Jessie- In New Hampshire where the foliage is glorious!
Connie Berry is not a new visitor to the Wickeds’ blog. She posted here when her first book, A Dream of Death, was released earlier this year. Since we share an enthusiasm for books set in the U.K. I was delighted to have the chance to ask her some questions as her latest mystery, A Legacy of Murder, is available. Welcome Connie!
Connie: Hello, Jessica! I’m thrilled to be a guest today on The Wickeds. Thank you so much for having me.
Jessie: It’s my pleasure. Let’s get right to the questions! As someone who writes a series set in England, I am always curious about why others have set their own work in the British Isles. What drew you to set the first two books in your Kate Hamilton series in the U.K.?
Connie: First of all, I’m a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Anglophile. My father’s parents were born in Scotland, so I grew up with the idea that everything British was unquestionably the best—Red Rose tea (the only kind they would drink), tins of Walker’s shortbread, Scots’ oat porridge, stirred clockwise with a wooden spurtle, lengths of fine wool tartan, Wedgewood china. When I was born, my grandmother sent me a Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit plate, bowl, and mug, especially precious to her because the Queen’s children ate off the very same china. Later, in college, I studied the modern English novel at St. Clare’s College, Oxford, and received my masters’ degree in English Literature. More importantly, though, the mystery genre began with those marvelous British Golden Agers—Agatha Christie, Cyril Hare, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton (to name just a few). Who doesn’t love a classic murder mystery involving a small group of suspects, isolated somewhere in the English countryside? My thesis advisor in graduate school advised me to choose a topic I loved because I was going to spend a lot of time there. When choosing a setting for my first mystery, A Dream of Death,I remembered that advice and chose Scotland.
Jessie: The first book is set in Scotland and the second is set in England. Did it pose a challenge to move your protagonist to a new location from book to book?
Connie: A challenge? Absolutely! The main characters carry over from the first book to the second—Kate Hamilton, DI Tom Mallory, Linnea Larson (Kate’s mother and wise counselor). But since I’d pretty much killed off or otherwise disposed of the supporting cast in Scotland, I had no choice! Seriously, though, my plan was always to take Kate to a small English village, sopairing her in the first book with a detective inspector from Suffolk, England, was done deliberately. I wanted Kate and Tom to meet in a setting (an island in the Scottish Hebrides) where they were both outsiders, drawn together by circumstances and pooling their skills to solve a crime. In book two, A Legacy of Murder, Kate is visiting her daughter, Christine, in the village of Long Barston, Suffolk, England, where Christine has an internship. When a body of another intern, a young museum curator, is found floating in a local pond, Kate calls DI Tom Mallory. Long Barston is on his patch. Is Kate’s daughter next on the killer’s radar? Conflict ensues as Kate’s sleuthing parallels the official investigation. Fortunately, Tom learned in Scotland to value Kate’s abilities and insights, so he’s not about to write her off as a busy-body, poking her nose in where it doesn’t belong. He just wants to keep her alive.
Jessie: It is no surprise that with an antiques dealer as the protagonist a strong historical thread runs through the series. Do you do historical research for these books? Do you have a special interest in the history of the U.K.?
Connie: History is my passion. When I was newly married, I read through biographies of all the English kings and queens in order. But for me, history is more than words on a page. Like Kate, I grew up in the antiques trade, surrounded by the artifacts of the past. We ate off plates that had survived for centuries. Our living room contained a life-size marble bust of Marie Antoinette, another of the Three Graces, and an enormous porcelain Chinese nodder, a Buddha figure with head, hands, and tongue that bobbed when set in motion. Only later did I learn my friends were afraid of him. As a child, I once asked my mother why we didn’t have new furniture like everyone else. Her answer made it into A Dream of Death: “Our furniture has a history. So much more interesting, don’t you think?”
I do a lot of historical research for my books—sometimes too much, and I have to make myself stop and write. In A Dream of Death I had fun researching Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ill-fated attempt to take the British throne. The unfortunate result was misery, injustice, and the end of the clan system in Scotland, but this real historical event provided the backdrop for an old, unsolved murder with echoes in the present. In A Legacy of Murder, the historical background involves an Anglo-Saxon treasure trove, buried during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1549 and unearthed in 1818. In each book, a particular historical object—an antique—plays a key role. In A Dream of Death, a fabulous marquetry casket(small chest) holds clues to the killer’s identity. In A Legacy of Murder, a blood-red ruby ring leads to the untangling of a centuries-old legacy of death.
Jessie: Your books are lauded as perfect reading for traditional British mystery fans. Are you a fan of British mysteries yourself and if so, who are some of your favorite writers in the genre?
Connie: I think you can guess that I am! I discovered Agatha Christie in junior high school and never looked back. I’ve already mentioned a few of my favorites—Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, Hare. But I love current British crime writers as well—Peter May, Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin, Elly Griffiths, Peter Robinson, J. K. Rowling in all her aliases, Ruth Ware, Tana French, Anthony Horowitz, Val McDermid. Some of my favorites are Americans who write books set in the UK, like Charles Todd, Deborah Crombie, G. M. Malliet, Carlene O’Connor, Molly MacRae, Marty Wingate, and (of course) Jessica Ellicott. I love the sleuthing duo of Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport and can’t wait to read the next installment.
Jessie: You’ve mentioned a bunch of my favorites! What are you working on next? And where can readers connect with you?
Connie: Right now I’m working on the third in the Kate Hamilton series, tentatively entitled A Pattern of Betrayal. Kate is back in the village of Long Barston, not only to visit DI Tom Mallory with whom she is now romantically involved, but also to help her friend Ivor Tweedy, who’s recovering from bilateral hip surgery. With Ivor’s finances on the rocks, Kate has agreed to keep his shop open until he’s able to work again. She’s thrilled when a reclusive widow consigns an ancient imperial Chinese hunpingjar and promises to let Ivor handle her late husband’s entire art collection. But when the hunping goes missing and the body of the recluse is found dead in the shop’s stock room, Kate must find the killer and recover the jar before Ivor’s reputation is ruined and he’s forced to reimburse the woman’s estate for the £40,000 appraisal price. Readers can connect with me on my website, www.connieberry.comor on Facebook at Connie Berry, Author. Those who’d like to keep up with my latest news and appearances can sign up on the website for my monthly newsletter.
Thanks again, Jessica, for the opportunity. Long live The Wickeds!
Like her protagonist, Connie Berry was raised by avid antiques collectors in a home filled with objects of the past. She loves history, mysteries, cute animals, travel with a hint of adventure, and all things British. Connie and her husband have two grown sons and live in Ohio with their adorable dog, Millie.