I’m Lea Wait, and (sh!) don’t tell anyone, but when I first had an idea for a mystery, I hadn’t read any since my high school years, which had been, oh, something on the order of three decades earlier. So, being an admitted research geek, I started to make up for lost time. I read cozies. I read Agatha Christie and Ian Rankin and Anne Perry. I read police procedurals and literary mysteries. Cat mysteries. Historical mysteries. Elizabeth Peters and Elizabeth George and Mary Higgins Clark. James Patterson and Janet Evanovich and Patricia Cornwall and Susan Wittig Albert. In all, I read between two and three hundred mysteries in about six months.
I learned a lot. I saw a lot of patterns. I took notes.
Then I sat down and wrote the mystery that became Shadows at the Fair, the first in my Shadows Antique Print Mystery Series, featuring antique dealer and community college professor Maggie Summer. Where on the mystery spectrum did it fall?
On the family tree of mysteries, it was a) Traditional, featuring a b) Woman Sleuth who was c) Not a Law-enforcement professional. It labelled a “Cozy”, although Maggie drank Diet Pepsi, not tea, and there were no cats to be seen. But it also incorporated another mystery tradition: the “murder in the isolated country house” in which the reader knows the murderer is in the house … and must be found before anyone leaves. I just made my “house” a weekend antique show on a fairground in New York State, and my victim(s) antique dealers …. and the crime had to be solved before the show ended and all the dealers left for their homes and other shows on the circuit.
That was so much fun that for the second book in the series (Shadows on the Coast of Maine) I sent Maggie to Maine and set the plot in my own home, and, since old homes have built-in stories, added a possible ghost and some mysterious happenings and … Shadows on the Coast of Maine became a bit of a take off on the grand old tradition of the Gothic Mystery.
For the third in my series Maggie returns to her day job at a college in New Jersey, so the sub-genre of that book was obvious … (I realized by then I was on a roll.) Shadows on the Ivy is my Academic Mystery, with most of the action (and victim, suspects and murderer) on campus.
Maggie is asked to manage an antiques show in the fourth in the series (Shadows on the Spring Show,) and the show takes place on campus during an academic break, so I was able to bring together many of the still-living characters from the earlier books – students to help out, antique dealers to exhibit, etc. But … a theme? Someone is threatening to sabotage the antiques show! Anonymous notes; calls; shots in the dark … Shadows on the Spring Show is my “terrorist light” … post 911 … mystery. What do you do when someone threatens to do something to harm people and property? Do you give in? Do you go ahead?
In the fifth in the series, Shadows on a Down East Summer, I looked to one of my personal favorite mystery patterns: the past event that changed a family, perhaps generations ago, and has come to haunt one or more people today, resulting in a conflict and murder now. In Shadows on a Down East Summer the event in the past was something that happened to two young women the summer they posed for Winslow Homer on the coast of Maine, which fit with the consistent “art” theme of my series, and was fun to research and write.
And in the sixth in my series, which was just published, Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding? Well — not too many questions there! How many mysteries have you read that involve weddings? Perfect times to bring combinations of people together under stressful circumstances. Just to add to the diversions, I added a murder before everyone gathered – and a hurricane to keep everyone hopping. (sub-topic: natural disasters!)
The next in the series won’t be out for about 18 months, but it will be set at the holiday season, back in Maine. Hmmm … do I sense a Christmas mystery coming on????