by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of Murder is for Keeps by Elizabeth Duncan, along with an interesting interview with Elizabeth. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Murder is for Keeps. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Murder is for Keeps: Penny Brannigan series by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Penny Brannigan lives in Wales. She spends summer days painting the ruins of a former mansion, sad to see it in such disrepair. Called Gwrych Castle, the gardens are being restored. After decades of neglect, it’s a daunting job. Luckily, she’s just painting a set of pictures for a fund raiser, not doing the back breaking work herself. Mark Baker is leading the team of workers.
Of course, there’s always one person who disagrees with everything and everyone, just on the principle of things. When Penny finds his body, tucked away, out of sight, she’s afraid it will end the work and maybe incriminate the wrong person.
Penny’s been seeing Gareth Davies, a now retired police detective. He’s a bit bored without the job and offers to help in the gardens as well as keep an ear to the ground to find out what his successor thinks happened and who did it. Gareth would like to be more than friends, but Penny has found she values her freedom to come and go and do as she wishes more than a relationship.
When a young man who is mentally challenged is in the sights of the police, Penny wants to help. As the story unravels, he did have a motive and probably the means. His disappearance ramps up the investigation. He’s either a murderer on the run or a witness in danger himself.
Over the years, the mansion has been stripped of all its finery, including a marble staircase. Some thieves were rehabbers who then resold the items. Some were just scavengers who made more of a mess than anything else. Penny thinks the history of the house has a lot to do with the current murder.
The setting is Wales which gives readers a look into a lovely country, unfamiliar to many. Penny and Gareth are the type of people you’d want for friends. She has her job at the Spa, owned with her friend, her art, and the occasional dead body to discover. As always, things change and Penny’s life is no exception.
This is book seven in the Penny Brannigan series. Book eight promises to shake Penny’s life up a bit and who knows how that will change her? Duncan also writes the Shakespeare in the Catskills books (two so far). For a nice change of pace, a trip to Wales is just the thing.
Interview With Elizabeth J. Duncan:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Elizabeth: All my professional life. I’ve been a journalist, public relations practitioner, and now novelist.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Elizabeth: The Cold Light of Mourning was published in 2009. It’s the first in the Penny Brannigan mystery series, and is set in a North Wales town I discovered in 2005. I had no intention of writing a novel at the time, but a couple of years later, when I got an idea for a story, I set it in the town.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Elizabeth: I’ve written 12 books, all traditional mysteries featuring an amateur sleuth. Don’t really see myself doing anything different, although it would be interesting to try writing something darker.
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.
Elizabeth: Murder Is for Keeps, number eight in the Penny Brannigan mystery series, is set against the backdrop of Gwrych Castle, what was once a grand, late-Georgian castellated country house near Abergele, North Wales. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances it fell into ruin in the 20th Century and is now a shell of its former Gothic self. However, a group of committed volunteers is working to restore parts of the castle and the gardens.
The story begins when main character, artist and local spa owner Penny Brannigan, wraps up a day of sketching at the castle by discovering a body in what used to be the dog kennels.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Elizabeth: I write to entertain. My books are best enjoyed on a rainy afternoon with a cup of tea and a couple of lovely biscuits.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Elizabeth: I am not as disciplined as I should be, but I aim for 1,000 words a day. As the late Barbara Mertz said, “I write when I feel like it and I write when I have to. Mostly the latter.”
Sometimes I have to stop writing one book to work on the edits for the previous one, which is a little further along in the production process. I do what it takes.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way to keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book while you are writing it?
Elizabeth: I run a story board. Before I start writing, I create a board listing the victim and the suspects and their motives. I add to it as I go, and refer to it often. I can also add photos of what characters look like, or inspirational items. The board I’m working from now has a white feather pinned to it. A feather will be crucial in revealing the killer.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Elizabeth: I used to write in the evening, but find I work better in the morning now. Many writers say this. It may be connected to the re-charging of the brain associated with sleep and dreaming. But really, I work any time.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Elizabeth: No, my journey to publication was, remarkably, unusually smooth. I won the Malice Domestic St. Martin’s Award which included a $10,000 advance and a one-book publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press. This was how The Cold Light of Mourning got published, and I have gone on to publish seven more books with SMP, and two in a second series, Shakespeare in the Catskills mysteries, with Crooked Lane Books. Getting that first contract from SMP also helped me get the best agent in the business.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Elizabeth: Daffodils are the symbol of Wales, where my first series is set. I had bought a lovely bunch of daffodils and, on a cold, blustery March day in Toronto, when the editor called from New York to tell me my manuscript had won the competition and would be published, I listened to her in disbelief while I looked at the daffodils.
KRL: Most interesting book-signing story, in a bookstore or other venue?
Elizabeth: In Wales, where I spend about five months a year, I go to the quiz every Monday night at my local pub. I got talking to a really nice woman about my books, and the next week she showed up with a copy of Slated for Death. She said a friend of hers in Philadelphia had sent it to her because it’s set in the area. She asked me to sign it, so I signed it in the pub…great fun.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Elizabeth: To keep doing what I’m doing for as long as it lasts.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Elizabeth: Someone who is so driven to write that he gets up at 5 a.m., every morning, when the house is quiet and the baby is asleep, to do it.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Elizabeth: As a former journalist, I have a pretty good idea what questions to ask, and what kind of information I need for my books. I go where the story is, and beyond the obvious, I try to absorb sensory details…smells, sounds. I learn as much about the subject as I can.
KRL: What do you read?
Elizabeth: I like biographies and darker mysteries, like police procedurals, than the kinds of books I write.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Elizabeth: Favorite television is British detective dramas, and best of the best for me, interestingly, two series set in the 1960s: Inspector George Gently, and Endeavour.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Elizabeth: This article in The Guardian sums it all up nicely.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Elizabeth: Thank you for this opportunity.
KRL: You are very welcome, thanks for joining us. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Elizabeth: I’m on level 2227 of Candy Crush and have used only about a dozen boosters to get there.
KRL: LOL Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Murder is for Keeps, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “keeps,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 17, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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