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Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Award-winning and NY Times bestselling author Patricia Crisafulli writes the Ohnita Harbor Mystery Series. The second in the series was published this past September. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Northwestern University, where she received the Distinguished Thesis Award in Creative Writing. Learn more about Patricia and her books at her website.

Why I Write Mysteries—and Why Readers Need Them

I stood before a panel of editors and agents seated at a long table and gave my best pitch for my novel-in-progress. To my thinking, this was women’s literary fiction centered around a strong female protagonist, Gabriela—a single mom who had to leave her dream job as an authenticator in New York City and return to her hometown where she works at a financially beleaguered library. The plot ignites around the discovery of a curious object donated to the library’s rummage sale, which turns out to be a medieval artifact.


When I finished my short pitch (a minute—maybe two), an editor who had worked at major publishing houses, spoke up: “You know what you’ve written, don’t you? Small town, quirky characters, an artifact. You add a couple of murders and you’ve got a great mystery.”


What happened at that conference a few years ago became a pivotal moment in my writing life. I became a mystery writer, which led to the publication of the first two novels in my Ohnita Harbor Mystery Series—The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor and The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm.


Why hadn’t I embraced the mystery genre earlier? Truthfully, I needed an outside perspective—an expert’s eye—to see what was already there in my story. 


In mysteries, I have found a great way to explore a theme that I absolutely love to write about—the intersection between the ordinary and the extraordinary. It’s the hero’s journey—the protagonist’s quest of discovery about herself and the world around her. It takes an inciting incident for that journey to begin—and that’s what a mystery provides!


In the opening scene of The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm, Gabriela and her new love interest Daniel are hiking through the pristine wilderness surrounding a remote chasm. Then suddenly, this outing turns much darker. On the shore of a deep-water lake at the bottom of the chasm, Gabriela and Daniel find a man convulsing with his last breaths. Not far away is a woman—body cold and her face ashen. After frantically trying to revive the two people with CPR, Gabriela and Daniel rush back up the trail for help, but when they return the bodies are gone. Gabriela begins to doubt her own judgment.


“She knew what she’d seen: the man’s body tensing in a seizure and the woman completely lifeless with no pulse. How could they suddenly feel better, clean themselves up, pack their stuff, and paddle away in a canoe? It was impossible, she told herself, except that was what appeared to have happened.”


The twists and turns of the plot not only advance the story, but also unfold a rich emotional topography—anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, hope, longing, love. Gabriela is confronted with all these feelings as she becomes embroiled in the investigation of what happened at the chasm and a nefarious business development that threatens to destroy the wilderness—plus authentication of yet another artifact (in The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm, it’s a 200-year-old nautical schematic). She encounters a host of characters, including an herbalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of plants for healing and for harm. Soon, Gabriela doesn’t know who or what to trust—including her own instincts.


And this brings me to why I believe we need mysteries—and for more than just their immense entertainment value. Mysteries are an exercise in critical thinking. They teach us to look beyond the surface. We ask more questions, dig more deeply, and seek out clues and connections that lead to answers that were previously hidden from us. 


Now tell me, in today’s uncertain world, isn’t that exactly what we all need? As we look beyond what appears at our feet or just beyond our noses, we see the bigger picture and broader issues. I’d like to think my Ohnita Harbor Mysteries help to serve that mission—to explore those extraordinary moments that intersect and interrupt our ordinary lives and lead us to bigger discoveries about ourselves and the world around us.


To me, that’s a great motivation to write—and read—mysteries.


The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm

An Ohnita Harbor Mystery, Book 2


On a beautiful September afternoon, a hike through the pristine wilderness of Still Waters Chasm becomes a path of deadly danger. On the shores of a deep lake, Gabriela Domenici and her boyfriend, Daniel Red Deer, find a man convulsing with his last breaths, not far from the body of a lifeless woman. But by the time help arrives, the bodies are gone. As Gabriela is pulled deeper into the mystery, she encounters a host of enigmatic characters -- from an herbalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of plants for help and harm to a young woman with an old drawing of unknown origin who desperately wants to sell it. Soon Gabriela's forays in and around the chasm put her on a collision course with those who will stop at nothing to prevent her from getting too close to the truth. 


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