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Thursday, April 21, 2016


Not Endurance, but a street in a typical Midwest town
Susan Van Kirk is the author of the Endurance mysteries and also a memoir about teaching, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) Learn more about her and her books at her website/blog.
Endurance: A Small Town Setting

Thank you, Lois, for inviting me to write about the setting of my mysteries—the small town of Endurance. A common thread throughout the centuries of this small town’s history is its secrets.

As Grace Kimball, recently retired teacher, travels through her small town of Endurance, she sees former students—now adults—and remembers them as adolescents. For example, she notices Patrick Gilmore carrying a briefcase, and remembers he slipped out the back door during gym class and smoked pot. And sold it. Now he’s selling legal drugs for a big pharmaceutical company. Who says high school doesn’t get you ready for the real world?

In Three May Keep a Secret, the first mystery, it’s summer. (Ben Franklin wrote: “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”) The schools just let out, Gimbles Paint and Wallpaper Store has a “huge extravaganza sale” in progress, flower pots are overflowing in front of the businesses, and the first cafĂ© of the summer is about to start. Grace is having lunch with her friends, Jill and Deb. Joining them is TJ Sweeney, former student of Grace’s and now detective. Little do they know on this beautiful blue-skied day, that in the next few weeks two murders will occur, and even Grace’s life will be put in danger. A terrifying event from her past may come back to haunt her.

Each of my four stories about Endurance, Illinois, (population 15,000), occurs as the Midwest seasons change. The second book, Marry in Haste, will be published this November, and it spans the winter months, a time when readers wonder why anyone would want to live in the bitter cold and snow of the Midwest.

But first I slipped in an e-book novella, launched a week ago, and called The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. My biracial, 39-year-old detective has a cold case on her hands from the 1940s. Endurance’s history plays a key part since the victim was last seen at the Roof Garden, a popular dance venue on the roof of a four-story office building in downtown Endurance. The big band era, the jitterbug, and romance in the air were the last images the victim saw. Now TJ Sweeney must comb through a dark chapter in the town’s history to identify the victim and killer.

I went back to a second Ben Franklin proverb for my title, Marry in Haste (Repent at Leisure.)  This setting was so much fun to explore because one plot takes place in 1893. Grace’s love interest, Jeff Maitlin, has bought a huge Victorian home. In renovating and restoring the house, he and Grace find the diary of Olivia Lockwood, a young wife who lived there in the 1890s. I had such fun drawing a new map for the town with stores that might have been there in 1893—milliners, dressmakers, dry goods, public halls, gunsmiths, livery stables, tailors, and reading rooms.

Murders occur—one victim is a high profile, current-day banker whose lineage goes back to the early 1900s—and a second murder victim is a judge in the 1890s plot. They’re tied together in a unique way. Once again, Grace and TJ investigate the twists and turns of their little town’s history—in the past through a diary, and in the present through family secrets.

The third mystery, Death Takes No Bribes, will be out next year, and it treats the reader to the culture of Endurance High School, Grace’s old workplace. Again, the winter months prevail, but spring isn’t far off. Unfortunately for the town, their principal dies prematurely—well, with a bit of help. [My apologies here to all those principals for whom I have worked.] The building itself is full of nooks, crannies, hiding places, dark corners, and secrets. And before the story is over, past history and current school atmosphere will come out of the shadows and provide TJ with the killer’s motive. Grace, of course, has to jump into this investigation since her former colleagues are living in fear.

The town has a huge role in this mystery also. As Grace waits for a fellow teacher at The Coffee Bean on the Square, she looks out into the dark night and sees the warm glow of three creamy, round globes on the top of each lamppost, their radiance reflecting on the Square. The Endurance Public Library, a light burning over the entrance, reminds her of the hours she spent there with her three children after the early death of her husband. Gimble’s Paint and Wallpaper Store is also on the Square, and Grace laughs as she recalls Mandy Thompson answering the phone with, “This is Mandy. How may I help you color your world?” Only in Endurance.

It’s a small, Midwestern town with light and life and friends and history, but beneath the laughter and comforts of home lie secrets and a past that twists and turns through each of my Endurance mysteries.

The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney
The Big Band Era—Dancing on the Rooftop—Romance in the Air—And Murder in the Shadows.

A decades-old murder becomes Detective TJ Sweeney’s most personal and tragic case. Good and evil, tolerance and bigotry lie at the bottom of TJ Sweeney’s latest case in the small town of Endurance.

After solving a double homicide in the hot Midwest summer, Endurance police detective TJ Sweeney isn’t given long to rest. A construction crew has found human bones while digging a building foundation on the outskirts of town.
Sweeney’s investigation soon concludes this was a murder victim, but from many decades earlier. Trying to identify the remains and put a name on the killer takes the detective through a maze of dead ends and openings, twists and turns.

And then it becomes personal …


Debra H. Goldstein said...

Neat to see a town become a character

Susan said...

You are so right, Debra. And it is the darkness under the pleasant surface that makes it interesting, rather like a character.

Carolyn Mulford said...

You've proven, once again, that the Midwest isn't a dull place.

Susan said...

You are so right, Carolyn. Earthquakes at your end, cold cases at mine! Thanks for stopping by.