Friday, August 28, 2015

A house insires what-ifs: C. Michele Dorsey on NO VIRGIN ISLAND

HALLIE EPHRON: When people ask me where I set my books, my answer always includes a particular house. The one in NEVER TELL A LIE is the Victorian that "got away" -- my husband and I bid on it in the 1970s (fortunately not high enough). A house in NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT is a Beverly Hills estate where my friends and I used to sneak in and swim in the pool. Long before security cameras and motion sensors.

When I read C. Michelle Dorsey's wonderful debut novel, NO VIRGIN ISLAND, I could picture the house and by the end of the first chapter it was all I could do not to book myself a trip to St. John.
Today we're welcoming Michelle to Jungle Red and celebrating her brand spanking new, hot off the presses novel. She's here to take us on a tour of the house that inspired her.

C. MICHELE DORSEY: Villa Mascarpone, the scene of the crime in No Virgin Island, was inspired by a real villa on St. John where I have stayed many times and have never considered sinister. Located as far out in Fish Bay as you can go at the end of a cliff that looks down upon jagged rocks in the water below, the only way out is the way you came in. Unless you are a bird or a fish or a very clever criminal.

The dramatic views from each side of Villa Mascarpone are mind-blowing. To the east you look out at the Reef Bay Trail, which is part of the National Park, and beyond to Ram Head, a breathtaking cliff that was the site of a mass slave suicide in the early 1700's. To the south, you can see St. Croix on a clear day. Farther to the west, Puerto Rico can be seen in the distance with the third U.S. Virgin Island, St. Thomas, more closely to its left. St. Thomas lights up like a giant Christmas tree each evening, except during the more than occasional power outages common on islands.

The view above Villa Mascarpone during the day is of a sky so big and close you feel as though you could stick a finger out and grab a bite of one of those huge cotton candy clouds. At night, Orion and the Big and Little Dippers hang above the pool during starlit swims.

All of these views could be easily described as "atmospheric," a word frequently used when the location of a story, often referred to as "place," becomes akin to a character in itself.

So it is a little surprising to me that it was the poolside of the villa that made me begin a series of "what-if" thoughts. Walking through a periwinkle blue gate, you enter a courtyard with a hexagonal pool in the center with a native stone pillared pergola to the left and the entrance to the villa to the right. Such a serene scene. Apparently too much so for my liking, because I wondered during one happy hour with friends, what if there was a dead man, shot in the belly, lying on a hammock beneath the pergola.

Flash forward seven years later when that "what if" had morphed into a full-length mystery about to be published as my debut novel. Knowing people who love St. John are as passionate as readers who love mysteries and often overlap made me wonder, how could I share the news of my virgin mystery with my fellow fans of St. John?

A young man named Jason Hubert of St. John Videos answered that question quite easily. With a drone! What a hoot it was to see that drone fly over and then actually through Villa Mascarpone, where I was staying, to create a book trailer capturing the stunning surroundings where No Virgin Island is set. 

A drone captured the photos for you trailer? Wow! And can I just say scary... because what if...

What memorable houses have been brought to you by books? Anastasia Krupnik's with its tower room? The little house on the praire? 221 Baker Street?


  1. Oh, awesome, Michele. A drone! Now I'm thinking about a new series, the Drone Mysteries...

    I'm quite fond of Lucy's houseboat in Key West. Imagine being rocked to sleep by the water every night.

  2. Thornyhold, by Mary Stewart.

  3. Just thrilled to have you here today Michele! Congrats on the new book--cannot wait to read it.

    Edith, nonono on the drone mysteries LOL. I was talking this week with friends and wondering if Hayley Snow could ever move off the houseboat. We decided probably not!

  4. Lucy, no Hayley can never move off that houseboat. Edith and I would be crushed. So many of us fantasize living on a houseboat, we do it through your series.

    Edith, a drone series may sound a little far-fetched, but if you watch one in action, your imagination does begin to run away with you. Imagine the information a drone could capture!

    And no one does atmospheric "place" better than Mary Stewart.

  5. Agree on Mary Stewart. Also Daphne du Maurier. And also thinking of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre where the house gets destroyed. And while we're at it, the house in Gone with the Wind. And if we move to movie house, nothing beats Psycho. Except maybe Amtityville Horror.

  6. How about the dining room in Great Expectations? I remember that far better than the plot. Hallie, I still get the chills thinking about that house in Never Tell a Lie.

  7. the windmill and attached house in PD James' Devices and Desires.

    Looking forward to reading your book.

  8. Thank you, Margaret. And, yes, Devices and Desires is a perfect example of how place can become almost a character in itself. The house and windmill, but also the walk on the beach in the dark to swim. P.D.James certainly could create a sense of place.

  9. A DRONE? That's so fabulous. ANd your book is terrific, I adore the trailer…

    One of the best house descriptions ever is Poe's Fall of the House of Usher. He talks about the house like it was a person, so of course, is describing the owner as well. Amazing.

    And did you see the movie version of the house where Jaime Gumb lived in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the one where he kept the girls in the basement, is now for sale in someplace like St. Louis? Could you live there?? Yeesh.

    Jungle Red retreat to St John? whaddya say?

  10. Hill House, as in The Haunting of. The black and white film with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom got it just right. Scariest horror film ever and not a speck of blood in sight.

  11. So ALL the exteriors are drone shots? Or which ones?

  12. Kathy, I agree - you didn't need the blood!

    Hank, all of the exterior shots were done by a drone. It flew over, around and through the house! Watching it was quite an experience, but when I saw the images it captured, I was really stunned.

  13. Congratulations, Michele! The drone story is a hoot! Stunning setting and from what I am reading, a stunning book. It is waiting for me as we speak . . .

  14. Pemberly. That's all I can say about that.

    Buffalo Bill's house from Silence of the Lambs is for sale up here outside Pittsburgh. And it's only fifteen minutes from where I set my mystery series!

    When I was in the Caribbean in 1995, St. John was off-limits if you didn't have an invitation from a resident. I did see it in the distance when I visited St. Thomas, though. All green and sparkly.

  15. YES! The dining room in Great Expectations... Miss Havisham in her cobwebbed glory.

    Anyone remember the houses on Cherry Tree Lane (Mary Poppins)? And of course the one on 4 Privet Drive.

    Am I the only one who does not want to see drones get popular?

  16. So many of the buildings in Three Pines resonate with me. Most especially the Bistro, but also the house up on the hill.

    I have heard a significant amount of buzz about No Virgin Island, so I think I am going to need to check this book out. I need to clone myself so that I can read more and expand the blog further.

  17. Thanks, Brenda!

    Mary, I never heard that about St. John before and I've been going there for 30 years. I must have slipped through somehow. And Pemberly, of course!

    Three Pines is a place many readers seem to love. It would be a nice place to visit, as long as you didn't get murdered, Kristopher.

    Hallie, the drone was a hoot, but I do see reason to be cautious.

  18. Hank, how did I miss the suggestion about a Jungle Red Writers retreat in St. John?
    Yes! We'll have Jason Hubert come over and give us a drone show.

  19. Michele, fabulous video! And congrats on your first novel!

    I love houses in books. Mary Sutton beat me to Pemberly, and Hallie beat me to 4 Privet Drive. I think these places do exist, somewhere in an alternate universe... How about Cormoran Strike's flat/office in the Robert Galbraith books?

    And Lucy, no, Hayley cannot move off the houseboat!!

  20. I think I've read too many mysteries with houses as a character to be able to home in on just one. I would love to tour Midsomer County and enjoy all the weird villages, fairs, and murderous inhabitants. Not to mention all the feuds.

  21. Wow, Michele, that's a great video! And a drone captured the pictures. So high tech! One of my daughter's and son-in-law's best friends lives on St. Thomas. He went there about 8 years ago and hasn't looked back. I was thinking that when my daughter and SIL visited their friend a few years ago, that they were told they would need their passports to go to an island, which I thought was St. John's. They took them, but I don't think they ended up needing them. Can you clear up my thinking on that, Michele?

    So many great houses and places that are memorable in a story and take on a life of their own. I agree with Hank on Poe's House of Usher and with Kristopher about Three Pines. The Black House dwellings in Peter Mays' Scottish Island books have stayed with me. Of course, Lucy's houseboat for Haley Snow. I feel as if I know that boat intimately and love the co-existence of Haley and Miss Gloria there. Two favorite houses for me are Duncan's and Gemma's house that they lease (it so envelopes the family and exudes love) and Clare's rectory that she and Russ live in (a place where they've come together through a love that couldn't be denied). There's Kinsey Milhone's above the garage apartment, which was restored by her landlord after a fire. Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce lives in the crumbling old Buckshaw estate in Bishops Lace, England, and it is where she has a whole chemistry lab to herself. In The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, the museum of "freaks" that serves as a place of work and where the museum's owner's daughter, Coralie Sardie, lives is one strange, unforgettable place, too.

  22. Also, too many to mention ... but I'll list a few anyway.
    Tarn Cottage with its "cipher garden" where Daniel Kind lives in Martin Edwards' Lake District series.
    Ruth Galloway's small Saltmarsh home and environs.
    Just about any building or location in Peter May's The Blackhouse, but especially Sula Sgeir.

  23. Kathy Reel -

    Have you seen Peter May's Hebrides (described as a photo companion book to the Lewis Trilogy)?

    There's a slide show of some of the photos here:

    Though it's not a mystery, I'll add the cottage and garden in Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden to the list.

  24. Ah, the joys of having your Internet connection finally restored . . . .

    Now I need to add "No Virgin Island" to my to-be-read pile.
    This is a fascinating discussion . . . aside from the houses previously mentioned, and [of course] 221B Baker Street, how about Miss Honey’s Cottage ["Matilda"], Misselthwaite Manor ["The Secret Garden"], and Villa Villekulla ["Pippi Longstocking"]?

  25. Wow! I am really impressed by all of the memorable houses and places people have come up with here. I swear I can hear the sliding metal gate closing in the elevator in Cormoran Strike's office/flat in the new Robert Galbraith (wink-wink) series, Deb. And don't I remember a tiny but darling garage unit Gemma lived in those earlier books?

    Kathy Reel, you came up with quite the list! Kinsey Milhone's garage apartment (not just the current one but also the first one that burned down) stands out in my mind. I can see Kinsey dusting down the stairs with her socks. By the way, you don't need a passport to go to St. John, at least for now.

    Can't you all just see a fabulous coffee table book filled with pictures of all of these places that live on in are memories? We can have a drone take the photos!

  26. SharonTX, I actually have two copies of Peter May's Hebrides book. I had bought one, and I got chosen as a Peter May Super Fan, and I was sent another one. I loved the pictures in that book that went with the Lewis trilogy. Seeing what a black house looked like was so interesting.

    Michele, a coffee book would be fantastic!

  27. Oh, St. John's - Glorious - I remember going to Caneel Bay Resort in the early 1980s. Kathy, you may be thinking of Tortola. It's a BVI. In my day the Bomba Charger made the trip from St. Thomas, I think it went twice a day. I don't remember if I needed a passport, but that was in the 1980s, I'm sure all of that has changed! Houses in books - oh yes! Some more vivid than the book. There was a trilogy romance set in the late 1600s, started in NY and ended up in the Caribbean - The book begins in the winter in a glorious mansion on the Hudson River. Have no idea about the book titles, but the house - vivid. And who can forget Manderley? Or Innocent House in P.D. Jame's Original Sin.