Arts & Culture
2:17 pm
Wed August 14, 2013

Minnesotan Murder Mansion Inspires 'Gothic Suspense Novel'

Lake Effect's Mitch Teich interviews author Wendy Webb.

With a dark history full of shipwrecks and shoreline mansions with murderous tenants, Lake Superior is a perfect albeit eerie setting for ghost stories.

The site of a real-life, infamous double murder inspired the setting in Wendy Webb's new novel.
Credit Wendy Webb

Minnesota author Wendy Webb, who lives and works along its northern shores, taps into Lake Superior's fierce, foreboding feelings in several of her books.

“I have found that I start with place, with either an area of the country or, more often than not, a big house,” Webb says. “That sort of inspires me and then the story flows from there.”

Her 2013 book, The Fate of Mercy Alban, introduces readers to a likable protagonist.  Grace Alban returns to her childhood home for her mother’s funeral after being gone for 20 years. The towering Alban house, in Duluth, boasts luscious gardens, water fountains, and beautifully decorated rooms. But it has a dark foundation: it's based on the real Glensheen Mansion, the site of an infamous double murder.

“When I am opening those pages, I want to go to that place," Webb says. "So I want those places to be warm and inviting, but then some evil and some scary things creep in, and that’s just real life. Things happen. I want the stories to seem like they are real life.”

A new divorcee, Grace soon begins to learn her family’s past is lined with dark and disquieting secrets. She feels her mother's death was not what it seemed.

Sunset over Lake Superior
Credit Flickr

Meanwhile, as she plans her mother’s funeral, Grace meets a love interest, Pastor Matthew, who comforts her and also finds himself wrapped up her family's mysteries.

“My readers have told me that they really like the dichotomy between good and evil,” Webb says. “Matthew is a minister and is kind of coming from the good side and then there is another character in the book [unnamed for now] who is pretty evil. Readers like that interplay.”

Webb's next novel, The Vanishing, will be published in January 2014. She is also a magazine editor.