by Barb, noticing a little nip in the air as we approach Labor Day
I’m quite excited about the release this week of Haunted House Murder, which includes my latest Maine Clambake novella, “Hallowed Out.” The book also contains novellas by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis. All the stories take place in Maine during the Halloween season.
I’m always grateful when these requests to write a holiday novella come around. I love writing in the novella length (roughly a third to half the length of a typical cozy mystery) and I like being given a theme to see what I can do with it. It’s a fun challenge.
In this case, the theme given us was the title of the collection, Haunted House Murder, and that was it. My story has always come third in these anthologies, so I figure the obvious choices will have been covered by the time readers get to it. So just like I didn’t poison anyone with eggnog in Eggnog Murder, I didn’t focus on a creepy haunted house in Haunted House Murder. I doubted that would be a new setup by the time readers turned the page to begin my tale.
Instead, I wrote about a Haunted House Trolley Tour, a special offering for Halloween week in Busman’s Harbor. The end of October is often pretty yucky in Maine. The beautiful foliage is gone, as is the likelihood of warm weather. We are headed into November, which some people argue is the yuckiest month of the year. So in my story the Haunted House Trolley Tour is a part of a push to bring in tourists after the season has officially ended.
I do offer up a ghost story–three in fact. One is a story that is told originally in Stowed Away about a mysterious woman who drowns herself at Herrickson Point in the off-season. My fictional ghost story is based on a well-known local legend in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. In the real story, just as in my story, the woman’s true identity is never established. She has carefully removed the labels from her expensive clothes. For research, I relied on the book Ghosts of the Boothbay Region, by Greg Latimer, a part of the Haunted America series. If you’re interested I highly recommend the book.
The second ghost story in “Hallowed Out,” I heard from one of of my husband’s cousins. My husband’s Aunt Connie was staying with them, and she was quite superstitious. Events in the household convinced there was a ghost in residence. It seemed unlikely. It was a newly built house. Where would a ghost have come from? But it did turn out there was an explanation for the strange goings-on.
The third ghost story forms the core of the novella, the central mystery. I had established in Fogged Inn the former warehouse where Gus runs his restaurant and where my protagonist Julia Snowden lives was used as a drop for booze smuggled from Canada during Prohibition. But I didn’t know that the handsome, Robin Hood-esque (at least in his own mind) rumrunner Ned Calhoun had been murdered there while his fiancee Sweet Sue watched in horror. It is during a reenactment of this story for the enjoyment of the customers of the Haunted House Trolley Tour that a real murder takes place.
I loved doing the research about smuggling alcohol in the 1920s. I knew liquor came over the border and into Maine, but I didn’t know Canadian distilleries and distributors anchored massive boats just inside international waters. There were so many lights out there in a row from all the big boats, the area was called, “the rumline.” The small boats that carried the booze back to Maine were faster than anything the US Coast Guard could give chase with at the time. The boats, and eventually the captains, were called “rumrunners.”
I hope you enjoy “Hallowed Out,” with its three ghosts stories and in-the-present murder mystery.
Readers: Do you have a ghost story? Tell us your story or just say “hi” in the comments for a chance to win one of three copies of Haunted House Murder.
Update: Winners have been chosen and notified.