By Jessica Estevao
Several years ago my husband and I were looking for a summer place near the water. I had no idea that our search would lead to a new series and a love of historical mystery writing. After looking at places all over the state of Maine we found the perfect spot in Old Orchard Beach. We spent that first summer renovating the house and basking on the beach. By the end of the first month we were utterly charmed.
After all, what’s not to love about seven miles of sandy beach and the last remaining seaside amusement park in New England? But while the kids were building sand castles and perfecting their body surfing technique, I found myself visiting the Harmon Historical Museum and buying antique post cards at Cottage Decor. Slowly, but surely, the history of Old Orchard worked its way into my affections and on my imagination.
I was intrigued to discover our property used to be part of a Methodist campground. While it now has different owners, the natural amphitheater they used for sermons and speakers is still in operation just up the street from our house.
I learned about the different incarnations the town had experienced. In the Victorian era it hosted wealthy families for the entire season at the grand hotels like The Hotel Velvet as well as day-tripping mill girls from neighboring Biddeford.
By the early 1900s, Grand Beach was popular with early auto racers as well as pioneering pilots attempting the first trans-continental flights. A few years later the big band era and dance marathons drew the crowds. Soldiers returning from WWII brought their families in droves throughout the middle of the twentieth century.
It was inevitable, I suppose, that all that information would work its magic on the story-telling part of my brain. Before I knew it, I started imagining the buildings and vehicles and amusements from the past still lining the streets. Then, of course, the buildings filled with imaginary people with all their intrigues and peculiarities.
Before long, the influence of Old Orchard had concocted Ruby Proulx, the protagonist for my latest book, Whispers Beyond the Veil. The Gilded Age hotel where she lives and works, her friends and family all invented themselves as I walked along the sand or imagined a trolley car trundling down the street beside me as I strolled to the shops. Reasons for murder and mayhem swooped into my brain like marauding seagulls making a play for picnic lunches.
Just like that, an historical mystery had snuck up on me. I had never intended to turn my hand to historical writing, but thanks to a little serendipity it had.
Jessica Estevao is the author of the Change of Fortune Mysteries and, writing as Jessie Crockett, the Sugar Grove Mysteries.
Whispers Beyond the Veil
A Change of Fortune Mystery
By Jessica Estevao
Berkley, trade paperback, 352 pages
on sale: September 6, 2016