Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, asking what makes a book a Maine mystery? Well, obviously, the setting. But what most people think of first when my home state is mentioned—lighthouses, sailing ships, clambakes, lobsters, the rocky coastline, or perhaps a quaint Down East accent—isn’t the Maine I live in or write about.
The term “the other Maine” covers a lot of territory, from food and craft beer destination cities like Portland to ski areas to potato fields and blueberry barrens. Hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking are popular pastimes away from the coast. The entire state has seasonal trademarks: snow, black flies, and brilliant fall foliage. In twelve books, I’ve set all or part of the plot at a Christmas tree farm, a ski resort, and an old-style “grand hotel.” I’ve put Liss MacCrimmon Ruskin in charge of “the twelve shopping days of Christmas” and community celebrations for Halloween. I’ve sent her to auctions. You’d think I’d run out of local color, but there was plenty left when it came time to write A View to a Kilt, the thirteenth entry in the series, in stores on January 28.
Along with the murder mystery plot, family dynamics, and a subplot to do with the environment (a international conglomerate wants to buy the rights to Moosetookalook’s ground water), the story involves Moosetookalook, Maine’s March Madness Mud Season Sale. Most small towns in rural Maine have annual festivals of some sort, although most take place around holidays or during the summer or fall. Moosetookalook, naturally, has to be just a little bit different. To draw tourists (aka paying customers) to town, they celebrate the end of March with a number of events that take advantage of the end result of melting snow—mud. I based one of these events, the woman-carrying race, on a real competition that takes place in Maine every year, although not in March. Here’s a link to a story about last year’s North American. wife-carrying championship, held at Sunday River ski resort:
What other local color did I include? When I asked myself what entertainment is available at the most miserable time of the year, the answer was obvious—town meetings. Every town has one, and many of them are held in March. At a typical rural town meeting, everything from paving roads to whether or not to fund the public library and the police department comes up for debate.
I have to admit, I didn’t go out of my way to attend a lot of town meetings for research. One is really enough! But thanks to our local online newspaper, the Daily Bulldog, I could read detailed accounts of all the meetings in our rural county. The meetings in Wilton, Phillips, and Strong were particularly interesting, and I borrowed bits and pieces from all of them to create Moosetookalook’s town warrant. Every item is open for debate, and things can get contentious. How many non-functioning vehicles on a property, for example, constitute an illegal junkyard? How do the citizens of the town want to define an “adult business establishment” and should there be consumption of liquor on site? How much would the town save by paving a certain road? And in the case of Moosetookalook, should the board of selectmen be authorized to move forward in negotiations with the international conglomerate that appears to want to shower money on the community in exchange for drilling rights to local groundwater? To some, Liss included, it sounds too good to be true.
What about you, dear readers? Have you ever attended a town meeting? Or, come to that, a wife-carrying race?
It’s not too early to preorder a copy by following the links to booksellers below or asking your local independent bookseller or library to order it for you.
With the January 2020 publication of A View to a Kilt, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-one books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes but there is a new, standalone historical mystery in the pipeline. She maintains three websites, at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and another, comprised of over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century English women, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.