Mystery writer Lorraine Bartlett wears a number of pseudonymous caps. Writing under her own name, she is the author of the new series, Victorian Square Mysteries, whose first installment, A Crafty Killing, debuts this February. Writing as Lorna Barrett, she pens the Booktown Mysteries series, and as L.L. Bartlett, she writes the Jeff Resnick Mysteries. An Agatha-nominated, New York Times bestselling author, Bartlett is a busy woman.
Reviewing her Booktown Mysteries, Gumshoe Review noted: “Interesting characters, growing interrelationships, plausible reasons for crime and an amateur to get involved in finding the answers–it’s like visiting friends and having an adventure rolled into one book after another.” Reviewing the first title in that series, Murder Is Binding, Publishers Weekly enthused: “The mix of books, cooking and an engaging whodunit will leave cozy fans eager for the next installment.” Bartlett’s Jeff Resnick Mysteries, psychological suspense novels with a paranormal thread, have also received critical praise. Booklist noted of the second title in that series, Dead in Red: “Bartlett’s hero is complicated and mesmerizing, making for a gripping and energizing mystery.” Similarly, Library Journal wrote of that same book: “Bartlett has a deft touch and makes psychic abilities very real.”
The setting for A Crafty Killing is the village of McKinlay Mill, outside of Rochester, NY. (I live in the Rochester area.) It’s actually a conglomeration of two villages in my area, one of which was the site of a business very much like the one depicted in my book (and burned to the ground a while back), and the other is very much alive and kicking. I was once a vendor in an antiques arcade, which was the idea behind the retail venue featured in the book.
What things about McKinlay Mill make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?
It’s a unique retail setting known in the book as Victoria Square. It features an artisans arcade, a teashop, several gift shops, a bakery, a candy maker, and other retail establishments. The anchor is Artisans Alley. I’ve taken the best of my two locales and merged them into Victoria Square.
Did you consciously set out to use location as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?
Yes. I also write the Booktown Mysteries under the name Lorna Barrett. The series is based in a small town that features many used bookstores. My readers love the small-town atmosphere and the retail settings. I like to think of the Victoria Square Mysteries as a sort of sister series, even though they are written under different names. (And we won’t go into why–it was my publisher’s decision.)
How do you incorporate location in your fiction?
Because so much of the stories are associated with the setting, and the dynamics of the merchants and their customers, location is extremely important to the series. So, yes, I am conscious about keeping the stories centered around what happens in the village and in particular Victoria Square.
How does your protagonist, Katie Bonner, interact with her surroundings? Is she a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster? And conversely, how does the setting affect your protagonist?
My protagonist is native to the area, but not the village of McKinlay Mill. Because she takes the majority ownership in Artisans Alley, and becomes a member of the local Merchants Association, she has a stake in what happens on the Square.
Has there been any local reaction to your works?
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
I’ve been careful NOT to write about winter in New England for my Booktown Mysteries. I’m used to winters in Western New York, which are very different. I understand they get more ice than snow. I feel more comfortable writing about the weather in spring, summer and fall as I’ve visited the area only during those seasons.
I did make a gaffe in one of my Booktown Mysteries. One of my New England first readers suggested I have cruise ships visit Portsmouth harbor and that the tourists make day-trips to my town. It sounded good to me. However, I found out after the book came out that Portsmouth Harbor is actually too shallow for the big cruise ships. Oops! The ships that now visit are the small type which have only 100 passengers. (I love to take one of those cruises myself–unfortunately they’re substantially more expensive than the big cruise lines offer.)
Of the Victorian Square Mysteries, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place? Could you quote a short passage or give an example of how the location figures in your novels?
So far I’ve only written two books in the series. (I start the third one on March 1st). When Katie Bonner takes over Artisans Alley, it’s in sad shape from neglect. She takes a hard look at the building and these are her thoughts:
“Artisans Alley’s great hulk of a building looked even shabbier since Chad’s death. The faded painted sign over the entrance was covered in insect-dotted spider webs. Without Chad to spearhead the holiday decorations, not so much as a cornstalk heralded the harvest season or Halloween only a week away.”
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
Hmm. Tough question. I enjoy the work of many authors, many of whom are friends, and would hate to mention some and leave out others. Suffice to say that my favorite reads are cozy mysteries by Berkley Prime Crime authors. Since I also write a paranormal suspense series, I’d say that it was Barbara Michaels’s work that inspired me to begin that series. (The Jeff Resnick Mysteries under the name L.L. Bartlett.)
What’s next for Katie Bonner?
More murder and mayhem.
Lorraine, many thanks again for taking part in Scene of the Crime.
For more information on the many personas of Lorraine Bartlett, check out her three author Web sites: