For me, time is just as important as place in a mystery. My books are not only set at specific places but at specific times of the year that are appropriate for the story. Murder at Plimoth Plantation, for example, takes place in November, before, during, and after Thanksgiving, because that’s the holiday most closely associated with Plymouth and its Pilgrim settlers. Likewise, the third book in my series, Murder at Spouters Point, set at a fictional Rhode Island seacoast town, takes place in August, the time of an important event.
That event is Schemitzun, the Mashantucket Pequot-sponsored feast of green corn and dance, which is held near the tribally owned Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. Schmeitzun is the largest powwow east of the Mississippi and the richest with over a million in prize money. Why Schemitzun? Because I decided to make a key character in the book a champion fancy dancer. He competes at Schemitzun in the hopes of winning big bucks in prize money to pay for services for his severely disabled son.
Schemitzun (called Sequan in the novel) occurs over four days in late August. In New England, this is usually the time when the summer heat breaks. But not the year I attended the powwow with my then eleven-year-old son.
We were overwhelmed by the high temperatures our first day there. The competitive dances were held in a tented pavilion that reminded me of a gigantic sweat lodge filled with steaming bodies. Around us, people fanned themselves and sprayed their bodies with squirt bottles. My son and I consumed enough water to fill a small wading pool. Finally, in the late afternoon, after sitting through four hours of dance contests in different categories, we took a break and drove back to our air-conditioned motel room.
We returned in the early evening for more dance contests. The last contest was the men’s fancy dance. As the name suggests, it’s characterized by both flamboyant regalia (the native word for traditional clothing worn on ceremonial occasions) and flamboyant dancing. It’s also crucial to my novel. So, despite the oppressive heat and the threat of a thunderstorm or even a tornado, we stayed until the very end. I’m glad we did. The contest was spectacular. Just like my main character, I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the dancers.
In the novel, the fancy dance contest leads to murder and mayhem. This didn’t happen in real life. But as we drove back to the motel, echoes of Native drumming and chanting, along with the deafening hum of millions of cicadas filling our ears, while heat lightening flashed on the horizon, I thought what a perfect August night it was for a murder.