The first of my Endurance mysteries comes out in November of this year. It’s called Three May Keep a Secret, and it is set in the tiny town of Endurance, Illinois. The novel begins in June, ends in July, and has a postscript in October. Two seasons in the Midwest, summer and fall, are utilized in this first novel. The second novel, which I’m currently writing, is totally different. It is set in Endurance, but now it is January and the Midwest inhabitants are shivering under snow, sleet, and windy conditions. These seasons definitely affect my characters, as well as the tone and events of the plots.
When Three May Keep a Secret opens, schools have just let out, the town is celebrating the beginning of summer with sales at businesses, and overflowing flowerpots dot the downtown streets. A sigh of relief can be heard because the gray skies of winter are gone, the sun is shining, and it is seventy degrees. The ugly humidity has not yet begun. The main character, Grace Kimball, meets her friends for lunch at the first café of the summer on the downtown Public Square. Everyone is happy, the town is planning its 175th centennial celebration, and the tone is very light-hearted.
But as the summer changes into July, the heat picks up, the humidity is stifling, and tempers flare. Now the skies are still blue, but being outside isn’t as pleasant as it was in June. A symptom of the weather is an incident of senior citizen road rage. Mayor Blandford’s wife is arrested for starting a fight with a woman who was texting on her phone while driving, and her distraction caused an accident with Polly Blandford’s car. The plot heats up as well and heads for a devastating finale.
In the autumn, when the trees are their most beautiful colors of gold, orange, yellow, and red, the town gathers to fix a significant wrong. The world is put back together, and the season reflects the moral compass that is now righted.
My second novel, tentatively titled Marry in Haste, takes place in an entirely different season: winter in the Midwest. We Midwesterners are either hardy or insane to live in a place like this during the winter months, especially after the past winter. This is a closed-in season, a time when people are alone a great deal, and they may imagine all kinds of things. Every scene where a character has to venture out in the weather involves heavy coats, scarves, hats, boots, and mittens. While these kinds of descriptions aren’t necessary in the summertime, they become a part of the narrative very quickly when characters go from place to place. It is also important that the characters—especially Detective TJ Sweeney—encounter more difficulty even getting to some places. The police department, as well as Sweeney, must be out on the roads when an accident…or a murder occurs.
Peoples’ nerves once again become raw, just like in the extreme humidity of July. But now it’s more difficult to get to places, appointments are cancelled, public events are called off, and roads become treacherous. Sometimes the electricity goes out, further evincing that sense of isolation. The skies are usually gray and people (and characters) suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
While this season is gorgeous and romantic when the snow first falls, it eventually becomes more treacherous. Into this scary season comes a terrible murder, a crime so horrifying that no one in the little town of Endurance can believe it. In fact, the murder divides the town into pockets of opinion and judgment. It is quite possible the murder was cheered on by the gloomy, claustrophobic season, a time when anything can happen. And while no one truly knows what goes on in a marriage which exists behind closed doors, it isn’t hard to believe that the Midwest winter has some blame in the matter. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.”