Bunnies in a Burrow
SCOT MIST opens on Friday the 13th of March 2020 in Cuento, California. The state is closing county by county and the owners of the Last Ditch Motel have decided to fill their twelve rooms with people in need of sanctuary and then pull up the drawbridge. Well, padlock the gate in the chain-link fence anyway.
It was the perfect setting for a closed circle mystery. Even the characters knew that:
“Have you never read Agatha Christie, Della?” said Todd. “Seventeen strangers thrown together in a remote country house over a snowy winter weekend? Or, you know, the equivalent.”
“A locked room mystery!” said Noleen.
“A common mistake,” said Devin. “You don’t mean ‘locked room’. You mean ‘closed circle’. That’s what we are: a closed circle of seventeen strangers trapped together, with tensions running high and old scores to settle.”
“What old scores?” I said. “The only old scores are between Barb and Todd.”
“And I would never kill my mom,” Todd said, “because jail cells have cockroaches.”
He meant it too.
“But that’s an essential element,” said Devin. “The strangers aren’t actually strangers. They’re long-lost siblings and regimental comrades left for dead on a battle field. Or bigamous spouses.”
“Better not be,” his wife said.
“Or just plain old sworn enemies. It doesn’t matter. It’s the being holed up together with no escape that’s key.”
I hoped someone else was going to laugh, because my throat had dried out and I didn’t think I could manage it. I was still waiting when a knock came at the office door.
‘Surely that’s not the inspector,’ Noleen said, going to open it, “because he’s turned over a few pages at once if it is. We haven’t even found the old man with the paper knife in his neck yet.’
I enjoyed writing the ups and downs of them all learning to live together, eat one another’s cooking, tolerate one another’s music, try not to dwell on the fact that one of them is a murderer . . .
My own lockdown was more mild. I was at Left Coast Crime, San Diego, that day wondering how to get home, when my husband, Neil, uttered these fateful words: “I’ll drive down and get you. We can share the drive home. It’ll be nice to hang out together, just the two of us.”
It’ll be nice to hang out together, just the two of us.
Readers, we hung out together just the two of us for the next fourteen months, like a pair of bunnies in a burrow, until 2 x 2 day (two weeks after the second vaccine) when we went out for our free Krispy Kreme vaccination doughnut.
There was a lot of looking on the bright side, counting our blessings, shrugging philosophically … all that. And just a bit of pining. So when I came to compile this top-five fictional group-living locations to celebrate the launch of SCOT MIST, they were mostly places of which I’d said, “At least we’re not locked down there” or “I wish we were locked down there”.
5. 25 Broadway Road (At least we’re not)
This was the scruffy and anarchic student house where the eponymous four lads in The Young Ones lived. Was it ever on in the US? I suspect it won’t have aged well, but in the early eighties it made a nice change from polite sitcoms about nice people. (None of them aged particularly well either, actually.)
4. 6151 Richmond Street (I wish we were)
Do you recognise the address? This is Blanche Deveraux’s former marital home, the place she came to share with Rose, Dorothy and eventually Sophia. Oh, Betty. I think the Golden Girls – we’ve all been rewatching recently, right? – has aged as beautifully as the GGs themselves were when they burst onto the screen.
3. The May of Teck Club (at least we’re not)
I thought I had never read The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark, when I picked it up recently after an “at least we’re not” conversation earlier in the pandammit. Halfway through, I remembered reading it years ago and wondering how come Schiaparelli was the only designer ever mentioned in fiction. It’s a quick read – 150 pages – and a brilliant plot. But a really savage account of a bunch of women sharing a large house. These ain’t golden girls.
2. Cooper’s Chase (I wish we were)
Richard Osman’s two novels about a retirement community – The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice – are instant favourites here, especially the audiobooks read by Lesley Manville. The parking committee is hilarious, the end-of-life wing is heartbreaking, but mostly the Thursday Murder Club themselves – Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Ron and the wondrous Joyce are the friends you wish you had.
1. 28 Barbary Lane (Oh how I wish we were)
I came across Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City on the telly (Did you know it was on C4 in the UK before it was televised here? Isn’t that weird?) and instantly fell in love with Mrs Madrigal, Mona, Michael Mouse, and Mary Ann. When I found out there were books I did that thing where you love a film or telly show and then find out there are books! And then I moved to where they were set! And I met him!
Mrs Madrigal’s House remains the gold-standard for group-living in my head. (California helped, I have to say.)
And now I want to hear about your favourite fictional places, or your real life best and worst. My worst was the three weeks I spent sharing a flat with a bunch of anarchists who wanted to blow up a furriers. Never was a lease dismantled so quickly! (Stop by our Facebook pages and let us know your thoughts)
Scot Mist is available today. Here is a brief synopsis:
March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.
While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found.
As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.
National-bestselling and multi-award-winning author, Catriona McPherson (she/her), was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating to the US in 2010.
She writes historical detective stories set in the old country in the 1930s, featuring gently-born lady sleuth, Dandy Gilver. The latest of these is 2021’s THE MIRROR DANCE. After eight years in the new country, she kicked off the comic Last Ditch Motel series, which takes a wry but affectionate look at California life from the POV of a displaced Scot (where do we get our ideas, eh?). Book 4, SCOT MIST, came out in January. She also writes a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers. The latest of these is last year’s A GINGERBREAD HOUSE.
Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA, Society of Authors, and a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime. www.catrionamcpherson.com