When I started writing Sweet After Death I decided that I wanted to write what was in essence a locked-room mystery but instead of walls I would use impenetrable landscape to isolate my characters. Imagine a small town – barely more than a village, imagine it pretty in a kind of American gothic way. Now, surround this lovely example of Americana with mountains and wilderness of the type we don’t get here – where the landscape is tidy and polite even in its wildest forms. In short, make it beautiful but make it deadly.
It was enormous fun taking my main character, Homicide Detective Alice Madison, away from her usual Seattle location and drop her in the middle of completely unknown territory. There is something very appealing about living a life away from the pressures and the grim realities of an urban environment – and Madison has always felt a deep connection with the nature and wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. However, the truth is that the lovely inhabitants of the town of Ludlow are far more dangerous than the wolves that roam the nearby plains.
The murder that has led Madison to Ludlow is the first ever in the county and quite horrific. And soon she realises that the murderer must still be among the group of people who have welcomed her so kindly.
There are many challenges in this set-up because I wanted not only the structure of a locked-room mystery but also a sense that the killer was not done yet, and that Madison herself would become part of his or her end game. The problem was that everyone in Ludlow had secrets – that’s why most of them had decided to live in such an out of the way place – and some of those secrets were lethal.
Madison herself has been keeping her own secrets and the investigation brings back memories that she had not dealt with for a long time – the monster in her past is just as dangerous as the one in her present.
The beauty of writing a locked-room mystery in the middle of the mountains is that I could take advantage of the claustrophobic nature of dark, forbidding forests while at the same time using the very same landscape as a release and a passage to freedom for some of the characters.
In the end, as ever, nothing is quite what it seems – maybe not even Madison – and the locked room opens up to let in light as much as darkness.
Sweet After Death by Valentina Giambanco
In the dead of winter Homicide Detective Alice Madison is sent to the remote town of Ludlow, Washington, to investigate an unspeakable crime. Together with her partner Detective Sergeant Kevin Brown and crime scene investigator Amy Sorensen, Madison must first understand the killer's motives...but the dark mountains that surround Ludlow know how to keep their secrets and that the human heart is wilder than any beast's. As the killer strikes again Madison and her team are under siege. And as they become targets Madison realises that in the freezing woods around the pretty town a cunning evil has been waiting for her.