Cherie O’Boyle, Professor Emerita of Psychology at California State University, San Marcos, is an avid Border collie enthusiast who lives in Northern California. Learn more about her and her books at her website.
Places, Real and Imagined
The Estela Nogales Mystery series is set in one of the most beautiful parts of California, the central coast near Morro Rock. Deadly Disguise, the fourth book in the series, is now released, so I thought it would be fun to take a short road trip through the settings, both real and imagined, that provide the background for this award-winning series.
We’ll begin our journey at the intersection of Arroyo Loco Rd and Highway 41, connecting the charming and real towns of Morro Bay and Atascadero. This intersection and the village of Arroyo Loco are purely imaginary, but it is easy to picture the old roadhouse there by the corner, and remember the rusty ice chest where we found the body in Iced Tee. The lot where Will’s house burned down in Fire at Will’s is just out of sight up the hill.
Heading east, we wind through the Coast Range and into Atascadero, site of the all-too-real maximum-security prison for the criminally insane. Arroyo Loco’s residents often wonder if their village has been visited by a former inmate. The twisting oak-shaded residential streets where I always get lost, and where Estela once found a bloody knife embedded in a front door, are east of the downtown area.
A ten-minute drive north brings us into the quaint town of Paso Robles. Here, we wander alongside the dry riverbed where Estela and her friends searched for Nina in Missing Mom. The riverbed is real; its homeless denizens must either be hiding, or are imaginary. Nearby, we can stop for a juicy cheeseburger at the real Cowgirl Cafe. If we’ve timed our visit right, we might even be able to watch the classic cars cruising Paso Robles’ central plaza, and catch a glimpse of Detective Muñoz’s meticulously restored Camaro.
Highway 46, crossing the countryside from Paso Robles west to Highway 1, is one of most scenic drives in the state. On a clear spring day, you can see across miles of rolling green hills frosted with lupine and mustard flowers to the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. Breath-taking.
South of the tiny town of Cayucos, you’ll find the scruffy and unofficial dog beach where Estela loves to walk and think through the mysteries that confront her. Keep your eyes open, and you may see Shiner, the real Border collie, romping with his friends and running through the surf.
The town of Morro Bay is already popular with tourists, and needs no introduction. We can walk around the base of Morro Rock, the remnant of an ancient volcano, and look upward for real nesting peregrine falcons. The nearby embarcadero, and especially the Bayside Cafe are worth a stop, if only to imagine Estela and her detective friend Muñoz enjoying the view and working out the most recent puzzle.
Inez’s combination sheep ranch and dog day-care business is imaginary, although you can picture the green hills south of Morro Bay dotted with white Merino sheep. Continuing south, you’ll pass the real state Men’s Colony prison, and if you know just where to look, you might see Helen’s car parked in the lot.
I’m going to leave you at the entrance to the California state university campus where Estela is employed in the counseling center, and where rumors of an active shooter in the library are about to send the campus into chaos in Deadly Disguise.
I hope you enjoyed this imaginary road trip, and that someday you get to experience the real adventure. If you already love the central coast, please share your memories and favorites places in the comments below.
...bodies falling...Estela Nogales is caught in the middle when the perfect murder sets off chaos during final exams week. Together with Detective Muñoz, Estela must use her acute powers of observation to help identify the killer. One calamity after another disrupts the investigation, and Estela is pursued at every turn by the mysterious figure in the hat, even home to Arroyo Loco where a fresh set of crises are unleashed.
(For a brief introduction to Arroyo Loco, Estela Nogales, and her neighbors, please download the free short story, Back for Seconds? available on most ebook outlets.)