The Light and Dark Side of Redemption

Michele Pariza Wacek

Redemption, Wisconsin, is not like any other town you’ve encountered in either fictional worlds or real life. 

The town itself is beautiful. It’s located in the southern part of the state near Wisconsin Dells (I loosely based it off of Reedsburg, Wisconsin) and is surrounded by woods, lakes and farms.

But, it also has a dark past.

Back in 1888, all the adults mysteriously disappeared, leaving only the children. No one knows what happened to the adults, not even the children who were left, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many theories floating around.

Since then, many strange, unexplained and troubling events have happened in Redemption. Unexplained disappearances, dream, hauntings and more.

Including murder.

So, it’s probably no wonder my first series, Secrets of Redemption, would be a psychological suspense. (It’s actually a mashup of psychological suspense, mystery, women’s fiction, romance and a touch of supernatural.)

That’s the dark side of Redemption.

But, like nearly everything in life, Redemption is a mix of black and white. There’s also a light side, which is my funny, twisty cozy mystery series called The Charlie Kingsley Mysteries.

When we first meet Charlie in Secrets of Redemption, she’s dead. (While yes, there is a touch of the supernatural in these books, they wouldn’t be considered paranormal. They’re realistic, in the sense you could picture them happening in real life.) Charlie is Aunt Charlie and she has willed her house in Redemption to her niece Becca.

Becca is the main character for the first three books.

Books four and five, we go back in time and hear Charlie’s story on how she first came to Redemption. (A prequel of sorts.)

The Charlie Kingsley Mysteries take place in between. After Book 5 but before Book 1. It’s the 1990s, before cell phones, computers and Covid. (Thank goodness.) So, you won’t find any of those things in the series. Instead, you’ll be enjoying plenty of tea, baked goods, quirky characters and a cat.

Also, even though the two series represent the two sides of Redemption, all of the books would be considered clean–no swearing, sex, gore and little violence. You just need to decide how edgy you want your mysteries. (Oh, and all my books also have a sleuthing woman too–just saying.)

The Light and Dark Side of Redemption

Here’s a few other tidbits you might find interesting about the two series:

1. Redemption’s history was inspired by real-life events.

There were terrible blizzards in 1888, including what is now known as The Children’s Blizzard that hit the Midwest, which resulted in the death of a lot of children, not adults (hence the name). 

There is also a book called Wisconsin Death Trip that chronicles a five-year span of time around 1888, during which a town called Black River Falls was plagued by a series of terrible events—murders, arson, madness, and more. The book is full of newspaper articles from the time that detail this strange and unusual period of Wisconsin’s past.

2.  I personally never thought I’d ever write a cozy mystery.

I always had a love for the psychological thriller/psychological suspense stories. And I loved exploring the “Things are never as they seem” theme. 

However, my mother loved cozy mysteries (although when she was reading them, they weren’t called cozies). She and I both shared a love of mysteries, and while we read many of the same series, her preference was the lighter ones. 

She died in 2015, and alas, I do regret she isn’t here to read my Charlie Kingsley Mysteries. I think she would have really liked them. 

3. I also never thought Charlie Kingsley would turn into my most enduring character to date.

I was in my twenties when the idea for It Began With a Lie (the first book in my Secrets of Redemption series) came to me. I had no names for any of the characters then … just a shadowy idea of the aunt who had willed her haunted house to the main character.

I had set the idea aside because I was focusing on other writing projects (mainly, my freelance copywriting career). It wasn’t until five years ago, when my mother was dying of cancer, that the idea returned to me.

And honestly, I thought it completely ridiculous to be starting a novel. I already felt stretched too thin between my copywriting company and seeing my mother. But the idea persisted, and finally, I sat down and started to write it.

I had assumed it would be a standalone book, but the initial story was so complicated, I decided to turn it into two. Of course, if I was going to have two books, why not add a third, so I could turn it into a series?

The rest, as they say, is history.

4. It’s amazing to me how effortlessly the two series came together.

Pat, Charlie’s best friend, first appears in This Happened to Jessica, Book 2 of the Secrets of Redemption series. Claire (who is in Ice Cold Murder, Book 2 in the Charlie Kingsley Mysteries series) first appeared in Book 4 of the first series, The Summoning. God is definitely in charge here, as I certainly had no clue where it was all going to end up.

5. If you want to read the cozy, you don’t have to read the books in order.

The Charlie Kingsley Mysteries are standalones, and while there are series arcs that will help if you read in order, it’s not necessary. It’s also not necessary to read the Secrets of Redemption first. (However, if you do choose to start from the beginning, definitely read the Secrets of Redemption in order starting with It Began With a Lie.)

However, if you do want to start from the beginning of The Charlie Kingsley Mysteries, the first book is The Murder Before Christmas. There’s also a prequel short novella called A Grave Error you can download for free here.

(Oh, are you wondering how my third series, The Riverview Mysteries, fits in? Riverview is a much bigger college town about an hour away from Redemption. I'll have more about that connection in a later post.)

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