How the Serene Becomes Scary

Ed and I are on a car voyage to North Carolina and Virginia, and while we are cruising past cotton fields and tobacco barns, we’re listening to the 17-CD audio book of Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard.

(I know, I know — we ought to be listening to a southern – not Scandinavian – crime story, but I’ve always wanted to read Nesbo and had plucked the disks out of the library before I really considered the geography we’d be seeing.) 

Vicki Doudera here. For those of you who are new to Nesbo, as am I, The Leopard is his eighth crime novel featuring the brooding, tortured, and yet brilliant Inspector Harry Hole.

Some stories are downright creepy from the get-go, and I would put The Leopard in this category. Grim landscapes, bleak metaphors, and a sense of impending doom that never really lets up pervades the book.  It’s compelling, and he’s terrific writer, but there are very few (at least not 11 disks into it) rays of sunshine in this dismal Norwegian setting.

As I’m listening to it, I’m thinking about the mood (or tone) of other crime novels, and of my own style in the Darby Farr Mysteries.  Certainly I am not writing as dark a series as Nesbo, although it would be fun to try.  I tend to write with more of a mixture of the sunny and sinister, and my favorite thing to do is make the sunny get sinister, without the reader realizing it, until it’s too late to escape.

I was thinking about just how I do this as my husband and I biked through the North Carolina countryside yesterday.  We pulled off a back road into the parking lot of a church, changed into our bike clothes, and began riding down a beautiful road lined with fields, farms, and those particularly Southern-looking little houses with porches.  What could be better? We were out on our bikes for the first time in 2013, wearing shorts and sunscreen, and escaping yet another Maine snowstorm.

And then the first dog lunged.

He (or she) was a small dog, but came at us with such energy that we yelled for it to “Go Home!” and pedaled all the faster.  A few hundred yards down the road, the second (and third) dogs tore after us. This time I screamed bloody murder and pedaled as fast as I could. Only when I felt safe did I  manage to sneak a look back to see if my husband was becoming some canine’s tender vittles.

Truthfully,this exact scenario had crossed my mind as soon as we started riding. Dogs (along with traffic, potholes, weather, and road kill) are one of the things cyclists constantly need to consider, especially in rural areas where leash laws are probably not on the books, never mind enforced.  And yet as we began riding, there was absolutely no hint that our bucolic outing might become dangerous.

A loose terrier or two is one thing, but our carefree ride was a Cujo-infested disaster.  At least five times we faced snarling, charging dogs, hell bent on catching us, and several were large and fast. We were never caught (amazing how speedy you can be when adrenalin is pumping through your veins) and so never bitten. We didn’t crash, and except for a lot of screaming (me) and swearing (Ed) we weathered the whole thing quite well. Believe me, things could have been much, much worse.

The picturesque countryside harbored danger. How fitting for a crime writer, right? As I pedaled back to the church and the safety of our car, I thought about evil lurking in the most innocent places. The Bad Seed.  Harvest Home. How the benign can turn deadly – in just a moment.

And I vowed right there and then to buy two cans of pepper spray.

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2 Responses to How the Serene Becomes Scary

  1. Prentiss Garneer says:


    I hope you and Ed enjoy NC despite the dogs. NC is my home and I love living here. I grew up on the coast near Morehead City and am heading back to our cottage on the water next week. Pepper spray is good! You all have fun.

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