Kathleen Kaska is the author two awarding-winning mystery series: the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series. The Kate Caraway Animal-Rights series is her latest. Kathleen is also a writer and marketing director for Cave Art Press. Learn more about Kathleen and her books at her website.
Importance of Setting: Melding Fact with Fiction
A Two Horse Town is the first mystery I wrote with a fictional town as its setting.
A spinoff of the idiom “one-horse town,” which means a small, backward, lonely place, I substituted “two” in the title to signify that things aren’t always what they seem; there are two ways of looking at them.
The story is set in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Southwest Montana, since mustangs residing there are the focus; but there was no small town in the area to use as a model. So I envisioned what I wanted such a town to look like: dusty and old, a few diehard businesses around a town square, and gravel parking lots with pickup trucks. I wanted a grocery/hardware store, a greasy spoon café, an antique shop with a faded “out-of-business” sign in the window, a pawn shop, a law office, a town hall, and a jail. And a doublewide portable for the sheriff’s office to foreshadow things to come.
Though I didn’t go into great detail describing each place—that would’ve taken pages and bored the pants off readers—I needed visual-aid references for subtleties. Alas, Archer City, Texas, a tiny, dusty county-seat about fifty miles south of Oklahoma, provided most of what I was looking for. I visited Archer City many years ago before cell phones had cameras. When I started writing Two Horse, I dug out some photos taken with my digital camera back then and used the Internet to see how the town now looked after all those years. It hadn’t changed much.
|Archer City Jail|
Another reason for Archer City is that I feel for it. It’s home to one of my favorite writers, Larry McMurtry. He used his hometown as the setting for his book (later a movie), The Last Picture Show, another title that reflects the theme of a story. The Royal Theatre, featured in the film, is now a center for the performing arts. The Archer City jail, built in 1910, is a three-story structure made of sandstone. The top floor has a gallows, and the first prisoner held there was arrested for stealing a horse. Murn’s Café serves home-style, southern cooking, and the Spur Hotel (1928) is still in operation.
If you’ve read A Two Horse Town, cruise to Archer City. Let me know if you see a resemblance between it and Two Horse, Montana.
By the way, the Spur Hotel is on the list for one of my future Sydney Lockhart, murder-in-a-hotel mysteries.
A Two Horse Town
Animal-rights activists, Kate Caraway, travels to Montana to help 82-year-old Ida Springfield save her herd of wild mustangs. After tumbling down a mountain, finding a body, and getting warned off by the mayor, Kate understands why her husband fears for her safety and begs her to come home. But Kate can't leave without saving the mustangs and helping Ida stand up to the town bigwigs. To do that, she has to find out who killed Ida's estranged son and why town officials believe her great-grandson committed the crime.