MEREDITH — Peter Miller has spent much of his life delving into the complexities of human nature.
As a psychologist Miller has both taught the subject as well as counseled people struggling to come to grips with emotional turmoil. Now, Miller brings his insights about the psyche to bear in the just-released "So Fade the Lovely," a mystery set in a fictitious Lakes Region town in the 1960s.
The book's main plot revolves around a family's attempt to learn the fate of a 14-year-old girl who disappeared in a blizzard. Her family hires a psychotherapist to do a psychological post-mortem. Did the girl become disoriented in the blizzard and fall through the ice on Lake Wonalancet? Or did she commit suicide, as some of the writings later found in her dresser would seem to suggest?
"So Fade the Lovely" is based on seven months of journal entries written by Jason Matthews, the psychotherapist hired by Nicole Murdoch's family, and the mystery's protagonist.
"I did borrow extensively from myself (in creating Matthews' character)," Miller says with a grin. "He's somewhat lacking in self-confidence in romantic relationships. Music is terribly important to him. And he's a knowledgeable hiker." But Jason's Matthews is not Miller's alter ego. "He is not hearing impaired, a huge difference. (And) he is nearly a decade older, thus his formative years occurred during the Great Depression and World War II," notes Miller.
While "So Fade the Lovely" marks Miller's debut as a mystery writer, he has one other book out and another one is in the works. Last year he published "Seven Canterbury Tales, Retold" a series of short stories or novellas inspired by the Geoffrey Chaucer classic. Miller's current project is writing a biography of the 19th century Quaker, Jane Durgin. What makes Durgin, who lived in Sandwich, such a compelling figure, says Miller, is that she defied many of the norms of her time, both in terms of her religion as well as her gender.
Like Thomas Edison's definition of genius, Miller's authorship of "So Fades the Lovely" has been 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. The idea for the story had been "percolating in my imagination" for a number of years. In 2008 he took about a year to write the draft. Once the draft was finished he put it aside for a while. He then took a fresh look at it "to see if it would pass muster." He then revised the story and had it ready to be published this past March or April.
While "So Fades the Lovely" hinges on the efforts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of a young girl and her family's efforts to cope with her loss, it also relates how as small town and a country struggle to come to grips with the upheavals of change and loss. The people of Dicey's Mill struggle to get back to life as normal which includes once again having fun at Lake Wonalancet, where Nicole Murdoch may have died. And Jason Matthews' journal entries include headlines and commentary on some of the major news events of the mid-1960s, notably the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.
Sitting on a tall stool pulled up to the kitchen counter in the home Miller and his wife, Dotty Treisner, share with two very friendly golden retrievers, the author says that "So Fades the Lovely" is as much a novel as mystery.
"If the story was limited to the disappearance of the girl and the attempt to solve her disappearance it would have been much less interesting."
"If I were challenged to give a brief answer to 'What is your book about?' I would say, 'The loss of family and the quest for its recovery' – among the Murdochs, within Dicey's Mill, and in America as a whole."
Miller is scheduled to hold the first autograph-signing of "So Fade the Lovely" on Saturday, Aug. 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Moulton's Farmstand off Route 25 in Meredith.
The book is available at Innisfree Bookshop, Mill Falls, Meredith; Annie's Book Stop, 1330 Union Ave., Laconia; Bayswater Books, Senter's Marketplace, Center Harbor; Meredith Center Store, Meredith Center Road, Meredith; Moulton Farm, Quarry Road, Meredith, and Sun Day's Salon and Spa, corner of Main Street and Veterans Square, Laconia. It can also be purchased through Amazon.com
Before retiring, Miller was a tenured faculty member at Plymouth State University. He holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University and previously served on Meredith's Board of Selectmen.