Settings by Jean Henry Mead

Setting is always an important element of mystery writing. Marlys Millhiser chooses settings before her characters. She once said that she spotted an old Victorian house and thought it needed a ghost, so she wrote a novel about it. Phyllis Whitney also planned her novels around a setting. She wanted a place that gave her fresh and interesting material, although it may have been in her own backyard. For her first mystery novel, Red is for Murder, she went to Chicago’s loop to get behind-the-scenes background on the window decorating business. But, because the book only sold 3,000 copies, she returned to writing for children. Years later, the book was reprinted in a number of paperback editions as The Red Carnelian.
For my own first mystery novel, A Village Shattered, I decided to set my story of a serial killer’s revenge in a San Joaquin Valley retirement village where retirees were dropping dead in the Tule fog. I lived in the valley for more than a dozen years and thought it was a great place to hide a murderer, although an unlikely place for a retirement village. However, I’ve since discovered several.
Diary of Murder, the second novel in my Logan and Cafferty series, is set in Wyoming, where I now reside. The state’s severe winter weather and isolated areas make it fertile ground for mystery novels. Unfortunately, it’s becoming one of the methamphetamine capitals of the nation and that serves as the background for my book.
Murder on the Interstate begins along I-40 in northern Arizona, where my protagonists, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, discover the body of a young woman in her Mercedes convertible. The plot takes them to the Phoenix-Scottsdale area and the Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, where a chemical spill contaminates the Arizona Canal as far west as Sun City. I set the novel in Arizona because of the state’s problems with illegal emigrants, murders, home invasions, kidnappings and the ever present drug problem. Again, fertile ground for mystery/suspense novels.
I write about areas where I’ve lived or visited and later Google them to ensure accuracy although I may be familiar with the setting. I’m currently working on an historical mystery based on an actual event, which took place here in Wyoming in 1889. I’ve visited the area often and have taken copious pictures, but will return again before I write the conclusion. It’s a breathtaking setting not far from Independence Rock, where hundreds of thousands of travelers stopped to carve their names along the Oregon Trail. A great many of them died along the way, which lends the area an eerie feeling—at least for me. I hope I’ll be able to convey that feeling to my readers.
In some novels, settings hold an equal footing with characters and subject matter. What would Hemingway’s Old Man have done without the Sea? Or Sherlock Holmes without Baker Street? A mystery set in a New York tenement has an entirely different tone than one set in a Beverly Hills mansion. So, when plotting a novel, consider where best to place your protagonist in order to produce maximum mystery, emotion, conflict and suspense. 
Novelist Jean Henry Mead has written mystery/suspense novels for adults as well as children. She’s also an award-winning photojournalist with 15 books to her credit, both fiction and nonfiction. She served as a news reporter, editor and photographer as well as news, magazine and small press editor. Her articles have been published domestically as well as abroad.

Mysterious Writers:
Writers of the West:
Murderous Musings: Murderous Musings
Make Mine Mystery:
I'm also on Facebook and Twitter.

Jean's latest Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense novel, Murder on the Interstate, is available at: (print and Kindle) and
Barnes and Noble: (Nook)
She's giving away one of her mystery ebooks at the end of each of her 14 blog appearances as well as three print novels at the conclusion of the tour. Be sure to leave a comment and email address to be eligible for the drawings. Her blog tour schedule is listed at:


Jean Henry Mead said…
Marilyn, it's great to be here on the first day of our "Mystery We Write" holiday virtual tour. I'm also giving away 14 Kindle and Nook books, one at each blog stop during the tour.
M.M. Gornell said…
Setting is soooooo important! Great post, and great tour. Loving reading what everyone has to say!

Anne K. Albert said…
Great post, Jean and Marilyn. Super advice, incredible giveaways, amazing authors! Love it. :)
Alice Duncan said…
Great post, Jean! This is actually kind of fun :-)
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thank you, Madeline, Anne and Alice. I agree about the tour being fun and worthwhile reading. What a great to group we have!
Lubna said…
@Jean: LOCATION, location, location, yes it is also important in mystery books and not just the retail or hospitality industry. Thanks for giving location its due importance. A well chosen interesting location, sure adds to the flavour of any book.
@Marilyn, thanks for hosting this interview.
lukathewriter (at) gmail (dot) com
Marja McGraw said…
Great post, Jean. I really get it. I wanted to write a story about a ghost town, and I ended up basing the entire story on the location, even though it's a fictional ghost town.

And interestingly, we were on a trip to Durango, Colorado, and I was reading your book as we travelled. It seemed like every time I got to a part about a specific spot on the Interstate, that's right where we were. I felt like I was following your characters.
WS Gager said…
Great post Jean. I loved teh comparison to the tenament and Beverly Hills condo. So different but both could be where someone has family.
W.S. Gager on Writing
Jackie King said…
Great thoughts on writing settings, Jean. Loved this post.
Hi, Jean,

I agree that setting is a very important component of mystery writing.For my Kim Reynolds mystery series, I also chose locations I was very familiar with so that the novels would have authenticity of setting.
This is a great post, as you would expect from Jean. This is all a lot of fun.
Patricia Gligor said…
I agree with Jean that setting is an important element in mystery/suspense writing. I too write about places where I live or have visited.
The first two novels in my series take place in Cincinnati, my home town, and the third will be set in Charleston, SC, one of my favorite cities.
Jean's novels sound intriguing!
Earl Staggs said…
So true, Jean. A story has to take place somewhere and if the setting doesn't ring true, the story won't either. In some stories, the setting is an important as the characters and plot.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Sorry to be late responding to some of your wonderful comments. I had a signing party in Casper this afternoon and got caught in a statewide snowstorm coming home (an hours' drive).
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thanks for your comments, Lubna. I agree that location is very important in the overall "flavor" of the book. In a sense it's a character of its own.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thanks, Alice. It is fun, isn't it, especially hearing from readers and getting their opinions.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thank you,, Marja. I can imagine basing a plot on a ghost town. And thanks also for reading Murder ont eh Interstate while you were on a trip. I think that's very cool that the timing was so coordinated with your actual triip and my fictional one.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thanks, Jackie. A big hug from me as well.

Jacqueline. I agree that authentic settings are important to a reader. It's like an anchor for the plot.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thanks, Wendy. Hom settings say a lot of about a character's financial base, social level, education, ambition and other aspects of his or her life, without elaborating.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thanks for the kind words, Tim. It means a lot coming from you. And I agree that the tour is a lot of fun.
Jean Henry Mead said…
I couldn't agree with you more, Earl. Settings set the foudation for any story.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thank you, Patricia. It's always best to write about a location you're familiar with. It's like inserting cloves in a ham. Those extra bits of flavor really bring a story to life.
Sharon Ervin said…
Way to go, gang, especially during this busy time of year.

Sharon Ervin
Catch me on Kindle at:
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thanks for stopping by, Sharon. I hope you'll join us again on a future tour.
lil Gluckstern said…
I love an alive location. It doesn't have to be exotic, but just alive enough to make me feel like I'm there. I like to say I travel through reading, and look forward to discovering your books.

Setting can even be a character! The atmospheric place, the crucial detail can put the reader into the story quickly. I like both familiar and unfamiliar settings. Be it Berlin or Boise, setting can always tell part of the story.

Judy Copek
Prentiss Garner said…
Setting is the key to a good mystery.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Thank you, Lil. That's well aaid and you just happen to be the first winner of my ebook, A Village Shattered.
Jean Henry Mead said…
I agree, Grapeshot. The more familiar you are with a setting, the more it comes alive.
Jean Henry Mead said…
Prentiss, I like that analogy. The setting is the key which unlocks background and tone.
Sheila Deeth said…
It's interesting. Some books have real locations in time and space, and others just leave the reader to set the scene. I like both, but I'm always nervous of setting my own stories in real locations in case I forget something important.

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