Sherlock Holmes has become so popular you can find him almost anywhere—even in outer space. But most of us can’t imagine the Great Detective without thoughts of Victorian London, or Miss Marple without St. Mary Mead, or Nero Wolfe without his Manhattan brownstone.
How much thought do you give to your mystery's setting? Is it mere backdrop or an integral part of your story?
I think we all agree that when a story's setting is more than just a physical locale, the story’s plot is greatly enhanced. And when the setting is powerful enough to become a principal character, the story is impossible to forget. Take for example Stephen King's bestseller, The Shining. Had King set this story in tropical Tahiti, would it have had the same impact? King undoubtedly could have put a spin on the plot and produced another memorable thriller, but for those of us who have not yet acquired King’s Midas Touch, it wouldn’t have worked.
Each time I've read The Shining I felt the frigid winter of the Colorado Rockies, the evil spirits haunting the Overlook Hotel, and the desperation of Wendy Torrance to flee the shackles of her prison in the blizzard.
My selection of settings for the Sydney Lockhart series is fairly easy. Each mystery occurs in an historic hotel. I look for relatively famous ones that are still in operation. I stay a few nights, study the history, and eventually concoct the plot. Using the uniqueness of each hotel enhances the atmosphere of each story, but making the place come alive has its struggles.
When story and setting work together, you’re on to something big. As much as I love the place, The Great Gatsby wouldn’t have worked in Waco.