SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Today I'm delighted to introduce debut novelist and Bostonian Pamela Wechsler. Her novel, MISSION HILL, set in Boston and featuring homicide chief Abby Endicott, has been getting rave reviews. Publishers Weekly says,
I was lucky enough to get to read an advanced copy of MISSION HILL and loved it, especially tough yet vulnerable protagonist Abby. Here's a little about the book:
PAMELA WECHSLER: I’m a fan of any book that uses Boston, not as a setting, but as a character. That’s why Robert Parker and his Spenser series are among my all time favorites. I’ve always enjoyed Parker’s sharp dialogue and minimalist style, but it’s the way he wrote about Boston that kept me coming back for more. I loved reading about my home city, and all of its familiar landmarks, through Spenser’s eyes.
When I was growing up, my father had an office in the Back Bay, not far from where the fictional Spenser lived and worked. Sometimes, I’d visit my dad at work, and when I was waiting for him to finish a phone call or wrap up a meeting, I’d peer out his conference room window and look across Berkley Street. If I concentrated hard enough, I could picture Spenser and Hawk, guns drawn, running up the Commonwealth Ave mall, chasing after a bad guy.
Recently, I found myself passing through Spenser’s turf. I took a walk up the center of the Commonwealth Ave. mall, past my father’s old office, and into the Public Garden. Usually, I use the park as a short-cut; it’s the quickest route when I have to get between Beacon Hill and Back Bay. Yesterday, it was a destination.
The Public Garden represents so much of what Boston has to offer; it has history, charm, quirkiness, and natural beauty. The scale is more manageable than its neighbor, the Boston Common, and it doesn’t host any commercial ventures, except an occasional film crew. There are no hot dog vendors or concerts, and so far, no Hemp Fest.
I used to come to the park when I was a child, and very little appears to have changed. The Make Way for Ducklings statues weren’t there yet, but for me, they might as well have been—the image of that line of ducks was etched in my mind long before 1987, when the sculptures were installed. Like all Boston children, my mother used to read the Robert McCloskey book to me and my brothers night after night, at bedtime.
The swan boats are exactly as I remember; in fact, it looks like they haven’t been renovated since they were first launched in the lagoon in 1877. Well, maybe the price is a little steeper, and the railings have a fresh coat of red paint, but the worn wooden seats look pretty much the same.
A couple of live swans even made an appearance on the lawn, along the perimeter of the lagoon.
The park is the oldest botanical garden in the country and May is the perfect time to take a stroll here, even when the weather is raw and wet, and the sky is foggy. Yesterday, the petals on the pansies and tulips were wilting from the change in temperatures, but the colors still held vibrant and bold.
Most of the trees in the park are adorned with plaques, identifying each species. My favorites are the Crabapples, especially the light pink and white Tea Crabapple.
There are scores of Belgian Elms, with gnarled roots and knobby trunks, and droopy Weeping Willows. A European Beech is marked with carvings—names, initials, and what looks like hieroglyphs.
Wendell Phillips, Champion of the Slave, stands tall on a pedestal, facing the Four Seasons Hotel. He’s standing at a podium, facing Boylston Street, as though he’s delivering an oration to the diners in the Bristol restaurant.
Many of the benches in the park have memorial plaques. It felt almost disrespectful to sit on the wooden bench that Janet dedicated to her beloved husband, in recognition of his ‘quiet strength and easy ways’.
I settled into the bench for a few minutes, and watched a couple of toddlers offer scraps of bread to the ducks. Joggers, dog walkers, tourists, and locals swirled around me, but all I could hear were quacking ducks and chirping birds.
As much as I love the area, I knew I’d overstayed my welcome when my allergies kicked in, and I started to sneeze. On my way out of the park, a bride and groom posed for their wedding photos in front of the imposing statue of George Washington on his horse. As far as I can remember, Spenser never married his longtime girlfriend Susan Silverman, but if he did, this would have been the perfect spot.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: As someone who once lived in Boston, I loved your tour of the Public Garden (which I also preferred to the Common). Reds and lovely readers, how important is setting to you? Does it seem like another of the novel's characters in the hands of some authors? What makes a setting come alive for you? Please tell us in the comments!