For decades, Boston has been a popular “scene of the crime” for a wide range of well-known mystery and crime novels. From hard-boiled PIs and gritty Irish mobsters to trendy Back Bay urbanites and posh Beacon Hill Brahmins, this city of distinct neighborhoods has played an important role in many famous works. Years ago when I told a friend that I was starting to write a mystery series set in the Boston area, she asked, “Why bother? Boston has been so done.” I understood her reaction, having admired these earlier novels set in my hometown. But I knew that the famed Boston archetypes in those books did not capture my Boston.
My Boston wasn’t in Southie, Back Bay or Beacon Hill, but across the river in the tight-knit Portuguese community of East Cambridge. My grandparents, who emigrated from Madeira and the Azores, lived the rest of their lives in this neighborhood. My parents met and married there before taking their growing brood to the nearby suburbs. I also moved back to East Cambridge as a young professional for about six years, right next door to my Vovo (grandmother). This lively community, anchored by St. Anthony’s Church, has clung to its roots in the face of the looming pressures of gentrification and continued growth of its Harvard and MIT neighbors.
My Boston is here. Rows of cramped triple-decker houses with raucous multigenerational tenants. Whiffs of sweet and tangy aromas from small family-run Portuguese bakeries and restaurants. Neighbors drinking beer and cheering for their teams at local soccer clubs. Drum beats for processions of costumed marchers and dancers waving red and green Portuguese flags. Streets closed for religious festas with statues of the Virgin Mary or St. Anthony hoisted high on strong shoulders. This is my Boston and the one that I wanted to write about in my Marguerite “Monty” Montez mystery series.
Throughout my life, I seldom saw depictions of Portuguese people in the media—not books, newspapers, TV or movies. In high school history class, I only heard fleeting mentions of Portuguese discoverers, like Prince Henry, the Navigator, and Vasco De Gama. But then poof, never again, even though there have been large Portuguese communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Florida, California and Hawaii since the early 1800s. So I decided that if I wanted to see more Portuguese-Americans portrayed in fiction, then I had better get writing.
But where to start? There were some natural inspirations for me to write about my Boston. My immigrant grandparents hued closely to the values and culture of the “old country” so the story harks back to and is infused with those Portuguese traditions. But like many second-generation families, I straddled the “old country” values of my parents and grandparents and the new world of my own life, so the story weaves in these generational conflicts. My mother and her sisters had beautiful voices and sung in a traveling Portuguese choral group as well as recorded as back-up singers for local Portuguese crooners. I then added that Monty sings fados (blues) music at community clubs and events.
A lawyer by training, I clerked for two years in a criminal defense firm and brought those experiences into the novel. But my best friend from law school, Mary E. Sawicki, to whom I dedicated this first book, Deadly Sacrifices, served with distinction for decades as a prosecutor. Thus, Monty is a local prosecutor in fictional Charles County to the chagrin of her widowed mother who runs a Portuguese bakery and wants her to settle down with a nice guy from the old neighborhood.
My new mystery series starts with the murder of a soccer mom in a church and simmers in a Portuguese sopa (soup) of family, food, music, dance, and faith in my Boston.
If someone tells you that your hometown is played out in fiction, don’t believe them for a minute. Find your take on your town and write about what makes it special, crazy or infuriating to you. If I can write about my Boston, then so can you.
Deadly Sacrifices – A Marguerite Montez Mystery
You always remember your first time. Monty's first happened in St. Stephen’s church, directly beneath a statue of the Virgin Mary, right after morning mass. A local soccer mom is bludgeoned to death in her suburban parish chapel outside of Boston. In her first homicide case, prosecutor Marguerite “Monty” Montez endangers her life digging up evidence that shows the police nabbed the wrong man. Monty’s investigation uncovers disturbing memories and fresh leads in an unsolved murder of a childhood friend in her close-knit Portuguese community. Her dauntless search for the true killer is a wild thrill ride into a dangerous world of lethal secrets.
Bridges DelPonte has published three non-fiction books and numerous articles in the legal, travel and business fields as well as two novels and short stories in the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres. A member of Sisters in Crime, Inc. and the Florida Writers Association, her mystery, Deadly Sacrifices received a Royal Palm Literary Award (2d place – unpublished mystery). When she is not writing, she teaches law courses, creates educational game apps, and lives happily in sunny Central Florida.
To learn more about Bridges DelPonte and her writing, please visit her author web site at http://www.bridgesdelponte.com or Amazon Author Central page at http://www.amazon.com/Bridges-DelPonte/e/B00BW7BZYU.