Posted in Giveaway, Guest Post, mystery on November 10, 2015

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A friend’s murder. An unconnected cast of suspects, including the victim’s missing adult daughter. As if that wasn’t enough, Brynn Bancroft’s winery has been broken into. Can she deal with her co-owner ex and help the police find her friend’s murder so she can finally overcome her own troubled past and enjoy family life with her teenage ward?


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Thoughts from Joyce

The Ominous Ordinary: Creating Tension in Commonplace Setting

By Joyce T. Strand, Author

“As a rule, said Holmes, the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify.”-Arthur Conan Doyle

As the author of whodunits featuring amateur sleuths who encounter murder and mystery in their everyday routine lives, I heartily concur with Sir Doyle. It is more disturbing to learn about a murderer who sat at our dinner table than to read about an invasion of Zombies who we know are not real. I take showers much more aware of the surroundings since I saw Psycho, and I stare down every bird that comes within a few feet of me since I watched The Birds.

However, the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the shocking presents both challenges and opportunities. Pacing poses a problem when introducing the routine, while simultaneously building suspense essential to a mystery. At the same time, setting offers an opportunity to integrate the “commonplace, featureless crimes.” Finally, credibility of an amateur helping to solve a crime presents a special problem.

In my current mystery, Landscape for Murder, my heroine Brynn Bancroft is excited about launching a new wine, renewed by looking after her teenage ward, and relieved to be overcoming her past. Crime does not typically intrude on her daily schedule. When she is not spending time with her ward or her ex-husband, she helps pour wine in the tasting room, prepares marketing events for her new wine, or occasionally relaxes while painting landscapes. Idyllic, perhaps, but not too exciting.

To help jump-start the pace, I opened the book with the murder of her artist friend. The police come to her because the victim was not well known and they think she might know something that could help solve the crime. Immediately this draws her into the tension of wanting to discover who killed a friendly elderly man who seemed harmless with little wealth to gain—a man she had painted with and who had spent Thanksgiving dinner with her and her family.

At the same time, by setting the book in wine country, I discovered news articles about a rash of burglaries of cases of wine. So as I weaved in Brynn’s preparations for the launch of her new wine, I could apply the threads of the wine burglaries as part of the plot. And build and integrate the two crimes—or not.

When we read a crime novel featuring a homicide detective, such as Michael Connelly’s Harry “Hieronymus” Bosch, we do not question his basic ability or likelihood to track down and catch a murderer. Nor do we doubt the logic of Sherlock Holmes or the contribution of Hercule Poirot’s “little gray cells.”

However, when we read a whodunit starring an amateur sleuth—an ordinary person—we need some reason to believe that she can participate and help solve a crime or escape from one. I have used several methods to establish my protagonist as a credible sleuth.

First, she fails before she succeeds. It is unlikely that an amateur will solve a crime that the professionals cannot, so she doesn’t. Somehow she manages to blunder her way into a predicament that eventually leads to a solution. Second, the criminal chases her believing she knows something and draws her in making it impossible for her not to solve it—after she’s been beaten and bruised. In both cases, she befriends law enforcement who bail her out of predicaments and simultaneously solve a crime.

Although I certainly enjoy reading a good procedural crime novel, I also find the paths taken in an ordinary setting by an ordinary person to solve an extraordinary crime—well, at a minimum, a very satisfactory whodunit.


About the Author


Mystery author Joyce T. Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products.

She is the author of the Jillian Hillcrest mysteries ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE, the Brynn Bancroft mystery HILLTOP SUNSET and the historical mystery, THE JUDGE’S STORY.

Strand received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.

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1st Prize: Kindle Fire 7” WiFi 8GB Black plus ebook or paperback copy of Landscape for Murder

2nd Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card and ebook or paperback copy of Landscape for Murder

3rd Prize: ebook or paperback copy of Landscape for Murder

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