Welcome to Cottonwood, California.
Until last month, I had never heard of Cottonwood.
That’s no offense to the good people of the town of about 3,300, located in Shasta County in the northern part of California.
I’m from a small town, and doubt many people have heard of my hometown of Charleston, Missouri. Or the nearby towns of Bertrand, East Prairie, or Wyatt in Southeast Missouri, nicknamed The Bootheel.
For history buffs, Cottonwood was a stagecoach town with a settlement established in 1849. The first post office opened in 1852.
In 1997 the movie Almost Heroes was filmed there. The movie starred Matthew Perry and Chris Farley; it was Farley’s last film.
And now Cotttonwood, California, makes an appearance in two excellent mystery novels—The Quiet Child by John Burley and Y Is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton.
Burley sets The Quiet Child in 1954, and Cottonwood becomes a metaphor for fear.
Here, the residents of Cottonwood are uncomfortable in the presence of six-year-old Danny McCray, who has “elective mutism.” He doesn’t speak, ever, and the townspeople blame Danny for the town’s economic decline and any of the residents’ suffering. To them, Danny is “a ghost child, a quiet child the townspeople referred only to in whispers.”
Then Danny is kidnapped along with his ten-year-old brother, Sean, who is the only person who seems to truly love Danny. The kidnapping—and the search—launches the tight, gripping plot of The Quiet Child. People care about Sean but few want Danny found.
Burley keeps the suspense high and the story realistic as he looks at family relationships, unconditional love, and fear in The Quiet Child.
Kinsey Millhone makes a trek to Cottonwood, during the course of an investigation in Sue Grafton’s Y Is for Yesterday.
Kinsey remembers as a child reading about naturally occurring asphalt that was discovered near Cottonwood. It is a memory of Kinsey’s childhood as she read about it in an old encyclopedia that her Aunt Gin had bought.
Y Is for Yesterday is, of course, the second to last Kinsey novel that Grafton has planned. Regardless of the plot, many of us look forward to each Grafton novel because we just want to know what Kinsey’s been up to.
And Grafton is ending her series on a high note with the outstanding Y Is for Yesterday.
So many people help make the mystery genre what it is today—authors, editors, publishers, a few critics.
Add to that list those actors, directors, and more who bring the mystery genre to the screen.
One of those actors is Brenda Blethyn, the Academy Award and Emmy nominated, Golden Globe winning actress who stars as DCI Vera Stanhope in the series Vera, based on Ann Cleeves’ novels.
So it makes perfect sense that Blethyn is being honored with the Poirot Award at Malice Domestic 30, which will be held April 27 - 29, 2018.
I love the TV series Vera, not only because I am fan of Cleeves’ novels but also because of Blethyn.
The actress so winningly brings to life this cantankerous but brilliant detective who solves unthinkable crimes in northeast England.
Blethyn gets to the heart of Vera, showing, of course, her crusty side but also her vulnerability.
Vera thinks like no other detective she works with, and she wants to impart this knowledge to her young colleague DS Aiden Healy (well played by Kenny Doughty) who joined the series in the fifth season.
The announcement of the Poirot Award couldn’t be more timely as the seventh season of Vera has just been released on Acorn TV.
The four episodes that comprise Vera’s seventh season are 90 minutes each, and each is a standout, proving why the series is one of Britain’s most popular detective dramas.
Here’s a synopsis of the four episodes:
Natural Selection: Vera investigates a wildlife ranger’s death, taking the detective to a remote island off the coast of Northumberland.
Dark Angel: Vera looks at an old case to find out who killed a drug addict.
Broken Promise: Vera’s latest case is finding out if a promising university student who fell to his death in suspicious circumstances was murdered.
The Blanket Mire: This may be my favorite of the four as Vera looks into the death of a teenager, whose body was found buried on the moors. Vera doesn’t just accept the findings of the original investigation as she delves into the victim’s secret life.
PHOTOS: Top, Kenny Doughty and Brenda Blethyn. Bottom, Brenda Blethyn. Photos courtesy Acorn TV.