Julie Weston, a resident of Hailey, published her third novel and fourth book, “Moonscape,” on June 19, marking the third installment in her ongoing Nellie Burns and Moonshine mystery series.
The first Nellie Burns book, “Moonshadows,” was released in 2015. The book follows an intrepid young photographer who leaves Chicago in the early 1920s and winds up in Ketchum. While shooting moon shadows on the snow with her large-format camera, she stumbles upon a black Labrador retriever—which she later names Moonshine—and a dead body.
Soon, Nellie becomes embroiled in a mystery that takes her across the Wood River Valley.
Only a year later, Weston published a sequel, “Basque Moon.” In their second outing, Nellie and Moonshine travel north into the Stanley Basin. Soon enough, they find they have another mystery on their hands (and paws).
With the moon providing both titles and thematic elements to her previous two novels, it made perfect sense for the third Nellie Burns and Moonshine book to propel its protagonists as near to the lunar body as possible, without even leaving Idaho.
“Moonscape” pits the photographer and her dog against a dangerous religious cult. Together with some new and old allies, the duo investigate a missing persons case against the backdrop of Craters of the Moon National Monument.
From its ominous and mysterious prologue to its rip-roaring thriller of a finale, Weston’s latest is the definition of a page-turner.
Upon the release of “Moonshadows,” best-selling author Ridley Pearson—another Hailey resident—praised Weston’s debut novel as “a gorgeously written, taut mystery.”
Clever plotting and tense pacing aside, what sets Weston apart from her peers is her indelible sense of place. Her words paint images of rural Idaho as vivid as the photographs her heroine snaps, but although local familiarity with the landscape certainly helps, it has its limits, since the series takes place nearly a hundred years ago.
Research is a key element to Weston’s craft.
“I spend a lot of time in the regional history library, especially looking at the old newspapers,” she said. “Articles are very helpful, but so are the advertisements.”
Ads provide a unique understanding of what products and services were in demand at the time, how people thought about certain amenities, which items were considered luxuries and which necessities; in short, they offer a glimpse into the daily life of Idahoans.
“Pictures are helpful, too,” she said. “They show you what the streets looked like and where the railroad station was, what the town looked like and felt like in those days. That helps when you’re writing a historical book.”
The ancient Holocenic basaltic lava fields of Craters of the Moon may not have changed in several thousand years, but the arrangement of the monument has dramatically.
Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the site a monument in 1924, though it was still more than a decade before the modern road system, campground and visitor center fell into place.
Largely depending upon the accounts of explorer R.W. Limbert published in National Geographic in 1924, Weston commissioned local artist Poo Wright-Pulliam to create an accurate and era-appropriate map of Craters, which appears in the opening pages of “Moonscape.”
A native of Kellogg, Idaho, Weston frequented the greater Sun Valley area throughout her life before finally settling in Hailey with her husband, Gerry, a photographer who provides the cover photos for all the Nellie Burns books.
Though “Moonscape” only hit the shelves last week, Weston is already hard at work on book number four, which will see Nellie Burns and Moonshine head into Weston’s native panhandle, exploring the treacherous silver mines of Kellogg.
“Moonscape” will launch at The Community Library in Ketchum on Thursday, June 27, at 6 p.m. This event is free and all are welcome. Weston will read from her new novel, take questions, sign books and chat with the audience. Iconoclast Books will be selling copies.
Visit julieweston.com to learn more about the author and her books.