Bob and Robin Lawton at the Seal Cove Auto Museum, where several of their co-written murder mystery plays have been performed. PHOTO COURTESY OF SEAL COVE AUTO MUSEUM

Lawtons write murder mysteries together

MOUNT DESERT — Bob and Robin Lawton have mysterious conversations in the car when they are on a drive.

Sitting next to one another, confined to a small space where their imaginations can feed off one another is where the couple enjoys putting together the details for the murder mysteries they write as RLawtonSquared.

The Lawtons at their kitchen table in Mount Desert. Robin is usually the one to dream up the plot, and do the first rounds of editing, while Bob works on dialogue and spreadsheet of suspects and clues. PHOTO COURTESY OF RLAWTON SQUARED

“Car rides are great,” said Robin Lawton.

“We do so much plot work in the car,” said Bob Lawton, whose focus is the dialogue while his wife works out the story.

“Robin is generally the one who comes up with the plots. She is really good at plots … I love to put a fair amount of humor and wit into everything I write.”

Cars also inspired their first shot at writing a murder mystery. In 2016, when the Seal Cove Auto Museum hosted a writing contest for their murder mystery dinner, the Lawtons’ creation rose to the top.

After being chosen to write the play for the dinner, the couple crafted a murder mystery focused on the auto wars that took place about a century ago on Mount Desert Island in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit.

Marissa Marinelli as Veronica Vane in this year’s Seal Cove Auto Museum murder mystery, “Murder at the Vandys.” PHOTO COURTESY OF SEAL COVE AUTO MUSEUM

“Plays are a very dynamic thing, it changes right up until the day,” said Bob about the process they have repeated more than once for the museum. “Every time they’ve done one, we’ve written the play.”

Unlike many plays that tell a story in a linear fashion, a murder mystery can have multiple facets that help it take on a geometric form.

“The mystery part is the geek part,” said Bob, who lays out a spreadsheet with characters to decide how the story is told. “You’ve got to figure out what your red herrings are, how you’re going to mislead things.”

“It has to be so hard that you can’t figure it out, but once you know the answer it seems so obvious,” he added.

Both Lawtons retired from previous careers before moving to Mount Desert in 2015 to live full time in the house they built. Bob is a trained chemist and worked for Dupont and Robin had a career in Information Technology before they started their new chapter.

“When I was in high school I wanted to be a writer,” said Bob. “But, I put it aside … Once we came up here we had more time.”

“Most of my writing has always been technical,” said Robin. “I’m an avid reader. I love to read. Writing was never one of my ambitions.”

But, this new art form has taken on a life — or death, if you will — of its own.

A scene from “Murder at the Vandys” by Bob and Robin Lawton, performed earlier this year at the Seal Cove Auto Museum. From left, Laura Levin as Michelle Swell, Brent Hutchins as John Darling and Liz McMullan as Elizabeth Harrington. PHOTO COURTESY OF SEAL COVE AUTO MUSEUM

“She’s really had an open mind and embraced it,” Bob said. “Especially the plays, she really loves it.”

At the beginning of this month, the couple co-created a murder mystery weekend at the Captain Nickels Inn in Searsport called, “One Mystery Author Too Many.”

Guests of the inn worked all day Saturday and some participated in that evening’s performance to figure out who murdered the character, Royal Pane.

“When you do a play, you want to have about 10 actors,” said Bob. “You have to have characters larger than life … We create characters you either hate them or you like them.”

Bob crafts the conversations in the productions, but Robin edits for flow, accuracy and understanding.

“I have a purple pen,” she said. “The editing is definitely part of my work experience.”

“I hate the purple pen,” said Bob. “She’s ruthless … She has this familiarity with the written word.”

Writing as RLawtonSquared is driving the couple down new roads. They are in the process of shopping for an agent, writing a book and are consistently bringing in new opportunities for murder mystery dinners and productions.

“We’ve networked with a lot of mystery writers in Maine,” said Robin, including at the Jesup Memorial Library’s Murder by the Book event in October that Bob emceed.

“We really want to connect with people with the things that we write,” said Bob. “That’s the fun part.

“There’s some personal things from my life that I work into it,” he added. “Murder mystery brings out different things,” he said, such as “how you deal with loss.

“It has to be rooted in reality,” he continued. “It has to be rooted in common experience.”

Whatever mysteries they weave in writing, there is no doubt the Lawtons will be creating it as a team.

“We’re an unusual couple that way,” said Bob. “We pretty much do everything together and pretty much always have.”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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