In the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, I try to craft a setting that is as engaging as the characters who people it. But in a way, I’m cheating, because the Jersey shore is already compelling and unique. Its lush seascapes and quaint towns share the stage with its boardwalks, which run the gamut from family (Ocean City) to funky (Seaside Heights). My fictional town of Oceanside Park shares lots of characteristics of some real places along the shore, but in particular I am inspired by Asbury Park.
In Murder and Marinara, Victoria stops at a historic theater modeled on the Paramount and rides a Ferris wheel based upon my childhood favorite. In A Dish Best Served Cold, a historic carousel is central to the plot, an idea inspired by Asbury’s 1989 battle to save a piece of its history. (The town lost that fight when its 19th century carousel was auctioned off at Sotheby’s.) Old, ornate carousels, particularly those which include original organs are expensive to maintain, and some shore communities do not have the resources to keep them in safe and working order.
Carousels have an old and storied history, and occupy a special place in our childhood memories. How many of us fondly remember waiting excitedly on line, clutching our tickets, and picking out our favorite horses (or in my case, seat) to ride? As a child, I rode carousels on the boardwalks at Point Pleasant, Seaside Heights, and at many a summer carnival, but my favorite was the one housed in the copper-roofed carousel house in Asbury Park. In fact, the image of the carousel house on the cover of A Dish Best Served Cold was inspired by the beautiful, but sadly empty structure that still occupies the Asbury boardwalk.
In the story, the carousel house takes on critical importance. I won’t give it completely away, but here is a snippet from the story:
As I got closer, I saw the yellow police tape around the carousel house, an elaborate 19th century structure, its copper roof now an oxidized green. Its circular form was decorated with small windows framed in neo-Classical designs of vines and leaves. Over each window was a mythical face, whose stark expressions frightened me as a child. It was jarring to see that tape. The carousel house wasn’t a place for death; it was a place of magic and history…
To me that old carousel was magic, and I hoped I’ve captured a bit of it in my book.
So what are some of your own merry-go-round memories? Did you reach for the brass ring? Did you prefer the galloping horses or the fanciful “chariot” seats? Was there a favorite carousel in your own childhood?