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Under cover of night, seven stacked-stone towers, erected by an unknown villain, are sequentially moved to kill innocent residents of a 300-year-old town in New England.

Cliff Abbott, resident state trooper, finds himself out of his league and suddenly overrun by an incompetent team of state police and elected leaders. After a stone tower causes traffic fatalities and another conceals a bomb, Abbott starts to understand that the towers are designed for terror. As the body count climbs, Abbott discovers a connection to the conversion of farmland that would change the town forever.

SET IN STONE, author J.A. Dayton’s debut novel, combines suspense with entertainment, while exploring the political and cultural changes threatening the identity of a small town. TheBigThrill caught up with her to learn more:

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 to portray a protagonist, a law enforcement agent, who becomes caught in tension between town and state, between loyalty to his hometown and his position with state police. In other words, what happens when terror visits a small town without its own police force? I take inspiration from the evident love of our town by leaders and residents alike.

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?

J.A. Dayton

First, I wanted to thrill readers by immersing them in a terrorized small town where everything is at stake: the town’s political survival, the inhabitants’ own survival from random acts of terror and the survival of community itself. Second, I wanted to write a multi-faceted book in which unexplained deaths are just one part. I am motivated by larger themes: the protagonist has to fight to preserve his own identity as well as the town’s historic identity, in the face of internal and external pressures.

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

Rural New England is littered with remains of stone structures from centuries ago. I often walk in the woods, through conservation land and discover not only stone remnants of the earliest European homes, but also stone monuments of native people thousands of years old. I wanted to write a thriller in which murders are neither by human hands, nor by supernatural events, but by stone.

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

No, because when I write, I isolate myself from my own books and from media. I don’t go to bookstores until my novel is finished. I live ten miles from retail and theaters.

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

Small towns have values worth fighting for.

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

I’m working on a very different book in which a husband and wife board an hour-long ferry ride to Block Island, but upon arrival the husband has mysteriously disappeared.


J.A. Dayton is an artist and writer. She lives on a former cranberry farm in a small New England town. Dayton, a former newspaper columnist and supporter of local journalism, has long experience as a policy advocate on public issues. She held several elected offices, which developed her love of writing and public speaking. Her passion for culture, history and travel inspires her life and writing. When not traveling, she loses sleep reading spine-tingling, mind-bending, heart-racing thrillers. SET IN STONE is her debut novel.

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

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