by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of The Corpse with the Crystal Skull by Cathy Ace along with an interesting interview with Cathy. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of The Corpse with the Crystal Skull and links to purchase it.
The Corpse with the Crystal Skull: A Cait Morgan Series By Cathy Ace
Review by Cynthia Chow
Cait Morgan had thought that her month-long vacation in Jamaica was to be a celebration by her husband and friends of her fiftieth birthday. While she and her husband Bud had a few weeks alone together on the bungalow estate, they were later joined by Bud’s two ex-colleagues and their respective plus-ones. Vancouver Police Department retiree Jack White has his amenable wife Sheila, but former secret service operative John Silver has brought along the much-younger, much flirtier, Lottie Fortescue. After their host Freddie Burkinshaw is found by his housekeeper – shot in his stomach in a locked bedroom – Cait quickly learns their presence was not just a happy gathering for her rather traumatic milestone. It seems that the not-quite-retired Bud had been asked to bring together his still-active investigators to look for papers in Freddie’s belongings relating to…something, and Cait is both infuriated and hurt that her birthday was used as cover. After all, as a professor of criminal psychology specializing in profiling Cait’s input would have been useful, not to mention that she should have realized that her closest friends were all lying.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, Cait, Bud, and the two other couples continue to “enjoy” their stay while the authorities declare the death to be suicide and Freddie’s heirs battle over the fate of the estates. While the housekeeper and her son are stunned to learn that they may have inherited a bankrupt estate, Freddie’s ex-wife may not be so ex and is determined to have her share of the rewards. Not about to sit on the sidelines, and feeling more than a little betrayed by her friends, Cait dives headfirst into the investigations of both present and past crimes. It seems that virtually everyone had a reason for wanting Freddie dead, including their pseudo-birthday party attendees. Now with a disputed land border, Captain Henry Morgan’s legendary treasure of a crystal skull, a possible accompanying curse, and guests who are far more than they appear to be, Cait and Bud will have their hands full sorting through the suspects while still attempting to enjoy the enviable setting.
Cait proves to be a compelling lead character, using humor, wit, and her eidetic memory to sift through the clues and disagreements. She has a near-obsessive need to solve puzzles and put together clues, which can lead to misunderstandings and accusations that she is insensitive. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong, although her reliance on her memory and knowledge makes her vulnerable to the inevitable changes that come with age. The relationships between the couples are entirely believable and relatable, especially when new partners upend the dynamics and complicate their histories. It is indeed Lottie who throws the biggest wrench in their friendships, and yet she also proves to be an unexpected and compelling delight. Throw in pirate legends, problematic colonialism, and ransacked treasures, and you have a mystery filled with adventure, snappy dialogue, and satisfying twists.
Interview With Cathy Ace:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
CA: I’ve written for a living for many years—since I was in my twenties, in fact. In those days I worked in advertising and public relations, so all my writing was for clients who needed copy in a hurry. Then I had a business which required me to write training courses…and I finally turned to crime (fiction!).
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
CA: My first novel was published in March 2012; it was the first Cait Morgan Mystery, titled The Corpse with the Silver Tongue. I’d self-published two collections of short stories and novellas in 2007 and 2008 where Cait Morgan was “born”. Those two books were what I sent to a publisher on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, and they invited me to submit a manuscript for a novel featuring one of the recurring characters from those collections: Cait Morgan. The Corpse with the Silver Tongue set the pattern for all of Cait’s subsequent adventures. It’s set in the south of France where Cait is a suspect in a case of murder, because she was present at the dinner where the death occurred. It’s a closed-circle mystery—classic Agatha Christie-style—and it allows Cait to use her skills to solve a knotty, puzzling crime.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
CA: All my fiction writing has been crime-themed. The Cait Morgan Mysteries are traditional mysteries, though they have a contemporary setting. I went to the cozier side of things with my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, which feature a quartet of soft-boiled professional female PIs who run their business out of a stately home in Wales. They tackle quintessentially British cases, and are aided and abetted by the Dowager Duchess, Althea Twyst. I then turned to the darker side of crime with my psychological suspense standalone, The Wrong Boy.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
CA: Cait Morgan hasn’t solved a mystery since 2016, and I wanted to bring her back! But how? Well, I have a love of all things piratical, and also of all things Bond…so why not take her to Jamaica where Ian Fleming lived and wrote, and where the Welsh privateer Henry Morgan is supposed to have buried his vast treasure? That’s where I started, and that’s how the plotting for this book began. I have also brought back some characters from earlier Cait books (this is the ninth in the series) so readers can find out a bit more about them. Thus, while Cait is working to solve the seemingly impossible murder of a man in a locked tower, her husband Bud is working with his two Secret Service colleagues on their own case.
KRL: Do you write to entertain, or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
CA: My Cait Morgan Mysteries and WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries are all about entertainment. When I sit down to write them it’s as though I have already seen the entire movie of the book in my head and I view my job as being to then get that movie onto the page, without the words getting in the way. I hope people experience my books rather than feeling they have read them. That said, I wanted to tackle some darker, more troubling themes in “The Wrong Boy,” so, while I hope it is an enthralling read, I’m not sure I’d say it’s “entertainment” as such—but thought provoking, thrilling, and dramatic…I hope!
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
CA: I see “writing a book” as having many stages, which include thinking/visualizing, plotting, research, outlining…WRITING…then editing, editing, editing, followed by publication and promotion. So, every day I am doing something, and I work at my desk all day, every day, because writing is my job. Yes, I do sometimes take a whole day off, but maybe not as often as I should.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
CA: Oh yes, I am an outliner! I’ll be honest and say I am a bit obsessive about outlines. I begin with an overall outline, I break it into the major parts of the book—the shape of the story—then work out what happens in each chapter. It’s hopefully at this stage—before I start to “write” the book—that I can iron out any major time/character problems. Then, when I sit to “write the book” I follow those chapter summaries.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
CA: I find I can edit during the day, and deal with all the non-novel-writing writing I need to do at any time. But my preferred time for writing my first draft is from about 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. I find that’s when my fingers and brain are at their most fleet, and I enjoy the thrill of the first draft ride.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
CA: I self-published a collection of short stories, then a collection of novellas, and I sent those to one publisher. They invited me to submit a manuscript for a novel, which was published in 2012. I was fortunate to be offering something to a publisher that fitted with what they wanted at the time, I think. So—in all honesty—no, I didn’t have a difficult path to being traditionally published. But I should say that being traditionally published is not the end of the journey, it’s just the beginning, so don’t imagine it will be a smooth ride when you get there!
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
CA: I broke all the rules! I sent print copies of the two volumes I’d self-published, tied with ribbon, with a ransom note attached, begging the publisher to release my characters. I made the ransom note by cutting letters out of a newspaper. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I did, and it worked. Phew!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
CA: Book signings don’t always go as planned. I launched my seventh Cait Morgan Mystery at a brand new bookstore—only one person attended, and he was our local Crime Writers of Canada rep. It was kind and supportive of him, and he stayed with me for two hours. Thank you Allan J Emerson!
KRL: Future writing goals?
CA: I am incredibly excited that The Cait Morgan Mysteries have been optioned for television. The plan is that they will be filmed as a series of 90 minute made-for-TV movies by the company that makes the Agatha Raisin TV series, Free@Last TV. This means I now plan to continue writing the Cait Morgan books, because the more I write, the more there’ll be to bring to the screen! I have submitted a list of 15 more synopses for future books. (That should keep me busy!) Oh, and I enjoyed writing my darker suspense book The Wrong Boy so much that I have another of the same ilk up my sleeve. That book has also been optioned for TV—to be broadcast as a three-part series in both English and Welsh—so I might get to that second book sooner than I thought!
KRL: How exciting! Writing heroes?
CA: This is a difficult question to answer: there are authors whose work I wish I had written (many of them dead) and authors writing today whose work I admire, and whose work ethic is impressive. Agatha Christie, PD James, Ruth Rendell…all sadly gone, all having left a fabulous body of work for us to read. I am lucky enough to have met many of my living writing heroes, which means that if I list some, and not others, I will feel I am slighting some friends. So I won’t.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
CA: It really depends on the book. For the Cait Morgan books, each book is set in a different country, all of them places where I have lived or worked, or have visited often over decades…so I don’t HAVE to visit them again (but sometimes do if I can!). Also, I’ve always already eaten and drunk everything Cait does, so I can share those experiences in her books. Sometimes I have to carry out specific research for some of my books, which might include asking questions, via e-mail, of a friendly medical examiner here in British Columbia, or researching a poison or other method of killing, for example. There are then the delightful rabbit holes of research I can disappear into for any book I am working on. For “The Corpse with the Crystal Skull” I indulged myself by rereading all of Fleming’s Bond works, carrying out lots of online and in-book research into Captain, later Sir, Henry Morgan, and the history of the island of Jamaica. All great fun!
KRL: What do you read?
CA: Given what I write it might surprise folks to see my Kindle! Yes, I have a Kindle—I travel a great deal so it’s the only way for me to have hundreds of titles available to me at any given time (OK, I used to travel a great deal in pre-COVID times, but the Kindle is just as good in the back garden). I also have a room full of books, and a large To-Be-Read pile (mound). I find I am reading more British authors these days. Wales has some awesome crime writers (check out the Crime Cymru website for a good list: www.crime.cymru) as does Scotland (I am working my way through the highly graphic—and darkly humorous—Stuart MacBride books at the moment, but I also enjoy Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Craig Robertson), England (Martina Cole’s crime family sagas are a MUST READ for me, as well as Child’s Reacher books, and works by Peter James, Peter Lovesey, Elly Griffiths and Felix Francis). I have yet to take a deep dive into Irish writers, but I shall. Canada also has a range of crime writing from Alan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce books (a guilty pleasure for me) to the dark, visceral Cardinal works by Giles Blunt…with everything in between! (Check out the Crime Writers of Canada website for a great list here: crimewriterscanada.com)
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
CA: My favorite movie of all time is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I enjoy fun/action movies like the Transporter series, the Red series etc. Action, fabulous set-piece fight scenes, loud music. Love it! But, I could watch many other movies over and over too…The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visual feast. Big screen movies that look good and entertain me in a ludicrously escapist way is my general choice, in a nutshell. On TV I like dead bodies, and lots of them, from comedy dramas like the Agatha Raisin series—which make me laugh out loud—to dark Icelandic/Canadian/Scandi tales.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
CA: READ! Not books about how to write, but good books of the type that engage you. Then work out why they are “good” and write as well as you can. Get to know what sub-genres are out there, work your way through lots of books in that sub-genre to understand it.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
CA: I am a naturally quiet, private person. (Yes, it’s true.)
To enter to win a copy of The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “crystal,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 25, 2020. USA, Canada or UK residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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