October 16 – 22: “Is it a good idea to set thrillers in the Fall?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Thrillers set in the Fall, is it a good idea? That’s the question posed this week to ITW Members Steven Cooper, J. H. Bográn and Gordon Brown. Scroll down to the “comments” to read what they have to say!


Steven Cooper is a freelance writer, video producer, and the author of three previous novels. A former television reporter, he has received multiple Emmy awards and nominations, a National Edward R. Murrow Award, and Associated Press awards. He taught writing at Rollins College (Winter Park, FL) from 2007 to 2012.



Gordon Brown lives in Scotland. He has delivered pizzas in Toronto, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival, floated a high-tech company on the stock market and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final. Today, Gordon also runs a creativity training business called Brain Juice and is a DJ on local radio. Gordon helped found Bloody Scotland—Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival—and has been writing since his teens. He has five crime and thriller novels to his name.



J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact.  José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. POISONED TEARS is his third novel in English and has already garnered positive reviews and recommendations. Jon Land calls it “a splendid piece of crime noir.” Douglas Preston says it’s a first class roller-coaster ride. His other works include novels in both English and Spanish, short stories, screenplays. He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild, and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator.



  1. I’m not a big fan of the fall, but I enjoy setting stories during that time of year. The metaphor is obvious. Things die. Blue skies of spring and summer turn gray. Days are shorter; darkness encroaches. Goblins hide in the shadows. The metaphor is almost a cliché. And yet it’s hard to resist the temptation of the season. Like a witch disguised as a beautiful enchantress, fall beckons. Then you get closer, past the point of no return, and you see her curled, arthritic finger and her malevolent smile. You’re trapped. I’ve always hated being trapped by fall. Raised in New England, I always hated bracing for winter. The world, to me, died. Which is why I ran away to Phoenix. My new release, Desert Remains, is set during a Phoenix fall. Because, even now, all these years later, I can’t resist the idea of fall and its haunted charm. In Phoenix, however, there really aren’t four seasons. There’s summer and “less summer.” So the challenge was to create darkness under blue skies, danger lurking in broad daylight, and a sense of dread even though the threat of winter meant nothing more than turning on the heater for the swimming pool.

  2. I’m with Steven on not being a big fan of Fall (or Autumn as it is on this side of the pond) – but not because it doesn’t make for a great setting in a novel – more because it precedes Winter and it’s hard enough finding the sun in Scotland never mind reminding me that Winter is just around the corner. From a book point of view I’ve just used Fall in upstate New York in my latest Craig McIntyre book, Furthest Reaches, to set up a bolt hole for him, many years after he first visited the state for the Fall foliage. When I was much younger I was on a business trip to New York to visit PepsiCo – during the Fall. Their head office isn’t too deep into upstate New York but deep enough for me to glimpse the riot of colours in the trees. As I drove up to their HQ, past a country club (I think), I noticed an old house on a piece of scrubland, at odds with all the manicured land around it. The house looked abandoned but there was smoke coming from the chimney. That image of dereliction amongst the pristine stuck with me and that’s where my ‘hero’ finds a hideout in the new book.
    On another tack I was recently talking to Antti Tuomainen, a Finish author, who told me that in Finland they have a multitude of names for snow – something that we lack in English. He wanted to make snow a ‘character’ in one of his books – rather than a casual point of reference. That sparked an idea in my head for a book that could only happen in Winter and makes me wonder if there are books that could only happen in the Fall.

  3. When I first read the question my immediate reaction was ‘Why not?’ but having read the replies I can see why those of us in the more northerly countries would have a stronger feeling than I do. In general Australia doesn’t have the extremes of seasonal temperatures, and the predominant trees are non deciduous gum trees. Of course we have beautiful autumn colours in some areas and the weather changes in the southern states but until I lived in Holland for a year I hadn’t experienced the effect the winter can have. It was unbelievably depressing to have no sun to speak of for nearly 6 months and incredibly exciting to see brave little crocuses appearing through the slushy snow.

    I can imagine autumn could bring on feelings of dread 🙂 What about the ‘season of mist and mellow fruitfulness’ though?

  4. The right season is important in some thriller titles: “The Hunt for Red February” would not work, nor would “The Spy who Came in from the Early Frost”. OK, I know Red October refers to the October 1917 Russian revolution and “cold” in spy thrillers does not signify Winter.

    All kidding aside, this is a tough topic. There are Fall events (World Series, presidential election) and holidays in the United States that could be the setting for a thriller but only Halloween evokes a fear factor. I suppose if some terrorist wanted to reprise 9–11, it would be on the same date.

    The only well-known thriller that I can think of that at least started in the Fall was “The Shining”. The Overlook Hotel closed in October and that’s when Jack and his family moved in as caretakers for the Winter.

    I get that Fall is a metaphor for dying as a prelude to Winter but what will still make a thriller memorable are the characters, a suspenseful plot, the action, etc., rather than the backdrop of the season.

    Maybe it would be easier to discuss what type of thrillers are strictly seasonal. For example, “Jaws” had to take place in mid Summer when there was ample human chum in the waters off Amity island and the shutting down of the beach would result in calamitous economic harm to businesses and tourism.

    1. “I get that Fall is a metaphor for dying as a prelude to Winter but what will still make a thriller memorable are the characters, a suspenseful plot, the action, etc., rather than the backdrop of the season.”

      Ultimately, that’s the truth. And yet in my Phoenix novels, the season can add suspense and drama (dying of thirst in the desert) and it can be an obstacle, itself, to the characters (ten hours in 117 degree heat, a hellish climb up Camelback Mountain in July). I’m reminded of blizzards in New England trapping victims who otherwise would flee their assailants, kidnappers, or other assorted ghouls. Wild weather, desperate weather, unpredictable weather can be great, if not overused devices. But I think Alex makes a lot of sense.

  5. This may not strictly be a Fall thing but it occurs to me, reading Elisabeth’s post, that we all, often inadvertently, use seasons as a backdrop that relate to where we set the book. But the reader of the book may come from a place where the seasons are non existent (Spring/Fall nearer the equator) or are more extreme (Winter in Northern Canada, Summer in Dubai). Or, in time, reversed – Northern Spring/Southern Fall. There are nuances that I know of in the UK, over a relatively small geographical distance, that hold back Fall in some areas by a few weeks. With this in mind I realized, sometime back, that I tend to write more about the darker months as there is always something more dramatic and scary about both the lack of light and the isolation that bad weather brings. For my new book Falling Too, it needed to be cold and for the nights to be dark earlier because I wanted to place some of the characters in scenarios that could be life threatening if they didn’t find shelter.
    I don’t know any Fall set mystery/crime/thriller books – but I certainly know a lot of songs set at the end of summer when the lovers are torn apart never to see each other again – so maybe the Fall is the perfect setting for a romantic tear jerker.

      1. Yes remember how in the movie Insomnia, the constant daylight had a profound effect on the story and the Al Pacino’s detective character? Very effective use of a season in a fascinating part of the world.

          1. They were set in summer because the children were all on their summer hols staying with George. Have you seen Five Go Mad in Dorset from the Comedy Company? My kids loved that and still quote from it as adults. When Timmy the dog is poisoned…’Oh Look Timmy’s fallen over.’ ‘Never mind, we’ll get another.’

  6. Probably my last word on this is the most obvious – Fall in America, Autumn in the UK (and elsewhere). If there is one thing that trips me up it’s the alternate words across British and US English for the same thing. In my Craig McIntyre series I write in US English. Every time I come back to the States I discover new differences. I’m in Boston at the moment and I’ve found two more I didn’t know. In the UK we call the sort stuff that sits under your carper ‘underlay’ not ‘padding’ and I found that what we call a ‘pylon’ is referred top as a ‘utility pole’. I’ve been coming here since 1985 and I’ve long since decided that I’ll never learn them all – that’s just the way the cookie crumbles (or should that be biscuit?).

  7. Talking of language (and seasons) I’m reading a murder mystery at the moment set on the wild coast of Scotland in winter with the herring boats coming in. My goodness it’s a bleak setting but the local language is extraordinary. Fortunately the two protagonists are English so they have to keep asking for translations. 🙂

  8. For me, I love the fall. It’s a fragrant, beautiful, and cozy time. The days are shorter (okay, I hate that), but it’s a time for hot soups and mugs of steaming drink and sweaters. Since this season feels so warm and inviting for me, I can absolutely see using it to intensify emotion in a thriller. I would do that by having a character who is in a dire, high-tension, desperate situation–or perhaps after suffering some terrible consequence of the events–observe the seasonal atmosphere and reflect on it and how his/her emotional state is so opposite what it should be at that time of year. It could be a nice way to add a small reflection that allows for character development; emotion via the tiny things–some memory that maybe ties into the fall, something positive that fleshes out the character, that is being triggered by something awful happening to them at that moment.

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