DEBORAH CROMBIE: This seems to be our week for talking about place in novels. I was fortunate last autumn to be given an advance reader's copy of Karin Salvalaggio's debut novel, BONE DUST WHITE, which I think is stunningly good. The book leaves such a strong physical impression that whenever I think about the story I feel a bone-deep cold. Like William Kent Krueger's Minnesota novels, the setting becomes a character in itself.
While Grace was only a child when Leanne left her, Detective Macy Greeley has been waiting for Leanne ever since she disappeared from Collier, MT. She's looking to close a case that has been haunting the town for far too long, but Collier is a hard-bitten place where the people are fierce when it comes to keeping their feuds between themselves and keeping secrets hidden in the past.
Here's what the advance reviews have to say:
“The suspense meter spikes dramatically… This complicated, peel-away-layers debut procedural intoxicates from the opening page and has word-of-mouth selling power... Recommend for fans of Archer Mayor, Gwen Florio, and Craig Johnson. C.J. Box’s The Highway comes to mind, too.” –Library Journal (Debut of the Month)
“Salvalaggio’s debut deftly intertwines a town without a future and citizens without hope, people in need and people who need to be needed, and a new murder that brings closure to four unsolved cases.” –Kirkus
“In Salvalaggio’s haunting debut… the author creates a hardscrabble community of characters that readers won’t soon forget.” –Publishers Weekly
And I couldn't agree more. Here's Karin to tell us a little bit about why she chose Montana and the fictional town of Collier.
KARIN SALVALAGGIO: Novels are often full of memorable settings, but some of these locations are more remarkable than others because they serve both the narrative and create the desired mood. What would The Shining by Stephen King be without the Overlook Hotel and the grand seclusion of the Rocky Mountains? Daphne du Maurier’s short story “Don’t Look Now” wouldn’t work as well with out those eerie Venetian canals and alleyways as its backdrop. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson Hedeby Island serves as the perfect setting for both a ‘locked room’ mystery and an isolated environment where our intrepid reporter Mikael Blomkvist investigates members of a highly dysfunctional family, one of whom is certainly guilty of murder. A novel’s setting can be real or imaginary. It can be as isolated as a mountainside or in the middle of a teeming metropolis and as exotic as a Caribbean Island or as humble as a housing tract. Whether it’s a location that haunts your reader for a lifetime or inspires them to book a flight, it is important that the author makes a conscious decision regarding their novel’s setting. So much depends on the reader coming away with a lasting impression. The more visceral the experience the more likely the reader will want to visit again.
For my debut novel Bone Dust White, I’ve created the fictional town of Collier, but placed it in a very real location, the Flathead Valley in Northern Montana. Collier is an amalgamation of places I’ve visited and read about. This is small town America viewed with a long lens. I don’t claim to be an expert. This is fiction. I wanted the backdrop of my novel to be as down in its luck and hard bitten as its residents. Collier is claustrophobic in scale and the harsh winter storms and darkness that sweep in as the novel opens only serve to make the atmosphere more sinister. It is set on the borders with Canada and surrounded by deep impenetrable forests that jut up against the Whitefish Mountains. The main highway goes straight through town, clogging Main Street with eighteen wheelers and choking its residents with exhaust fumes. The Flathead River flows around in the town like a ‘distended belly’. Once a source of commerce for the closed saw mills, the only thing the river carries now is debris washed down from the higher elevations. Crime, high employment, prostitution, alcoholism and meth addiction are among its more visible problems.
It is within this backdrop that a haunted young girl named Grace Adams comes of age in the cruelest of ways. Having been given a new lease on life she is finally ready to embrace her future on her own terms, but there are forces working against her. She witnesses a brutal murder just yards from her back gate and as the woods close in on her and the victim she once again retreats into herself. This is truly a case of her past coming in from the cold and she will have to negotiate a tangled web of betrayals if she’s going to survive. Detective Macy Greeley is the outsider brought in by the state to investigate the murder as it is believed to be linked to an unsolved case she worked 11 years earlier. She to must peel away layers of lies and complicated family feuds as she works a case that will bring the town of Collier to its knees.
I feel I’ve created the perfect backdrop for my novel Bone Dust White and I hope the town of Collier haunts my readers for years to come. Are there locations and settings both real and imagery that have left an impression on you as a reader? Are there writers out there who choose locations for reasons that I may not have entertained? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
DEBS: We have some interesting cross-cultural things going on this week as well: I'm an American who chooses to write British crime novels, Peter Robinson is a Yorkshire native who lives in Canada but sets his books in Yorkshire, and Karin is an American who lives in London and chose to set her novel in Montana. Does our physical distance from our setting make it more intriguing for us as writers?
Karin will be giving away a copy of BONE DUST WHITE to one of today's lucky commenters, so get your name in the hat!
KARIN SALVALAGGIO received in MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck at the University of London. Born is West Virginia and raised in an Air Force family, she grew up on a number of military bases around the United States. She now lives in London with her two children. Bone Dust White is her first novel. http://www.karinsalvalaggio.com/