No Way Out

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A narrow road meanders through icy, snowy woods behind the fictitious Verdell College School, the setting in my mystery novel, Icy Silence. The road leads to a river where the bodies of two young students are found submerged in a car. Even while the police investigate the mysterious deaths, gossip about a potential Romeo-and-Juliet-style incident spreads through the corridors of this exclusive boarding school.

When ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott visit the school for a weekend career presentation, the forces of nature prevent them from leaving. Mrs. Desmond, the “tough as nails” school dean, gathers staff and students to inform them about a disaster that could have dire consequences for all of them.

Here’s an excerpt from her speech:

“As you know by now, this ice storm is not to be taken lightly. The province has declared a state of emergency. We have no power. This translates to no electricity, no heat, and no way to communicate with the outside world. Regarding the latter, please conserve the power in your phones by turning them off. You’ll want to call your family to tell them you’re okay when the power returns.”

Grumbles resonated as students empathized with one another on their mutual loss.

The dean went on. “The ice storm continues to create treacherous situations. Tree branches have littered the campus, blocking lanes. Before we lost power this morning, we’d already learned that roads in the area had been closed due to fallen trees and live wires. In other words, you can’t get to Verdell and you can’t leave it—even if you wanted to.”

And then:

“We don’t know how long this storm will continue,” the dean said. “Though our bottled water and food supplies are adequate, they will have to be rationed… Smaller portions will be served.”

When the dean confirms rumors about a potential killer in their midst:

Expressions of fear and disbelief surged across the room like a tsunami until a collective roar swelled in the air. The students’ faces mirrored their panic.

An ominous situation on all counts! If you haven’t read Icy Silence, click on Books to find out where you can get your copy.

 

Dark Deeds: Setting the Mood

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The opening scene of Dark Deeds finds ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott driving along an isolated country road at night. They put their busy work schedules on hold and are looking forward to a relaxing weekend with friends at a lakeside resort. But that’s not going to happen.

In setting the ambiance for my mystery novel, Dark Deeds, I established an ominous mood in the first few pages to give readers a feel for the rest of the story. Imagery as seen through Megan’s eyes is part of that process. In this excerpt, she shares her thoughts:

Towering trees on both sides of the road blended into the starless sky, obscuring defining lines. The night was as soundless as it was black. We might as well have been in the middle of nowhere.

A brief banter between Megan and Michael ensues, but their conversation is cut short by a sudden intrusion. The mood darkens and Megan reacts:

The sound of sirens crept up on us. 

My heart beat faster.

A fire truck raced past—it red light flashing, tires spewing dust and stone pellets onto our windshield.

I flinched, raised my hand in a protective gesture.

Another unexpected sight raises the level of Megan's anxiety:

As we neared our destination, billows of white smoke rose above the trees to our left and vaporized in the air. My hand trembling, I pointed it out to Michael. “Isn’t that where we’re heading?” 

“Yes, and it doesn’t look good.”

Megan and Michael’s worst fears are realized when they arrive at the resort owned by their friends, Jessica and Ethan. Again, as told through Megan’s point of view:

I froze. A fire truck’s light bar flashed on Jessica and Ethan’s two-story clapboard house, thick smoke and flames shooting upwards….

I had my hand on the door handle before Michael turned off the engine…

I jumped out and raced toward the scene, my heart thumping.

These excerpts build up to the first dilemma in the story—a threatening fire. My sleuths encounter many more predicaments—and get into a lot more trouble—when they discover a frozen corpse, search for a missing child, and hunt for an elusive killer.

One reviewer described Dark Deeds as “extremely well-plotted and punctuated with shocks … delivers great twists and turns.” Another reader described it as “a solid well-written, taut mystery.” I'm so happy to hear that readers enjoy my mysteries. It motivates me to keep on writing and doing what I love!

If you haven’t yet read Dark Deeds, you're in for a thrilling ride. Visit my Books page to find out where you can get your copy.

Happy reading!

www.sandranikolai.com/books

 

 

No Safe Places

Have you ever followed GPS driving instructions to get to a new destination, only to discover that you’re not at all where you’re supposed to be? Scary situation, isn’t it? Even more so if it’s late at night and you’re miles from civilization!

Every day we put our confidence in people, places, and things that are supposed to be safe. We trust our family and friends, the stores where we shop, our home and work environment, and the computers and phones we use.

Though we expect our daily routine to unfold without a major hitch, we know that bad things do sometimes happen to people in places they consider secure. We don’t usually base this notion on personal experience but rather on news reports about school shootings, workplace revenge, and home invasions. Witnesses often claim, “We live in a quiet neighborhood. This kind of thing never happened here before.” We shake our heads, astounded yet relieved that such shocking events occurred to someone else, somewhere else, and we move on with our lives.

When I sit down to plot a mystery novel, I imagine that just like every rose has its thorn, every good thing has an unpleasant side. I modify this concept for my stories and focus on the fact that evil often lurks in familiar places. Everyday locations that we frequent aren’t dangerous in themselves, but when murder or another illegal activity transforms them into crime scenes, it destroys our perception of them as safe places. It’s no wonder people react with disbelief when they hear about a murder that occurred in a restaurant they regularly visit or on a street where they live.

In my mystery novel Fatal Whispers, the bodies of a millionaire’s young life, a parish priest, and a homeless woman are discovered in three respective settings within days: a mansion, a church, and a side street closed to traffic. These are areas where people would normally feel protected from physical harm. In the story, law enforcement and medical authorities are baffled by the incidents, not to mention the apparent lack of connection between the victims and the unknown cause of their deaths.

As my sleuths, Megan Scott and Michael Elliott, are pulled into the investigation, they visit and observe the alleged crime scenes for vital clues that can help them solve this mysterious case. They expand their search to other areas, stepping into places that are considered safe, though intensely aware that danger might still be waiting right around the corner.

If you haven’t yet read Fatal Whispers, and you think you’re up for the challenge of solving a triple murder mystery, click here to find the links to major book retailers.

Just remember: There are no safe places in my mysteries.

What My Readers Like

Thanks to social media venues and book-signing events, feedback from readers has given me insight into what they like about my mystery novels.

Readers tell me they like my main characters, ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. They enjoy the dialogue between them, their different approaches to investigating and solving a crime, and their deep respect for each other.

Readers understand that my protagonists are human and have faults, problems, and goals like everyone else. They appreciate Megan’s cautious curiosity and Michael’s risk-taking antics that get them into even more trouble as they track down criminals.

Readers also enjoy the different settings in my stories. False Impressions is set in cosmopolitan Montreal. Fatal Whispers takes my sleuths on a trip to the New England coastal town of Portland, Maine. Icy Silence restricts the setting to an elite boarding school with no access to outside help in the midst of an ice storm. The setting in my fourth novel, Dark Deeds, takes my sleuths to a bed-and-breakfast resort by the lake. To readers who haven't yet discovered my books, don’t let the location fool you. Each book offers nothing less than a heart-pounding whodunit!

When I started to write the first book in the series, False Impressions, I was already envisioning a series and made sure that each successive book could be read as a standalone. Readers don’t have to read my books in sequence either. I weave the basic history of my sleuths into every book so that each one is a complete story in itself.

My readers cross age groups and come from a variety of backgrounds. From young adults to seniors, they share a love of reading mysteries and the challenge of solving them. One reader described my books as “clean thrillers.” I tend to agree. My mysteries contain no explicit sex and no grisly gore since I find it difficult to write such scenes. The attraction between Megan and Michael is restricted to romantic moments, with sex happening behind closed doors.

Readers often post book reviews on websites such as Amazon, Goodreads, and Kobo. I’m always thrilled to see a new review pop up—even if it contains only a couple of sentences. Writers appreciate honest feedback and I’m no exception. It’s one of the ways I can learn what readers like and give them exactly what they want.

I’m currently plotting another daring adventure for Megan and Michael. Broken Trust, the fifth book in the series, is scheduled for publication this fall. Stay tuned!

www.sandranikolai.com/books

 

Film Noir and the Femme Fatale

Film noir was a style of black and white American mystery and crime drama films that evolved in the 40s and 50s. The mood or tone of the film often reflected fear, despair, ambiguity, entrapment, and paranoia—emotions produced by the insecurities of the Cold War period. You would hardly find happily-ever-after endings in a film noir. Some notable films of that era include Rebecca (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Laura (1944), and The Blue Dahlia (1946). More modern releases, also known as neo-noirs or post-noirs, are Fatal Attraction (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), and Mulholland Dr. (2001).

The film noir films feature an actress in the role of a femme fatale. One of the definitions of femme fatale in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a very attractive woman who causes trouble or unhappiness for the men who become involved with her.” Females in film noir films span the spectrum from honest and loving to dishonest and manipulative. Regardless, the end result is the same: The femme fatale implicates the male protagonist by involving him in intricate and dubious circumstances that plunges both of them into the depths of crime—usually murder—and inevitable disaster.

One reviewer referred to my mystery novel, False Impressions, as “a film noir style crime drama.” The theme of my story mirrors that trend to a degree, and I’ll sum it up here. My main protagonist Megan Scott meets investigative reporter Michael Elliott and, in film noir fashion, their working relationship places him in a desperate position after they become primary suspects in a murder investigation. Their lives spiral out of control as incriminating evidence builds and threatens to obliterate their weak alibis. Rising mistrust between them follows on the heels of despair and sets up a dark mood that, though not supported by smoke-filled rooms or abandoned warehouses often depicted in a film noir, is tangible nonetheless.

As for the femme fatale in my story, Megan Scott certainly fits the description: young, attractive, and vulnerable. But she’s also observant, smart, and independent.

I’d like to hear what readers have to say. Would you consider Megan Scott a femme fatale? Or does that label more aptly apply to another female character in my story?

If you haven’t yet read my first book in the series, grab a copy of False Impressions and let me know what you think.

http://www.sandranikolai.com/books