How I Set A Mystery In The Galapagos

By Guest Blogger, Sharon Marchisello

For as long as I can remember, I had three goals in life: become a bestselling author, meet and marry the love of my life, and travel the world together. And I always figured I’d do them in that order. Although I achieved my dream of being a published author, I’m still working on that “bestselling” part.  

When I graduated from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in professional writing, I realized I’d have to get a “real” job. Not only was I not making a living as a writer; I wasn’t even published. Should I go for an opportunity that involved writing but might drain my talent and energy? Or should I look for something mindless that would pay the bills, so I could focus on my stories during off hours? Then a position as a reservations agent at Western Airlines fell into my lap.  

My roommate had a friend who worked there, and one day the friend called to say Western Airlines was hiring. I was the first person to listen to the message on our answering machine and begged to go to the interview too.  

The woman who interviewed me said, “You’re overqualified for this job. You just want it for the travel perks, and I know you’ll quit after a year or so. But I won’t stand in your way.” I stayed with the company for twenty-seven years; my roommate left after six months.  

But she was right about me wanting the travel benefits, and my first few years, I was on a plane every time I had a day off. I met my future husband at the Los Angeles airport, and together we’ve taken 65 cruises and visited over 100 countries on all seven continents.  

Although I kept writing fiction and even published a few travel articles, I never set a story in one of the destinations I’d traveled to. Until the Galapagos.  

If you’re looking for the Galapagos on the map, it’s a group of islands straddling the equator, approximately 600 miles off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. I never planned to set a book there, either, but six months later, I remembered an experience from our cruise that I thought would make a great opening scene for a mystery.  

Normally, the guides were conscientious about counting heads and watching over all the passengers in their charge whenever we were away from the ship. In an archipelago comprising 97% national park containing flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, tourists must be carefully supervised.

But one day, my husband and I left another activity to join a snorkeling excursion already in progress, and neither of the guides assumed responsibility for us.  

We were swimming along, marveling at the vast array of colorful underwater life, when I surfaced to see both Zodiac boats motoring back to the ship—without us! I can still feel the panic of being left alone in the middle of the ocean, treading water off the shore of an island populated only by sea lions and blue-footed boobies.  

I waved and screamed, bobbing up and down like a spyhopping whale, and fortunately, someone spotted me. One of the boats turned around and came back to pick me up. I didn’t see my husband right away but told the guide he was still out there. In a moment, he’d swum up and climbed aboard. All was well.  

But what if… What if my protagonist’s companion didn’t get picked up? And what if the person was left behind on purpose?  

I had a great time writing the book, reliving our trip through photos and program notes, plus doing a lot of supplemental research on the internet.  

When Secrets of the Galapagos begins, my heroine, Giovanna Rogers, is snorkeling with her new friend, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo. The two get separated from the group, and Laurel disappears. No one on the ship will acknowledge that Laurel didn’t make it back.  

To determine a motive, I recalled a conversation I’d had with one of our guides during a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz (one of only four inhabited islands in the chain). “I know a secret about Lonesome George,” he said. “But if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”

Lonesome George was a Galapagos giant tortoise made famous for being the sole survivor of the Pinta Island species. Unfortunately, efforts to breed George were unsuccessful, and the ancient tortoise passed away in 2012 without an heir.  

But what if someone discovered another giant tortoise from a different subspecies also thought to be extinct? And then a tortoise researcher unearthed information about the animal that the tourist industry didn’t want released?  

You’ll have to read Secrets of the Galapagos to find out what happens next.  


Shattered by a broken engagement and a business venture derailed by Jerome Haddad, her unscrupulous partner, Giovanna Rogers goes on a luxury Galapagos cruise with her grandmother to decompress. At least that’s what her grandmother thinks. Giovanna is determined to make Jerome pay for what he’s done, and she has a tip he’s headed for the Galapagos.  

While snorkeling in Gardner Bay off the coast of Española Island, Giovanna and another cruise passenger, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo, become separated from the group, and Laurel is left behind. No one on the ship will acknowledge Laurel is missing, and Giovanna suspects a cover-up.  

When the police come on board to investigate a death, Giovanna assumes the victim is Laurel. She’s anxious to give her testimony to the attractive local detective assigned to the case. Instead, she learns someone else is dead, and she’s a person of interest.  

Resolved to keep searching for Laurel and make sense of her disappearance, Giovanna learns several people on board the ship have reasons to want Laurel gone. One is a scam involving Tio Armando, the famous Galapagos giant tortoise and a major tourist attraction in the archipelago. And Jerome Haddad has a hand in it. Thinking she’s the cat in this game, Giovanna gets too involved and becomes the mouse, putting her life in jeopardy. But if she doesn’t stop him, Jerome will go on to ruin others.




Sharon Marchisello is the author of two mysteries published by Sunbury Press—Going Home (2014) and Secrets of the Galapagos (2019). She has written short stories, a nonfiction book about finance, training manuals, screenplays, a blog, and book reviews. She earned a Master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and has been an active member of Sisters in Crime since 1995, currently serving as treasurer of the Atlanta chapter. Retired from a 27-year career with Delta Air Lines, she now lives in Peachtree City, Georgia, and volunteers for the Fayette Humane Society.  

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This article was posted by member, Jackie Houchin. If you’d like to read my review of the audiobook version of  SECRETS OF THE GALAPAGOS, click here.   


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