Today I’ve invited Connie Berry to Ascroft, eh? to tell us a bit about her latest novel, A Dream of Death, and her Kate Hamilton Mystery series.
Welcome to Ascroft, eh? Connie. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
CB: A Dream of Death, first in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, is set in the UK and features American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton and Detective Inspector Tom Mallory.
Kate returns to the Isle of Glenroth, the Hebridean island where her deceased husband was born, her heart set on a reconciliation with his sister, proprietor of the island’s luxe country house hotel. The next morning a body turns up, and when the police arrest her husband’s best childhood friend, Kate teams up with Tom Mallory, a vacationing detective inspector from Suffolk, England, to unmask a killer determined to rewrite island history—and Kate’s future.
In the second in the series, A Legacy of Murder (October 2019), Kate plans a lovely pre-Christmas visit to the Suffolk village of Long Barston where her daughter, a student at Oxford University, has an internship at Finchley Hall, a stately home famous for the unearthing in 1818 of an Anglo-Saxon treasure trove—and for murder. The good news: Long Barston is on DI Mallory’s patch. The bad news: one of the interns is found dead. Finchley Hall’s legacy of murder lives on.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
CB: The idea for A Dream of Death came from my own life. Like my protagonist, Kate, I was raised in the world of fine antiques. My father was the true antiques fanatic, but my mother was the scholar and sleuth, applying near-Sherlockian principles of research and deduction to uncover the often-hidden history behind the fine objects they collected and sold. In A Dream of Death, Kate interprets and follows clues hidden in an antique marquetry casket (a small chest for valuables) to expose a killer nursing a grudge two centuries old.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
CB: The underlying theme in A Dream of Death is the effect of the past on the present. Each of the main characters struggles in some way with his or her past. And, of course, the Isle of Glenroth itself trades on its dubious connection with the clan uprisings and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
I’ve always been fascinated with history. My paternal grandmother was born in Scotland, and came to the U.S. to work for the Rockefeller family (old John D. Rockefeller was said to have a marked preference for Scottish servants). Her life was built on lies and secrets, some of which I’ve unraveled, thanks to online genealogical records. My father carried the burden of those secrets and kept them until her death.
What if everything you knew about the past was a lie? That’s the story question in A Dream of Death. “If you have skeletons in the closet,” said George Bernard Shaw [quoted by Rachel Manija Brown in her memoir, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost], “you may as well make them dance.”
How do you create your characters? Do you have favorite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
CB: Great question. Everything an author creates has its origin in his or her mind—woven together from observations, memories, and experiences, both real and virtual. That includes characters. While none of my characters represent a particular person, there are always resemblances to people I’ve known. One particular character in A Dream of Death (eventually deleted) bore a striking physical resemblance to a relative—so striking that I changed certain characteristics for fear my relative would see herself and be hurt. *Note to my female relatives: if you think it’s you, it isn’t.
I’m obviously partial to Kate—she’s the one telling the story, so the reader sees everything through her eyes and from her perspective. I’m also fond of the eccentric characters who inhabit my books—and the British villages and countryside I write about. “The amount of eccentricity in a society,” John Stuart Mill famously wrote, “has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.”
My father was a genius—and a lovable eccentric. I wouldn’t have traded him for all the ordinary father’s in the world.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
CB: I adore research. I can get lost in research—so much so that it sometimes becomes a problem. “Get back to the writing,” I order myself, my mind still mulling over such fascinating questions as the origin of wigs in the British legal system and the scientific explanation behind the medieval Suffolk legend of the green children.
Research is easy and fun these days. I remember graduate school when research meant hours of riffling through the library card catalog, taking notes by hand, and toting stacks of books to a cubicle reserved in advance. Now we use computers and printers. For each book, I keep a large notebook for research, background material, photographs, character sketches, and plot ideas. For A Dream of Death, I used Google Maps Street View to follow Kate’s drive in the Scottish Highlands from Mallaig to Inverness.
With that said, there’s nothing like actually being there. Last autumn my husband and I drove the route Kate took in Scotland. I consulted with a detective inspector from Fort William and the chief of police on the Isle of Skye. And somehow we talked the kindly concierge at Inverlochy Castle into letting us scramble up and onto the roof.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
CB: I’ve loved every minute spent planning, researching, writing, and re-writing A Dream of Death. I hope my readers will love reading it.
Thanks for answering my questions, Connie, and good luck with A Dream of Death, this latest novel in your Kate Hamilton Mystery series.
About Connie Berry: Like her main character, Connie Berry was raised by charmingly eccentric antique collectors who opened a shop, not because they wanted to sell antiques but because they needed a plausible excuse to keep buying them. Connie adores history, off-season foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Millie.