Santa Barbara, California. Sensuous sun and sand. Tanned and relaxed beautiful people. Peace and harmony streaming from the sky.
So why did I set Going Coastal, a murder mystery, in such a serene location?
Let me explain.
On our first date, my now-wife Sue arranged a little surprise for me. On our way to dinner, we stopped in to meet some friends of hers. These “friends” just happened to be her parents. Not a usual first date activity, but it certainly threw me quickly into the deep waters of parental appraisal. When Sue and I decided to settle down together, her folks accepted us as a couple in an relatively short time. Within a year, we were visiting together often and even traveling together.
When my in-laws (actually, out-laws at the time) relocated from our town of Burbank and moved to Santa Barbara, Sue and I suddenly had an idyllic seaside town to visit . . . for free!
Visit we did. Whenever we could wrangle a long weekend, we headed north where we kayaked, toured museums, strolled the beaches, collected mussels off the rocks which we steamed for dinner, drank wine, played cards, and laughed a lot with Sue’s folks. Like my heroine, Kate Matthews, I am a certified masseuse, and I gave Sue and my in-laws massages on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
I was in love. Not just with Sue and her family, but with the town. Santa Barbara seduces with attractions that excite all of your senses. The plentiful parks lull you with Monarch butterflies, fragrant chaparral, and the joyful play of children. The harbor is alive with fishing vessels unloading their catch early in the morning, and moored wooden yachts and sleek catamarans awaiting their chance to slide out of the still waters and attack the sea. The sandy beaches are great places to surf, boogey board, and people-watch. (As long as you don’t mind an occasional stop to clean up. Oil seeps up from the sand and covers any part of your anatomy that makes contact with it.) The city holds festivals from spring through fall celebrating the French, the Irish, the Greeks, Solstice, Italian sidewalk chalk painting, and every holiday you can name. The delicious aromas of regional foods and the enchanting melodies of foreign lands capture you and drag you into the celebration. It is a tourist Mecca.
However, during the over twenty years we visited Santa Barbara, it slowly seeped into me that not just visitors occupied this beachfront haven. People actually lived there, too. And those people worked, shopped for groceries, paid taxes, went to the library, drove through the gridlock of tourists on State Street, and otherwise lived normal lives. Lives that included quarrels, grievances, and political intrigue.
Since Santa Barbara is a beach town, much development is overseen by the California Coastal Commission. That includes large developments (like hotels and the oil rigs that spring from man-made islands off the coast) and smaller ones (such as additions of decks on houses located on the bluffs above the beach).
The seeds of conflict were sown in my fertile and murderous brain.
My father-in-law has since passed, and my mother-in-law has moved back down south to be nearer to us, so our days of that kind of Santa Barbara vacation are a thing of the past. But Going Coastal is an homage to my in-laws and to the town I grew to love. I hope others enjoy getting to know Santa Barbara as much as I have.
Jane DiLucchio is the author of the Diega DelValle series which includes Relationships Can Be Murder, Teaching Can Be Murder, and Vacations Can Be Murder. Her latest release, Going Coastal, features a new amateur sleuth. Kate Matthews, a retired lawyer, now a Santa Barbara masseuse, who is implicated in the death of one of her clients.