Choosing the Season by Karen Shughart

Murder in the Museum, my first Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery, is set in winter. For some reason wind howling through the cracks in the walls at a museum dating back to the 1800s, and the discovery of a body on a narrow beach at the base of a bluff amidst decayed wildflowers and dead seagrasses, seemed to fit.

It also seemed appropriate for the trees to look skeletal, bereft of leaves, symbolic of the victim’s bereaved loved ones.  And winter made sense as a backdrop for the repartee of criminal consultant, Ed and his wife, Annie, as they walked through swirling snow to meet friends for dinner at a nearby pub, or spent their evenings in front of a roaring fire, drinking wine and discussing the case while the world outside shrieked and moaned.

For me, winter is one of the best fits for murder mysteries: the blizzards, the damp, the howling of the wind; and in a maritime-themed mystery, the promise of high seas and shipwrecks. Then there are the characters who hide away to escape not only the chilled weather, but also the chilling circumstances affecting them.

Photo by Karen Shughart

That said, I’m practical enough to realize that some mysteries really do need to be set during other seasons of year. How boring it would be if all of them occurred during dark and stormy nights, excuse the cliché. So, I chose spring and summer for the second book in the series, Murder in the Cemetery. I not only wanted to progress in time from the first to the second mystery, but also the beautiful balmy weather, lush landscape and easy way of life experienced in a coastal village during warm months were a perfect juxtaposition to the coldly-executed murder that occurred at an historic cemetery. The light filtering through the trees and landing at a spot near the victim, a fox and her kits scurrying through the bushes, and the theme of flowers and gardening, which takes center stage for much of the book, all have significance to the plot.

I’ve started writing book three, Murder at Freedom Hill.  Winter was not the appropriate season for this book, either, because of the way the story develops, nor would summer have made sense. The victim needed to die in the fall, but in late fall, when the brittle, brown oak leaves flutter on the trees, maple leaves swirl about on roads and in parks, families are out and about in preparation for the upcoming holidays,  and during the time of year when hunters roam the woods and fields searching for prey.

Choosing a season in which to set a book is not arbitrary, it sets the tone for what lies ahead. So many of the details of a murder mystery really are dependent on the outside temperature, the color of the sky, the bleakness or abundance of growing things and the resultant mood of each of the characters.