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The quest for home becomes deadly when Detectives Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger must find a man with no address in their search for the killer of an adulterous real estate agent. A volatile real estate market, unrest in a homeless encampment, and jealousies among lovers, and a case of arson thwart the detectives as they investigate the murder.

The victim’s husband has no alibi. A property developer grieves too much over the woman’s death while his assistant suspects that the developer was not only involved with the victim but is being scammed by an arsonist. A sexy widow, friend of the victim, turns to the developer for protection. A homeless man stalked the dead woman and now stalks the young widow. All hold secrets about the burning of an apartment complex and the man who died there.

The case will burn down around Erik and Deb unless they can scheme their way out of lethal surroundings.

TheBigThrill joined author Priscilla Paton to learn more about her latest mystery, WHEN THE HOUSE BURNS:

In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Like most authors, I want readers to come away with empathy for unlikely sorts and imperfect people (which we all are). For example, the murder victim is flawed, but she was a loving mother. The people who are without a home in the book vary from the possibly criminal to an ordinary working person. In writing the story, I have to develop and test that empathy within myself.

Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?

I had to move from my home—the basement was condemned—in a hurry during the COVID shutdown. So displacement was real to me. Also, the killing of a woman realtor in the Twin Cities upset me.

Priscilla Paton

When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?

I wanted a book that blended Noir intrigue with a Midwest sense of duty, and also had clever banter. I like to mix things up and have people who don’t fit a single definition. WHEN THE HOUSE BURNS has a scene-stealing character, a man in his twenties, Rafe, whose mother is from Minnesota and whose London-born father is Anglo-Indian. (A friend with Bengali heritage helped me with Rafe. Originally I had a character named “Edward,” couldn’t get anywhere with him, searched for a British name, and once I found “Rafe” the character was there.

A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?

It wasn’t at first. I had started researching and brainstorming on another topic with different characters. But as mentioned above, a specific case distressed me, I had to move, and the young adults in my extended family couldn’t find housing. I had put Detective Deb in a sublet, and she was booted from that. Then a character name came to me, Karma, for a young widowed realtor. The rest was the grunt work of writing.

Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?

I love the poet Robert Frost and was haunted by a line from “Death of the Hired Man,” where home is “Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” No matter who you are, you should have a home. Also, I read books by Deborah Crombie for character development and by Matt Goldman for the dialogue and twists.

What can you share about what you’re working on next?

Not much yet, but it involves family members who disown each other and how a well-meaning person can exert a negative influence.


Priscilla Paton grew up on a dairy farm in Maine and now lives in Northfield, Minnesota, with her husband. She escaped from a career as a professor to write the Twin Cities Mystery Series featuring Detectives Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger. WHERE PRIVACY DIES and SHOULD GRACE FAIL were finalists for Foreword Indies Awards; WHEN THE HOUSE BURNS will be released February 2023. Priscilla is active in advocacy programs for at-risk women and children. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, ITW, and Mystery Writers of America, Midwest Chapter.

To learn more about the Priscilla and her work, please visit her website.