by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Fatal Family Ties by S.C. Perkins, along with an interesting interview with S.C. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to order it from Amazon.
Fatal Family Ties: An Ancestry Detective Mystery by S.C. Perkins
Review by Cynthia Chow
While dining at Austin, Texas’s Big Flacos, professional genealogist Lucy Lancaster is descended upon by the unappetizing appearance of her former coworker Camilla Braithwaite. At least Camilla was only her third least-favorite research librarian from Howland University Library, where Lucy previously worked as their staff genealogist.
Camilla has come to ask her to research into the life of Charles Edward Braithwaite, Camilla’s fourth great-grandparent known as the America’s Last Civil War Soldier. Although Corporal Charles Braithwaite was renowned for supporting Black Rights candidates and opposing racial segregation laws, a journalist is publishing an exposé accusing him of being a lying deserter who profited off of speaking engagements. In addition to threats to rename the Park and the Elementary School named after Braithwaite, a Howland University PhD candidate intends to sue Camilla’s family for lost monies paid to Charles in 1925. Knowing how important family reputations and lineages are to heirs – especially for those tied to “the Late Unpleasantness” – not to mention appreciating the fees for a self-employed businesswoman, Lucy takes on the assignment for what she believes should be quickly resolved through military records and documentation.
The easy researching task soon becomes more complicated when Lucy and Camila discover the body of her Uncle Charlie – actually Camilla’s third cousin, twice removed – dead in his home. Unraveling the matter further is the valuable triptych of a battle scene painted by the first Charles Braithwaite, which while missing a panel makes it sentimental for the family. Secrets under the painting, a break-and-entering by Camilla’s ex-husband, fake texts, and loads of genealogical details make this a complicated and fascinating mystery.
Fans of genealogy and ancestral research will adore this third in the mystery series, as the procedures of tracking down family trees are made both compelling and comprehendible. That it covers the time of the Civil War only makes it more intriguing, especially as Southerners have very long memories tied to racial and family divides. Lucy’s family and friends reveal as much about Lucy’s personality as her witty narrative, not to mention her satisfying confrontation with the former library coworkers who made her feel like such an outsider. FBI agent Ben Turner continues to be the perfect boyfriend, providing advice and much-needed backup while still respecting her judgment and researching skills. Neil Patrick Housecat makes a delightful appearance as well, ensuring that this is very much a cozy mystery filled with suspense and a plethora of suspects. Now that Civil War allegiances are being re-examined and re-considered through more diverse and modern viewpoints, this mystery tackles a very timely issue in a thoughtful and still very entertaining manner.
Interview with S.C. Perkins:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
SCP: Like a lot of writers, I started young, with my first effort being an original poem that seemed very erudite to my six-year-old self. It was about my kitty cat. Then from high school onward, I really started to learn about writing. I took journalism classes, and majored in journalism in college. Most of my jobs have had a journalistic writing component, and I started writing my first novel in 2005—a thriller set in the world of show jumping. It’s still unpublished and needs lots of revising, but I’d love for it to hit shelves one day. After that I self-published a romance novel, choosing self-publishing because I wanted to stick with mysteries, and soon started on the book I couldn’t wait to write: the first book in my cozy mystery series.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
SCP: My first novel is Murder Once Removed, which is a cozy mystery set in Austin, Texas, and featuring professional genealogist Lucy Lancaster. It was published in 2019 from Minotaur Books and is the first book in my Ancestry Detective series, where Lucy solves murders in the past and the present. There’s three books in the series so far and I have a blast writing them!
SCP: Except for my romance novel—which actually had a very tiny mystery element to it—I’ve written all mysteries. I really love the mystery genre in all its forms, especially cozies, thrillers, historical mysteries, traditional mysteries, and romantic suspense. It’s my favorite to both read and write.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
SCP: I grew up hearing about my ancestry, and have several amateur genealogists in my family, reaching back to my late grandmother and great-grandfather. So, when I was thinking about writing a cozy mystery and wanted my main character to have a fun and interesting job, a genealogist immediately came to mind.
As for the setting of Austin, most cozies are set in small towns (and I love that aspect about them), but it wouldn’t make as much sense for my main character of Lucy to be too far away from physical research facilities. In Texas, Austin has some of the best. But what is even better about Austin is that it’s a very big small town. It’s quirky and interesting and is full of interesting people. Austin is a character in and of itself, and it also has great history to boot with being the capital of Texas, so it was a perfect setting for my series with a genealogist sleuth.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
SCP: Growing up, my favorite books were all entertaining, but they also taught me something I didn’t know, whether it was about a profession, or a new country, or just an interesting fact or two. If I can entertain people when they read my books, and they come away learning something, too, that will make me the happiest writer in the world. It’s been so wonderful to write about genealogy and offer up a few facts about the process of researching a family tree along the way. I always say that if a reader comes away understanding what the term “once removed” means after reading my books, I’ll be thrilled!
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
SCP: I try to write almost every day, even if it’s just a bit of editing or writing a couple hundred words, and I write wherever and whenever I can. That being said, I generally take Saturdays off unless I’m on deadline.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
SCP: While I’m a morning person in general, I tend to write best in the afternoons.
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?
SCP: I do write a synopsis for my agents and editor, and I will refer back to it on occasion as I write, but mostly I write the book from the beginning to the end, creating the story as I go and keeping the details all in my head. Once I’m significantly into the story, however, I’ll write out a basic timeline of events. Regardless, the farther along I go, both as an author in general and in my series, the more I will need to keep track, so I may have a different answer to this question in the future!
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
SCP: While I worked at the craft of novel writing for thirteen years before I learned I was to be published, my path to actually becoming published is a bit different than others. I was just beginning to query for my first cozy mystery, Murder Once Removed, when I submitted my manuscript to the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Novel Contest. It was a long-running contest, and it came with a publishing contract from Minotaur Books. And I ended up winning! I’m still over the moon about it, too, and feel incredibly grateful and lucky!
KRL: How cool! Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
SCP: Winning the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Novel contest was a truly amazing acceptance story!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
SCP: I’ve only had two in-store signings before the pandemic hit. But at my second one—at a wonderful independent bookstore in Austin called BookPeople—I met a woman who came to my signing as a curiosity when she heard my series was about genealogy, but it turned out we were distantly related!
Even if it’s through venues like my Instagram page or Facebook author page, the reader interaction I’ve had has been absolutely wonderful. They love telling me about their family trees, and I love hearing (or reading about) their genealogy discoveries.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
SCP: My goal is to keep writing books that are fun, entertaining, and interesting. I would love for readers to see my name on a book cover and know that the book will be a good, comforting read with, hopefully, a surprise or two to make the read all the more engrossing!
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
SCP: There are so many I could list! But two of my early writing heroes are James Herriot and Dick Francis. Their writing is as solid and inspiring to me today as it was when I was first being awed by their books.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
SCP: I love research and sometimes it’s hard for me to stop! These days I mostly research off the internet like most of us do, but I’ll also hunt down some interesting books in the library when I need to. I tend to do a fair bit of research up front so that I can write a solid first draft with good details. However, I tend not to research too much while I’m actually writing because of said confession about it being hard to stop…Then, in subsequent drafts, I do more researching and further expand on the facts and information I already have. I also conduct interviews with experts whenever I can, and those are great fun as well.
KRL: What do you like to read?
SCP: My favorites are, in no particular order: historical mysteries, romance, thrillers, historical fiction, spy fiction, and, of course, cozy mysteries. As I have a love for history, anything where I learn about events of the past fascinates me, whether in fiction or non-fiction.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
SCP: In TV and movies both, I’m a lover of comedies and period dramas and/or period romances, with the occasional police procedural (TV) or action movie/superhero movie thrown in the mix. Some of my favorite TV shows have included Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Big Bang Theory, Schitt’s Creek, and Downton Abbey. I’ve also gotten into the Marvel movies as of late, and of course, I love the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, and any Jane Austen or Agatha Christie adaptation. And most of what PBS Masterpiece airs is a favorite, too. Whatever it is, I love watching good characters with smart dialogue—and I’m a sucker for a happy ending!
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
SCP: My main advice has been the same for years: Learn how to be edited, and be willing to revise. Until you have a publisher, be willing to pay to have your work professionally edited by a freelance book editor who specializes in your genre. And keep revising until your book is the best it can be. Also, when the world returns to normal, consider going to writers’ conferences like Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Killer Nashville, and others. Go to the panels, listen to what other authors and industry professionals are saying, and ask thoughtful questions. Also, there are tons of amazing classes being taught online that are so helpful to aspiring writers. But most of all, be willing to be edited, and be willing to revise.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
SCP: I am deaf in my left ear. I lost my eardrum as a child due to an incident with an insect (eww, I know), and despite two operations, my hearing and my eardrum never recovered. So, if you meet me in person and my response to a question you ask doesn’t quite line up with the subject, it’s very possible I accidentally misheard you!
SCP: At the moment, I am sadly without any pets, but I’m a huge animal lover and have had dogs, cats, and horses my whole life. I hope to have another pet soon, but until I do, I’ll enjoy writing pets into my books.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
SCP: Just that this was a very fun interview, and thank you so much!
KRL: You are very welcome! Thanks for joining us today. Website? Twitter? Facebook?
SCP: My website is www.scperkins.com.
@SCPerkinsWriter is my handle on all social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, and BookBub.
To enter to win a copy of Fatal Family Ties, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “family,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 18, 2021. U.S. 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 MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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