Lowell, Massachusetts is full of grit and pride. Once a thriving mill city, it fell on hard times and bounced back again. It has a network of canals that used to float barges that took cotton to the mills and left with bolts of cloth. In the early 1900s perhaps a dozen ethnic groups toiled there, each living in its own neighborhood. Asians came along starting in the 1980s, adding flavor to the stew. Wang Laboratories was a big presence in the city once, and it played a role in attracting Asians to the area.
|A Cambodian strip mall in Lowell|
Many of the neighborhoods are old, and if they aren’t necessarily run down, the shine is off the paint. There are plenty of multifamily dwellings including three-and four-deckers, with small shops on the corner selling cigarettes and lottery tickets. Over a couple of years, a storefront might go from being the Happiness Restaurant to Uncle Fred’s Used Appliances to Casa de Dios with a large purple cross painted over the door. The neighborhood called The Acre is one of the city’s toughest, and it’s been a haunt for my characters in both Getting Lucky and Little Mountain.
My research included a police ride-along, a citizen police program, a visit to the county morgue, even a day helping a group of volunteers clean out the canals. Lots of strange things get thrown into the canals, including everything from trash to stolen goods to dead bodies. On downtown Merrimack Street, I ate lunch at a Cambodian restaurant where the waiter took my order and went back to cook it. He was the owner and the only employee.
Not all of the interesting detail I observed has made it into my fiction, nor will it. Lowell is a nicer city than my brief description suggests, but it is a fine venue for fictional miscreants.
How important is the setting for other mystery writers? I’m sure this varies from one tale to the next. Do you find it important to get the details right, or is the plot all that really matters?
I hope you’ll visit all the great blogs on my tour. Please post a comment for a chance to win an ebook or signed paperback copy of one of my novels. And thanks for visiting!