Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Complicating a Character's Life

In my mysteries, I like to give my protagonist big problems in addition to the central crime with which he's dealing.
Life comes with complications, so why should a mystery be any different?
In The Bartered Body, Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman is confronted with the theft of a body from a local funeral parlor. Not just any body, but that of the mother-in-law of Nathan Zimmerman, burgess of Arahpot and Syl's boss.
When Syl isn't dealing with crime his major concern is trying to convince Lydia Longlow, the strong woman he loves, to relinquish some of her independence and marry him. He's persevered with this and other problems in the two previous novels of the series (Fallen From Grace and Sooner Than Gold). In the past Syl's dealt with such issues as poisonings and stabbings, scary predictions by a gypsy fortuneteller, horse thieves, a political enemy, and even a few culprits taking pot shots at him.
The theft of an old woman's body is a new and complex problem, perhaps the most perplexing he's faced yet.
But, as I said, I like to complicate life for my characters.
While working on the weekly history column I write for my local newspaper I stumbled upon the Great Arctic Outbreak of February 1899, and  I knew it was an element made for this novel. This storm impacted the whole of the United States, including Pennsylvania where my story is set.
The impact of the storm was felt as far south as Florida, where temperatures dropped below zero in Tallahassee on Feb. 13. The cold was so intense cattle froze in the fields in many places. Telegraph lines--still the major means of communication between communities--were downed, rail traffic was halted by drifting snow, and cities and towns were completely cut off from one another for days. Orchards and crops were destroyed. It's been estimated more than 100 people died as a result of the St. Valentine's Day Blizzard of 1899.
Now, that's what I call a complication.
For good measure, I tossed in a few other problems for Syl--the arrival in town of a former flame who threatens his relationship with Lydia; clashes with his old enemy, former burgess McLean Ruppenthal, and  a string of puzzling armed robberies.
The Bartered Body is available in print and electronic formats.
Grab a copy here:
It's also available from Amazon, B&N and other fine booksellers.


  1. John, you've convinced me. I need to include a few more complications (sub-plots?) in the path of my characters.

  2. Yes, our characters thrive on complications. Good post, John.

  3. Appreciate the input, Maggie. Thanks.

  4. Really enjoyed the book, John. We have so many complications in our own lives that fictional characters without complications wouldn't feel realistic. You did a great job of it.

  5. Thanks, Marja. Glad you enjoyed it.