Castles, Ghosts, and Ice Cream, Oh My! (plus giveaway) Welcome Back Meri Allen

Judith won the book! Watch for an email from Shari!

It’s always great to have Meri Allen aka Shari Randall visit the Wickeds. Whether she’s writing about lobsters or ice cream her books are deliciously entertaining and I gobble them up! Today she’s here celebrating the release of Mint Chocolate Murder.

Meri: Every time I take a trip, I recall the Anne Tyler book and movie, The Accidental Tourist. The Accidental Tourist of the title is a man who hates to travel and writes dreary guidebooks for businesspeople like him who only travel because of work.

I’m the opposite. My husband jokes that I get excited about driving to the next town. To me,  less-discovered sights are just as much fun as the famous ones. One of my local, less-discovered favorites is Gillette’s Castle in East Haddam, Connecticut. Ever since I first visited it on a Girl Scout field trip too many years ago, I’ve been dying to set a murder there and I finally got my wish in my latest Ice Cream Shop mystery, Mint Chocolate Murder.

Gillette’s Castle is not a pretty Sleeping Beauty-style castle. In the book, one character describes it as “fortification, not Disney vacation.” But the medieval inspired stone building fascinates, not just for its rough-hewn exterior and magical setting, but for the story of its builder.

William Gillette (1853 – 1937) was scion of a prominent Connecticut family who found fame as an actor on stage and screen. His most famous role? Sherlock Holmes.

His Sherlock, long and lean, became the prototype for the detective on film. Further, because Gillette was also a playwright, he ad libbed several “Holmes-isms” that are not found in the canon. He’s the one who uttered “Elementary.” He added the famous deerstalker and pipe to his costume.

Friends of Gillette Castle State Park

When he decided to build his dream house castle on the Seventh Sister Hill overlooking the Connecticut River, he incorporated some inventive touches, including secret nooks and specially angled mirrors so he could jump out and surprise his guests by appearing from “nowhere.” Yet the interior is surprisingly homey for a medieval style castle with its own miniature railroad curling around the property. Visitors are not allowed to visit every space in the castle but I’m convinced there must be a secret staircase somewhere.

In adapting the castle for the book, I kept the rough fieldstone exterior (Why? No spoilers!) and glowering medieval look. Instead of Gillette, I made the original owner of the castle a Gilded Age millionaire industrialist who loved Scotland so much he imported the very stones themselves to create his own “pile” and named it Moy Mull. Town gossips declared the stones haunted, and decades later teens who visited Moy Mull after it fell into decades of disrepair whispered about hearing the ghostly Weeping Lady herself, who mourns from the castle tower.

In the present day of the story, Moy Mull is brought back to regal life by a former super model who invites my main character, Riley Rhodes, to create treats for a fantasy ice cream social. Riley discovers the castle still holds secrets, and the Weeping Lady still cries from the tower.

If you’re going to have a castle, you have to have a ghost, right?

Giveaway! I’ll send one copy (print or ebook) of MINT CHOCOLATE MURDER to one lucky commenter. US Only.

Readers: Have you visited any castles? If you decided to have a castle setting for a book, what would you put in it?

Meri Allen is the author of the Ice Cream Shop mystery series. As Shari Randall, she penned the Lobster Shack Mystery series. She lives on the Connecticut shore and enjoys haunting bookstores and antiques shops.

More about Mint Chocolate Murder: When Udderly Delightful Ice Cream shop manager Riley Rhodes is summoned to Penniman’s Moy Mull Castle, it’s the cherry on top of a successful summer season. The gothic pile built by an eccentric New England Gilded Age millionaire has been transformed into a premiere arts colony by Maud Monaco, a reclusive former supermodel. As part of Moy Mull’s Fall Arts Festival, Maud is throwing a fantasy ice cream social and hires Riley to whip up unique treats to celebrate the opening of an exhibit by Adam Blasco, a photographer as obnoxious as he is talented.

As Penniman fills up with Maud’s art-world friends arriving for the festival, gossip swirls around Blasco, who has a dark history of obsession with his models. Riley’s curiosity and instincts for sleuthing – she was a CIA librarian – are piqued, and she wonders at the hold the cold-hearted photographer has over the mistress of Moy Mull.

But when Adam is found dead behind the locked door of Moy Mull’s dungeon, Riley realizes there’s more than one suspect who’d wanted to put the malicious photographer on ice.

69 Thoughts

  1. I love Gillette Castle, which I also visited too many years ago. I’m fascinated by the fact that there is no metal in the construction – not even nails or hinges. Another favorite of mine is Hammond Castle in Gloucester, MA, which is another eccentric’s fulfilled dream. Mint Chocolate Murder is right up my alley – castles and ice cream. Just need a cat to complete the perfect picture. 🥰

    1. Hi Ginny, I’m putting Hammond Castle on my bucket list! Don’t worry, there are two cats in Mint Chocolate Murder. Thanks so much for commenting! Meri/Shari

    2. Hi Ginny! Thank you for letting me know about Hammond Castle. I’m putting it on my bucket list! And never fear, there are two cats in the book, and one of them is a real character! Cheers, Meri/Shari

      1. I’ve never visited a castle but would absolutely love to! I imagine for a castle setting in a book would be amazing to have a beautiful huge library, a lot of hidden rooms, hidden staircases and beautiful bedrooms. So fun!

        Thanks for the chance! Love the book cover!

  2. I’ve been to Gillette Castle too many years ago and to Hammond Castle in Gloucester MA and it had a few secret passageways and it also had an indoor pool. It’s right on the shore too with beautiful grounds. He was an inventor Congrats on your new book and thank you for this chance to win a copy. pgenest57 at aol dot com.

  3. There is a castle not too far from me but I’ve never been inside it. I’m not sure if they do tours of it. Cool to look at though! Wouldn’t I love to visit big ancient castle in England or Scotland!! I’d be sure a castle had a massive library and elegant bedrooms. And a moat!

    1. Hi Kathy, Oh yes, a library! You bet I put one in Moy Mull, with hundreds of first editions, too. And a balcony…How I wish this place was real. But I forgot the moat lol! Great suggestion!

  4. I have visited a few castles on my study abroad trips over to Europe.
    If I had a castle setting it would have to have a secret passage or two in it.

  5. Congrats on Book 2 of the Ice Cream Shop mysteries!

    I’ve never visited any castles myself. However, since Ireland is a bucket list destination I’m sure if I ever get there I will end up in at least one of them.

    If I ever wrote a book with a castle, I’d have to have a secret passageway in it. It may be kind of a cliche but I think it gives a lot of stuff to play with in a story.

  6. According to Facebook Memories, which keeps better track of my life than I do, this week 3 years ago a friend and I did a Rhine River cruise. Visited and cruised by lots of castles.

  7. I’ve never visited Gillette Castle, but have wanted to for years – I think you’ve inspired me to finally plan a trip! I’ve visited a couple of castles in England, would love to visit more in Scotland & Ireland some day. I agree with others that secret passages are a must in a story with a castle! I was intrigued at Versailles to learn about the secret entrance from the King’s room to the Queen’s that only he was allowed to use, that would also be a fun detail. Congratulations on the new book, castles and ice cream are an irresistible combination.

    1. Hi Judith, Thank you! Oh, that’s a marvelous little detail! Enjoy Gillette. They decorate it beautifully at the holidays and very occasionally have an actor/scholar who portrays Holmes stop in for a meet-and-greet.

  8. I’ve never visited a castle, but would love to. I would imagine all the turrets, staircases, hidden passageways and thick wooden doors throughout. I would have a library, multiple fireplaces, wrought iron chandeliers and a moat filled with Koi and a running water feature for a serene reading spot.

  9. We made a point of visiting Boldt Castle in Alexander Bay, NY when we took our bucket list trip to the New England states in the fall. Loved the castle and like the Gillette’s Castle the history of the builder made it even more fascinating. We’ve also been to Pythian Castle in Springfield, MO which is promoted as a haunted castle with night ghost tours. The night we went, we didn’t experience any though.

    To get the full castle experience in a book, one would need to but the interesting history into the story – whether fact or legend. Finding secret spaces or walkways would be cool to – especially if they worked into solving the mystery maybe both past and present.

    Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “MINT CHOCOLATE MURDER”. It’s been on my TBR list since I first heard about it. I’d be drawn to the book immediately by the title only. Mint Chocolate ice cream was our daughter’s absolute favorite. We use to joke about it being her favorite because she knew she’d get to eat it all. Thank you so much for the chance! Shared and hoping to be the very fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Hi Kay, Sounds like you’ve collected lots of castles. Thank you for mentioning Boldt and Pythian – they’re both going on my list. We’re of the same mind – I wrote a ghost story into MCM, the Story of the Weeping Lady, who supposedly haunts the castle. That was more fun than writing the book (and I enjoyed that immensely!)

  10. That is some building, Shari! I’m not surprised it’s haunted. I’ve visited a few castles but never put one in a book! Congratulations on your new one – the plot sounds delightful.

  11. This sounds like a fun mystery. We actually have a castle in Loveland Ohio that I visited as a Girl Scout. The man that built it was the person that showed it around. The story behind the reason for building of the castle is very interesting. https://lovelandcastle.com/

    1. Oh, this is wonderful. I’m ready to go right now. I love the story behind it as much as the castle itself.

  12. I was fortunate enough to go to France with my french club in high school. I was intrigued by the castles having never seen one. IIt was amazing to me that people lived in these castles! preferred the smaller ones that seemed more homey, Azay le Rideau was my favorite! I also remember being terribly allergic to mold and couldn’t go into the wine cellars that were everywhere.

  13. CONGRATULATIONS on your second Ice Cream Shop Mystery dear Meri!!!!! Thank you so much for the educational part of your message today. Having lived in NY in the past, and visited Connecticut numerous times, I had never heard of Gillette’s Castle…I must see it the next time I visit my brother. Castles? I have seen many, and some are more regal than others. The last one I visited was The Bergedorf Castle in Hamburg, Germany. If I were to use a castle in a mystery, I would definitely have a ghost or two…a funny one who laughs, not one that cries…especially if he’s around ice cream, he/she should be very happy, and could scoop up someone’s ice cream while they were not looking 🙂 Thank you for the hours of fun you provide me with…. I read aloud to my wife, trying to change the character’s voices, which helps me practice for my volunteer acting side kick. Thank you for sharing your writing skills with us eager readers!! Luis at ole dot travel

  14. Hi Luis, What a marvelous idea – a happy ghost with a penchant for ice cream…Must file that one away. Thank you for the mention of Bergedorf Castle. I’m compiling quite a list from these very helpful comments.

  15. I’ve never visited a castle, but it sounds like lots of fun. I would put an extremely large kitchen and a large library in the castle. The kitchen would have a brick oven suitable for baking bread – and I think the body would be discovered there. Congratulations on the new release!

  16. I haven’t visited any castles, although the pictures fascinate me. I have gone to several mansions, including the Frick Mansion here in Pittsburgh (home to Henry Clay Frick, one of the industrialists key in Pittsburgh’s steel industry) and Casa Loma in Toronto.

    Congrats on the new book!

  17. I visited Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. Congrats on your new release. Thanks for your great generosity.

    1. Hi Linda, my main character Riley was inspired by her trip to Edinburgh Castle to create a special dessert called cranachan. Edinburgh is definitely on the bucket list.

  18. Hi Meri! It’s so great to have you back. We are just back from Scotland where we visited MANY castles. (My husband’s take, “Castles make a nice change from cathedrals.”) I love Gillette Castle and recommend visiting. My son and his family used to live in East Haddam.

  19. Congratulations , Love the sound of this book and I love the cover! I love castles, I would get all kinds of plants inside it and also some waterfalls and birdbaths, comfortable seats and lots of books.

  20. I love Gillette Castle. Growing up In Chester I used to take the ferry across the river and hike up to the Castle and spend hours wandering.

  21. I’ve slept in Castles. On a family vacation to Europe, we slept in a couple of them, one we didn’t realize was a castle until we go there. (No need to enter me in the giveaway. I’ve already enjoyed this fabulous book!)

  22. Believe it or not, when we lived in Scotland, I actually got bored of visiting castles. Seemed impossible when we first moved there, but after about two or three dozen, they started to blend together. Scotland and Wales duke it out for the title of “most castles per capita” of any country and it shows. There were three castles within walking distance of our flat!

  23. I’ve been to Hearst Castle a couple of times. It was really interesting, full of lots of antique rugs and wall hangings and suits of armor. It has a beautiful view and a great pool. It definitely doesn’t have a cozy feel.

      1. Yes, I have been to Gillette Castle several times. It’s in the beautiful little town of East Haddam, and it overlooks the Connecticut River. What a great setting for a mystery!

  24. I think castles are so cool! I think the only famous castle I’ve ever been to was Casa Loma (I think that was a castle?) in Canada. There’s also what I think would be considered a castle in my area of NJ but the one time I tried to go see it, it was closed to the public.

  25. No, I have never visited a castle but if I would love to see lavish furniture and adornments in it.

  26. I once slept in a castle in Ireland, There are two castles in Phoenix, one built be an industrialist for his wife, the other built by a man who moved to the desert for his tuberculosis in the 1930s. He spent his time building a castle for his daughter. Sadly he died before she knew about it. When notified of the property, she and her mother lived in it until they died, the daughter in 2010.
    If I were to include a castle in a story, it would definitely need lots of secret rooms and hidey holes, along with a huge library and probably a cranky handsome prince just waiting for his plucky heroine to knock some sense into him.

  27. Yes we have been to a few. Hearst Castle in California and my favorite still is the Scottish Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. That castle was extremely cold and one could definitely believe in ghost or a possible crime.

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