Today the Chicks are pleased to welcome Katherine Bolger Hyde, whose newest book in the Crime with the Classics series, Cynanide with Christie, was just released. Katherine is a member of the Santa Cruz Women of Mystery, along with Chick Leslie Karst—who wholeheartedly agrees that it’s about time for summer to finally come to Northern California.
The weather has been odd this spring in my little corner of the California coast. Where normally at this time of year we’d be cavorting on the beach in tank tops and flip-flops, it’s been so cool and rainy that we’ve had to choose between bundling up in our winter togs to stay warm and dry or defying the elements to dress as if it really were the time of year the calendar says it is. I’d almost come to the conclusion that aliens—perhaps the Jedoon from Doctor Who—had kidnapped the whole state and transported it to the southern hemisphere.
All this concern with weather has led me to think about how weather gets used in fiction. Throughout the history of the novel, weather has been used for everything from adding atmosphere (think Wuthering Heights or To Kill a Mockingbird) to justifying characters’ bad behavior (think White Oleander or Rain) to influencing the plot in significant ways.
Agatha Christie was especially fond of using weather as a plot element in her stories. In And Then There Were None, a storm isolates the characters on an island from which there is no escape, so that they can be picked off one by one. In Appointment with Death, the victim is given a paralyzing drug and left to nearly die of sunstroke in the ovenlike Syrian heat. And in Murder on the Orient Express, snowdrifts stop the train on the tracks, providing both a vital clue—the lack of footprints in the snow—and the delay that allows Poirot to solve the crime and make his decision to conceal the truth of it from the police.
So when I came to write my own mystery that plays off of Christie’s oeuvre—Cyanide with Christie—it seemed only natural to make the weather a motive force. The main series setting is a relatively isolated country house on the Oregon coast, so to cut the house off completely by means of an ice storm was child’s play. Throw in an old-fashioned Christmas celebration, some festering family secrets, and a handful of characters who hate each other but can’t escape, and you have all the ingredients for a nice little Christie-esque murder.
Meanwhile in Santa Cruz County, the frustration caused by all the recent clouds and fog and chilly days may have fostered lurking murderous tendencies in some of the residents. But today the sun is out, the sky is smiling, and the weather mavens tell us we may expect some more seasonal weather in the coming week. Maybe we can finally unpack our flip-flops and take out all our aggressions by playing volleyball on the beach.
Readers: What effect does the weather have on your day or your mood? Do you like novels where the weather plays an important part in the plot?
About Cynanide with Christie:
Emily Cavanaugh is planning to celebrate a traditional Dickensian Christmas with the first batch of writer guests in her newly opened retreat center. But with the arrival of an unexpected guest and an ice storm that traps everyone together, Emily’s holiday turns into a Christie Christmas instead—complete with murder.
Katherine Bolger Hyde has devoted her life to books as a reader, editor, and writer. Since none of those things pays very well, in middle life she turned to crime—writing, that is. Katherine is the author of the Crime with the Classics traditional mystery series. She lives in Santa Cruz County with her husband, youngest son, and two obstreperous cats.
Learn more about Katherine here.