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Someone at Professor Laura Murphy’s college appears to be playing a joke on her by planting sexually explicit stories in her research results…
but the joke turns deadly when one story details the recent stabbing murder of a coed. Eager to search out clues, Laura ignores warning signs that playing amateur sleuth may jeopardize her newly developing romance with Guy. And of course her usual intrusive manner puts her at odds with everyone on campus—colleagues, the college administration, the head of campus security and fraternity members. Is there no one Laura can’t offend in her eagerness to find the truth?
Setting Inspires my Work
Guest Post by Lesley Diehl
Failure Is Fatal is the second book in the Laura Murphy mystery series. In this book, Laura is, as we have come to know her: an impulsive, smart, chocolate-addicted advocate for taking down the bad guys especially those threatening the values she holds to be important—education, protection of the environment and justice for the victims of crimes. And she accomplishes all this while trying to hold together a long-distance love relationship. Of course, she has friends to help her as well as her sense of humor.
My novel length work and my short stories all have a strong sense of setting. I like to think of it as another character, one I can use in various ways. The setting can become the backdrop for the mystery. In the case of Failure Is Fatal the book is set in a small community in Upstate New York. The town houses a public university where my protagonist, Dr. Laura Murphy is a professor of psychology. The size of the community and the college allows me a limited area for the events in the story to unfold and affords me the opportunity to explore the geographical as well as the social setting where my characters live and work. And kill. I like my readers to be able to develop a mental map of the vicinity so that the reader moves around with as much familiarity as do the characters. I think this familiarity sets the stage for all of the changes made in the story, e.g., the murder, the search for clues, changes in relationships and the catastrophes I introduce into the setting. I want my reader to say, “Oh, yes. I know where she’s going. I’d do that too,” as the reader forms a sleuthing partnership with Laura.
Another way I like to use setting is to turn it on its ear, i.e., introduce some form of friction into the setting. For example, many of the scenes in the book take place in Laura’s house on a small lake outside of the college town. The conversations among Laura, her love interest, Guy, and the detective who enlists her aid in the case bristle with the tension of the killing but are set against the beauty of woods turning their autumn colors. As much as the setting might lull us into a feeling of normalcy, the threat of the coming winter and the tragedy of the murder work together to propel Laura forward in her search for the killer, forecasting the possibility of disaster yet to come.
As the promise of snow is realized, the story leads the reader into the blizzard of conflicting clues that toss Laura backward into events in her past that she must unravel and forward toward confrontation with the killer. Laura fights oncoming winter in terms of what it means for her long distance relationship with Guy as well as its impact on her ability to dig out clues to the murder in a community buried under ice and snow. The final resolution of the crime takes place during a deadly snowstorm. Laura could find her way through the snow to the killer or lose her way in the whiteout.
As I did with the first book in the series, Murder Is Academic, in Failure Is Fatal, I use the building tension of worsening weather as the culmination of a final meeting between Laura and the killer. Depending upon the season, Upstate New York can be subject to weather disasters such as floods, tornados, thunderstorms, blizzards and ice storms. The threat of bad weather can make for a great tension building device especially if it is used in parallel with the protagonist’s difficult path to finding the identity of a killer. A murder mystery is always better during a storm, especially if the writer pairs bad weather with a devious killer bent taking out the protagonist. Will the weather do her in? Will the killer? And if she defeats the killer, will the weather take her out? What fun for creating ultimate tension and anxiety, and, finally, as the reader expects in a good cozy mystery, a satisfying solution to the mystery.
About the Author
Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work.
She is the author of a number of mystery series (Microbrewing Series, Big Lake Mystery Series, Eve Appel Mystery Series and the Laura Murphy Mysteries), a standalone mystery (Angel Sleuth) and numerous short stories.
Visit her on her website: www.lesleyadiehl.com