Today Victoria Gilbert is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Bound for Murder, her latest novel in the Blue Ridge Library mystery series.
Welcome, Victoria. 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.
VG: BOUND FOR MURDER is the fourth book in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series. This book focuses on the discovery of human bones on a farm that was once a 1960s commune. This older murder is tied to more current deaths, as my protagonist discovers that it wasn’t all peace and love among the “flower children” who lived in and around her home town.
The Blue Ridge Library Mystery series is a contemporary mystery series set in the fictional town of Taylorsford, which is located at the foot of the mountains in northern Virginia. The protagonist, Amy Webber, is the thirty-something library director of the Taylorsford public library. Determined and inquisitive, she is often called upon to assist the local sheriff’s department with research, but also finds herself involved in other aspects of local murder investigations. Amy lives with her elegant and charming aunt, Lydia Talbot, and is aided in her sleuthing by her significant other, dancer and choreographer, Richard Muir, as well as her best friend, Sunny, and other friends and family members.
There are currently four books published in the series: A MURDER FOR THE BOOKS (2017), SHELVED UNDER MURDER (2018), PAST DUE FOR MURDER (2019), and now BOUND FOR MURDER (2020). A fifth book, A DEADLY EDITION, will be published in Dec. 2020. In all of the books, historic events, including some mysterious deaths, intertwine with the contemporary murder investigations, and the historic mysteries are solved alongside the current ones.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
VG: I wanted to write a story that featured one of the main secondary characters in my series, Sunshine “Sunny” Fields, and her family. Sunny is the library assistant at the Taylorsford Public Library and, in later books, also the town’s part-time mayor.
Sunny was raised by her grandparents, Carol and P.J. Fields, on their organic farm located just outside of Taylorsford. Back in the 1960s, Carol and P.J. were hippies and ran the farm as a commune. Several young people lived at the farm over a few years in the early 60s, one of whom disappeared without a trace not long after leaving the commune. When this former commune member’s skeleton is unearthed on the farm, it sets off an investigation that implicates Sunny’s grandparents and many of their former friends and acquaintances.
I was inspired to write this particular story by my own experiences of the hippie revolution – I was too young to participate, but I did observe it via my older schoolmates, cousins, and, of course, media coverage at the time. The concept of a group of young people living and working together while trying to reshape themselves and the world has always fascinated me. But as I sadly observed, these experiments didn’t often end well, primarily because of human nature, but also due to the drug use that was so prevalent at the time.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
VG: There isn’t a very explicit theme, but the concept of past actions influencing the present is an important thread. There is also an exploration of how keeping secrets, no matter how well-intentioned, can be destructive to families and friendships.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
VG: It’s difficult for me to explain how I create characters. I tend to start thinking about some basic aspects of each individual and build on that in a more organic way. That is, I allow for some “discovery” in writing the characters. Even though I know their basic backgrounds, they often surprise me!
Although I like all my characters, even the antagonists, I do have favourites. Again, I don’t always know going into the story which ones I will like the best. Often, I just find I enjoy writing some of the characters more than others, based on the personalities and character interactions that emerge as I develop them over the book, and the series.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
VG: With this series, I can draw on my background, as I was raised in a small town in the area that Taylorsford and its environs are based on. As someone very familiar with the history and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains, particularly in northern Virginia, I use a lot of my own experiences to add verisimilitude to the series. While Taylorsford is fictional, the town is basically an amalgam of a few real small towns, which means the natural environment, architecture, town layout, businesses, and cultural aspects are in keeping with a very specific area of the U.S. I think this add to the sense of reality in the setting.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
VG: As a former librarian, I am always invested in doing research, but I don’t complete all of it before I begin writing the book. I may do a little bit at the beginning, then dive into more specific research as required by the story. For example, in the second book in the series, SHELVED UNDER MURDER, I found that I had to stop several times to research aspects of art theft and forgery, since that played a large part in the plot.
I use all types of resources for research – online materials, print, video, and primary documents. I have also travelled to specific locations for research purposes, although I can’t afford to do too much of that!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
VG: I would like to let them know that I write each book in the series in a way that allows them to work as standalones. I promise that I never write “cliff-hanger” endings! But if a reader is really interested in ongoing, deeper, character development, I do recommend starting with the first book and reading through the series.
Thanks for answering my questions, Victoria, and good luck with Bound for Murder, the latest book in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series.
Here’s an excerpt from the novel:
My foot, resting next to the macramé purse, vibrated from the loud music blaring from Sunny’s cell phone. “You want to get that? I realize the rule is no phones at the desk but since there’s no one here right now…”
“No one who will care, I mean.” I cast him a smile before grabbing Sunny’s purse and handing it to her. “Go on—I know that ring.”
“Yeah, it’s the grands. Again.” Sunny pulled a comical face as she fished her phone out of the pouch. “They aren’t usually this needy, but ever since the county started that dredging work on the creek, they’ve been calling nonstop. They’re so worried about damage to the trees and shrubs along the stream bed.”
“Of course.” I’d heard plenty about this from Carol and P.J., who were irate over the heavy equipment that had recently descended upon their quiet organic farm. The fact that the county had a right-of-way to the creek, which was part of a larger watershed, did nothing to appease their anger.
“Government barreling in and taking over, like usual,” P.J. had told me, his thin lips quivering with repressed rage. “Didn’t even inform us ahead of time. Just showed up one day and proceeded to rip up my fields with their equipment. Well, they’d better not destroy our trees along the creek, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
I shook my head. “Can’t say I blame them.” I directed my words to Kurt as Sunny listened intently to her phone. “The county’s been tearing up the stream banks all along its route.”
Kurt’s expression betrayed no emotion, but his jaw tightened. That was odd. The art dealer rarely appeared tense, even in the direst of circumstances, yet the mention of dredging a creek seemed to have distressed him. It piqued my curiosity.
Or maybe I was imagining things. I shook my head to clear my thoughts. “They say it benefits the environment because it allows for better run-off from nearby rivers and ponds. But I don’t know. It seems rather destructive to me.”
When Kurt replied, his voice was as calm and charming as ever. “I knew that the dredging work was ongoing but didn’t realize it involved that farm.”
“Yeah, unfortunately.” I glanced at Sunny and noticed that all the color had fled her face. “Anything wrong?”
Sunny’s fingers clutched her cell phone so tightly I worried she might crack the plastic case. “Yes. Not with the grands, thank goodness, but dredging crews found something on the farm.”
“Buried treasure?” I asked, with a quick glance at Kurt.
“No, not anything like that.” Sunny’s voice shook. “According to the grands, an operator swung his Bobcat bucket the wrong way and dug deep into the bank, up and away from the stream. And that’s when they found it.”
“Found what?” I asked, my gaze flitting from Sunny’s trembling lips to the carved-in-stone stillness of Kurt’s face and back again.
“Bones,” Sunny said. “Human bones.” She stared at me, her eyes as glazed as glass. “An entire skeleton.”
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Victoria Gilbert: She was raised in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, turned her early obsession with reading into a dual career as an author and librarian. Victoria has worked as a reference librarian, research librarian, and library director. When not writing or reading, she likes to spend her time watching films, gardening, or traveling. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers and lives in North Carolina. This is her fourth Blue Ridge Library mystery.