The lighthouse on the cover of Linda Hall’s latest novel, “Margaret’s Peace,” is not in Maine, even though the book is set in the fictional coastal community of Coffin’s Reach. With her publisher located in Sisters, Ore., the Canadian-based author believes the lighthouse must be located on the West Coast.
“But the picture does represent a coastal setting, evokes memories of the past and implies a bit of mystery,” Hall says from her home in Fredericton, New Brunswick. “I grew up in New Jersey and we spent every summer in Maine. I love the coasts of Maine and the Maritimes.”
“Margaret’s Peace” is a departure for Hall, who is known for her mystery series featuring Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Roger Sheppard. The second of her three novels featuring the detective was named Best Canadian Christian Novel by the Evangelical Press Association in 1996.
“I am a Christian writer,” she says, “but I don’t want to preach or put forth a political agenda . … I just wanted to present a story from a Christian viewpoint … no one else seemed to be writing Christian murder mysteries …”
Hall emphasizes that she writes about people who are struggling with their faith and questioning their relationships with God. But she also wanted to get away from the detective-novel formula and write a character-driven story. The author says she began writing “Margaret’s Peace” about two years ago.
Margaret Collinwood returns to her childhood home hoping to rest, to paint and to find the peace she lost after the death of her daughter. Separated from her husband, she also must deal with her past and the death of her sister 25 years earlier. In the end, Margaret reconciles with her husband and her faith in God, but not before she has revealed some very ugly family secrets.
Hall says that when she develops a story idea, the setting comes to her first. In the case of “Margaret’s Peace,” her summer visits to Castine inspired Coffins Reach and Bosuns Harbor, where most of the novel takes place. The author says she “takes a real place and changes it a little” so that it is not immediately recognizable.
Her next novel, tentatively titled “Island of Refuge,” is set on the fictional Lamb’s Island, where a group of homeless people are living in an abandoned church. The idea was ignited by a visit to an abandoned church on Deer Isle near Stonington. Already she has mailed her publisher rolls and rolls of photos of the Maine coast for the book jacket.
With “Margaret’s Peace,” Hall has ventured outside the murder mystery genre. Her characters are intriguing and complex, especially Margaret’s cousin Donna, and Chris, the private detective hired to ferret out the family secret. She weaves the mysteries of the past nicely with the painful realities of the present.
But that secret, when revealed, is all too predictable. It does not do justice to her characters or her writing style, and the villain is portrayed as evil, with only one dimension. In the end, Margaret reconciles with her husband, a very sketchy character. This leaves the reader unsatisfied, longing for Chris and Margaret to explore their feelings for each other.
“Even my own husband, Rik, wanted them to get together,” Hall says, laughing. “From the beginning, I wanted her to get back with her husband, but this character Chris just took over. … In the end, I decided to stick with the original plan.”
Trained as a journalist, Hall has been writing novels full time since the early 1990s. She said that she is setting aside the Mountie mystery series for the time being. She will continue the saga begun in her first novel, “The Josiah Files,” set in the future, after “Island of Refuge” is published next year.
Originally published in 1993, the futuristic trilogy focuses on the role of Christianity in the 23rd century. Satan will fight the Church from within in book two, and book three will tell the story of Christian missionaries’ work on Mars.
Hall will read from her novel “Margaret’s Peace” at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at Borders Books, Music & Cafe, Bangor.