By Kathryn Knight
Welcome to Moonlight and Mystery! We are glad you have visited and hope you’ll come by every Friday to read about some of the fascinating places we’ve set our novels! Sometimes a setting can serve as a character in and of itself, whether it’s a cozy small town, a bustling city, a seaside harbor, an exotic foreign country, a mysterious bayou, a Gothic castle…the possibilities are endless, but the author usually has a good reason to choose a setting, and we’re going to explore some of those reasons—without spoilers, of course—and we’d love to hear from you in the comments section!
Two of my novels—and my nearly complete 5th manuscript—are set on Cape Cod, which is where I’ve lived for the past 20 years. Authors often “write what we know”, and I’ll admit, it is easier to write about somewhere you’re intimately familiar with. But Cape Cod also makes an interesting setting for many reasons: it’s basically an island, connected only to the rest of the U.S. by two bridges. That isolates us a bit, and it can make getting on or off very difficult, especially in the summer, when the population swells with vacationers and summer residents coming to enjoy all our fabulous beaches, over 1,000 lakes and ponds, abundant woods, quaint towns, and historic sites.
I set Haunted Souls, a steamy second-chance romance/ghost mystery, in Barnstable Village, which is steeped in much of that history. The initial inspiration for this book came for a ghost tour I went on with my sister. It started and ended at what’s known here as the Old Jail, and it’s truly a historic gem. It’s the oldest wooden jail house in the entire country, actually, and is thought to have been built in 1690, on orders from the Plymouth and MA Bay Colony Courts. It was in use until the 1800s, and was moved around a bit, eventually attached to a barn. It was rediscovered in 1968, detached from the barn, and moved next to the Coast Guard museum on 6A.
The structure itself is quite small, containing three cells which held large numbers of people sometimes. According to our guide, conditions were rough and people had to take turns lying down to sleep when cells were crowded. As you can imagine, many people died, and the site is considered actively haunted.
Goody Hallett, the lover of the infamous pirate Samuel Bellamy, was imprisoned there in 1716, and is said to be one of the ghosts in residence. If you’re so inclined, you can even pay to spend the night at the Jail. On our tour, we were shown photographs with shadowy figures taken by volunteers who work in the jail house. A few of the volunteers shared their stories as well, and one claimed that a ghost had followed them home and engaged in some poltergeist-like activities. Well, that got my attention right way, and my imagination started churning. My sister had her little daughter with her, and I started to wonder what would happen if a young child with sensitive abilities took pity on a lost soul, and actually invited a ghost to come home with them. The initial idea was born.
As I developed the story, a number of other spots on Cape Cod made appearances: The enormous military base we have here (referred to still as “Otis” by many) came into play as the reason my military hero returned to his hometown. Snake Pond, the Popponesset Bay and Peninsula (“The Spit”), The 180 acre Old Jail Lane conservation area, and some ancient graveyards, to name a few. To complete part of the plot, I had to research the Cape’s past as well, which was fascinating, and I share some of that in the novel.
What about you? Do you have a favorite setting in terms of books you like to read? Have you ever visited the Cape, or would you like to in the future? Chime in!