Setting as Character: Location, Location


By Edith
North of Boston

They say that a setting can be a character in a book. I tried for that in Speaking of Murder (Barking Rain Press, September 2012, under pseudonym Tace Baker).
Ipswich, Massachusetts, is a real town in a real state. I lived in it when I wrote the book. And it is a Historic costumecharacter with character. It recently celebrated the 375th anniversary of its founding. I even hand-sewed a linen outfit to match the year of our house, 1718, and walked in the parade.
Not all the quirky parts of town are historical, but a lot of them are. In my book, you’ll find faintly disguised references to the Choate Bridge, and the Choate Bridge Pub. Why disguised? I needed the freedom to change a street or a name to serve the story. But if you know the town, whose name I changed to Ashford, you’ll recognize the landmarks.
The Choate Bridge, adjacent to the busy downtown intersection and for more than a hundred years

Choate Bridge
Picture of the Choate Bridge by Elizabeth B. Thomsen.

one of the only ways to travel south, is the oldest stone arch bridge in North America (picture by Elizabeth Thomsen). Colonel John Choate funded part of the construction and supervised the building of the bridge. According to Ipswich Historical Society publications, when the bridge was opened in 1764, Choate was on horseback ready to flee north to New Hampshire if the radical new method of construction failed.The Choate Bridge pub is on the corner next to the bridge. It features locally brewed ales, friendly waitstaff, lots of locals, and really excellent fried clams, also harvested locally. And is also the site of a pivotal scene in my book.My protagonist, Lauren Rousseau, walks and runs on Toil-in-Vain Road – the real one is called Labor-in-Vain Road. She finds someone near death from a drug overdose just over the Toil-in-Vain Creek Bridge. According to legend, probably true, when the Ipswich River silted up, locals would try to row up the river, but at about the point when they encountered the creek, they realized they were “laboring in vain.”
Boat shop fire
Lauren walks in the historic cemetery. Her friend lives in a house built in the 1700s. She watches an antique boat shop burn down (this really happened as I was writing the book – photo by Matthew Steele.)The next book in the series, Bluffing is Murder, features a fictionalized Crane Beach and the Crane mansion, a Castle Hillstately residence that sits atop a hill overlooking the beach (photo by T. Kates). It involves a real-life conflict between the Feoffees of Little Neck (changed to the Trustees of the Bluffs) and the local School Committee. Stay tuned!What is your favorite locale-as-character? What quirky small town or city village would you like to read about in a mystery?

3 Thoughts

  1. You picked the town I would have picked for a mystery. I have/had the privilege with my employment to knock on every door of particular towns. Newburyport, Ipswich, Boxford, Beverly, Hamllton, Danvers, the list goes on…..You get to know a town in an intimate way, people answer their doors and there you are. Amazing things happen, you get to see people as they are, in that moment, fascinating. And by working by foot, you really get a rich view of the community, often missed by the hurried drive by. There are some other towns that have a lot of depth too. Boxford, where I live. Not because I live here, but when I knocked on doors, I understood a lot more. We have this group with big homes and fat checks, that’s what a lot of people see. But did you know, there is a huge home school community? A New York Times writer, who rarely leaves his house. A house that was bought from Sears and arrived by train, a town family still lives there. Many working farms, some abandoned. Another favorite, Gloucester/Rockport in the winter. Wow, that coastal jewel has a million stories. The fisherman and their wives, the artists in rockport. The crazy, wonderful, and sometimes wild “get in touch with your spiritual self” groups, the dark side, people hanging onto the bottle or needle. Cape Ann is just so cool, the fishermen even have a CSA that many people are unaware of.

    1. Sandra, what wonderful observations about our North Shore towns.Thanks for sharing them. And it’s a CSF – Community Supported Fisheries. They deliver all over – we were members in Ipswich!

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