Monday, September 12, 2011

Favorite setting for my mysteries

by Maggie Toussaint

Since my Cleopatra Jones amateur sleuth series focuses on Cleo's family, I tend to write scenes at her home, her office, her ladies nine-hole golf league, her car, and her church. On the Nickel, the second mystery in the series, has several church scenes, but they don't have much to do with a church service. Most of the scenes involve activities that occur in a church building.

For instance, when Detective Radcliffe bars Cleo and her friend Jonette from the church parking lot crime scene, they race around to the back, to the thicket, where for years they watched the Sunday School ladies hide Easter eggs. While vying for the best vantage point, Cleo falls through the thorny bushes, landing smack dab in the middle of trouble - ending with her being led away in handcuffs.

Other church scenes involve a funeral reception, a church ladies meeting, and a bulletin-folding morning. In this book, Cleo tries to prove her mother didn't kill the church lady, her arch-rival, even though her mother's car is the murder weapon.

Cleo is Episcopalian, which is a Protestant church, just south of Catholicism and close kin to Methodists and Lutherans. Like the church, Cleo's life has seen upheaval in the last few years. Like the church, she is somewhat resistant to change, but life has a way of changing anyway, doesn't it? The conflict of new versus old, of time-honed prayers and joyful noise, of joy found and lost - those distinctly different yet eternally connected viewpoints are all rolled into a woman trying to cope in a world she can't control.

While I try to paint her into a corner with setting, character, and plot points, Cleo finds a way to cut through all the noise and triumph. She's my hero.

Want to read more? This post is a stop on a rolling blog tour. KT Wagner shares her thoughts on favorite settings at  and Kathleen Kaska expounds on the topic at while Ryder Islington talks setting at and Nancy Lauzon adds her two cents at

Have a great week!

Maggie Toussaint
Mystery and romance author


  1. Hi Maggie, I have a church scene in To Love A Hero. This scene allowed me to describe a unique Russian church and show the heroine's desperate feeling at that moment. The church setting lent itself well to the black moment. But I don't use that setting in other books as it wouldn't advance the story.
    In Osiris' Missing part, several scenes take place in temples.

  2. Hi Mona,
    So glad you're home safely from your travels. The thing I love about a church setting is that we have the expectation that church/religion is about repenting and forgiveness, joy and solace, hope and comfort. Your use of a church to illustrate a black moment is classic. Thanks for stopping by! Maggie

  3. Hi, Maggie! Enjoyed your blog and will check out your interesting sounding series.
    Good luck and happy reading to all of us cozy mystery lovers,
    Jackie Griffey
    Author of Maryvale Series
    A HYSTERICAL SITE (newest one :-)

  4. Hi, Maggie,

    A church does make an interesting setting for a mystery novel, especially a cozy. Setting is such an important factor in creating realistic mystery fiction.


    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH--check it out at your local library!

  5. Oh yes. I love a good church scene. And a good funeral scene. Great post!

  6. Maggie--well, since I've read both your Cleopatra Jones books, I know all this already!!!! This is an interesting way to introduce a book...wish I'd thought of it. In a way, it's better than a blurb. Good job...Celia

  7. Wow, I stopped to write and came back to a spate of comments. Nothing like comments to brighten your day:)

    Hi Jackie, I love your new title; makes me want to know what the setting is!

    Jacqueline, Your tag line is excellent, and one all Five Stars should adopt - check us out at your local library.

    Hi Mollie, I'm glad you appreciate the fun in a church setting.

    And last but never least, Celia - thanks for your great comment about the series and the use of setting as a teaser. I'd love to claim credit, but the blog roll ladies thought it up.

    Thanks one and all for stopping by!


  8. Maggie, I don't mind having a church setting at all and I don't mind reading about one. Why? Because for many of us, church is a part of our lives. I enjoy going to church. I do tend to gravitate toward Catholic and Orthodox services as I know the most about those religions.

    Mona - I think all the church scenes I've read of yours, including the temples are well done and organic to the story. And that's the trick - to really make them organic to the story.

    In The Count's Lair - there are a couple scenes in a church - Anton & Amelia are married in a Catholic church and Anton has issues dealing with the silver, frankensense and myrrah since he's a werewolf.

    In The Wolf's Torment, there's a wedding in an Orthodox church between Mihai & Theresa. In the sequel - Twilight Over Moldavia, there's a very pivotal scene between Caroline & Stefan in a church. (due in Jan 2012, editing now)

    I guess for me - and I mentioned it earlier - is making the setting feel natural and organic to the story. If it feels forced then it probably doesn't work the way it was meant to.


  9. Hi Steph,
    It was so nice to remember those scenes from The Count's Lair and The Wolf's Torment. We share the trait of using everyday places as setting to help contrast with our characters and the conflicts in their lives.

  10. Hi Maggie - small town stories seem to be the big thing these days, and I for one, am glad. I like the community feel of a character and her/his neighbors interacting over the daily tasks.
    I often get upset when the church is brought into a story only for the purpose of making the pastor a hypocrit or something negative. So I like that you've chosen your church scenes to be on the social/fun side.
    I just finished a Susan Crandall book that involved a priest, and it was really well done. The mystery revolved around something to do with the church (don't want to give a spoiler), and I thought the author handled it very well.

    I like the sound of your stories!

  11. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for leaving such a nice comment. I love small towns and it's a pleasure to depict all the intricacies of human relationships in them.

    I'll check out Susan Crandall's mysteries. Sounds like something I'll enjoy.


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