Almost all my books are set in England, with the occasional Hebridean island thrown in to keep me on my toes. When I began writing, I was reading Regency (1811-1820) romances, so that’s what I wrote. Then I branched out and wandered around the Victorian and Edwardian periods, until I hit the 1920s and decided to kill people instead of make them kiss.
As an avid reader of lite Brit Lit, I was weaned on Agatha Christie’s deadly house parties, E.F. Benson’s village fetes, and the genial idiocy of Bertie Wooster as written by Wodehouse. It seemed natural to make the transition, and I’ve now completed the four-book Lady Adelaide series, cozy mysteries set in the Jazz Age.
Writing means research, right? For years, I very much enjoyed our trips to the UK. Remember when we could travel? Sigh. A week or two was never quite enough time to explore London museums, drive around the countryside on the wrong side of the road, and eat enough fish and chips (hold the mushy peas). We always came home wanting more, which I guess is a sign of a good vacation.
In 2014, we decided to rent a cottage for a whole month in the Cotswolds. The house was utterly adorable, with lots of quirky features, except my tall husband hit his head on all the lintels and broke a dangling ceiling light getting into a sweater. We eventually figured out what the “Duck or Grouse” sign meant. And there was an AGA!
Everything was in walking distance—a glorious estate garden, a couple of excellent restaurants, a pub, an antique store, the village shop. London was less than an hour and a half away by train. When we wanted to make the effort, our rental car took us around the region, which was just chock-full of charm, farms, and sheep. I could picture myself in a twin set and pearls, growing roses and making jam on that AGA.
We enjoyed that trip so much that we rented another cottage in a different area for three weeks in 2016. The new village was not quite as friendly or convenient, and the contemptuous grocery clerk charged me for the plastic shopping bags I was too naïve to know to bring with me. I felt like a hardened criminal having gone in empty-handed.
There was a laminated list in the cottage on how to recycle, and I swear even though I have a college degree, I could not differentiate between the various kinds of detritus. Apparently, a foil yogurt top is not the same as Reynolds Wrap, tissues are not like paper towels, and there are at least 76 kinds of plastic. Who knew? Not me. So, I lived in terror that the dustmen would dump out the improperly sorted trash on the street, which I had been warned they did, and did with great glee.
Despite my fear of an international recycling faux pas, I wish I could go back to either cottage. But I will have to settle for reading the delightful Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper. This slender illustrated volume is for everyone who’s ever watched Midsomer Murders and wondered about the high body count. According to the authors, it must be a Murder Village!
There is peril in the vicarage parlor, danger at the duck pond, mayhem at the manor house. Lord Lumpington is locked in the library and won’t come out. His favorite hunting rifle is missing from the gun cabinet. His newest will has not yet been signed. His shady relatives, who all inexplicably live with him, have no steady income or alibis. Even if you are not a lover of British mysteries or Clue, you know the drill.
I’m working on a new series now, and I get the chance to construct my own Cotswold Murder Village, Woodford Haven. So far, two visitors have died, one in the antique shop and one at the country house hotel. They should have stayed in the city.
As Sherlock Holmes once said, “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
The same could probably be said for rural Maine towns, as Peyton Place and The Beans of Egypt, Maine aptly illustrate. Someday I might get back to a mystery I started writing years ago, set on a Maine island. I lived on one for four years, though no one was ever murdered there as far as I know.
Hm. A fall from the ferry? A leap from the lighthouse? Tangled in the lobster trap lines? Poisoned at the church picnic? The opportunities are pretty much endless for a deserving miscreant to die.
Do you prefer the gritty city or the quaint country? How would you knock off your victim?
P.S.! Sale! The first Lady Adelaide Mystery, Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, is $1.99 wherever e-books are sold throughout the month of February. To read the first chapter and access buy links, you can visit the website page. 🙂