SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — There won’t be a “last” in Claremary Sweeney’s murder mystery series after all — even though she had planned to stop writing her South County murder-mystery series after six novels.
“Last Castle in the Sand” was published a few years ago and Sweeney said it would be the final book in this series of her self-published murder-mystery novels taking place in the various villages of South Kingstown.
There was nothing more to be said, Sweeney claimed at the time. And then came the pandemic.
Covid brought isolation in her former wooded environment around her home of decades in West Kingstown. In that seclusion, brought by disease and restrictions, she decided to write “Last Walk in the Park.”
“After I did Last Castle and delivered it in 2020 to people’s houses, I got people who said, ‘I can’t wait for your next one.’ I began to realize that might not be the last one,” she said about the turning point that opened the door to expand the series beyond South Kingstown to a mystery venture in Westerly.
“I basically fell into it. I just sat down and started to write,” she said. Soon after, “Last Walk in the Park” began to take shape, she said. It required research in the local library during the pandemic and that meant going to Westerly, where she sets the scene of a murder.
“Those librarians at the library, they were the best. They even gave me a room to use - when the library was closed to the public - for research. Of course, the library was part of the story and it would get play in the book,” Sweeney said.
Even this walk in the park won’t be the last, she pledged the other day during an interview. “Last Walk in the Park” went to press in early February and Sweeney released it about at the end of March.
And another murder-mystery book is on the horizon as is a play she is also crafting.
Sweeney noted that in this latest installment in the South County mystery series, she found the setting of Westerly “filled with interesting, generous people who are proud of their unique neighborhoods.”
“Many of its historic buildings were created from the granite in their famous quarries and readers will find this corner of the smallest state steeped in inspiring history and culture,” she wrote about the town.
This provided, she said, an ample amount of detail for her imagination to craft the story.
In essence, someone wants Dr. Ruth Eddleman to stay away from the Westerly Library where she’s been mentoring a group of local mystery writers. Her workshops have progressed innocently enough until one of the authors, Bartleby Schnelling, goes missing, but not before leaving the professor a cryptic warning.
Eddleman asks her friend, Detective Kara Langley - a main character found throughout all of Sweeney’s novels in the mystery series - to investigate Schnelling’s disappearance.
When his body is discovered under the ice in Wilcox Park’s skating pond, Kara must uncover the reasons for his murder. She becomes convinced someone did not want to see his spy novel published.
But was this enough motive to kill? Members of the workshop become prime suspects as she delves into their private lives and the backgrounds of the murder plots they are hatching between the covers of their books.
As the killer becomes more desperate, Langley realizes she must unravel the clues before Ruth becomes the next victim.
Sweeney said that she wanted to deal with a subject she knew best, mystery writing, and set the stage with Eddleman teaching four writers with different kinds of mysteries — romantic, spy thriller, memoir and play featuring a murder.
“I wanted to try putting stories within the story,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting to have these four mysteries going on and then in the larger picture have the writer disappear. So the larger one would be his mysterious disappearance.”
“It was challenging to have person treated as missing person while putting together and unraveling the other individual mysteries, too,” she added.
In turn, this aspect directed the point-of-view from which the novel was written. “The reader and killer know he’s dead, but Langley treats him as a missing person and do the other characters in the story,” she said about writing in the third-person narrative form.
In this format, the narrator exists outside the events of the story and relates the actions of the characters by referring to their names or by the third-person pronouns he, she, or they.
“I really enjoyed doing it, even under the circumstances of moving, Covid, packing up,” said Sweeney, who has left her wooded-area home for a number of reasons and now lives in the Village of Wakefield.
Life Changes for Author
Although growing older and with the pandemic upending her life, more importantly, her husband of 20 years died suddenly in March 2020 of a heart attack. Charley Sweeney had just received an “all clear” for remission for prostate cancer, she said shortly afterwards.
As she coped with these changes, she also changed up her plans for a novel and decided to focus on playwriting for a first time.
The play, “The Book Talk,” is a one-woman show where a woman is giving a book talk about her own books and people asking her questions that prompt flashbacks in which she re-enacts the scenes.
From reality comes the fiction as these relate to the ideas behind the plots and narratives in her books.
It also unveils, perhaps, some of the inner thinking and workings of her mind, Sweeney conceded.
While planning to craft the play over the next year, she said she intends to spend some time on her next South County mystery novel tentatively titled “Last Step Beyond the Pale.” It will be set in Wakefield and will take readers to Block Island as well introduce a new main character.
Will there ever be a book titled “Last Novel of Murdered Mystery Writer in South County?” Sweeney doubts it. However, she adamant about avoiding tired and old scenes from either her novels or own writing life.
“You never want to go stale and with a series you could go stale,” she said. “If you go beyond that point you are in a danger zone. It’s one step beyond the pale.”