Happy Friday! It’s Liz, with guest Erica Ruth Neubauer, with some insider info on her latest Jane Wunderly Mystery. Take it away, Erica!
I love an English manor house mystery, don’t you? Something about all that tranquility, all those rolling green hills, grazing sheep and sprawling brick homes interrupted by the darkness of murder that is somehow captivating. It’s one of the reasons I’ve watched every single season of Midsomer Murders (and there are a lot of seasons). So, given the events of my first novel, MURDER AT THE MENA HOUSE, it was something of a no-brainer for my characters to travel to England next to visit some long-lost family. Thus, in MURDER AT WEDGEFIELD MANOR, Jane Wunderly finds herself on a secluded estate, rather bored and filling her time by taking flying lessons.
But what Jane also finds at Wedgefield Manor is an estate that goes out of its way to hire veterans of the first World War. As a veteran myself—of much more recent nature, obviously—it was important to me to cast a light on some of the difficulties men returning home from war faced, much like men and women do today. I myself never deployed, but I have many friends who did, and the nightmares, the flinching at loud noises, the insomnia and so much more, are things that may take years to fade, if they ever do. Today we offer more services for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the lingering effects remain.
The veterans on Wedgefield Manor are those that perhaps would not have been employable elsewhere, but the Lord of the manor gives them a chance. The gardener, Sergeant Barlow, is a Black man originally from the West Indies who fought for Britain in the war and lost a hand in the process. This was based on history—there were thousands of Black men that fought on the side of England, then returned and found they were not only unwelcome in the country they fought for, but several race riots ensued over Black veterans taking employment from their white counterparts.
Simon Marshall, the mechanic at the estate, also struggled with his own employment after the war. Even though he was young and white, he struggled with PTSD, or “shell shock” as it was known in the 1920’s. Nightmares and restlessness fueled the young man’s hot temper, which in the novel puts him in the way of a murderer.
While those characters are based on imagination, some of the veterans in the novel are nods to people I actually served with in the military. The flight instructor who gives Jane lessons is a delightful chap called Major Chris Hammond, and is based off of (a little bit, anyway) the real Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hammond that I served with in the Air Force Reserves. (Sorry I demoted you in the book, buddy.) Chris is a man with one of the wickedest senses of humor I’ve ever encountered, and a long-standing friend. I also have a cameo appearance by Air Commodore Ward, based off my old boss Colonel Tim Ward, who was hands down the best boss I’ve ever worked for, and one of the best people. Col Ward’s little white dog Rascal also makes an appearance, and even made the cover. So it’s not all hardship and gloom for my WWI vets. This series is, after all, meant to be a fun escape from reality—with a little touch of murder.
Readers, tell me about your favorite veteran. And if you don’t have one of those, tell me about your favorite mystery set in a manor house.