Guest Post: Jana Denardo on Setting in “If Two of Them Are Dead”

Jana Denardo is here today to talk about the location for her new steampunk novella, If Two of Them Are Dead. Thanks for coming, Jana!

Once I settled on Hyde Park, NY, as the backdrop for If Two of Them Are Dead, I knew the victim and her family had to come from money. This small rural town doubled as the home for some of the country’s most wealthy families. The Roosevelts have a home here, though the huge estate you can tour today wasn’t established until about twenty-five years after my story. The house before it was less manorial.

The Vanderbilt mansion would have been a common sight to Abraham Westbrook and in fact, I shameless stole the facade of this house for my novella. It’s an amazing Beaux Art building and not being an architect who can imagine places like this, I rely on visual cues from established homes. Victor, however, is not that impressed by the house. He thinks it looks cold and like a mausoleum.  Of course, once he’s inside Abraham’s home, he’s quite blown away and more than a little intimidated. Victor’s entire dwelling could probably fit in Abraham’s ballroom.

Wealth and classism do play a prominent role in the story. It stands between Victor and doing his job, not to mention between him and Abraham. I placed Abraham and his brother, Benjamin firmly among the legendary 400, who are mentioned in the story (for that matter so are the Vanderbilts and Roosevelts). For those unfamiliar with the term, it came from Mrs. Caroline Astor. The Astors were as close to royalty America had in the late 1800s and she wanted a ballroom capable of hosting her famous parties. It was said that it could hold four hundred people.

Abraham and Benjamin belong to this group. They were born into their family’s astonishing wealth and both have taken it to even higher levels, Ben continuing in the fur and textile business their father left them, while Abraham went off on his own making airship engines and other fantastical steam-driven inventions. However, being richer than Croesus hasn’t always made Abraham happy. He inherited a ton of responsibilities. He has no respect for people in his class who just sit about doing nothing but spending their inheritance. He’s a man who prizes intellect and ingenuity more than money.

Abraham is also very aware that his very wealth is an impediment to solving his sister-in-law’s murder and to him getting closer to Victor. The first problem is one he has no solution for. He knows that people in his social class wouldn’t want to speak to the police, and many see it as an affront that they could be suspects. As for the problem of Victor, Abraham knows the man is uncomfortable with the differences in their classes. His solution is a simple one. Abraham is already something of an outcast for his love of inventing and working with metal. He’d rather be talking to and funding Nikolai Tesla than attending one of Lady Astor’s parties. Playing up the eccentric millionaire gives Abraham the perfect out when it comes to befriending Victor. His determination to pursue the relationship makes all the difference.

Thanks to Shae for having me over!

IfTwoOfThemAreDeadFSCalled to Hyde Park, New York, ex-Air Corpsman turned detective Victor Van Voorhis comes to only three conclusions about his newest case: the gulf between his status and the wealthy Westbrook family is no trifling matter; someone brutally killed a young mother; and the victim’s brother-in-law is one of the most intriguing men Victor has ever met.

Inventor Abraham Westbrook lost his wife five years ago and is worried about the effect another death in the family will have on his children. He spends most of his time tinkering with steamships, but even his inventions can’t distract him from wishing Victor was in his life for any reason other than a murder investigation—one where Abraham himself is a suspect. He’s hidden his desires all his life, but no longer. Somehow, he’ll catch the detective’s eye.

With murder standing between them and a killer stalking the Westbrooks, Abraham and Victor’s chance at happiness could go up in steam.


Unsurprisingly, wealthymen like Abraham Westbrook thought they were in charge of everything. Victor had expected it, but that didn’t make it any less aggravating when Abraham insisted on meeting his brother at the airstrip. When Victor couldn’t dissuade him, he allowed Westbrook to accompany him in his police-issued horseless carriage to the small strip out on the edge of town, where it wouldn’t bother the well-heeled Hyde Park residents.

From the red, black, and yellow bladder on the airship, Victor knew it was from the Dunn line. There probably wasn’t an airship he couldn’t name after a quick glance. A frisson of grief over his injury-ended career as an airman peeked out of a dark corner of Victor’s mind as it so often did whenever he was at an airstrip. Next to him, Abraham shifted his weight back and forth as they waited for the Dunn ship to dock.

“You don’t have to be here, sir. If you need time to yourself after what’s happened, you could wait in the station.” Victor pointed back over his shoulder at the small but well-appointed building. “Or the automobile.”

Abraham offered a weary smile. “Thank you for the concern, Detective. I need to be here for my brother.”

Victor nodded. He doubted he would be any different. In retrospect, it might be good Abraham had insisted on coming, because Victor didn’t know what Benjamin looked like. He followed Abraham’s lead once the passengers began to disembark. He probably could have picked Benjamin Westbrook out of the crowd based on the stiffness of his posture and the anguish etched into his face.

Benjamin Westbrook was quite different from his brother. He wore a suit—that probably cost half-a-year’s pay for Victor—impeccable in every sense and traditional, stolid deep blue with a white shirt. While Abraham’s hair was longer than was usual and a deep brown, Benjamin’s hair might even be more conservative than Victor’s, a more muddy and unattractive shade of brown. He lacked his brother’s tall, lanky form. Victor knew he had nothing to base it on, but Benjamin’s face didn’t look like he smiled often.

Abraham briefly embraced his brother, and Victor overheard his mumbled “I’m sorry, Ben.”

Benjamin caught his brother’s wrist. “Is it true? Is Permelia dead? What are they doing about it?”

“It’s true. I truly am sorry, Ben.” Abraham beckoned Victor forward. “This is Detective Victor Van Voorhis. He’s going to get to the bottom of this for us, and he has some questions for you.”

Victor certainly hoped Abraham was right. Benjamin looked less convinced. His pinched face was as cold as Abraham’s had been warm.

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Jana Denardo’s career choices and wanderlust take her all over the United States and beyond. Much of her travels make their way into her stories. Fantasy, science fiction, and mystery have been her favorite genres since she started reading, and they often flavor her works. In her secret identity, she works with the science of life and gives college students nightmares. When she’s not chained to her computer writing, she functions as stray cat magnet.

Jana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in) and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. There is no coincidence the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s still disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds or a roguish star ship captain to run off to the stars with her.

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