By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When Tessa Wegert met her husband’s family for the first time nearly 17 years ago on an island that they own in the Thousand Islands, her mind, influenced by years of consuming mystery and thriller novels, wandered to a strange place.
She panicked. Wegert started to think about some of the worst possible scenarios. What would happen if no one liked her, she wondered, and more importantly, what would happen if something sinister occurred on the island, leaving her stranded with strangers.
“I don’t have a boat and I’m not going to drive their boat and then the next place my mind went right away was what if there was a crime on one of these islands and I just started becoming really curious at how that would even work,” she recalled in a phone interview.
The overall experience left a lasting impression on her. Close to two decades later, Wegert would use her memories from that island getaway to lay the groundwork for her first novel, Death in the Family, which was published in February.
The story follows Shana Merchant, a special investigator who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after suffering a harrowing kidnapping experience during her time with the New York Police Department.
Merchant moves to a small town in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York to get away from her past. However, she takes a job with the local police force and quickly becomes embroiled in a murder investigation involving a wealthy family and a private island.
“She’s trapped on this island trying to determine who is responsible among all of the family members and the guests on the island for the man’s disappearance,” Wegert said.
The 44-year-old former Lennoxville resident has another novel on the way, The Dead Season, set to release on Dec. 8. It’s the second book in her Shana Merchant mystery-thriller series. It takes place a few weeks after Death in the Family and digs deeper into Merchant’s past.
Weger told The Record that she never intended on developing a series, but when she was negotiating her contract with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, they asked her if she would consider expanding the Merchant story.
“I always say, if someone asks you if you can turn your book into a series, I think the answer is pretty much always yes because if there’s an opportunity to write more books of course you want to take it,” Wegert said.
The challenge now, according to the Canadian novelist, is navigating her way through the series, avoiding plot holes and creating new storylines for Merchant. There’s no telling how many books will come out of this series, she explained, so she needs to cover her bases.
Wegert, who attended Lennoxville Elementary School, Alexander Galt High School and Champlain Regional College, has had a long-standing love affair with words. She wrote for the high school newspaper, contributed to poetry anthologies and adored reading fiction.
She completed a communications degree at Concordia University in Montreal and went on to write for several newspapers, including the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the National Post. She eventually turned to more branded content for company websites.
Wegert currently resides in Connecticut with her husband, who she met while working at an ad agency in Montreal. She started working on thriller novels about 10 years ago, while taking care of her two children, who were nine months and two years old, at the time.
“I wanted to find something that was a bit more of a creative outlet for me, you know, something beyond my work and the pressures of raising a family,” said Wegert, adding that she was working as a journalist.
She always thought about writing a fiction novel, but there was never an opportunity to get around to it. Wegert then drew inspiration from acclaimed mystery writer Agatha Christie when she transitioned to writing mystery novels.
She said people who read her books will see a lot of similarities to the 2019 movie, Knives Out. Wegert added that while it might seem like a quick turnaround, releasing two novels in under a year, the idea is to hook readers.
“Once you read one, it’s fun to be able to have access to the second one right away, but typically you do have to wait quite a long time,” Wegert said.