by Sandra Murphy
This week we are reviewing Emily Brightwell’s latest mystery, Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize. We also have an interesting interview with Emily (aka Cheryl Arguile). Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of this book, along with a link to purchase it where a portion goes to help support KRL, and a link to buy it from Amazon.
Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize by Emily Brightwell
Review by Sandra Murphy
Mrs. Jeffries is housekeeper for Inspector Witherspoon. Unbeknownst to him, she’s also his chief investigator. The gentry think themselves above speaking to mere policemen, and servants are afraid to talk to them; both from fear of being accused and of being sacked from their positions without references if they speak honestly.
Mrs. Jeffries is in a unique position. The servants of the house can freely move about, consult their sources, and find out gossip, facts, and speculations about the murders the Inspector is assigned to solve. Not being born to wealth, the Inspector treats his servants like humans, not as tools that keep the house in order. This allows Mrs. Jeffries to have a glass of sherry with him as he tells her of the case. She’s also able to plant a few ideas in his mind as well. Constable Barnes, his second in command, has figured out her secret but decides to work with her. After all, it only improves their record for solving murders.
Because of past cases, Mrs. Jeffries has friends among the gentry who are eager to help. It’s a bit of a thrill to be involved and to help the Inspector.
The Mayfair Orchid and Exotic Plant Society members have always vied for the top prize in the annual competition. Helena Rayburn will do most anything to win. The other members aren’t above trying to bring her down a peg or two. Helena buys her plants from Hiram Filmore. He travels and brings back the most exotic plants he can find — and charges accordingly. It’s rumored he’s not always on the up and up about it.
Four women are lunching — Thea, Isabelle, Helena and an unlikely companion, Chloe. The three had been in India husband hunting and met Chloe as a governess. Ordinarily, they would consider her beneath them in status (still do) and not have any contact, but Chloe managed to marry a rich American and now is a member of polite society. Chloe leaves early and the other two remain with Helena to gossip and hint about the wonderful orchids they are sure will win.
When Filmore’s body is discovered in the conservatory stabbed with a gardening tool, questions arise. Why was he there, who knew, where are his keys, why was the conservatory unlocked, why did Helena leave just before guests were due to arrive, come home flustered, and how is Inspector Witherspoon going to solve this one?
It takes all of Mrs. Jeffries ability to piece together miscellaneous bits of information to come to the only logical conclusion.
This is book number thirty-four in the long running Mrs. Jeffries series. With each book, readers learn more about the below-the-stairs lives of the servants. Phyllis, who was so shy when she first was hired, is now fully involved in asking questions and finding clues. Wiggins is quite accomplished in reading people, so he can take the right approach to other servants. Smythe has an ‘in’ with cabbies and a secret source of his own. Betsy, who left service when she married Smythe, still comes around with Baby Amanda, a favorite among the servants and their gentry friends alike. Luty and her butler (co-conspirator) Hatchet, the Inspector’s lady friend, Ruth, and Mrs. Goodge, the cook make up the rest of the crew.
The past is always there to haunt us as Mrs. Goodge finds out. An incident from her first days in charge of a kitchen are brought to mind during this case. The four lunching ladies find class is no barrier—their pasts are never far away either.
This is an enjoyable series, one that can be read out of order or for the full experience of life above and below the stairs, in order.
Interview With Emily Brightwell:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Emily: I’ve been a writer all my life but I didn’t get serious about pursuing it professionally until 1987. I worked in the shipping industry at that time and used to get up at 4 a.m. to write. Thank goodness those days are long gone.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called and a little about it?
Emily: My first book was a romance published in Germany. The title was An Equitable Solution and it was never published in English. It was my first attempt at a novel and frankly, wasn’t very good.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Emily: I started out in romance and did five romances, three for Silhouette Special Edition and two others. I’ve also written six Young Adult novels for Berkley under my maiden name of Cheryl Lanham. Mysteries have always been my first love and to date, I’ve been lucky enough to have written 34 of them for Penguin Random House. I’m currently working on book number 35 of the “Mrs. Jeffries” series.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Emily: In Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize, I wanted characters that had history with one another and most importantly, I wanted to look at the nature of ’status’ in societies that were poised for change. By the 1890s, Britain and India, where the backstory takes place, were both changing rapidly. One of the characters begins as a lowly governess and then twenty years later, comes back to England with enough cash and clout to buy her way into any social circle she chooses – so why does she buy her way into a local gardening club? It’s a story about cut-throat competition among very genteel ladies, revenge and a dead orchid hunter. Writing it was fun and I hope readers will like it.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Emily: Basically, I write to entertain, though I will admit that I’m a thematic writer and I do always have something I’m trying to say. But I don’t care if the reader is interested in that aspect or not, I really want them to enjoy reading the story.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Emily: I have a schedule – I write Monday through Friday from 9:30 to around 3:00.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Emily: I’ve experimented with outlining but found it didn’t really work for me – my method is one I’ve used for years now. I come up with my theme, then I decide the setting, time frame and characters – after that I do what I call a crime line. I do two crime lines, one for the first draft which is very general and one for the subsequent drafts which are very detailed. The crime line is really a road map to how the crime was committed and it lays the groundwork for the clues needed to catch the miscreant. As for keeping up with the other details in the story, I take good notes and go through the manuscript frequently before I submit for publication.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Emily: Mornings are the best for me.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Emily: I was lucky and I sold the first two books that I wrote, one was to the German publisher and the second one I completed was to Silhouette.
KRL: What do you have coming up next?
Emily: Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize was released on March 1st and I’m working on the next book in the series, Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Emily: There are dozens of writers whose work I admire-Earle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Henning Mankell, goodness, I’d better stop because this list could be endless.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Emily: I use primary sources, mainly, newspapers, diaries and magazine articles written in the late Victorian period. I also do a lot of online research with images. There’s a wealth of photographs that have been uploaded and studying photos shows a wealth of details.
KRL: What do you read?
Emily: There’s always a huge stack in my to-be-read pile. I love all genre fiction, science fiction, mystery, thrillers and romance. I also read a lot of non-fiction. Right now I’m reading Karen Armstrong’s book on Buddha and Daniel Tudor’s book on Korea.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Emily: I love the Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife and The Americans. My favorite movies are Dogma, The Princess Bride and an Argentinian film, The Secret in Their Eyes.
KRL: Any Advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Emily: Know what you want to write and once you know that, learn the craft and don’t give up! Believe in yourself.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Emily: I’ve been very blessed and I’m grateful readers still want more “Mrs. Jeffries” books.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Emily: When I was ten years old, I was one of the children picked to be on Art Linkletter’s program, House Party. As part of the experience they took all four of us chosen from my school to a fancy restaurant and of course, being kids, we all ordered hamburgers!
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Extra Series Questions:
KRL: After thirty four books, are the ideas running out?
Emily: Not at all, there’s always something new, exciting and interesting to write about.
KRL: Will we see more romance between the Inspector and Ruth?
Emily: Most definitely.
KRL: Will he ever catch on that he’s got help from his own servants?
Emily: Yes, but not until I decide to end the series.
KRL: Will we see more of Constable Barnes personal life?
Emily: I’m not sure about that – maybe, but he’s a very private person and may not want me saying too much about him.
KRL: Wiggins gets on well with the ladies. When will it be his turn for romance?
Emily: He’s such a romantic, I have to be careful with him…when he falls in love, he falls hard and perhaps even for the wrong kind of woman.
KRL: Will we get to know the Doctor better?
Emily: Yes and not only him, but several other characters that have appeared in the latest books.
To enter to win a copy of Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “prize,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 26, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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You can use this link to order this book & a portion goes to help support KRL & Mysterious Galaxy: