The Weather Outside Is Frightful: Using Weather to Enhance Setting

Read Emily Littlejohn's guest post about using weather events to enhance setting, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of her second Detective Gemma Monroe novel, A Season to Lie!

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

Though it is much parodied and oft-mocked, aspiring mystery writers would do well to study the opening sentence of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel, Paul Clifford. Why? Because it works. It’s instantly relatable. With just seven words, the reader immediately understands the setting and can imagine the scene.

Weather is a great equalizer in fiction. Consider a further example: 

The detective chased the man, barely conscious of the slick street, unfazed by the torrential summer downpour driving pedestrians and bicyclists to take cover. In minutes the rain ceased. The steamy July swelter returned and still the two men ran.

The story’s location could be anywhere, from Los Angeles to Beijing to Mumbai. It is the weather—the rain, the humidity—that is familiar. The reader feels the oppressiveness of the heat, the wetness of the downpour.

From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mist-covered moors to the cyclone in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, weather sets the stage for novels. Weather events are uncontrollable. We can predict them and experience them. We can study them until the cows come home, but we cannot control them. And there’s something mysterious about that lack of control—something romantic, suspenseful.

Mystery writers especially have a long tradition of presenting dark, bleak weather as an omnipresent character in their novels. Part of the enjoyment of a good mystery is imagining yourself beside the hero, stalking the villain, moving about in the shadows.

Two books that take advantage of winter’s chill are Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman and John Sandford’s Winter Prey. In The Snowman—the seventh in Nesbo’s Norwegian series—Detective Harry Hole tracks a serial killer who inexplicably leaves a unique calling card: a snowman, made from the first snow of the season. Half a world away, Winter Prey takes us to the frozen northern woods of Wisconsin where lawman Lucas Davenport hunts the Iceman, a vicious killer who favors a machete and is likely a local. This is the fifth book in Sandford’s Prey series, and both the mystery and the frigid environment deliver plenty of chills. And—no kidding—Davenport meets up with an intriguing and attractive doctor by the name of … wait for it … Weather Karkinnen.

But perhaps glistening white snow splattered with fresh scarlet blood isn’t appealing. If instead you’re looking for mysteries set in warmer climes, consider The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke and Stormy Weather by Carl Hiassen. Both stories take place in the immediate aftermath of crippling hurricanes, and you’ll find little to no mention of snowmen and blizzards.

Burke’s novel—the 16th in the excellent Sheriff’s Detective Dave Robicheaux series—finds Robicheaux deployed from New Iberia to the bleak, desperate reality that is post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. The streets are flooded. The destruction is devastating. And everyone—crooks, priests, and the common folk in between—is just trying to survive. This is not a light book; the crimes are as horrific as the living conditions. For a real treat, listen to the audiobook narrated by the incomparable Will Patton. From the first words, his melodious voice plants you firmly in Louisiana and keeps you there for the duration of the story.

Finally, if you’re looking for lighter fare, check out Carl Hiassen’s Stormy Weather—the third in his Skink series. Hiassen takes us to South Florida where Hurricane Andrew has left things in a mess. Hiassen’s appeal is simple: his bad guys are bad, his good guys are good, and when the dust has cleared, each gets what’s coming to them. You’ll laugh out loud at his vivid descriptions and zany characters. Escaped zoo animals, unexpected love affairs, and double- and triple-crosses round out the plot.

Read an excerpt from Emily Littlejohn's second Detective Gemma Monroe novel, A Season to Lie!

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your username appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your username appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

A Season to Lie Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) November 14, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 12:59 p.m. ET November 28, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


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Emily Littlejohn is the author of the Detective Gemma Monroe mysteries series, set in the fictional town of Cedar Valley, Colorado. Her first novel, Inherit the Bones, received critical acclaim and was a Colorado Book Award Finalist. The second in the series, A Season to Lie, will be released November 14th, 2017.


  1. Halil cakir

    I first read smt on importance of weather in crime scene in Grange’s “blood red rivers” and found it so interesting. I will check the book.

  2. Susanne Troop

    Sounds great!

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  4. Jackie Wisherd

    I like it when authors write about the climate because it helps to put the reader into the story. I know I would enjoy reading this book.

  5. Carl

    Thanks for the insights, I’d love to win a copy of the book. Have a great week!

  6. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  7. Russ Cross

    I’d love to read that!

  8. Patrick Murphy

    I want to win this!

  9. Janet West

    I would love to win this book. These are my favorite genre.

  10. Janet West

    I would love to win this book. These are my favorite genre.

  11. Margot Core

    Tis’ the season indeed! I would like to cozy up to this mystery.

  12. Barbara Bolam

    I agree, weather sets a scene in books, movies, etc. I would love to read this book it sounds so-o-o interesting.

  13. Vernon Luckert

    Looks like a good read!

  14. Gwen Ellington

    Weather! Yes, something important to read about. Yay!

  15. Lori P

    Effectively done, weather is a memorable character unto itself!

  16. Michael Carter

    Baby it’s cold outside, but warm if I win.
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.

  17. Autumn Trapani

    Great post and a lot of good recommendations! Thanks for the chance to win!

  18. John Smith

    We do approve of the above fine writers!

  19. Douglass Abramson

    Looks good

  20. elsie321

    sounds like a good read

  21. Janet Gould

    this book sounds fascinating

  22. Janet Gould

    this book sounds fascinating

  23. MaryC

    Enjoyed the post.

  24. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  25. Carol Lawman

    I love lots of background information in a book, especially weather. God Bless Mother Nature….

  26. Carole Knoles

    Weather- a mood maker in literature as it is in real life.

  27. susan beamon

    I guess I don’t pay attention to the weather in books or in real life. It’s thereand that’s that.

  28. Susan Morris

    Thank you for the chance to win this book. Cold winter nights are great to snuggle up with a good read.

  29. Rhonda Barkhouse

    Sounds like a good winter read.

  30. Rhonda Barkhouse

    Sounds like a good winter read.

  31. vicki wurgler

    thanks -love to win this book

  32. Catherine Myers

    Weather can be another character.

  33. Laurent Latulippe

    Very interesting. I look forward to reading it.

  34. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    The seasons! Yes!

  35. Polly Barlow

    Weather can set the scene for a good mystery. I would like to read Emily Littlejohn’s book and see how she uses the weather.

  36. Barbara Bates

    Sounds interesting! Would love to win this book!

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  38. C

    The Shining would still have been scary, but not nearly as terrifying without all of the snow.

  39. Marisa Young

    Had never really thought about weather in books until reading this article.


    thanks for chance

  41. Jane Schwarz

    I also enjoy stories that center within and around weather. It makes the characters and plot more intense. Thank you for the opportunity to win “A Season to Lie”.

  42. Carolyn

    Well written description of the weather always add to the atmosphere of the story line. This book sounds good!

  43. Daniel Morrell

    looks like a good one

  44. Charlee Griffith

    Looks good!

  45. Mary Lauff-Thompson

    tis the season

  46. Sandy Klocinski

    Interesting Info! I would love to read this book. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  47. Abigail Gibson

    Sounds like a very good story. Thank you.


    Weather effects every thing & description in books can & does enhance every situation from humour to murder.

  49. Andrew Gordon

    this looks fantastic


    Fascinating and cool!!

  51. Shannon Baas

    I would like this.

  52. Tammy Z Evans

    I am so excited for the chance to read this, can’t wait.

  53. deborah buffamanti

    Works for me!

  54. Jennifer Hodges

    Count me in!

  55. Veronica Sandberg

    want to read…want to win

  56. Veronica Sandberg

    want to read…want to win

  57. Sandra Slack

    Oh weather so sets the mood, especially for murders, lol…

  58. L

    I agree, weather plays an important role in stories. It can greatly enhance a scene.

  59. Susan Smoaks

    thank you for the chance to win

  60. Mallory Bailey

    Sounds interesting! Thanks for the chance!

  61. Mallory Bailey

    Sounds interesting! Thanks for the chance!

  62. Lorena Keech

    Sounds like an interesting book, look forward to reading it.

  63. Lorena Keech

    Sounds like an interesting book, look forward to reading it.

  64. Stephanie Liske

    Thank you.

  65. julie hawkins

    I want to read this book.

  66. Margit Curtright

    sounds good

  67. Linda Leonard

    Quite an excerpt! You’re right, weather does draw you in at the very beginning. It really sets the stage. Thanks for the opportunity to read “A Season to Lie”.

  68. Ed Nemmers

    I would like to read the work of Emily Littlejohn.

  69. Tricha Leary

    thanks for the chance

  70. Lisa Pecora

    I would like to read this.

  71. Leela

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  72. Linda Peters

    This would be a great read for the cold winter days, thanks

  73. Brandy Schwartz

    Thanks for the giveaway! I would love to read this one.

  74. Sand Lopez

    Sounds like a great one!

  75. Betty Curran

    So many great stories use weather as a significant part of the story line.

Comments are closed.