Guest Leslie Wheeler – Location, Location, Location plus #giveaway!

News Flash: Leslie’s winner is Kait Carson! Congratulations, Kait, and please check your email.

Edith/Maddie here, enjoying the start of summer north of Boston.

I’ve known Leslie Wheeler through the New England crime fiction community for many years. She’s a tireless contributor to the New England Crime Bake, to the Al Blanchard short story conference, and to the Sisters in Crime New England chapter. Now she has a new book out in the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, one of my favorite series, and one lucky commenter will win an ARC of Wolf Bog!

Here’s the blurb:

In the drought-ridden Berkshires a group of hikers that includes Kathryn Stinson discover the perfectly preserved body of a local teenager, missing for forty years, at Wolf Bog. Who was he and what happened between him and Kathryn’s close friend, Charlotte Hinckley, to make her distraught and blame herself for his death? Searching for answers, Kathryn learns of the fabulous parties held at a mansion up the hill from her, where local teenagers like the deceased mingled with the offspring of the wealthy. Other questions dog the arrival of a woman claiming to be the daughter Charlotte gave up for adoption. But is she really Charlotte’s daughter, and if not, what’s her game? Once again, Kathryn’s quest for the truth puts her in grave danger.

Location Scouting My Mysteries

One of the things I especially enjoy about writing my mysteries is searching for the right places for the action to take place in the same way a location scout does for a movie. For the three books in my Miranda Lewis Living History series, I spent many hours at the various sites where the stories unfold: Plimoth Plantation, a Gettysburg reenactment, and Mystic Seaport (for Murder at Spouters Point). Since my new series is set in the Berkshires, where I have a house, I figured I wouldn’t have to travel very far afield. This was true for the first two books, but not so much the new one, Wolf Bog.

As the title indicates, important action occurs at a bog. There is no bog in my town of New Marlborough, upon which my fictional town of New Nottingham is based. However, there is a Wolf Swamp that’s part of a large area of wetlands and woods known as Thousand Acre Swamp. The idea for the book actually came to me on a hike there with members of the town land trust. As we stood on the shores of East India Pond, looking across the water to the far side where the swamp is, a male voice behind me said, “People have gone in there and never been seen again.”

His words piqued my interest. I knew then I’d probably write about someone who disappears into a swamp, with the difference that my swamp would be a bog, so the victim’s body would be perfectly preserved after many years. In doing so, I thought I could afford to take a little literary license. Still, I felt I needed to visit a real-life bog. An online search led me to the Hawley Bog, just across the border from the Berkshires in Franklin County.

Filled with the spirit of adventure, I set out for Hawley Bog from my home in Southern Berkshire County on a crisp fall day. I drove north to Pittsfield, continuing on until the city and its environs gave way to sleepy small towns and villages, where I sensed little had changed over time. They were replaced by meadows and woodland, with the occasional house plopped down seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The trip from my house to the bog was supposed to take an hour and a half, but the journey through unfamiliar, underpopulated countryside seemed to last longer. Finally, I got on narrow, winding East Hawley Road, which brought me to my destination.

From the parking area, a trail through the woods took me to the entrance of the bog. Before me lay a vast expanse of floating plant matter, mainly sphagnum moss, interspersed with areas of black water, and with a boardwalk stretching into it. My research told me that this was a “quaking bog” because the 30-foot-deep mattress of plant life actually moves! With some trepidation, I stepped onto the boardwalk with my camera and trusty hiking pole. Fortunately, I felt no earthquake-strength tremors that day. Perhaps the bog mat was napping.   

Along the way, I noticed some of the carnivorous plants that populate bogs. These plants rely on insects for nourishment, which the highly acidic bog soil, or peat, doesn’t provide. They include the dark purple pitcher plant that lures its insect prey with its brilliant color only to trap and devour it. Bogs are, however, home to more benign plants like orchids and cranberries that can tolerate the acidic soil. And this same acidic soil, composed of layer upon layer of decayed plant matter, has the effect of embalming the bodies that land in it.

As I returned to my car, I said a silent thanks to the Nature Conservancy, which maintains the Hawley Bog, for providing me and many others with a safe means of experiencing this type of wetlands. You’d think I would have stopped there, but not long afterward I felt a strong urge to visit Wolf Swamp itself. No easy feat because the swamp can’t be seen from any of the several trails that crisscross Thousand Acre Swamp. Also, I knew from previous experience that it’s very easy to get lost there. I enlisted the help of a local historian and land trust member to serve as my guide. We followed a trail that got us close to the swamp, but with no view. We then left the trail to bushwhack our way to a place where we could see it, stepping from one fallen tree trunk or boulder to another. Although we never made it to a decent viewpoint, I did have the experience of having my hiking pole sink deep into the soggy ground. That was enough for me. No way was I going to risk being sucked into the quicksand! My guide and I returned to the trail.

Readers: Have you visited a place that you think would make a good setting for a mystery? One of the commentators will receive an ARC of Wolf Bog.

An award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written two mystery series. Her Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries launched with Rattlesnake Hill and continue with Shuntoll Road and Wolf Bog. Her Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries debuted with Murder at Plimoth Plantation and continue with Murder at Gettysburg and Murder at Spouters Point. Her mystery short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Leslie is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and a founding member of the New England Crime Bake Committee. She divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond. Find her at her website.

59 Thoughts

  1. Thanks for sharing your inspiration, Leslie. Within our century-old building, we found what looked like a boarded up stairwell to an abandoned cellar. That got my synapses firing and conjured up a setting where all the old buildings on the small-town Main Street set in central Texas were interconnected with secret tunnels. Too many possibilities to list here, but fun journey between my left and right ears.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Grant! I love the idea of a boarded up door to an abandoned cellar, and making all the old buildings have this. Cellar and attics are definitely creepy places!

  2. Lived in a converted hotel. Apartments basement was a never ending series of mazes. Got everyone guess as to why so many false walls were down there. Erie feeling.

    1. “Anxious,” thanks for your comment! Sounds like it was fun but creepy to live an a converted hotel with all those basements. Bet there’s a story as to how you came to live in such a place. Maybe you’ll use it in a short story or novel?

    2. Sounds eerie, indeed, “Anxious”! Curious how you came to live in a converted hotel. Could be a story there that you could use in a mystery short or novel. Thanks for sharing!

  3. We stayed at a campground near St. Petersburg, FL a few years ago before the snowbirds started to come back. It was quiet and peaceful with a small body of water that you couldn’t swim in as we would sit near there in the mornings drinking our coffee and watch the sunrise until one morning we watched a small alligator not very far from us. If there were bigger ones it would be a way of disposing of the body. Just saying.

  4. Many people have gotten lost and died in the Maine woods and along the Appalachian Trail, that would be a good place for a hiker to discover a long-lost body for a good mystery!

    1. Yes, there have been cases of people being murdered along the Appalachian Trail, and in that scenario you could weave in a cast of quirky hikers, one of whom is a killer. Love it! Thanks, Kathy!

  5. I’d like to see a setting in Germany. I went on an exchange trip in high school and it would be really neat to read a mystery featuring some of the places I’ve been.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Alicia. How nice that you went on an exchange trip to Germany in high school, Alicia. Curious what part or parts of Germany you visited, and if there are any particular places where you’d like to see a mystery set.

      1. We started at one end of the country and circled around. Frankfurt, Rothenburg, Oberammergau, Weimar, Erfurt, Munich, Hannover, Berlin…I’m sure I’m missing a couple. My favorites were Quickborn and Hamburg.

  6. Where we live now would be an excellent place for a story. It’s a place we often vacationed to and moved to after retirement. We live in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. There are tons of caves here from the very well known to those on private property and even those still unexplored. There are magnificent views as well as many dangers in among the mountains and trees. Distances as the bird flies might not be that far, but to travel them could take days. There are waterfalls too. There are the cute woodland critters as well as many dangerous ones from bear to rattlesnakes. To me I could see the possibilities being endless.

    Thank you for the wonderful chance to win an ARC of “Wolf Bog”. Sounds like a fabulous book and one I know I would really enjoy reading and reviewing. I’ve added it to my TBR list.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Nice to hear from you again, Kay. The Ozark Mountains where you live now sounds like it’s filled with places where murder and mayhem could happen. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I’m still figuring out how to write a murder mystery where the body is found in the river/stream below Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

    1. Ohh, Liz, sure hope you can figure out how to use the river/stream below Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater for a body drop, because I’m a big fan of Wright, and I think using one of his structures in a mystery is a very cool idea.

      1. Thanks for your comment, Barb. Always great to hear from you!

    1. Hi, Sherry, great as always to hear from you, and thanks for your kind words re my new book. I had a lot of fun visiting both the Hawley Bog and Wolf Swamp, though the swamp visit had its dicey moments!

  8. Your new book sounds fascinating! Many years ago I went camping with a boyfriend in a remote area of the Adirondacks in NYS. It was off season & there was no one else anywhere near us. It would be a perfect place to hide a body for months!

  9. Thanks for your kind words re my new book, Judith. A remote area off season in the Adirondacks sounds like the perfect place to hide a body for a long time. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Your book sounds fantastic! Love a good mystery. I was also thinking about the Appalachian Trail. How easy that would be for a good mystery!

    Thanks for the chance!

    1. Thanks for your comment, “B”, with its kind words about my new book. So that’s another “yes” for the Appalachian Trail. Now the question is: with others pick it and make it the most popular locale?

  11. What a marvelous setting, and so brave to venture so near the swamp. As a Jersey girl by birth I can tell you the meadowlands were swamp in places and although we never did get sucked under by the “quicksand” There were times when getting out of the mess meant slogging through I’d rather not think about what to get to solid ground!

    One of my mysteries is set on Pigeon Key in the Florida Keys. Pigeon Key is a historic sight – it’s where Flagler’s men lived while building the railroad. I was fortunate enough to encounter the curator of the park who let me explore the areas under the boardwalk where odd things have been known to wash up on the tides.

    1. Hi, Kait, always good to hear from you. Pigeon Cove sounds like a cool place, and I love it that you got to explore the area underneath the board walk. Plus, as a Jersey girl, you seem to have had a lot of experience with wetlands in your own backyard! It’s the same for me in the Berkshires; heavy rains make a swamp out of parts of my property, which means that things like mowers, tractors, and even cars can get so stuck that they have to be towed out.

  12. My brother used to have a house that had a small room in his attic behind a built in bookcase

      1. Yes, I remember that hidden place behind a bookcase in an attic, Kat. That whole attic was pretty crazy in a fun way, though it could easily be scary, too!

  13. Congratulations! The minute I read the lead-in, I knew it must be by you! I met you at Crime Bake several years ago and this one sounds like your type of story. Personally, I am looking for things that became spooky after a crime that receives much attention. I am hoping to see something not too old or spooky but has such a bad history that people fear it as if it has a life of its own.
    Looking forward to reading your book!

    1. How nice that you remember me from Crime Bake, Doris, and knew I was the author of Wolf Bog. Love what you say about looking for a place that “has such a bad history that people fear it as if it had a life of its own.” That’s exactly what writers like me for whom setting is so important aspire to. Thanks for your comment!

  14. I love the setting for your novel. Your experiences of trekking through bog country in western MA was so evocative. It brings to mind my own experiences in the Scottish Highlands where I first encountered The Flows, the largest blanket bog in Europe. It is littered with thousands of ponds that sparkle in daylight and twinkle in the moonlight. The terrain shifts between mucky peat land, sink holes, and scrub grassland, where the earth is more less firm. In the middle of this dreamscape is an abandoned hunting lodge and cemetery that is inhabited by sheep and the occasional deer. There are many local legends about the bog spirits that haunt this place. You can’t go wrong in placing a mystery tale in this place!

    1. Wonderful description of The Flows, Alan! You were the one who first let me know about that place; one could even say, we bonded over bogs, and I hope your “Flows” story is published soon. Thanks for your comment.

  15. I love that your narrative was as enticing as the book excerpt. I believe Maui’s Road to Hana would make an intriguing locale for a mystery. It provides a unique and multifaceted beauty, numerous dangers, and a wealth of history.

  16. Hi, Debbie, thanks for writing! Glad that you enjoyed my narrative as much as the book excerpt. I will have to check out Maui’s Road to Hana online. Have only been to Hawaii once, and did not get to Maui. I loved every minute of the time I was there as a teenager, and cried when I left.

  17. I can’t think of any place I’ve visited and said “this would be a great place for a mystery.” But I’ve visited several places where mysteries have taken place and enjoyed getting to see them in real life.

  18. I live on Lake Erie abd think it would be a great location for a mystery. There is history from the lost Indian tribe and George Washington being near as Redcoat surveyor, +There was a UFO on Presque Isle. I could go on but this area ripe for writers.

    1. Lake Erie sounds like it has an interesting history, Candy, for a lost Indian Tribe to UFOs–always good for a mystery. There’s a lost town in the woods near Wolf Swamp, which added to its appeal for me. Thanks for sharing, Candy!

  19. The Great Wall in China is said to be the largest graveyard in the world, filled with bodies of laborers. Sooooo, maybe a construction site would be a nifty place to bury a body…just saying.

    1. Interesting fact about The Great Wall in China, Kat. Think you’ve been there, right? Anyway, a construction site would be a good place for a body. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Welcome back to the Wickeds, Leslie! I loved the first two books in this series and can’t wait to read Wolf Bog. I would love to set a murder mystery on Monhegan Island.

    1. Happy to be back with the Wickeds, Barb! And thanks for your kind words about my first two mysteries. Have only been to Monhegan Island once, but absolutely loved it, and agree that it would be a good place for a murder mystery. A story set on the island won the Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction Award a while back, though as I later found out the author had never actually been there, but watched videos of the island!

  21. I think a bayou.would be an interesting storyline for a mystery. The Bayou is beautiful and creepy at the same time. What lurks in the bayou?

    1. Yes, bayous are both creepy and beautiful, as well as places where it’s easy to get lost–perfect for a mystery. Thanks for sharing, Diane!

  22. Fascinating. There are a lot of eerie abandoned hospitals, old “insane asylums”, and amusement parks that are off limits, but can be gotten into. Kids do it all the time on a dare. Finding a body and figuring out it got there could be an interesting premise for a mystery. Not sure just how “cozy” it would be. 🙄

  23. All good suggestions, Ginny! Especially the old insane asylums, where I think at least a couple of mysteries have been set. Like amusement parks, too, because they can be scary at night, even when there are people around.

  24. I share your fascination with setting–it forms the bones of a book. Love The Wickeds blog site!

  25. Thanks, Anonymous, good to know you share my fascination with setting. For me, it’s where a book begins, not with character or plot, but where it all happens. And yes, the Wickeds is a wonderful blog site. Thanks to all of you, Wickeds and your many followers for hosting me on your site. As always, it’s been a fun and informative experience.
    Thanks again!

  26. When I was a child, my great aunts home sat next to my grandparents property. The house had been in such disarray that it was sinking into the ground. Since I was the youngest cousin, my older cousins used to tell me that it was haunted. Anytime we would go to the far end of the property, they would tell me not to get too close or the ghost would come and get me. My Dad finally took me over the the property. It was just an abandoned building that needed to be torn down. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Leslie,
    What a wonderful introduction to your newest mystery. I am so looking forward to reading it. You do a beautiful job of capturing a sense of place. I was so fascinated by your descriptions of the bog and swamp. I may have Yang take a trip with me to Wolf Swamp. We’ll leave the bog alone! The description of Wolf Bog’s newly discovered body and the past semi-hidden history of the town has decidedly gripped my imagination. I can’t wait to read this new novel!

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