Sealed Off Research

by Barb Ross, who arrived in Key West yesterday

I’m excited to be back in my first guest spot on the Maine Crime Writers celebrating the release tomorrow of Sealed Off, the eighth book in the Maine Clambake Mystery series. Here’s the cover.

The titles of cozy mysteries are often punny. In this case, “sealed off” refers to a sealed room discovered during demolition at the Snowden family’s abandoned mansion on Morrow Island.

But I also was determined to have a seal in the story. I love watching these playful creatures in Boothbay Harbor or the Damariscotta River.

I enlisted granddaughter, Viola, then age five, to help me with the seal research. Together we read (many, many times) Andre, The Famous Harbor Seal, (by Fran Hodgkins, illustrated by Yetti Frankel, DownEast Books, 2003) and our favorite, Cecily’s Summer, (by Nan Lincoln, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne, Bunker Hill, 2005) I also read the books for grown-ups, The Summer of Cecily, (By Nan Lincoln, Bunker Hill, 2004) and A Seal Called Andre, (by Harry Goodridge and Lew Dietz, Dea 2014). The days are long past when a civilian could have a harbor seal as a pet as Harry Goodridge did, or even foster an orphan pup as Nan Lincoln did, and for good reasons. Nonetheless their books provide wonderful, intimate portraits of these smart sea mammals. Viola and I loved them!

We also read Do Seals Ever…? (by Fran Hodgkins, illustrated by Marjorie Leggitt, DownEast Books, 2017), a fun book that combined interesting facts about seals, sea lions, and walruses with facts about sirens–manatees and dugongs. God knows why, because the two classes of mammals have almost nothing in common except being large and floaty. Viola quickly memorized the book and would call me on it whenever I missed a little factoid, even if it was part of an illustration or in the book’s margins. We also learned about the Stellar Sea Cow, an extinct species of siren that lived in the Bering Sea.

Viola has long been fascinated by the concept of extinction. When she was very small she would list all the theories about the extinction of the dinosaurs in order to keep from falling asleep. I remember vividly Bill and I driving away from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and hearing a little voice from the back seat reciting, “Asteroid, volcano, disease…” until she passed out in her car seat.

The extinction of the Stellar Cow was therefore most interesting to Viola and she had a lot of questions. Her mom, bolstered by Wikipedia, did her best to answer them, which led, a few hours later to Viola, naked and soaking wet, enthusiastically describing to her aunt the differences between First Nations and European hunting practices, while down the hall  water ran and her dad yelled, “Viola! Where the heck are you? Get back in the shower!”

Which is a long way of saying, I hope you enjoy the book as much as Viola and I enjoyed the research.

About the book

Early October is “winding down” time in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, but there’s nothing relaxing about it for Julia Snowden. Between busloads of weekend leaf peepers at the Snowden Family Clambake and a gut renovation of the old mansion on Morrow Island, she’s keeping it all together with a potentially volatile skeleton crew—until one of them turns up dead under the firewood.

When the Russian demo team clearing out the mansion discovers a room that’s been sealed off for decades, Julia’s baffled as to its purpose and what secrets it might have held. Tensions are already simmering with the crew, but when one of the workers is found murdered, things come to a boil. With the discovery of another body—and a mysterious diary with Cyrillic text in the hidden room—the pressure’s on Julia to dig up a real killer fast. But she’ll have to sort through a pile of suspects, including ex-spouses, a spurned lover, and a recently released prisoner, to fish out one clammed-up killer.

Buy links

Sealed Off is available in mass market paperback, ebook and audiobook editions. Large print format is coming soon.


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About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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5 Responses to Sealed Off Research

  1. I love your stories about Viola! And I started reading Sealed Off yesterday. Another great one, Barb.

  2. So glad to know the wonderful Viola was your research assistant on this book, Barb! We have pre-ordered because we can never wait for a new Maine Clambake mystery. Happy launch and happy new year!

  3. Karen Perry says:

    My mom, aunt and I love your books! We are all graduates of Wyoming Seminary as I just learned you are as well. I have a mystery book being published in June 2020. I wanted to contact you and ask you something, but am not sure how to reach you. My email is Could you please reach out to me? – Karen

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