Good morrow, my fellow book lovers. I’ve got to admit to one of my reading quirks. I seem to read a lot of books set in the fall and winter during the heat of late spring and throughout the summer. Just reading about books set in a cooler clime seems to help me cool off. Yes, I know, this isn’t really a thing, but hey it works for me (okay, that and a lot of iced green tea or peppermint tisanes). Setting is an important feature for this reader, as well as for most authors. I’m honored to welcome Jodé Millman, author of the recently released The Empty Kayak, back to the blog. Ms. Millman will be sharing her thoughts on the “scene of the crime” or the importance of setting in mysteries. Ms. Millman, thank you for coming back to visit with us, I’ll now turn the blog over to you.
The Scene of the Crime–Making Setting
a Lead Character in Your Mystery
by Jodé Millman
Recently, I had the honor of being a panelist on this topic at the Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda, Maryland, and rubbed elbows with the incredible Hank Phillippi Ryan and Anne Cleeves. One common theme of our panel discussion rang true. Whether you’re writing cozy, historical, or traditional mysteries, or police procedurals or legal thrillers, setting establishes the structure for your novel. The 1940s Hollywood of David Baldacci, the contemporary Los Angeles streets of Michael Connelly, and the idyllic Canadian Three Pines of Louise Penny depict are perfect examples of setting not only creating the atmosphere of a novel but also becoming a unique character in the narrative.
As the writer of a mystery series, the “Queen City Crimes Series,” which is set in New York’s majestic Hudson Valley, I’ve learned to respect this region as more than just a place where I live and write. The craggy mountains, thundering waterfalls, mighty suspension bridges, and the ever-changing weather have become principal players in my novels. In my current novel, The Empty Kayak, the murky Hudson River takes center stage, the “x marks the spot” where the deadly, inciting incident occurs.
Consider your favorite mysteries by Agatha Christie or Anne Cleeves. Christie sends us sailing down the Nile in the pre-WWII 1930s or chugging along in the Orient Express. Cleeves draws us into the rocky coast of North Umberland or the town where the three rivers converge in rural Devon. Both mistresses of mystery engage setting as more than just the time of day or the physical location where their mysteries occur.
Through setting, we discover the social status of the suspects, victims, and cops, the weather at the time of the event, the historical period in which the characters live, the dialectic spoken, the characters’ names, as well as their immediate surroundings at the time of the crime. We also peek inside the inner life of Hercule Poirot and Vera Stanhope; what they like to eat and drink, the clothing they wear, and their households. Even their idiosyncrasies are ruled by their stories’ environment. Vera drinks hard Scotch Whisky, where she wears a well-worn Macintosh, muddy boots, and drives her father’s ancient Range Rover; Poirot fashions himself as a Belgian man of class and sophistication.
Setting can also serve as a respite, a beat, in the middle of your narrative. If writers need the readers to take a breather from the action or to consider a bombshell of a clue, setting can provide the reprieve. It’s amazing how your character’s opening a window for a breath of fresh air and their gazing outside can clear the head and prepare everyone for the next round of action.
As for the Hudson Valley, I incorporate landmarks like parks, historic monuments, and buildings to give readers the rich context in which my characters operate. My readers have remarked on how they enjoy recognizing their favorite markets and coffee shops in my novels. But beneath the valley’s panoramic beauty lurks a dark underbelly.
In my most recent thriller, The Empty Kayak, Detective Ebony Jones reunites with her estranged best friend, Jessie Martin, when a fatal kayaking accident occurs on the Hudson River. Imagine the Hudson River as a crime scene—all 300 miles of it from the Adirondack Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. This expansive area dispatches my protagonists throughout the Hudson Valley searching for clues, potential suspects, and an explanation of the heartbreaking tragedy. The plot is so steeped in the history and geography of the Hudson Valley that this mystery could only have occurred there. This setting is inseparable from the plot or the characters.
As you consider the setting of your novel, remember that your location establishes more than mood and atmosphere. Setting is a living, breathing character, which impacts your characters and plot like any other element of your story. Let your locale take the lead and enjoy the fantastic journey.
The Empty Kayak
by Jodé Millman
June 5-30, 2023 Virtual Book Tour
For Detective Ebony Jones, crime is always personal. But this time, it strikes too close to home.
A pop-up thunderstorm marched its way across the Hudson River, ambushing a young couple’s kayaking trip. The woman miraculously made it back to shore, but her fiancé remains missing. Ebony and her partner are the first responders who rush to the river to assist in rescuing the capsized boater.
The victim’s identity shocks Ebony to the core. Kyle Emory, the ex-boyfriend of her estranged best friend, attorney Jessie Martin, is the man who never made it out of the water. The accident ignites a firestorm between the two friends, pitting them against each other in a race to discover whether Kyle survived or whether he met his untimely demise. Under pressure from the chief and the DA, Ebony needs to solve the mystery, while Jessie seeks justice for the sake of the daughter she shares with Kyle.
The investigation leads them through the dark worlds of social media, online sports betting, and extreme sports. Along the way, they uncover lies and betrayals, and gather a list of dangerous suspects who are all linked to the accident survivor, Kyle’s mysterious fiancée. Even more, the discovery that Kyle possessed his own life-shattering secrets has trapped Ebony between her career and her lifelong friendship with Jessie. Yet neither Ebony nor Jessie will stop until they unearth the truth. Even if it destroys their friendship and their lives.
But the evidence is as murky as the secretive Hudson River. Only the river knows whether Kyle’s untimely death was an accident, a suicide, or murder.
Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: May 30, 2023
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN13: 9781685122874 (Paperback)
ISBN10: 1685122876 (Paperback)
ISBN: 9781685122881 (eBook)
ASIN: B0C1PT8484 (Kindle edition)
Series: Queen City Crimes Series, Book 3
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Bookshop.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble | B&N eBook | Kobo eBook || Goodreads
Praise for The Empty Kayak:
“Three strong women follow their own inexorable paths to justice in The Empty Kayak, and it’s a pleasure to cheer them on. The Empty Kayak is not only a compelling and believable mystery, but a sharply drawn portrait of women’s friendships”
Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of House on Fire
“Twisty personal relationships build to a satisfying, stunner finale in The Empty Kayak.”
~ Lisa Black, NYT/ bestselling author of the Locard Institute series
Jodé Millman is the acclaimed author of Hooker Avenue and The Midnight Call, which won the Independent Press, American Fiction, and Independent Publisher Bronze IPPY Awards for Legal Thriller. She’s an attorney, a reviewer for Booktrib.com, the host/producer of The Backstage with the Bardavon podcast, and the creator of The Writer’s Law. Jodé lives with her family in the Hudson Valley, where she is at work on the next installment of her “Queen City Crimes” series —novels inspired by true crimes in the region she calls home.
Catch Up With Jodé Millman:
BookBub – @JodeMillmanAuthor
Instagram – @jodewrites
Twitter – @worldseats
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