As a writer I think a lot about setting. This includes more than location. It includes weather and anything else that can affect how the sleuth and other characters go about their day. The sleuth is investigating and the suspects are eluding. A writer might use rain to compound the sleuth's misery, or a heat wave to complicate the collection and care of evidence. But the blizzards we have endured in the Northeast this past week has reminded me that there are some weather events that I have avoided as a writer.
A blizzard is used to good effect in Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. In a less well known mystery, P.M. Hubbard turns a river in the countryside into a formidable character, in The Quiet River. In both stories the weather has to be acknowledged and dealt with.
In For the Love of Parvati, the third Anita Ray mystery, Anita and her Auntie Meena are isolated in a rural estate during the monsoon. Anita is greatly relieved when the rain stops and she can get out for a walk.
The problem with real wintry weather, as opposed to a heat wave or monsoon, is that it brings the usual daily life to a halt. At midnight in our area neighbors are out shoveling or snow-blowing, the light from street lamps amplified by the white snowfall. In the morning, neighbors fill side streets shoveling and cleaning up, stopping to chat with folks they rarely have time to visit with.
Throughout this time, we have no sidewalks, no parking, and struggling public transportation. Fortunately, we didn't lose power in our area. This is the perfect setting for a country house murder, but nearly impossible for the kind of investigation that requires the sleuth to be out and about, visiting offices to gather information, contriving to run into people in a bar or at a party, or following a suspect to work or lunch. In extreme weather, surveillance can be impossible, and most sleuths take the day off, along with their creators.
As I look out the window at the snowdrifts rising to the windowsill I turn my thoughts to the Anita Ray mystery I'm composing. I've written eight thousands words this week, an average amount, and have said little about the weather. But that will change. It's time to feel the heat.