Thanks so much to my quasi-neighbor Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett for inviting me back to talk about Just Make Believe, the third Lady Adelaide Mystery set in the 20s. The 1920s. I’d hate to set a novel in the 2020s—it would be marked up by an editor for including way too much drama, death, and despair. I like to kill off people on the page as much as the next writer, but reality is definitely too real lately.
The 1920s are fraught enough: my widowed heroine Lady Adelaide Compton is off to a house party at fabled Fernald Hall, hosted by a disabled Great War hero and his glamorous wife. The world is still feeling the effects of political upheaval and its own pandemic, with unemployment skyrocketing and soldiers begging on the streets. Addie is keenly aware of the injustices around her, but she attempts to shut it all out and relax for the week. There are new garden improvements to inspect, and quiet rambles around the estate in her elegant new riding habit. How hard can it be to enjoy delicious dinners and the companionship of her oldest friends and neighbors?
Things go awry immediately—the horse throws her, her hostess is murdered, and another body is discovered buried in the garden. But having had some unfortunate previous experiences, she knows just who (whom?) to call—Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter of Scotland Yard.
I’ve used 1920s song titles and their lyrics for inspiration in this series, and Make Believe’s first stanza is the perfect intro:
There are times when you feel sad and blue
(Music and lyrics: Jack Shilkret/Benny Davis, 1921)
Just about everything is not as it seems at Fernald Hall, and it’s up to Addie, Dev, and the ghost of Addie’s late and unlamented husband Rupert to figure out what’s what. It’s handy to have a ghostly assistant to rummage about undetected, although Rupert was an awful pain when he was alive, and is still damned annoying in death. Think Blithe Spirit, Topper, and The Thin Man. No guts or gore in this cozy, just pure escape.
I’ve escaped to my own share of English country houses and their magnificent gardens, sadly not as a guest but a paying visitor. I’m in absolute awe of what can be accomplished…if you have the money and the staff! I’ve always done a bit of gardening on a much, much more modest scale in any house we’ve lived in. Last year we moved into a new house (well, it was built in 1880 but it’s new to us) with a park-like three-tiered garden in the back. The previous owner is twenty years younger than I and probably part mountain-goat, and I struggle clumsily to climb the stone steps to the top terrace. But I can make believe (get it?) that I’m in a posh private oasis, far from the troubles of the 2020s. There’s a small stone pond with a burbling fountain, lots of perennials and flowering shrubs. I’ve made my own improvements with scores of day lilies. I can identify most of the stuff that’s growing, but some things remain a mystery, which is as it should be.
Where do you go to escape? Do you garden? Visit gardens? Spend too much at garden centers? I kill everything indoors but seem to have luck outside. I’m giving away a signed paperback copy of Just Make Believe (or any book from my backlist) to a commenter! You can read the first chapter on my website: https://maggierobinson.net/books/just-make-believe/
July 28, 2020 update from Maine Crime Writers: The winner of the giveaway is Alice. Congratulations! Maggie will be contacting you by email.