Guest Chick: Meri Allen

We’re thrilled to welcome our very dear friend to Chicks today! You loved her Lobster Shack mysteries, and if you haven’t read her Ice Cream Mysteries you’re in for a delicious treat. (Doesn’t that cover make you want to race to your local ice cream place?)

A Castle in Connecticut? Sure!

I was recently on a writers’ panel called Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (yes, they did play the David Bowie song as we took the stage.) It was all about how the pandemic has changed our writing, both our approach and our work.

All the authors agreed that even with all the changes we’ve been through, one thing remains the same. Reading is a treasured escape, and one aspect of that escape is that we readers like to escape TO a particular place or setting.

Think the settings of your favorite books. The American Southwest of Tony Hillerman’s books. Cara Black’s Paris. The setting doesn’t have to be real: Cabot Cove. Carseley. (Any British village works for me!) 221 Baker Street. Even more specifically, I love Jen Chow’s L.A. night market, a seat by the fire at Olivier’s Bistro in Three Pines, and Ellen Byron/Maria DiRico’s Belle View Catering Hall.

I write the Ice Cream Shop Mysteries, set in the northeastern corner of Connecticut. It’s definitely Hallmark movie country, as shown by the number of movies they film here. My completely fictitious town, Penniman, has all the things a dream village should have: a covered bridge, rolling hills dotted by red barns and blanketed with autumn color in the fall, and the charming Udderly Delicious Ice Cream shop. That’s where my main character, Riley Rhodes, whips up small batches of the freshest, creamiest ice cream you can imagine. Penniman’s town green is surrounded by shops, including The Penniless Reader Used Bookstore and a teashop in a painted lady Victorian with a resident Highland terrier named Lily. It seemed that my setting had it all, but, dear readers, something was missing. I’ve been wanting Riley to solve a locked room mystery, and I wanted a castle for her to do it in. So I didn’t quite build one in Penniman. I simply relocated one.

The power we writers have!

As a Connecticut native, I’ve always loved Gillette’s Castle. William Gillette, an actor who portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the early years of the twentieth century, built his craggy pile (as one character in Mint Chocolate Murder describes it, with “more fortification than Disneyfication”) on the evocatively named Seventh Sister overlooking the Connecticut River in a tiny town called East Haddam. An influential actor, he coined the term “Elementary” (which doesn’t occur in the books) and embodied the lean look of Holmes along with the pipe and deerstalker hat.

With a few keystrokes, I moved Gillette’s Castle to northeastern Connecticut and renamed it Moy Mull.

I conjured a Gilded Age millionaire who loved Scotland so much he built his own castle in Penniman’s rolling hills and brought home a bonny Scottish wife to live there. According to Penniman old timers, he also brought a ghost when he had the stones of the castle shipped across the Atlantic. The castle grounds are now the site of an art colony and gallery, and the castle itself is home of the reclusive super model Maud Monaco. When Maud asks Riley to create unique treats for a fantasy ice cream social, Riley jumps at the chance to stretch her creative muscles and meet the intriguing recluse.

The most important part of the castle? The dungeon. What better place for a locked room mystery?

What’s your favorite book setting to escape to? Chicks, have you played fast and loose with local geography to make your setting work?

For more information on Gillette’s Castle, click here.

Want to know a bit more about Mint Chocolate Murder? Here’s the scoop!


When Udderly Delicious Ice Cream shop manager Riley Rhodes is summoned to Penniman, Connecticut’s Moy Mull Castle, it’s the cherry on top of a successful summer season. The gothic pile built by an eccentric Gilded Age millionaire has been transformed into a premiere arts colony by Maud Monaco, a reclusive former supermodel.  As part of Moy Mull’s Fall Arts Festival, Maud is throwing a fantasy ice cream social and hires Riley to whip up unique treats to celebrate the opening of an exhibit by Adam Blasco, a photographer as obnoxious as he is talented.

As Penniman fills with Maud’s art-world friends arriving for the festival, gossip swirls around Blasco, who has a dark history of obsession with his models. Riley’s curiosity and instincts for sleuthing are piqued, and she wonders at the hold the cold-hearted photographer has over the mistress of Moy Mull. But when Adam is found dead behind the locked door of Moy Mull’s dungeon, Riley realizes there’s more than one suspect who’d wanted put the malicious photographer on ice.

You can preorder now!

Meri Allen is the pen name of Shari Randall, author of the beloved Lobster Shack Mystery series. A former librarian, she loves books, travel, and all things mermaid. You can sign up for The Scoop newsletter to keep up with book news, fun giveaways, delicious recipes, and images of cozy New England.

27 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Meri Allen

  1. I’m from eastern PA, so I love books set in PA or Jersey. I basically love where all of my old trusted authors take me. Ok, that came out wrong. I don’t mean “old.” I’m just going to sip my coffee, put myself in the corner without my kindle and think about what I said. I know, one minute per year I am old… I know. I’ve been here before…*sigh.*

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for your post that highlights the importance of setting, Meri. I have two favorite settings, both of which I have used in stories. One is Manhattan, where I went to high school, which I consider my unofficial home town. I used 1930s Manhattan as the setting for my HP Lovecraft pastiche, The Legacy of the Unborn. My other fave setting is Victorian London. I have written a number of Sherlock Holmes stories for publishers in the US and the UK, so I have extensive sources so I can make my stories sound as if they were written by Conan Doyle himself.

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  3. Welcome, Shari! I grew up in CT and I’m thrilled to learn about the castle (and your new book with my fave ice cream flavor in the title!). I like to read about just about EVERYWHERE–past, present or (more rarely) future. I’ll admit to a special love of rainy England and anywhere near a beach (lobster shacks a bonus). In my own books, I have so far never used an actual setting. That’s probably b/c when I worked for a book packager, we weren’t allowed to create anything with a real place–in part as the setting needed to appeal to as many readers as possible, but also it made things easier: no need to worry about getting sued or receiving letters from miffed local readers. (It’s not Chestnut St., it’s Oak, blah blah blah). Plus, that way, new authors writing for an established series didn’t have to know every detail about the place. But the idea was to mirror the mood and feel of a particular locale.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lisa! Creating one’s own setting does eliminate a lot of problems. When I was writing my Shari Randall Lobster Shack mysteries, my setting was real life Mystic, CT, but I changed it to “Mystic Bay” and eliminated the very pesky bridge in the center of town. Oh the power!

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    1. Hi Liz, I know just what you mean! I just returned from a trip to Utah and Arizona, and now I have tons more favorite places. I think we have to develop a traveling amateur sleuth who goes to a different place in each book….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Congrats, Shari/Meri, and welcome back to the blog! Thanks also for the shout-out for my new series!

    I tend to make up communities/neighborhoods near actual places (Los Angeles, SF Bay Area). This is probably because I’m too lazy to actually get all the street names and tiny details correct. Plus, I don’t want to be populating a real town with too many murders! I do, though, love inserting real local attractions into my books for fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are wise, Jen, and you bring up a good reminder about avoiding Cabot Cove syndrome. Unavoidable sometimes, but I’ve sworn that I will never have a body drop in my ice cream shop. Never!


  5. If I love the characters, they can be any ‘ol place! As for writing, I keep my characters in geography I’m familiar with, but I change it up to avoid those pesky bridges in the middle of town!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sleepyside! What a great name – instantly makes me feel cozy. And yes, I can’t wait for you to visit Penniman and the castle! I believe the elves at St. M’s are supposed to send you a book


  6. Setting your books in a real town, as I did with Santa Cruz for my Sally Solari mysteries, can cause quite the headache when you need your character to be someplace in five minutes but you know in reality it would take more like thirty. But I have occasionally moved things around (and noted that, “yes, I know I moved it” in an “author’s note,” so as to not cause the rolling of eyes of local residents).

    And I agree that setting is equally important to the characters in mysteries, and I often pick up a series simply because of its setting.

    Congrats on your new book and series, Shari/Meri, and thanks so much for visiting the Chicks today!


  7. Shari Meri, I love learning about the setting of your book – especially since I’ve been to Gillette’s Castle! My family had a cottage on a lake in CT for 36 years and I always thought of the state as my second home. I’m lucky enough to have read this book and loved it. I kept seeing our old neck of Northwest CT as the setting, which brought it home for me.

    As to my own work, there’s nothing fast and loose about the geography for my real settings – Queens for Catering Hall and New Orleans for Vintage Cookbooks. Those require a lot of memory, augmented by Google Maps. But Pelican, Louisiana, home to my Cajun Country Mysteries, is entirely fictional. And boy, is that freeing!


  8. Shari, I’ve also toured Gillette’s Castle and am stoked to read about the fictional castle in your new book! And a locked room mystery — even better! Thanks for visiting the Chicks today!


  9. Meri, you have the BEST premises for series! Love all your books and amazing settings.

    Guess what? I have a castle in my Colorado bookshop series too–which serves as a hotel and event place. It just appeared during the drafting process of book one and I went with it, ha. Definitely LOVE a good castle, even if it’s in a place we might not expect! 🙂


  10. Sheri/Meri, what a delight to have you here, as always! Congrats on the new series. It sounds fab!

    I created the cities in my series so as not to deal with pesky reality, but I sometimes wish for the anchor of the real world. Sometimes I get lost in my own creations!


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