Coincidences Do Exist! @JeannetteDeB

Jeannette de Beauvoir didn’t set out to murder anyone—some things are just meant to be! Her mother introduced her to the Golden Age of mystery fiction when she was far too young to be reading it, and she’s kept reading those authors and many like them ever since.

She wrote historical and literary fiction and poetry for years before someone asked her what *she* read—and she realized mystery was where her heart was. Now working on the Sydney Riley Provincetown mystery series, she bumps off a resident or visitor to her hometown on a regular basis.

Jeannette is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Author’s Guild, and the National Writers Union. Find out more (and read her blog or sign up for her newsletter) at her website. You can also find her on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Patreon, and Goodreads.

In nearly every crime drama, at some point, the detective will look at a clue and say, “I don’t believe in coincidence,” and everyone present, especially rookies and civilians, nods knowingly and applauds their sagacity. And it makes sense: the “no coincidence” rule is what enables TV detectives to wrap up their mysteries in an hour, with time out for commercials.

It is, of course, nonsense. As my own current fictional protagonist, Sydney Riley, is wont to say, “There wouldn’t be a word for it if it didn’t exist.” Besides that, though (since there are in fact a whole lot of not-very-useful words in any language), the truth is that the world is a wild and unruly place, and randomness does occur, and does so with some frequency.

You’ll find coincidences in the oddest places. Lately I’ve been thinking about names. In a novel I worked on a few years back, I named a character Tessa Malmaison. I was rather proud of “Malmaison,” which felt unusual for a primarily American audience. (The Empress Joséphine lived in a chateau outside of Paris called Malmaison, but short of people reading a mystery novel with Wikipedia open by their side, I thought I was safe.) Readers would remember that name, I thought; it was fresh and different. And not long thereafter I was in Oxford and happened to pick up a brochure and found there to be in the UK a whole chain of upscale, boutique hotels called—you guessed it—Malmaison. (Which, if you think about it isn’t really the world’s best marketing play, as “Malmaison” translates loosely as “bad house.”)

It was good timing, as I was still working on the novel, and I managed to weave the hotel chain into the plot. But still it felt a little—strange. Like I should be looking over my shoulder. Like there should somehow be some deeper meaning.

Here’s another example. One of the things I sometimes do in my novels is scatter a couple of what I like to think of as the literary equivalent to software developers’ “Easter eggs”: in the same way developers leave a secret message or joke buried in an application, I hide names. I’m currently writing the seventh book in my Provincetown mystery series that features wedding planner Sydney Riley. So far, only a couple of people have found the egg: Sidney Reilly (note the different spelling) was a rather infamous spy thought to be the model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character.

(All right, so it doesn’t take much to amuse me.)

I decided to play the name game again with the current novel and thought about a character I was creating, a man whose family had owned a plantation in the antebellum South. I found one I liked, Howard Carter; the egg is that Howard Carter was an archaeologist and Egyptologist world-famous for discovering the intact tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Cool! So I named my character and then proceeded with some research into Virginia plantations and found that the oldest one in Virginia is now owned by the seventh generation of the family—whose name is Carter.

(Cue Twilight Zone theme music.)

I have a friend who would listen to that and say, “see, Jeannette, it was Meant To Be!” (You can hear the capitalizations in her voice.) And I know some people think that everything happens for a reason, that there are no coincidences, that destiny won’t be denied. Once fate has you in its sights, it’s all over.

I think it’s simpler than that. Millions and millions and millions of pieces of data pass through our brains and our experiences and our thoughts every day. Which ones do we notice? The ones that fit with something we’re already thinking or experiencing. I found the plantation that belonged to the Carter family—but in assigning significance to that discovery, I was discounting the pages and pages of other plantations and other family names I read about at the same time. Our brains look for patterns and see them even where they don’t exist.

I actually like coincidences. Whether you believe they install some sort of order in the world or whether you look at them as gratuitous bits of fluff our brains fling out from time to time, they do give everything we do and think and feel a feeling (even if it’s just an illusion!) of interconnectedness.

And that isn’t coincidental at all.

THE MATINEE MURDERS: It’s time for the Provincetown International Film Festival, and wedding planner Sydney Riley has scored a coup: her inn is hosting the wedding of the year. Movie star Brett Falcone is to marry screenwriter Justin Braden, and even Sydney’s eternally critical mother is excited. The town is overflowing with filmmakers, film reviewers, film buffs, and it’s all the inn can do to keep up with the influx of glamorous celebrities and host their star-studded events.

But when Sydney opens a forbidden door in the mysterious Whaler’s Wharf, she discovers the body of a producer—and a legion of unanswered questions. Who strangled the innocuous Caroline Cooper? What dark force followed Brett and Justin from LA? Why is her boss Mike tense and double-checking every room at the inn? And is Mirela really leaving P’town forever? Sydney and her boyfriend Ali need to find the answers fast before another victim takes a final bow.

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