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Murder and Mystery, Provincetown-Style

July 12, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 45
Author Jeannette de Beauvoir.  Photo: Rik Ide Photography

Author Jeannette de Beauvoir. Photo: Rik Ide Photography

by Rebecca M. Alvin

A fiction writer’s work is to bring to life the world that exists only in his/her mind. It can be anything, and that’s part of the appeal of being a fiction writer. Real life is chaos populated with unpredictable people, and sometimes shockingly nonsensical events. But when a writer creates the characters and situations and environments, everything is controllable and, in most cases, makes some sort of sense in order to form a cohesive narrative. In some ways, the genre that most fulfills this unique opportunity is the mystery genre.

Local writer Jeannette de Beauvoir has been writing mysteries for 10 years, beginning with Assignment in Nepal, under the name J.A. Squires.  She says she agrees with many other mystery writers who say they are attracted to the genre because it “ups the ante when you’re talking about stuff that’s life or death. It makes you pay a little bit more attention, not just as a writer, but also as a reader.” But she also likes the genre because it can be a good way to talk about things that are serious issues, within the context of an entertaining narrative.

“I have an ulterior motive for every book I write,” she says with a smile. “I have strong opinions and I have things that I sort of want people to know about, and just hitting them over the head with it is not useful. Doing it as a part of a story is… I believe that stories help us internalize things, they help us think things through, they help us even make decisions.”

She cites as an example, her recent book Asylum, a mystery set in Montreal, which, she says, incorporated into it a lot of the history of the city. By weaving it into a good story, especially a mystery, she says, it works because the readers aren’t expecting it. “Mystery people are going to be there because they want a story… for the plot and mostly for the characters, and I hook them with that.”

JdBDeathBearKindleCoverHer latest project is a series of mysteries set in Provincetown, published by a new local publisher Homeport Press. Each book in the series connects to one of our many theme weeks, beginning with the debut Death of a Bear released just last month. She got the idea when a local bookstore owner suggested she write mysteries set right here. The more she thought about it, the more she realized the opportunity such a series would bring up for counteracting some of the “alternative facts” out there that keep people distanced from one another.

“While I don’t anticipate that anyone’s going to read Death of a Bear and say, ‘wow, I never realized I’m a bear,’ I do hope in the guise of a mystery that I think is still a pretty good mystery—I didn’t skimp on the story—but you’re also going to get a look at this subset of people so that you’re not going to visit Provincetown, walk down the street, and say,’Oh, aren’t they weird,’” she says.

But the theme week concept is one that can be a prickly one. For one thing, the weeks themselves are seen by some as divisive and others as essential to maintaining the welcoming environment of the town. Some weeks began as target marketing experiments from local businesses, while others came about more organically, but each one is about identity, and writing about someone else’s identity is always a tricky proposition.  De Beauvoir, who has lived on the Outer Cape year-round for 11 years, is aware of this.

“The big challenge for me as an outsider, is to make sure I get it right. That’s what I lose sleep over,” she says. So how does she prepare for each theme week? “Mostly I spend a lot of time talking with people who are a part of that culture. With bears, that was fairly easy because I have a whole lot of friends in town who are bears, who love to talk about bear culture, and who put me in touch with other people.” She has received favorable feedback from the Provincetown Bears, who actually set up a reading for her this week as part of Bear Week.

While the books are set during theme weeks, the main character is Sydney Riley, the wedding coordinator at the fictional Race Point Inn. “I wanted all my research to be about the stuff I don’t know, so  I thought I need to have her do something that I do know about,” explains de Beauvoir, who is a wedding officiant herself. But also, she says the job serves a function to put her in touch with all sorts of people in Provincetown, rather than just one group. The character is named after a famous British spy (who was male) from the turn of the last century.

The next book in the series, due to be released this fall, takes place during Fantasia Fair, the annual transgender event, which has been in Provincetown since 1975. She’s writing that one as we speak.

Jeannette de Beauvoir will be reading and signing Death of a Bear at East End Books, 389 Commercial St., Provincetown, on Friday, July 14, 5 p.m, along with writer Frank Muzzy. For information visit eastendbooksptown.com.