Saturday, October 23, 2021

There’s something about an island @LucyBurdette


LUCY BURDETTE: This summer we had planned to take a trip to Iceland that was cancelled when the country was moved to the “Do Not Travel” list. We were disappointed, but there's been a lot of disappointment over the last couple years and we know by now to count our blessings and make the best of a situation. So instead of Iceland, I made reservations for a few days at Mohegan Island off the coast of Maine. It's a tiny place, with a winter population in the 60s, as none of the tourist places are open. Visitors take a ferry about 12 miles out into the Atlantic to get there. We did a lot of hiking, and one day came to a cliff above the sea. The map told us that we should stay back from the edge as tidal currents and undertow would make rescue impossible. Can you hear the wheels turning in my mind? 


I can't really turn off my mystery writer brain when we are away from home, so as we sat out on the porch of our inn, I couldn't help noticing which people looked like locals who might make good characters in a new series. It seems to me that people who live on islands are different, a tougher breed than the visitors. In lots of cases, the climate is not necessarily appealing to outsiders during the off-season, so the residents are reduced to a small set during the winter, or the summer, depending on the latitude. Islands are obviously harder to get to, which might make them more alluring to visitors. Hard to reach = got to have it. Locals depend on tourist dollars, but probably resent the intrusion as well--at least some of the time.




You can drive to Key West of course, where my series is set, but it’s a long haul down a string of smaller keys. This is not so good for a criminal, because unless you own a boat or a sea plane, there’s only one road out. You can have a getaway car poised, but then you have to drive three hours to reach the landmass of Florida where you can disappear into Miami. The sheriff’s department is almost sure to pick you off before you arrive.


We visited Lord Howe Island about five years ago when we went to Australia, and it was probably the hardest place to reach that we’ve visited. (Most beautiful as well.) It took two flights, one from Melbourne to Newcastle and another from Newcastle to Lord Howe. The runway on that island is short enough that if the wind is blowing, either the flight from Newcastle doesn’t go, or a lot of luggage must be offloaded. This happened to us. In fact it happens often enough that they are prepared and distribute packages of gray sweats/pajamas and toothbrushes to all the folks missing their bags. (All of those gray pajamas came in large or extra large so you can imagine I was the height of fashion.)




Here's the sign that we spotted at the beginning of a hiking trail on Lord Howe. 





I always meant to write a short story about this experience, and even tracked down the one-person police station. Imagine someone getting pushed off the cliff... What if the killer had nothing to wear but those silly gray pajamas—like half the unlucky visitors without luggage? One day I'll get back to that.


But meanwhile, are you drawn to islands? Is there one you think would make a great mystery setting? Island book recommendations?


(Unsafe Haven, my upcoming thriller, opens on the island of Manhattan. You can read the first chapter here.)

73 comments:

  1. First, I just finished reading your wonderful, impossible-to-put-down “Unsafe Haven” . . . what an amazing story.

    I think I’d be stopped cold by the “You may fall and DIE” sign . . . .

    I’ve only been to a couple of islands . . . Hawaii and Catalina [we flew there to have lunch shortly after we were married]. Catalina might be fun for a mystery . . . there is a passenger ferry; there are also helicopter services, but you could travel with your own airplane [or helicopter] or boat . . . .

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    1. Oh thank you so much for reading, Joan!! I'm a little nervous about that book coming out into the world...

      Our ER doctor daughter had to fly in a helicopter to do something emergent on Catalina Island. I would like to see it one day.

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    2. It’s interesting how an island can feel even farther aware from the mainland than it is. We spent a weekend on Catalina and I remember being puzzled by seeing the local weather on the news. The ferry ride from Long Beach had tricked my brain into thinking we were on a far away vacation.

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  2. I love islands. There is something about them that just attracts me.

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  3. ROBRETA: I hope that Iceland gets off the DO NOT TRAVEL list and that you can take that cancelled trip one day.

    My two fave islands cover the spectrum from hot to cold: Oahu, Hawaii and Iceland.
    I have visited both several times.

    And I love that sign at Lord Howe hiking trail. You may fall and DIE is a pretty clear warning!

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    1. oh now I remember that you loved Iceland! We will definitely go another time. Two of my neighbors went recently and adored it.

      Yes, there's nothing subtle about that sign:)

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    2. I went in March 2015 and February 2017. Iceland was about 10-15 degrees WARMER than Ottawa so I was often without a hat or gloves. I got to see the Northern Lights and go to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa on my second trip, ticking off those bucket list items.

      But I would like to go back to Iceland in the summer. The flight from Toronto-Reyjkavik is only 5 hours, shorter than flying to some cities on the west coast of North America from Ontario.

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  4. My favorite island is Great Gott's Island off Southwest Harbor in Maine. I went a few times with a boyfriend whose family owned a house there. At the time we had to send a postcard to gruff Russy Gott about what time we wanted him to take us over in his lobster/mail boat. It's a never-motorized island, so you picked up one of the garden carts lying around near the dock to haul your stuff across island. The house had a water pump in the kitchen, no electricity, and a two-seater outhouse with no doors facing the rocky shore. I LOVED the whole experience. But yes, also a great place to set a murder...

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    1. send a postcard??? that's hysterical Edith. I bet he has a cell phone now...You couldn't take a car to Monhegan either, but a few of the locals had trucks to move luggage etc.

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    2. I know! Also, he might be dead by now...

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  5. Roberta, I love islands, too. Jonathan spent his junior year abroad in Japan and we met him in Hawaii for 2 weeks during his semester break. It was February. The ocean was full of whales, you could see them everywhere. There were places to pull off the road to watch the bays and straits. We visited 4 islands that time my favorite was Kauai but we loved them all.

    I've always been intrigued by islands. The Greek Islands are amazing, jewels in a turquoise sea. Most of my visits to Islands have been brief. If you are visiting from a cruise ship, you select one activity or two but it really doesn't give you more than a tiny taste of what living there would be like.

    I've been to lots of islands including Monhegan. The weather was horrendous but we hiked around anyway. Someday we'll compare notes on our visits there.

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    1. Judy we were very lucky to visit during 3 days of perfect fall weather. A junior year in Japan sounds absolutely heavenly!

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    2. In Jamaica and Hawaii, friends told me of "island fever" the claustrophobic need to go somewhere/anywhere to have a change of scenery and people. I was also made aware of the economic tangles when so much of the necessities have to come from elsewhere. Still, I enjoyed the visits, and during this last year, we've all been confined in islands of safety. As for those cliffs, I'm staying far back . . . farther . .. farther . . . <3

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  6. If you want a good story set on an island, try Peter May’s Entry Island. Peter May is an excellent author of Scottish origin, and Entry Island is an actual small island off Les Iles de la Madeleine in maritime Canada. It is sparsely populated, accessible only by ferry, and policed by the Surete de Quebec – all of which is important to the story. We saw it from afar a few years ago, and a more barren place is hard to imagine. It is on my bucket list to visit – after I have reread the story!

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    1. Entry Island is a great book with the remote setting Margo describes. I don't know if I would want to go visit, though.

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    2. Sounds very interesting. I’ve read his The Blackhouse, in which an island is also crucial.

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  7. Islands sound absolutely wonderful -- generally and the specific ones described here. I've not explored many, but love the sound of those that are non-motorized and non-cell-phoned. Wow, what a way to get away from it all...but murder might be just behind that tree. Yikes!

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    1. Exactly Amanda, without communication and access, the investigations get harder and harder

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  8. Congratulations on your latest release!

    Nantucket, but not in the summer. Spring, for the daffodil festival, or during their glorious fall.

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    1. I love Nantucket too, though haven't visited in a number of years

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  9. I love islands. I’ve been brought up on the est end of Montréal island. Who would now believe that there were still some farms a couple of miles from home at the time.
    I visited and stayed on many little islands on the St Lawrence River ( Îles de la Madeleine included ).
    I visited big ones like Vancouver Island, Ireland, Australia. My favourite one to date is Norfolk Island at 2.5 hours flight from Brisbane or Sydney in the South Pacific. Little island rich of history, nature and beauty, a paradise.

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    1. Danielle, Norfolk Island is ever further away than Lord Howe! Now I'm intrigued. Have Not visited those island in the St Lawrence River either

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    2. I’ve always been interested in Norfolk Island since reading about it in Tales of the South Pacific.

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  10. That sign made me shiver, Roberta! I have thought about that very issue of the long drive to Miami after committing a crime. No place to run. An island is almost a locked room environment for a mystery.

    We've been to the Big Island of Hawaii, Kauai, and Manhattan. Ha.

    The most isolated island I've visited was Pelee Island, the southernmost inhabited point of Canada. There's a private sports club called, unimaginatively, the Pelee Club, and a lot of Cincinnatians have been members--going back to the 1800s, including several friends. We drove to Sandusky and then took a puddle jumper plane over Lake Erie to get there. It's in a vast old, creaky building with communal bathrooms and a warren of guest rooms, and would make a perfect spot for a murder. The weather can change in an instant, and we were nearly swamped one day while out in a small boat fishing. A huge storm came up suddenly, so we jumped out to shore to find whatever shelter we could from the lashing winds. Our boat drifted out far enough that the guys had to swim out to get it once the storm stopped. It was a memorable day, not least because the bushes we rode the storm out in were covered in migrating monarch butterflies, fluttering madly in the wind.

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    1. oh my gosh Karen, you have to write that story!!!

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    2. KAREN: I want to go visit Pelee Island someday but it's hard since I don't drive. They have several award winning wineries there.

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    3. I haven't been there in almost 40 years, but I don't think there are many vehicles there. Lots of bicycles, though!

      Another island, of course, is Mackinac. How could we forget that one?

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  11. I love islands. There is something so peaceful and at the same time menacing about them.

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  12. I have a soft spot for two islands in particular. We have friends who let us borrow at their house on Cuttyhunk, a little island near Martha's Vineyard. There's not even a car ferry. And Peaks Island off the coast of Portland, Maine, where my daughter and her family have a cottage. Both islands are small enough for even a wimpy athlete like me to circumnavigate. The cottage on Peaks was a great respite during the worst of the pandemic.

    (An aside after Karen's post... just read that monarch butterflies have made a bit of a comeback this year.)

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  13. You know we always go to Nevis in the Caribbean, a tiny tiny island that you have to get to buy a tiny tiny ferry.. it’s gorgeous, with expenses of white beaches, and absolutely no one there.
    Speaking of signs, though. You have to get a drivers license in Nevis, and to do that you have to go to the police station.
    Last time we were there, there was a sign posted saying beware of a burglar who was hitting the area. The sign warned, “ the burglar may be disguised as a vicar or a meter man”
    Isn’t that perfect? I still laugh when I think of that.

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  14. Roberta, I just read that first chapter. Holy cow! You have stunned me. Congratulations. I know this book will be a huge success.

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    1. Thanks Edith, from your lips... It's a small press and small distribution, so I'm hoping for word of mouth!

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  15. Who doesn't love an island? It was always my dream to live on my own island off the coast of Maine. Thank Elisabeth Ogilvie and her wonderful books for that. But the closest I have come is camping on one of the islands in Lake George. We were so lucky to get an island with only one campsite. I highly recommend that experience if you don't have the funds for a more exotic island, which I'm sure would be very nice too!

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    1. Our son and son-in-law go camping with their niece and nephew every summer Judi--they love those islands!

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  16. I've only been to several of the Lake Erie Islands, but islands in general do intrigue me. As a youngster I read a mystery set on one of the Caribbean islands--it involved the discovery of a Vermeer painting--sparking a lifelong interest in islands and Vermeer.

    Lucy/Roberta--I love how you dived off the deep end, so to speak, and birthed An Unsafe Haven. Congrats!!

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  17. When I was a student I spent three months in Greece, mostly island hopping. It still remains on of the magical experiences of my life. Time had no meaning

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    1. what a wonderful experience Rhys! I see the bones of one of your fabulous stand-alones...

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  18. Oh oh... reading the post and all these comments is giving me such a yearning to get me to an island...soon. We've missed our regular trip to Vancouver Island...:^(( And now I keep thinking about all these islands, large and small, I've visited. Newfoundland, Prince Edward, Cape Breton on Canada's east coast, Quadra, Malcolm, Gabriola, Alert on the west coast. Plus the joy of finding a campsite on an island when canoeing in Algonquin Park. And Skye. (I can't really think of island nations as islands, somehow. Ireland, much of UK, NZ.)

    The closing lines from a poem I remember from my childhood come to mind:
    ....If you've once slept on an island, you'll never be quite the same.

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    1. no, wait, it was Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island.

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    2. that's a great line! Yes big countries can be islands without feeling quite the same. But witness New Zealand cutting the world off during Covid. It would be hard to do that if it wasn't an island.

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  19. I've visited Alcatraz a few times in my former life as a Recreation Coordinator but it has been years since I've ventured on to the bay.

    I just read chapter one of Unsafe Haven. Wow.

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  20. Lucy, I had never heard of Lord Howe's Island, and looked it up on Wikipedia... which led me down a rabbit hole of the flora and fauna found only on that island. An hour later I remembered I still hadn't commented. What a fascinating place! Now it's on my bucket list.

    And yes, islands are the perfect spot for a murder mystery (and have also featured prominently in horror and romance novels as well!)

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    1. Julia, on the plane over, a very avid birdwatcher told us about the elusive Lord Howe rail--that's why she was going. Of course, we had no idea... But on the little 9-hole golf course, we spotted one of those birds. We saw her in the little town later (both of us in gray pajamas) and told her how we'd stumbled onto it. She was a little outraged!

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  21. I’ve read some tweets about Ian Rankin’s Murder Island, which has 8 members of the public competing to solve the mystery. Anyone following that show? Seems like islands and murders are a classic mix.

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  22. Lucy, I would love to visit Catalina Island off the coast of southern California because NO cars are allowed on the island.

    Diana

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  23. The most remote island I’ve been to is Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. Not a great murder location, population is too small and no nearby mainland to disappear into.

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  24. The video is entrancing, literally!
    There is something about an island. I'm sure part of the mystery is always being so close to the water.

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  26. I'm curious about the luggage on the trip to Lord Howe island...is it offloaded prior to departure? For a moment I envisioned a trap door and luggage flying out the back like a suit case edition of D.B. Cooper. I love Prince Edward Island, but haven't been back in years.

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    1. They make a decision about the weight of the plane at the interim stop. we saw them unloading it--ack!

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  27. Islands are very appealing. But after watching Midnight Mass, and now the latest season of The Sinner I have to wonder if that's such a good idea to live on one!

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  28. We spend summers on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, the largest fresh water island in the world. Look it up ...it is a world to it's own. Try to visit in the summer by ferry or a wonderful turn bridge in the north.

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    1. that looks lovely--I bet the climate is much like the UP, which you'll see in tomorrow's post!

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  29. In Jamaica and Hawaii, friends told me of "island fever" the claustrophobic need to go somewhere/anywhere to have a change of scenery and people. I was also made aware of the economic tangles when so much of the necessities have to come from elsewhere. Still, I enjoyed the visits, and during this last year, we've all been confined in islands of safety. As for those cliffs, I'm staying far back . . . farther . .. farther . . . <3

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    1. Yes we have all been islands:(. The first year we spent a month in Key West, I felt very claustrophobic. But we didn't know anyone, and also didn't know how much is going on in Key West under the surface! That said, Hayley Snow is feeling claustrophobic at the beginning of book twelve, A DISH TO DIE FOR.

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  30. Have just read Chapter 1 of Unsafe Haven, Lucy/Roberta. Let me add my WOW! to the chorus above. Holy cow, what an opening chapter. Bring on the Nov 1 e-book release date!

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  31. Does the UK count in the island tally? Scotland is only 25 miles wide at its narrowest point! I was feeling a bit island deficient, but when I thought it I've actually visited quite a few. Key West, as you know, Lucy, and thanks to you! Puerto Rico, Grand Bahama, Vancouver Island, the San Juans, Alcatraz. Oh, and Skye, which is so beautiful. I'd love to visit again, and to some other Scottish island. The Isle of Wight is on my bucket list, too.

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