by Barb in Portland, Maine on a beautiful fall day
There are big inspirations for books–the stories you want to tell, the characters and themes you want to explore. But there are also inspirations for the little moments–things that have happened to you, stories you’ve been told by friends and family.
There is one such little inspiration in the second Jane Darrowfield book, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, coming October 27, 2021, exclusively from Barnes & Noble. I’m giving away one Advance Reader Copy of the book to a lucky commenter on this blog. (If you want to up your odds, you can also enter the Goodreads Giveaway for one of these ARCs here.)
There’s a moment in the book when Jane gets a call from her friend, Detective Tony Alvarez of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Department. He’s next door at Jane’s neighbor’s house. A work colleague is with the detective and is insisting something is very wrong. The neighbor, Megan Larsen, an attorney on the partner track at a big Boston law firm, has failed to show up for an important client meeting. She’s not at her house, though her phone and laptop are there. The colleague swears something terrible has happened to Megan.
Alvarez calls Jane not because she lives next door (which she does) or because they have worked together on two previous cases (which they have). He calls because Jane’s name and phone number are written on the blackboard above the built-in desk in Megan’s shiny, white kitchen.
This is the moment that has echoes in my own experience. One day, probably twenty-five years ago, I was sitting at my desk when our landline rang. I answered and a man’s voice said. “This is Detective So-and-So with the Brookline Police Department. Do you know xxxx?”
I searched my memory. The woman’s name he mentioned sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “I don’t think so,” I answered.
“She’s a hypnotherapist in Brookline,” he continued. “She’s been missing for three days. No one has seen her and she hasn’t been in contact with her family or friends. I’m in her office now and your name is written on a pad of paper. It’s the only thing on her desk.”
My heart skipped a beat. When he said hypnotherapist, the penny dropped. In those olden days before the internet, professionals advertised services in the classified section of the weekly local papers. I had seen the woman’s ad–the usual hypnotherapy thing for quitting smoking, weight loss, help with sleep problems. I had read the ad many times, weekly probably, as I skimmed the classifieds, and had been intrigued by it. But I had never, ever called her.
I assured the detective I wasn’t the Barbara Ross he was looking for. As I’ve written on this blog before, it’s a common name. I pointed him in the direction of a few other Barbara Rosses. He thanked me and hung up.
Of course I was curious. I scoured The Boston Globe for weeks looking for some followup about the hypnotherapist who had disappeared. Nothing ever appeared. I had to assume she turned up or, in any case, there was no evidence of foul play.
But I’ll never forget the feeling of picking up the phone. Of hearing the detective introduce himself and ask if I knew anything about this woman who was missing. Many times, I have pictured that pad of paper, the only thing on her desk, my name scrawled across it.
In Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, Jane knows exactly why her name is on Megan Larsen’s blackboard. Jane runs a small business as a professional busybody. Megan has hired Jane to figure out if she’s paranoid or if someone really is out to get her. “I want you to figure out if I’m crazy,” Megan said.
I had to imagine how Jane felt when, awakened from sleep, only two days after she took the case, Detective Alvarez says her client is missing. Jane knows Alvarez and knows Megan–feels responsible for her, even. But I didn’t have to imagine how it would feel to pick up the phone and have a detective tell you the one piece of evidence a missing person left pointed him in your direction. That bit of the story I’ve lived.
Readers: Have you ever received a mysterious phone call? Tell us about it! Or simply say, “hi,” to be entered to win an Advance Reader Copy of Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door.