I found the perfect place to kill a bunch of people.

In my last post, I wrote about stumbling upon the adorable town of Maysville, Kentucky, which is in fact so cute it could be the eighth member of BTS. Today, I will tell you about my quest to find a similar place, so that I could kill people there.

Warning for readers who are sensitive to disturbing cow trivia: This post will also feature details about history’s only mass-murdering bovine.

When I originally pitched my latest series to St. Martin’s Press, I knew I wanted the restaurant at the heart of the books to serve deep-dish pizzas, which to me, necessitated setting the series in the home of deep-dish: Chicago. Fairly early in the process, I’d settled on centering the action in the Hyde Park neighborhood. It’s an interesting part of town, culturally rich and ethnically diverse. I always like to throw real tidbits of a place’s past into my books, and Hyde Park teems with fascinating history. I decided to make one of the main characters a great-grandson of the legendary Chi-town gangster Al Capone, who frequently conducted business in Hyde Park’s Shoreland Hotel.

The overall feedback from the editor on my pitch was reassuringly positive. The publisher loved the characters, the chonky cat, and the deep-dish pizzas. The only thing they didn’t love was the setting. This type of book usually takes place in a small, tightly-knit community. As my agent said, “somewhere people can relax and take a mental vacation.” I resisted. One of the most popular and durable cozy mystery series out there, Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries, is set in Manhattan! How could I do a deep-dish murder mystery series without setting it in Chicago?

My aunt Sandra and my husband arrived at the answer independently, both encouraging me to consider relocating the series to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I resisted at first, but as I delved deeper into the area’s history, I began to see the appeal.

Lake Geneva is nestled in rolling, lake-dotted countryside about 90 minutes’ drive north of Chicago. The Chicago connections are myriad. European settlement around the lake developed in several phases. One was as a series of “camps” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the middle classes in the Chicago area grew, they started forming associations called “clubs” or “camps,” in which members would group together to buy land where members could hunt, fish, and boat. Some of the camps were formed around employees of one particular business or from one particular town or area of the city. For example, Lake Geneva hosted an “Elgin Camp” and a “Congress Club” where people built cabins or houses or even collections of mansions where they and their families could pass the summer holidays.

Another big driver of growth happened following the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The fire, which urban myth attributes to the errant kick of a lantern by one of Mrs. O’Leary’s cows, killed 300 people. The veracity of the cow story is highly questionable and rooted in the anti-Irish bias of the time. Hard to believe that the Irish were kind enough to share their magically delicious cereal and their adorable accents with America, and all they got in return was decades of vicious prejudice, amirite? Although the bovine origin of the fire is almost definitely false, what is not disputed is the utter destruction caused by the blaze. It destroyed more than 3 square miles of the downtown, including 17,000 structures. One hundred thousand people were left homeless.

As parts of the city would be uninhabitable for years as the city was rebuilt, many of Chicago’s wealthiest families shifted their operations to Lake Geneva. Some expanded pre-existing dwellings. Others built brand-new mansions. The fire coincided with the completion of a rail line from Chicago to Lake Geneva, making travel back and forth easier than ever.

Speaking of transit, another quirk of geography and history deepened Lake Geneva’s Windy City connections. From 1920 to 1933, a constitutional amendment prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages throughout the U.S. So of course all Americans immediately stopped drinking as soon as that amendment was passed.

Hahahahahahahahaha! <<wipes tears>> Just kidding.

As anyone with even a borrowed brain cell could have guessed, it was a super dumb idea that allowed underworld criminality to thrive. Figures like Al Capone became extraordinarily wealthy, a billionaire in today’s money, by controlling the illegal booze supplies that poured into the Lower 48 from Canada. Capone also ran any number of other criminal enterprises, from brothels to casinos to protection rackets, and the availability of booze underpinned those businesses as well. The vast majority of Chicago’s alcohol came via routes through Michigan and Wisconsin.

Lake Geneva and its surroundings proved not only a convenient pit stop along this smuggling route, the area was also considered a good place for gangsters like Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and Bugs Moran to lay low when things in the big city got too hot.

Today, the Chicago -><- Lake Geneva connection is as strong as ever. About 80% of the tourists that the lake’s economy thrives on are visitors from the Windy City.

After I got over my initial reluctance to move the DEEP DISH MURDERS out of Chicago, I realized that glamourous, scenic, and idyllic Lake Geneva (rendered in the books in lightly fictionalized form as “Geneva Bay”) would be the perfect place for me to start my murder spree.

So look out Wisconsin, here I come!

The first book in the series, SIX FEET DEEP DISH, is available for pre-order wherever books are sold.

I discovered the Hello Kitty of towns

The Quigley clan traveled to England over Christmas to see my husband’s family, so our miniature Schnauzer spent the holidays with my parents. She had a fantastic time and gained a mind-boggling amount of weight. Like three pounds in six weeks. That’s about 15-20% of her body mass. Was she running an IV drip of bacon grease? Did she discover a hidden cache of Egg McMuffins buried under my parents’ garage? There will be a future blog post on America’s pet obesity epidemic.

Anyway, when it was time for us to reclaim our dog, my parents kindly offered to meet us halfway between their house and ours. Ten hours separate Blacksburg and Chicago, so I spent some time with Google Maps trying to find a location that would not only be roughly halfway, but also a nice place to spend the New Year’s weekend. I discovered Maysville, Kentucky.

Maysville, Kentucky is cute AF.

Y’all, this town. I’ve traveled extensively in the eastern US and have spent a lot of time in Kentucky over the years. And yet I had never even heard of Maysville — a town so adorable, it makes Hello Kitty look like a mangy old fleabag in comparison. I’m talking quaint storefronts. I’m talking cozy cafés. I’m talking a bustling Main Street, all tarted up for Christmas.

At this point, you may be asking why my writing blog has suddenly become a travel blog. You may be asking if I’ve been paid off by the Maysville Chamber of Commerce. Alas, no, but I do want to use this opportunity to let it be known that I am very amenable to bribery in any form.

There’s not a lot around Maysville. Like if a medieval cartographer drew the area around it, they’d draw some squiggles and a sea monster in that part of the map and call it a day. Maysville, it turns out, benefitted from some fortunate geography, being one of the few Kentucky towns along the Ohio River that could host a steamboat port. That led to it becoming a hub for commerce. Industries, such as wrought iron manufacturing, grew, and the town flourished. Over time, more transport links developed and the town became a regional hub. Somehow, although Americans no longer have a great appetite for steamboat travel or decorative ironmongery, the town has retained its charm.

Which brings me to my writing, and to a town that is near and dear to me: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Wisconsin has lakes by the absolute pantsload. You can barely move in that state without squelching your flip-flops into some little swimming hole or another.

Like many working-class kids from the Chicago suburbs, I often spent summer weekends at my friends’ and family members’ lake houses in Wisconsin, passing days tubing, canoeing, and cultivating the kind of radioactive, three-alarm sunburn that was probably outlawed sometime in the late 1990s when parents collectively discovered SPF.

All around Lake Geneva, there are nice little towns with nice little lakes. But if you were visiting, say, the nearby town of Elkhorn, you’d have no idea that you were mere minutes away from a really incredible place. Don’t get me wrong. Elkhorn is lovely. In fact, I got married there. But that part of Wisconsin goes like this: cornfield, little lake, bunch of cows, dinky town, GIGANTIC EFFING MANSIONS AND SPLENDIFEROUS LAKE, cornfield, little lake, bunch of cows*, dinky town, etc. You’re hypnotized by the monotonous repeat loop of cows and corn and then you hit Lake Geneva and Hubba-Waaaah….? Mansions.

In the late nineteenth century, Geneva Lake drew Chicago’s lords of the realm—the Wrigleys, the Schwinns, the Vicks. These folks built straight-up, thirty-guest-bedrooms-and-a-butler-named-Jerome mansions around the lake. Why did they pick that spot? Why did Lake Geneva grow into the same kind of lovely, random pocket of affluence that Maysville, Kentucky did? And what does any of this have to do with my writing?

Stay tuned. I’ll answer these and other burning* questions in my next post…

*Burning. Cows. It’s a clue!