Mystery Authors Who’ve Inspired Me

I started reading mysteries at age ten with Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, my Mom’s favorites. It was more about the far away locales and characters who grew orchids and wore bowler hats than the plot. I never once figured out who did it. After that, lots of fiction but no mystery until the past fifteen years. My brother and I have traded off buying Tony Hillerman, Dick Francis, “The Cat Who”‘ mysteries, Jonathon Kellerman, and Sue Grafton the minute they were released in what used to be known as “hardcover.” Sadly only Jonathon and Sue are still alive. These later favorites also operate in interesting locales and associate with interesting characters, but also let us know that community is important, as is trying to follow the Golden Rule.

On my own, I’ve read Jane Langton. Her novel Divine Inspiration showed me that a church building could be a character. And then Father Tim, in the Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Not technically mysteries, but structured much the same. They taught me that fictional clergy people could be balding, insecure at times, and a little clumsy. Of course I already knew this, being married to my own clergy person. Even more community, funny, interesting characters, and overt spirituality. Then the Reverend Clare Ferguson series by Julia Spencer-Fleming . Another small community on the East Coast with the amazing name of Millers Kill, interesting characters, spirituality, and topical themes, but faster paced, with chills, thrills and an illicit love affair. My recent favorite is Louise Penney’s Inspector Gamache Series, set in Canada, involving an even smaller community and astute commentary on the characters’ interior lives. None of my favorites are set on the unchurched west coast, my editor Jennifer pointed. out. I still very rarely figure out who did it, and that’s been the hardest part of writing Death in the Memorial Garden.

No more mysteries that I remember until fairly recently.

Ashes, Ashes

The inspiration for Death in the Memorial Garden came from an essay I wrote called, “Ashes, Ashes,” about the many ways we honor and “dispose of” our departed loved ones. In it, I described the grassy courtyard between our downtown Seattle church and its parish hall. The courtyard is called the Memorial Garden, and under it are buried the remains of many former members and their families.
To reserve a spot, you must agree that there will be no urn, and no marker other than your name on a plaque inside the church. You must also not be bothered by the idea that the grass above your resting place will be the scene of Easter Egg hunts, summer concerts, and St. Francis Day animal blessings. The soft green grass will also attract urban campers, as well as flocks of pigeons fed by an eccentric lady from the neighborhood.
After finishing the essay, I wondered, what would stop someone from performing a do-it-yourself burial when no one was watching? What if they didn’t bother to remove the ashes from the urn or other container, but just dug a hole big enough for everything, and carefully replaced the sod on top? And what would happen if this was the same location pre-reserved by someone else, someone whose internment was today?  And what if the pigeon lady and her flock decided to attend the service?
So I wrote a mystery to answer those very questions.