Darien local goes from marketing to mystery with debut novel

Darien’s own Tessa Wegert will see her debut mystery novel “Death in the Family” hitting bookshelves on Feb. 18.

The first-time author’s novel follow’s former NYPD detective Shana Merchant who relocated to a sleepy town in upstate New York only to find herself sucked into a dramatic case after responding to a call about a missing man on a private island. Only to discover a mattress soaked in blood when she and her partner arrive on the scene.

“Death in the Family” is inspired by Agatha Christie, it’s in some ways a classic murder mystery whodunit story but it has a contemporary twist to it,” Wegert said. “Without giving too much away I’ll say that many of the family members have motive to have potentially harmed the man.”

She will be celebrating the publication of her book with a book launch at Barrett Bookstore in Darien on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. During the launch Wegert will read an excerpt from her book and have a Q&A with guests.

Ten years ago, while working in corporate marketing with two young children, Wegert decided to try her hand at writing a novel. “I had always written fiction, I had always been interested in it, as a kid I did a lot of poetry writing, short stories, [and later] submitted some for awards and workshop opportunities. I had never tried to write a novel, I was at this point in my life where I wanted to try something different and new and I thought ‘well I’ll just give it a shot.’”

While “Death in the Family” is her first published novel, it’s actually the fifth one she’s written and it took three and a half years to complete from inception to publication. Previously, she had focused more on writing thrillers.

“This was my first attempt at actually writing a mystery and it did take a long time to get it right because there is so much complexity involved in plotting a mystery,” she said. “I wasn’t much of a plotter, I kinda did the fly by the seat of my pants approach to writing and then I got to this point where I wanted to write a mystery and I realized pretty quickly that was not going to work for me. I had to do a ton of revisions to plant the red herrings, to make sure the clues were where I wanted them to be, have the story unfold at the pace I wanted it to unfold while also keeping the reader engaged. All of that took a lot of time but I’m happy with the outcome and I hope that people love it.”

She said at times she found it challenging to make sure all the moving parts of her story came across clearly, especially when she had eight or more characters moving through the same scene.

“There were many times where I sat back from my laptop and went ‘wow is this going to be too complicated?’ There are so many people on the island, so many potential suspects, so many backstories, so many connections between the characters,” Wegert said.

When asked about why she chose to set her mystery novel in the Thousand Islands, a collection of 1,800 islands along the St. Lawrence River along the U.S./Candadian border, she said it was partially because of her husband. Wegert, originally from Canada, met her husband while he was in Montreal for work. She visited the Thousand Islands when she first met her husband’s family who have a home on one of the small islands. Wegert actually incorporated the anxiety she had about meeting her husband’s family for the first time into the book, by having her character Abella meet Jasper’s family for the first time at the island when he suddenly goes missing.

“My first experience meeting his family, this was 17 or so years ago, was on one of these islands, very much like the character Abella’s first experience meeting Jasper’s family on the island. Luckily, there was no missing man or potential murder involved,” she joked.

While meeting the parents worked out for the author, she said that the islands themselves stuck with her.

“I had always thought the Thousand Islands would be the perfect place to set a mystery, it has a lot of interesting history, it’s very picturesque but there’s also this kind of underlying threat.”

Wegert, a self-proclaimed mystery fan, said the best mystery features a slow burn.

“I love a mystery that unfolds over time. I think that’s something that’s inherent to a lot of mystery novels: you want the experience of not only uncovering bits and pieces of the plot as you read and the characters’ individual motives and trying to decipher what actually happened with the crime, but also understanding aspects of the characters in different ways as the story progresses.”

In addition to working and raising two middle schoolers and a puppy with her husband, Wegert said she’s an active member at the Darien Arts Center where she takes dance lessons and martial arts classes. And if she’s not doing any of that or writing, then she’s reading.

“I could talk about the mysteries I like to read all day,” she said. “I’m never not reading a mystery.” She said Louise Penny, Wendy Walker, Ruth Ware, Jane Harper, Lucy Foley and Tana French are among her favorite authors and inspirations.

For those wondering what’s next for Wegert, she said the next Shana Merchant book in her series is slated to come out in 2021 and that readers can expect to learn more about Shana’s backstory.

For more information about her book launch, visit barrettbookstore.com/event/tessa-wegert-death-family.