entity.
But enough with the geography/history lesson. Instead I’ll talk about perceptions (mine, that is). I’m a seventh-generation Mississippian, and though I haven’t lived there for thirty-one years, I of course still have opinions about it. I continue to think of my home state as largely rural, though there are some large cities and towns. I also think of Maine as largely rural as well, with those incredible stretches of uninhabited land, magnificent trees and wildlife, a pristine area little touched by humankind.
That might be nonsense, but Maine has a certain romantic appeal in my mind – until you bring up the subject of Cabot Cove, where the per capital homicide rate is probably the highest in the world outside a war zone. The murder rate in Athena, Mississippi, is beginning to rise as well. In four books so far in my “Cat in the Stacks” series, I’ve murdered six people. If the series has a long run, I could knock off a hundred or more, but perhaps not as many as died under J.B. Fletcher’s gimlet eye.
The people of Mississippi are a hardy lot, having survived the turmoil of war (sometimes referred to as “The Late Unpleasantness”), and the popular notion of the independent, sturdy Mainer is surely not complete fiction. Whether you’re talking Maine or Mississippi, homicide is still a bad thing, and in my books – as in all traditional mysteries – the point is to bring the world back to order by identifying the killer and making the streets – or the farms and the forests – safe once more. So maybe Mainers and Mississippians have more in common than we think.
A note from Kaitlyn: Out of Circulation, the latest in the series, is a terrific read, but if you want to start from the beginning, the titles in order are Murder Past Due, Classified as Murder, and File M For Murder. A complete list of Dean’s mystery novels is at: