Best Places to Soak Up the Sun—and Stash a Body

Portland's best-selling thriller author Chelsea Cain takes us on a tour of her favorite summer spots, with a few fatalities along the way.

By Aaron Scott June 2, 2013 Published in the June 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Nick Stokes

Some people’s favorite summer locales produce fond memories. Chelsea Cain’s tend to result in murders. 

“The places where I kill people also happen to be the places that I like to go to in the summertime,” says the author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thriller series as we climb into her Prius for a tour of her favorite fictional crime scenes. She’s always on the lookout for a good place to stash a corpse, and since she gets out only in the summer (work and family keep her too busy in the winter), it makes sense the two often overlap, she figures. 

After a quick stop at her daughter’s school—it’s off-limits for slayings—we head to Oaks Park, where Cain’s family loves to roller-skate at the popular 108-year-old rink, and where a waterlogged cadaver draped on the carousel opens The Night Season. “I thought a lot about what animal the victim should be slumped on, and I decided after quite a bit of soul searching that it should be the ostrich,” Cain says, staring moonily into the bird’s eyes. The rooster was a close second.

Our next destination: the East Bank Esplanade, where she likes to walk her dogs—and from which she points out the sites of eight casualties, saying that bodies are always washing up in the Willamette. She burned down the Made in Oregon sign with a flaming stiff in Kill You Twice. But she also let her protagonist save a child from the Burnside Bridge during a Vanport-inspired flood in The Night Season. (She always spares children—she’s not inhumane.) When four rented pedicabs barrel by, Cain notes she’d like to snuff them out slowly in a future novel because of their general disregard for her four-legged companions.

“I find that my job is an excellent tension release,” she says, a bright red lipstick smile spreading across her face. “If I get cut off or I’m stuck in terrible traffic, I can go home and kill somebody.” 

We have lunch at Gold Dust Meridian on SE Hawthorne Boulevard, scene of the bathroom shooting that opens her new book, Let Me Go, due out in August. Cain checked with the owner, a friend, before writing the bar into the book, since not all businesses like being known as sites of bloody carnage. The owner was delighted.

As she nibbles at a salad and fries, Cain notes that she likes to think of her books as good television: thrilling entertainment, instead of horror. But after giving tours to European journalists of significant sites in the books, she realized they’re also advertisements for our city—though, she hasn’t fielded any calls from Travel Portland for an “Axed in Stumptown” tour. Yet. 

We asked Chelsea Cain to share her picks for a perfect Summer Reading List packed with local authors, then turned them into haikus to whet your appetite. 

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