Today’s special guest blogger is MCW’s friend and frequent contributor, Katherine Hall Page, giving us a glimpse into her forthcoming mystery.
The epigraph for The Body in the Birches (May, 2015) is from the master of them all, Oscar Wilde. He wrote: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations”. Definitely food for thought, especially when considering inheritance—that all important familial divvying up. Nice and convenient when it’s laid out in an iron clad will, but more often than not people kick off the mortal coil without making final provisions. This may be because they have trouble facing death, the basic fact of life—i.e. “I’m not going”. Or equally common is simply the inability, or desire, to decide who gets what—the “I won’t be here, so let the chips fall where” attitude.
The Body in the Birches is the story of what happens in one family as a result of not naming an heir. The late Priscilla Proctor, childless, could not bring herself to choose who among her nieces and nephews should inherit The Birches, a much beloved “cottage” on Sanpere Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. It is treasured by them all, and is a treasure—with substantial waterfront looking toward the Camden Hills plus several acres of land. Far in size and scope from what Mainers call a “camp”, Priscilla knows it would be difficult to share decisions about the maintenance of the house and other matters. There can be only one owner. She leaves instructions for her husband Paul to inform all who are interested in taking on The Birches to spend as much of the month of July as possible there for a kind of audition. Paul—not a Proctor—will choose who inherits at the end of the month. It was Paul, who has life tenancy, who came up with the plan to spare his increasingly agitated wife the decision and presumably Priscilla died at peace. Peace does not reign among the living, however, and if the book reminds you of the film, “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, my job will have been happily fulfilled.
Faith Fairchild, my series sleuth, and family are conveniently living next door to The Birches at The
Pines with Ursula Rowe while the Fairchild cottage, definitely a cottage, gains a much needed addition. The kids are growing fast and Faith’s husband, the Reverend Tom, wants a room of his own where he can get away to ponder the mysteries of the universe and watch the Red Sox, who qualify depending on the season. As usual, there is a great deal of food in the book and several lovely murders with extremely unusual suspects. We close at summer’s end strolling around the Blue Hill Fair eating the Fry King and Queen’s fries doused with vinegar.
I loved writing this book—well, perhaps not the actual writing it down part, but the writing it in my head part. As with all the ones set in Maine, it gave me a chance to write about the place itself. This summer will be our 57th on Deer Isle and, counting two weeks on a lake near Readfield when I was four, 58th overall! We were not rusticators, although my father did swim every day in what I didn’t realize was very cold water until I was much older and went for a dip on Cape Cod. It was like swimming in bath water! Who knew? I still swim every day both because it is now thoroughly engrained and also because perhaps I’ll keep longer. And considering my parents had the foresight to purchase a plot where they now rest, I should be on the island for good
The Body in the Birches is the 22nd in Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series. She has also published for middle grade and YA readers as well as a collection of short stories, Small Plates (2014), and a series cookbook, Have Faith in your Kitchen. She has been awarded Agathas for Best First, Best Novel, and Best SS and also was nominated for additional Agathas, an Edgar, Macavity, Mary Higgins Clark and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Maine and Massachusetts.