Monday, June 11, 2012

Mysterious Monday

A Good Place to Dump the Body

by Sheila Webster Boneham

The high desert around Reno, Nevada, is at once beautiful, bleak, inviting, terrifying, and inspiring. It’s a place of austere beauty when the sun rises over the Virginia Range or sinks behind the Sierras, angling its light like a net to catch the finely nuanced and shifting hues. When the sun glares straight down and even the shadows huddle close to the base of things, the wild open spaces can be forbidding, and dangerous.

Looking west along the Truckee River, Reno, Nevada. ©2011 Sheila Boneham

We lived in Reno for a year and a bit and I walked or hiked alone or with my Labrador Retriever, Lily, once or twice a day. If I felt like driving I often headed off into the canyons north or east of town, or followed the path from downtown Reno west along the Truckee River. It’s hard to pick a favorite place, but near the top of my list is Hidden Valley, mostly because of the mustangs I saw nearly every time I went. They deserve at least one blog of their own.

The Hidden Valley Band of the Virginia Herd. The fence is to keep them out of the park and residential area.©2011 Sheila Boneham

Sometimes I just walked out the door and climbed the hill on which we lived, making a 462-foot elevation gain by the time we reached the top. Okay, not exactly Everest, but a pretty decent slope all the same. I especially liked the climb in the evening, just before dusk. If I timed it right I could watch the sunset and then, in the sudden cool of falling night, the coyotes could sing me back down the mountain.

Sunset, Reno. ©2011 Sheila Boneham

More than one person asked me if I wasn’t frightened to go out alone, even with Lily along. Most often the question was "what if you run into a snake?" Oddly enough, people asked me the same question years ago when I walked regularly in a wetlands area in southern Indiana with another Labrador Retriever. Maybe ophidiophobia also deserves a blog of its own! Fact is, in fifteen months of hiking in Nevada, I saw exactly three snakes in the wild. One was a gopher snake at the top of "my" mountain," and the others were a pair of some sort of garter-y snakes that my husband Roger spotted at the Swan Lake wetlands. There are Great Basin rattlesnakes around Reno, but they don’t exactly hang out waiting for people to stumble over them.

My bigger fear was of falling. I’m not fond of heights, and on occasion I found myself frozen on a narrow trail, heart whimpering and face breaking out in cold sweat. Twice I got down and crawled my way to a more comfortable stretch of land, hoping no one saw me. I pushed past my limits a few times – the old "face the thing you fear" mantra running through my screaming brain – but mostly stuck to paths I could negotiate with a minimum of terror. And as I hiked the canyons and hills, I realized that there were lots of good places to hide bodies.

When we moved to Reno, I had just begun working on the plot for a thriller that I thought would be set in northern New Mexico. Then I saw the Nevada desert, and moved the setting. It’s the perfect place in many ways for Rattlesnake Mountain, which is creeping along as I wrap up my second (very different) mystery, The Money Bird. As I got into the plot for Rattlesnake Mountain, I started asking people if they knew a good place to hide the body – always an interesting conversation starter. I was surprised to find that most people hadn’t really thought about it, but then they didn’t write crime fiction! Then I met Tee Iseminger.

In Six Mile Canyon. ©2011 Sheila Boneham

Tee is a writer and runner, and has lived in Reno for a while and knows the extended area well. She asked me what kind of place I needed. I described what I had in mind. "Six Mile Canyon," she said, and off we went a few days later. She was right. This sage-strewn canyon outside Virginia City was perfect, and we picked the perfect time to be there. The place was blanketed with flowers, the Western meadowlarks were singing, and I had my setting. We even spotted two of my characters walking around Virginia City!

Just before we left Reno to move back to the East Coast I heard a news story that, sadly, confirmed my choice. A woman’s body had been found in another canyon a mile or so from my setting. I wasn’t happy to hear that, but at least I knew my idea worked. Life imitating art imitating life.

So next time you need a place to dump a body, you could ask your smart phone (really, it will tell you), but I’d suggest you ask some long-time residents instead. If nothing else, you’ll have some interesting chats, but you just might find someone who knows the perfect place. (Thank you, Tee!)

Sheila Webster Boneham writes all sorts of things – literary and commercial nonfiction and fiction, poetry, and other stuff. She also teaches writing classes and workshops, paints, takes photos, plays with dogs, and walks in wild places. Learn more at or on Facebook at .


  1. Sheila, found your site from Short Mystery , and what a nice find. Why? Because I am currently spending two weeks in a cabin not far from Reno. I am Texan so this is truly foreign land to me. You tale was delightful! So, while I'm here, I guess I'll have to looks for more of those hiding places! Will be driving back through Truckee on my way to the airtport in Reno. Looking forward to checking it out. Thanks for a delightful read! Sylvia

  2. Oh, Sylvia, thanks! Lucky you - you must be up in the Sierras? I spent a week in Squaw Valley last summer for the SV Writers' Workshop - spectacular place, and completely different from the places I describe in my blog. If you have any time before you have to be at the airport, check out a map of Reno -- Hidden Valley, and "my" horses, are not far from the airport. The horses are usually visible during the day from the southern trail head/parking area. And the view back to the Sierras from there is spectacular.

    Thanks for commenting - I hope you'll come again.

  3. Love the part about facing your fears! And laughed out loud at asking your smartphone for tips. No joke, my 14-year-old and her friend spent most of an afternoon giggling at Siri's answers to 'where to dump a body' and a variety of other crazy things. I'm sure Big Brother loved monitoring THAT. (haha)

  4. Sheila: I'm so glad Susan introduced me to your blog. I have really enjoyed the reads and your lovely pictures. Thanks Karen

  5. You painted a beautiful, if not foreboding, picture of the desert terrain, but from what we hear, lots of unfortunate people call those remote spots their final resting place.

    1. Fortunately, the only people I ran into were alive! I did often go long periods without seeing anyone, though, so I KNEW if I fell into a ravine, I'd be there a long, lonely time. :-)

  6. That does sound like the perfect place to hide a body. If you don't have a septic tank, that is. LOL bobbi c.