Death in the Family by Tessa Wegert

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 15, Issue 4, April 2020

What better time to look for the latest "Who Done It?" By all accounts this will be a good one, for it takes place in the Thousand Islands.

A storm-struck island. A blood-soaked bed. A missing man. In this captivating mystery that's perfect for fans of Knives Out, Senior Investigator Shana Merchant discovers that murder is a family affair....Thirteen months ago, former NYPD detective Shana Merchant barely survived being abducted by a serial killer. Now hoping to leave grisly murder cases behind, she's taken a job in her fiancé's sleepy hometown in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York. see more

I met Tessa in a round-about way, her parents-in-law are islanders and when a friend sent me a photo, with them holding the book - I knew this was a book and author I needed to meet.

Questions & Answers:

Q:   Tessa, your bio says you are an ex-pat from Canada - Where?  and the bio gives your many impressive writings. Where are you living now?

A:    I’ve lived all over Canada, but spent most of my childhood in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. After meeting my husband, who is American, I moved to the US. Since then I’ve lived in Chicago, Detroit, and Naples, Florida, but I recently settled in Connecticut, about forty-five minutes outside of New York City.

Q:   How did you decide to write this series about the Thousand Islands?

A:   DEATH IN THE FAMILY is the first book in the Shana Merchant series. It’s also my debut novel. I’d been writing fiction for about ten years, before I decided to try my hand at a mystery. It’s my favorite genre, but I was intimated by the complexity of mystery plots. I happened to reread Agatha Christie’s novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, which also takes place on a private island, and got excited about writing a mystery, with elements of classic detective fiction, set in the Thousand Islands. The idea of an investigator having to solve a crime on a remote island without many resources, and the challenge of imagining what that would entail, really appealed to me.

Q:   Where does the book take place?

A:    DEATH IN THE FAMILY takes place in and around Alexandria Bay, with the majority of the action playing out on a fictional island not far from town. It’s been fun to hear where people picture that island to be, and it sounds like the German edition of the book (out this fall) will feature a map, so pretty soon readers will be able to see if they hit the mark. A number of real life islands and their histories are featured in the book, with lots of references I think only residents and frequent visitors to the area would recognize—so as you look for clues related to the crime, you can try to find those mentions, too.

Q:  What do you remember about your years in the islands that you loved the most?

A:   I started coming to the Thousand Islands in my mid-twenties, shortly after I met my husband. His parents own an island near Alexandria Bay. In all my years of living in Canada, I had never visited the area before, and was floored by its beauty. It felt like a secret paradise to me, and now that I’ve had the chance to introduce our children to the River, I get to experience that sense of wonder all over again. I’ve come back every single summer since that first visit.

Q:   Silly question, but how long does it take to write your books ?

A:   It took a little less than two years, to write DEATH IN THE FAMILY, but I had written several other books prior to this one that haven’t been published yet.

Q:  Did you take journalism or English Lit in College or University?

A:  I have a degree in Communications, from Concordia University in Montreal. My background is mostly in journalism—I’ve been a freelance writer for about fifteen years, with articles in publications like Forbes, Business Insider, and The Globe and Mail. I’ve been writing fiction since I was a child.

Q:   Do you have a family you would like to recognize?

A:   My husband and I have two children who love to spend time at their grandparents’ island. They’re excited to introduce our new puppy to the River for the first time this summer.

Q:   When is the next book ready to be published?  

A:   The next book in the series, called THE DEAD SEASON, is set to release on December 8, 2020. In that story, Shana investigates two crimes simultaneously, one in the Thousand Islands and one in her hometown of Swanton, Vermont. She’s personally connected to both cases, and finds herself having to delve into her past, in order to solve them.


Murder,” I repeated, the word clumsy on my tongue. The last time I spoke it, I was in another world.

Tim rocked his office chair, testing the bounce on springs sticky with dust, and raised his empty coffee mug. “Murder on an island,” Tim said. “If it didn’t make me a heartless creep, I’d call this your lucky day, Shane.”

It was a nickname I hated, but I was still trying to reconcile Tim’s news with the water coursing down the window behind him, so I let it slide. Shane! Tim said my first day on the job. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen Shane! Old western movie? Gunfighter with a mysterious past? Get it? I didn’t, hated westerns with their drama and dust, but Tim was convinced it was funny.

That morning, no one was laughing. Tim took the transfer call from dispatch while I was putting a second pot on to brew, listening to the thunder rattle the panes and expecting nothing more from the Saturday than dry skin from the electric heat. As much as I wished the call was a joke, too, Tim needling “the new guy” or a prank by some bored townies, I knew it wasn’t, for three reasons. The first was Tim’s eyes. He had cartoonish eyebrows, so wide and straight they might have been drawn with a Sharpie. I’m not saying I’m perfect. Most people, when they look at me, only see my scar. But I wondered if in spite of Tim’s athletic build, perps saw him as a hapless clown with no swag. As I watched him ask the routine questions on the phone and scribble notes on a lined yellow pad, Tim’s face got hard as stone. It was an entirely new look on him. At least, it was new to me.

The second reason was the timing. I’d been told prank calls in the fall were unicorns, rare enough to be the stuff of legend. We were smack in the middle of October and the exodus was nearly complete. The majority of the seasonal residents, even the stragglers who tried to eke out a few more days of summer, had packed up their water trampolines and put their garish red-and-yellow cigarette boats in storage. The short-term tourists were back where they’d come from, too: Manhattan, Toronto, Montreal. This was the off-season in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York, nobody left but the locals. Just us.

Above all, though, I knew the call was legit because of the rain, sideways and lashing at that window by Tim’s desk. On the morning news the local weather guy—Bob? Ben?—said it was a nor’easter . The storm had started the previous morning with lethal-looking green clouds that plunged the village of Alexandria Bay into premature darkness. It dumped freezing water on us all night and was expected to last forty-eight hours in all. Nobody wanted to be out in that weather, helping to dock a police boat. I couldn’t imagine anyone setting foot outside if they had a choice.

No, this call was the real deal. It was my first murder case in over a year, since the one that convinced me to trade Manhattan for total obscurity. I glanced around me. We weren’t the only investigators working out of our station, but we were the only ones present today, and now, somehow, I had to get to an island. “Grab your coat,” I said, watching Tim’s eyebrows inch upward. “We’re going for a ride.”

For more... do yourself a favor and buy the book... You will be just as happy as I am.  

DEATH IN THE FAMILY: A Berkley Prime Crime, Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Available at the following bookstores : Barnes&Noble, Book A Million,, IndieBound, Powell's, Target, Walmart, Amazon (US & Canada) and Kindle/Ebook

Feb 18, 2020 | ISBN 9780593097908

By Susan W.  Smith,

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 4, April 2020, Book review

Please click here if you are unable to post your comment.

Submit an Article

Do you have an article you would like to submit? Click here to participate.