by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of A Legacy of Murder by Connie Berry. We also have a fun interview with Connie. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of A Legacy of Murder, a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
A Legacy of Murder: Kate Hamilton series by Connie Berry
Review by Sandra Murphy
Kate Hamilton is an antique dealer in the U.S. Her daughter, Christine, has followed a boyfriend to England and is working alongside him as an intern on an estate in Suffolk, England. During a visit to Scotland a couple of months before, Kate met Detective Inspector Thomas Mallory of the Suffolk Constabulary. Even though a relationship seems impossible given the 3,200 mile commute to see each other, neither wants to give up on the idea. Since the holidays are usually a slow time for crime, Kate is visiting both Tom and Christine.
While on a tour of the estate, Kate finds the body of a young woman, Tabitha, another of the interns. At first, it’s assumed a suicide. Tom is the detective in charge, and he soon knows it was murder. Tabitha was in charge of inventorying the estate’s valuables for a showing open to the public. The funds from ticket sales are desperately needed for upkeep for the huge home.
When Lady Barbara hears Kate is knowledgeable about antiques, she persuades Kate to take over the job. While it’s scary enough to work where there’s been a murder, Kate also learns another murder took place about twenty years ago. That victim had been arranging for a similar showing. Are the murders connected, and if so, is Kate in danger too?
Suspects include Lady Barbara’s son who fled to Venezuela years ago but may be back, the gardener, any of the interns, a mysterious stranger, or a lover. Thieves are robbing homes in the vicinity as well. There’s also handed down tales of the manor family and those who worked for them, hinting someone may hold a grudge. As Tom says, it’s like a broken mirror. They have so many pieces but are unable to put them together to find a pattern.
This is the second book in the series. The relationship between Kate and Tom will be a good one if only they can figure out how to manage the distance. Since they are both in their forties, aging parents and adult children can also complicate things. Ivor Tweedy is an antiques dealer in Suffolk. He’s the reason Kate will return for book three. He’s a delight, funny, brilliant about antiques, and hints at stories of adventure I hope to hear more about. Lady Barbara, for looking like a frail woman, has an inner strength that surprises. Her companion, Vivian and her Pug Fergus, deserve to reappear, too. Who can resist a Pug?
A Dream of Death was the first in the series, reviewed here, and on my Best of 2019 list. While there’s enough backstory to bring first time readers up to date without distracting from the current story, readers will want to read both books. It’s the holidays—put them on your Wish List. You’ll be glad you did. Just allow time to read. You won’t want to put the book down, once started.
Interview with Connie Berry:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Connie: Like many authors, I’ve been writing just about all my life. My mother saved everything (literally), so I can look back at the stories I wrote as a child. Most contain an element of mystery-no bodies, of course! Later I wrote academically and for business, along with editing. I began working on my first novel ten years before it was published.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Connie: My debut novel, A Dream of Death, came out in April of 2019. Autumn has come and gone on the Scottish Isle of Glenroth, and the islanders gather for the Tartan Ball, the annual end-of-tourist-season gala. Spirits are high. A recently published novel about island history has brought hordes of tourists to the small Hebridean resort community. On the guest list is American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton. Kate returns reluctantly to the island where her husband was born and where he died, hoping to repair her relationship with his sister, proprietor of the island’s country house hotel.
The next morning a body is found, murdered in a bizarre reenactment of an infamous unsolved murder in island history. The Scottish police discount the historical connection, but when her husband’s best childhood friend is taken into custody, Kate teams up with a vacationing detective inspector from Suffolk, England, to unmask a killer determined to rewrite island history – and Kate’s future.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
Connie: Writing mysteries has always been my primary interest, but I love history as well. A season of research led to an article in the Hudson Valley Regional Review, “A Vermonter at Eastman College, 1860.”
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Connie: Like my protagonist, I grew up in the antiques trade. That’s the world I knew best, so choosing an antiques expert as my main character came naturally. As a dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying Anglophile, setting my books in the UK was also a natural choice. My paternal grandparents were born in Scotland and spent the next seventy years pretending they’d never left. During my college years, I spent time studying the modern British novel at St. Clare’s College, Oxford. Writing about the British Isles is a personal joy, almost like being there.
My main character, Kate, is a widow with two children in college. I wanted her to have a past, some experience of life. She’s made mistakes and experienced tragedy – most recently the death of her husband three years before the series opens. Kate has a few demons to deal with. I think that gives her depth and believability, but she’s not too old to learn and grow and not too old for romance.
In my latest book, Kate arrives in the Suffolk village of Long Barston to visit her daughter, an intern at a crumbling stately home, famous for the discovery in 1818 of a fabulous Anglo-Saxon treasure trove. Long Barston also happens to be the patch of Tom Mallory, the detective inspector she met in Scotland. Kate looks forward to the prospect of spending more time with Tom, but isn’t an international romance doomed to fail?
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Connie: I’ve always loved to tell stories and make them up. As a child I frequently embroidered reality to get a little excitement going (much to my parents’ chagrin). I write to entertain, but my books also have underlying questions I want to explore. How do people overcome a less-than-perfect past? Can loyalty go too far? Are family traits passed down through DNA? Does change always mean loss? But the main thing for me is a good story.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Connie: I began writing the Kate Hamilton Mystery Series while I was still teaching full time. That meant writing mostly on weekends and during summer vacation. When I retired three years ago, I was able to focus solely on writing. For me that means writing every day but not all day. Sitting at a computer for hours is physically brutal, so I try to vary sedentary tasks (like writing) with more active pursuits, except when deadlines approach. Then moderation goes out the window.
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?
Connie: I think every author develops methods that work. I loosely outline, leaving room for the unexpected. Sometimes as I’m typing, a character will say or do something I hadn’t anticipated. Then I have to adjust my outline to make it fit. Interestingly, when that happens, it’s exactly the right thing. I need the confidence of an overall plan, but those serendipitous moments make writing fun.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Connie: I’m definitely not a morning person. I like to linger over my coffee, check my emails, engage with social media – that sort of thing. By mid-morning I’m usually ready to write, but I almost always begin by revising the last written chapter to ease me back into the story.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Connie: The only reason I don’t have a huge pile of rejection letters is because I knew enough not to put my book out there until it was ready or at least until I’d done everything I knew how to do. It took ten years for that to happen. In January of 2018, I finished a final, massive revision. A month later at Sleuthfest, a mystery conference in Florida, I met my editor and subsequently signed a two-book contract.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Connie: One of the most important turning points in my writing life happened, coincidentally, at another Sleuthfest in (I believe) 2014. I’d paid for a manuscript critique and was assigned to Neil Nyren, Executive VP, associate publisher, and editor-in-chief of G.P. Putman’s & Sons. Golly! He’d worked with Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, Daniel Silva, Martha Grimes, and Carl Hiaasen. And now me! I couldn’t help fantasizing that he’d love my writing and offer me a contract. Instead, as I sat down across from him, he shook his head and said sadly, “Well, this needs some work, doesn’t it?” That bummed me out for the rest of the conference, but he was absolutely right. Once I calmed down, I made up my mind to find out exactly what I needed to do to get published, whatever it took.That brutally honest critique gave me the impetus to get serious about learning craft.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Connie: Right now, I’m working on Book 3 in the Kate Hamilton series, tentatively entitle A Pattern of Betrayal. Someday I’d love to write a historical—maybe set in England between the wars—but at the moment I’m focused on Kate.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Connie: There are so many, I’m afraid I’ll miss someone. Hank Phillippi Ryan taught me an essential element of revision. Jane Cleland, among others, taught me about story structure. Gretchen Archer, Hallie Ephron, and Roberta Isleib encouraged me and offered advice when I was a newbie. Charlene D’Avanzo, Grace Topping, and Lynn Denley-Bussard (an unpublished author, but not for long) have kept me going with their friendship. Since I admire elegant prose and original voices, I’d have to include among my idols Louise Penny, Anthony Horowitz, and Ruth Ware.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Connie: Research is one of my very favorite things in the world. In fact, I have to be careful not to get lost in research. In every Kate Hamilton book, at least one object of great age and beauty drives the plot. Kate deals in high-end antiques as did my parents. Research tells me which antiques are selling these days (tastes change) as well as current prices. And then there’s the research necessary when your novel is set in a foreign country. As familiar as I am with the British Isles – my husband and I travel there once or twice a year – there are facts I need to get right. For my first book, set in Scotland, I consulted a detective inspector in Fort William and (thanks to an introduction by Val McDermid) the head of police on the Isle of Skye. When my second book moved to Suffolk, England, I contacted a detective inspector there. Last year in Bury St. Edmunds, she gave up one of her precious days off to show me all over police headquarters, introduce me to the various teams, and answer every one of my questions. For a particular story line, I interviewed the Chief Operating Officer for the National Trust.
In-person research is essential – listening to the way people speak, observing their behavior, learning things you’d never find on Google, like where solicitors have lunch in Bury St. Edmunds or how often the bell-ringers practice in Chipping Norton. No amount of research can tell you how blackberry brambles smell in autumn or how the water ripples when nearing the locks on the River Stour. We just booked our flights for England this spring and I can’t wait to get back.
KRL: What do you read?
Connie: Thanks to my wonderful book club, I read all kinds of literature – fiction and non-fiction. This year I’ve also decided to reread one classic of literature for every four contemporary books. I’m currently reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. Since I love mysteries and police procedurals set in the UK, my favorite authors include Anthony Horowitz, Tana French, Elly Griffiths, Ruth Ware, Christopher Fowler, Ann Cleeves, Peter Robinson…. I’ll stop there.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Connie: I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but my favorite TV shows are usually found on Acorn and Britbox: Doc Martin, Agatha Raisin, The Crown, Father Brown, Midsomer Murders, Death in Paradise, Shetland, Lewis, all the Agatha Christie incarnations. There are a couple of older series I adore – The Royal, set in a cottage hospital in Yorkshire; As Time Goes By; Wild at Heart, set in South Africa. British actors are marvelous, without the “botoxed” perfection American TV seems to demand.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Connie: Take time to learn craft. Don’t be in a hurry to query – you usually get only one chance with an agent or editor. Join professional groups like Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America. Ask questions, read widely, learn all you can. Support other writers. Be kind.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Connie: I’m grateful for the help, encouragement, and advice I received as a fledgling author. I’m still learning – and taking opportunities to help others wherever I can.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Connie: I taught theology for twenty-five years. Not a natural progression to killing people, although come to think about it, there’s plenty of true crime in the Bible.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: Can you share a favorite Christmas memory or tradition?
Connie: My mother was the oldest in a family of seven. My fondest memories of childhood are writing and performing Christmas plays with my three girl cousins. One year, when my Uncle Jerry, an elderly bachelor of 34, was dating a lovely teacher from Scotland, my cousins and I decided their romance needed a push. So, we wrote and performed a play based on Little Women, with the Scottish teacher as Marmee and my uncle Jerry as Mr. March, arriving home from the wars. Cleverly, we wrote a welcome-home kiss into the play, and what do you know – it worked!
To enter to win a copy of A Legacy of Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “legacy,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 21, 2019. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode went up last week featuring a Christmas mystery short story by Donna Andrews. The first chapter of A Legacy of Murder will be featured on the podcast in January!
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