Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Weekend in the Country?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I was going to say—remember when you read your first country house mystery? But instead—let me lead the standing ovation for Katherine Hall Page. Such a talented, brilliant and hilarious person--and the most loyal and loving and generous friend. In your library? Well, of course. You want Katherine. In the kitchen? Most definitely. Katherine's an amazing cook. 

And in the trenches? Trust me. You want Katherine.

And now, astonishingly, she’s on the twenty-fourth Faith Fairchild mystery. You’ve read her “The Body in the….”  books, right?  Traditional and contemporary at the same time, witty and smart and sophisticated and clever.

The dining room at Stonehurst
Now. Remember what I said about country houses?  You want Katherine's. I mean--the one she writes about in her brand new book!


Take One Manor House, Add Murder and Stir

I’ve always wanted to write a country house mystery. One in which all the action occurs over a weekend—a “Saturday to Monday” as the British called it—with the suspects limited to the guests, staff, and host. Bumps in the night could mean discreet visits to another bedroom, or something more sinister. A push down a flight of stairs or a perilous visit to the loo tripping over the piece of string stretched across the hall that released a deadly cudgel on a nearby suit of armor. A tray of drinks passed by the butler, one lethal. And the grounds offered plenty of pitfalls resulting in an empty place at table. Endless possibilities.

Agatha Christie certainly knew this and introduced Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first of many set in similar venues. Martin Edwards has edited a superb collection of country house mystery short stories—Murder at the Manor (Poisoned Pen Press), including a very witty takeoff on the genre, “The Murder at the Towers” by E.V. Knox.

Given the popularity of the setting during the Golden Age, it is a wonder that anyone accepted an invitation to one of these stately homes.

The Body in the Casket is the 24th in the Faith Fairchild series and I decided it was more than time to try my hand at the iconic setting. It is Rowan House, near Faith’s home in Aleford, Massachusetts. She has never heard of it nor the enclave in which it is located—Havencrest.

The Rowan House is directly modeled on Stonehurst in Waltham, MA. It was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson with landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted and I think it’s the only one of their collaborations that is open to the public. Stonehurst was completed in 1886 and sits on 109 acres. We live only a few miles away, but I had never heard of it (like Faith) until we went there for a friend’s wedding. 

It immediately suggested itself as the perfect place for a murder!

Rowan House’s current owner is Max Dane, legendary Broadway producer/director. He is throwing himself a weekend long 70th birthday party and hires Faith to cater it, but tells her that although he knows her reputation as a chef, it’s her “sleuthing abilities” that have attracted him.

Max’s last show, Heaven or hell The Musical was a colossal flop twenty years ago and he has not done one since. An ominous early birthday gift delivered to his door has convinced him that someone associated with the production is out to kill him. All ten of the guests he’s invited—and one uninvited—have good reasons to wish him dead.

photo courtesy Jean Fogelberg
And so we’re off with a good old-fashioned ice storm, power outage and plenty of food. Not hampers from Fortnum and Mason, but dishes referencing the musical such as Lobster Fra Diavolo and fallen Angel cocktails.

What are some of your favorite country house mysteries? And heavenly or devily delicious dishes?

HANK: Ooh, cannot wait to hear what you all say. Ten Little Indians? In a Dark, Dark Wood? What say you, Reds and readers?



Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-three previous Faith Fairchild mysteries. The recipient of Malice Domestic’s Lifetime Achievement Award, she has received Agathas for best first mystery (The Body in the Belfry), best novel (The Body in the Snowdrift), and best short story, (“The Would-Be Widower”). She has also been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark, the Macavity, and the Maine Literary Award. She lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.
 
The inimitable Faith Fairchild returns in a chilling New England whodunit, inspired by the best Agatha Christie mysteries and with hints of the timeless board game Clue.
For most of her adult life, resourceful caterer Faith Fairchild has called the sleepy Massachusetts village of Aleford home. While the native New Yorker has come to know the region well, she isn't familiar with Havencrest, a privileged enclave, until the owner of Rowan House, a secluded sprawling Arts and Crafts mansion, calls her about catering a weekend house party.

Producer/director of a string of hit musicals, Max Dane—a Broadway legend—is throwing a lavish party to celebrate his seventieth birthday. At the house as they discuss the event, Faith's client makes a startling confession. "I didn't hire you for your cooking skills, fine as they may be, but for your sleuthing ability. You see, one of the guests wants to kill me."
Faith's only clue is an ominous birthday gift the man received the week before—an empty casket sent anonymously containing a twenty-year-oldPlaybill from Max's last, and only failed, production—Heaven or Hell. Consequently, Max has drawn his guest list for the party from the cast and crew.

 As the guests begin to arrive one by one, and an ice storm brews overhead, Faith must keep one eye on the menu and the other on her host to prevent his birthday bash from becoming his final curtain call.


-->

72 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new Faith Fairchild book, Katherine . . . it’s next on my teetering to-be-read pile and I’m looking forward to reading it and checking out those hints of Clue.

    Favorite country house mysteries? Besides Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, there’s, Rhys’s “The Twelve Clues of Christmas,” and A.A. Milne’s “The Red House Mystery.”
    As for the food, I’m good with either heavenly or devily delicious . . . .

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congratulations Katherine on the latest "Body in the..." mystery. I have been a faithful fan since the first book, The Body in the Belfry. I have enjoyed watching Faith and her family grow (up) throughout the series.

    My favourite country house mysteries would be by British writers such as Christie, Cyril Hare and Georgette Heyer.

    As for the food preference, I would go for the more devilish (naughty) choices: Devil's food cake (vs Angel's food cake), and the Lobster Fra Diavolo dish sounds divine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hank, I saw my ortho surgeon on Monday. The heavy plaster cast has been replaced with a walking boot cast but I cannot put any weight on this foot until the New Year. So I am hobbling along on crutches and 1 foot and I am kind of trapped inside since I live in a building with plenty of stairs. But at least I can now shower and sleep in my bed for the first time in 3 weeks, so this is progress.

      Delete
  3. Congratulations on the latest, Katherine. This sounds like the perfect progression for Faith and I'm intrigued that it's based on a real location. Looking forward to a great read.

    My favorite country house mysteries - the Grand Dame, of course. She has to be on any list. Then there is S.T. Haymon's Stately Homicide. Dark but delicious. And one I recently read has to be included on this list, Laura DiSilverio's That Last Weekend.

    I'm with Grace on food choices, yum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so right, Kait! She will be so pleased to see this.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for mentioning my book, Kait! It's in grand company with all these classic mysteries.

      Delete
  4. Now I want to go visit Stonehurst! Congratulations on number 24, Katherine. My copy is on its way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Skull Beneath the Skin, PD James, though she set several other books in isolated places (nursing home, monastery, cluster of houses near a power station).

    Congratulations on your latest!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I was tihnking country house does have to be a literal country house, right? It could be the Orient express!

      Delete
  6. Welcome Katherine! I loved the deadly cudgel on the suit of armor--hope you used that! This looks like a wonderful plot. I salute you having 24 mysteries in this series--how do you keep yourself interested, and thus your readers too, when the characters are so familiar?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hmmm... would Clouds of Witness qualify? How about The Franchise Affair? The Mouse Trap? And i think I remember a couple of Father Brown short stories in this sort of setting, but I can't think of their names. Oh, and was the last Poirot book set back in the same country house as the first?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That'd be a cool mystery-trivia fact, Jim! Is that right, you all?

      Delete
    2. We are making our way thru the entire G.K. Chesterton series, practically free on Kindle. What a treat they are, a respite from so much blood and gore.

      Delete
  8. Hi Katherine! I really like your books and am looking forward to reading this one. I finally saw The Mousetrap on stage and loved it. My favorite country house murder is Rhys Bowen's The Twelve Clues of Christmas. A country house AND Christmas! What could be better?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. And I haven't seen The Mousetrap for years--how does it hold up?

      Delete
    2. Hank, I thought it held up well. It really is the quintessential country house story. They did a couple of neat things, too. First, was a picture Agatha as part of the set decoration. Second, after the curtain call, each actor posed as his or her character, making a photo op moment, while an unseen narrator explained to the audience that they were now part of the story had to keep the end a secret! I'd never seen it before so I don't know if that's typical. During the intermission we had a blast discussing "whodunit"! I'm so glad I saw it.

      Delete
  9. I have read all of KHP's Body books and am looking forward to reading this one soon. I love weekend house party mysteries and fondly recall all of Agatha Christie's.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Count me among those who love a country house mystery. And I am pleased to say that I am a fan of Katherine's new book - it's a perfect homage to the works of Christie, while remaining very "of the moment." And the theater angle was catnip for my heart.

    Favorites from the past: I love THE MOONSTONE (which loosely fits this concept), Georgette Heyer has more than her share of good ones in her bibliography. In more modern times, the works of Kate Morton, of course. And Diane Setterfield's THE THIRTEENTH TALE (wow, what a book that was).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, yes, it certainly was.

      And you are quite the Broadway denizen! Hey--will you come blog about that for us?

      Delete
    2. I never pass up an opportunity to discuss my Broadway excursions. I just booked tickets to see Renee Fleming in CAROUSEL during my April NYC trip to collect the Raven Award at the Edgar Ceremony.

      Delete
    3. WHoa. Your life is waaaay too glam. Okay--let's talk about a blog when you have a moment. (As if....)

      Delete
    4. I'm not sure my life can ever be called GLAM, but I know how to make the most of it.

      Delete
    5. THE THIRTEENTH TALE! She has another, BELLMAN & BLACK, but not a patch on her first.

      Delete
    6. "Catnip for my heart" Kristopher! Perfect.

      Delete
    7. Oh, and Kristopher, I'm so jealous of you, getting to see Renee Fleming in Carousel. How divine.

      Delete
    8. Thanks Deb. Since I have to be in NYC anyway, I can't miss the chance to see this show. I've always had issues with the plot - it's going to be interesting to see how it plays in the current much needed #metoo climate. But Renee singing You'll Never Walk Alone will make it all worth it.

      Delete
    9. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of BELLMAN, Ann. It wasn't bad, just didn't live up to the promise of the debut.

      Delete
    10. Renee Fleming is a local girl, but any appearance in Rochester is immediately sold out. Saw her in concert only once.

      Delete
  11. Like Grace, I've been a fan since the first The Body in the ... books--have put them at the top of my pile each time a new one emerges--can't wait to get my hands on this one! And as a reader, what keeps me coming back are the characters--Faith and her family and her friends. Except for that body thing each time, the characters are wonderfully relatable--fallible--human.

    One of my favorite modern 'country house' mysteries is The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny--set in a remote Canadian monastery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great minds think alike! I picked that one too, Flora.

      Delete
    2. I went to the monastery that inspired the book and sat thru a solemn sung mass. I highly recommend this

      Delete
    3. Flora, your The Beautiful Mystery, brought to mind Louise Penny's other 'country house': A Rule Against Murder set at Manoir Bellechasse.

      Delete
  12. There's an ice storm in THE BODY IN THE CASKET? I'm going to guess that Katherine, like many of us, remembers the Great Ice Storm of '98. The perfect setting for a mystery!

    My favorite county house whodunnits? Well, our own Rhys Bowen has had several in her Royal Spyness series, and I've loved them all. I also enjoy Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple books, set in the 1920s, which have featured several house parties gone wrong. The one that will never be bettered? AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Did anyone see the BBC remake from a few years back? It was tremendously atmospheric.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I couldn't decide if it was supposed to be campy... :-)

      Delete
  13. Sounds chillingly good. I am woefully behind on these books, but I need to catch up so I can find out what is happening.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Congratulations on the latest release, Katherine.

    My favourite country house mystery, bar none, is one I reread nearly every Christmas. Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca. Oh, those characters....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't remember that one, Susan. Must look up!

      Delete
    2. Just got on Kindle Unlimited. What fun!

      Delete
    3. I love everything Heyer ever wrote!

      Delete
  15. Welcome Katherine. I look forward to the new book.

    I have so many loved country house mysteries, but if I have to pick just one, it would be Shirley Jackson's masterpiece, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. That is positively the most terrifying book I've ever read. Diane Setterfield's THE THIRTEENTH TALK comes a close second.

    And I've just discovered Morag Joss's HALF BROKEN THINGS. Where have I been?

    Of course any list would have to include Deb's A SHARE IN DEATH. I've mentioned only ones that I have read twice. I know there are tons more by the Reds, and never mind Agatha Christie who perfected the art of Saturday-Monday crime.

    It makes me sad to think I'll never spend a long weekend in a country house fearing for my life thoough. Oh well --

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, there are just some things we're gonna miss out on. In real life, at least.

      Delete
  16. Katherine, your books are such a delight. I can't wait to curl up with this one. The classic closed circle of suspect never grows old--at least in my opinion!

    And thank you, Ann, for mentioning A Share in Death! I'm going to look up the Morag Joss book you mentioned. I know I've run across her somewhere...

    ReplyDelete
  17. Oh Katherine, I just realized that I'm one book behind in your series! I need to remedy that soon as possible.

    I'm having trouble picking a favorite country house murder mystery. There are so many that I have enjoyed. I also think that I need to start rereading all of Agatha Christie's mysteries. They gave me such enjoyment years ago.

    DebRo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I'm tempted to do that, too! (In all of our spare time, right DebRo?)

      Delete
  18. How have I completely missed these Faith Fairchild books until now?!?! They sound like EXACTLY my taste. Oh well, it just means I have some delicious catching up to do!

    I always enjoy a country house mystery, but can't think of any great examples not already mentioned. And may I add, my TBR list grew about three listings longer just from reading today's post and comments?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Welcome, Katherine, and congratulations on your 24th Faith Fairchild mystery - it sounds deadly and delicious. As a former librarian, my favorite closed room mystery is A Body in the Library. Miss Marple, naturally.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Katherine, I have been trying to get to your series for a couple of years. I have a couple of print books and some on my Kindle. I think my problem is that the number of books is daunting to me these days. I need to just read a couple and then just fit them in during the year as I can. I know I'm going to love the books, which scares me a bit, as I have so much other reading to do, and I tend to get rather obsessed when I start a series. However, having said all of that, my plan now is to fit at least a couple in before the end of January. The titles and the covers in the Faith Fairchild books are wonderful.

    And, I had to laugh at your assessment of the wedding venue as a perfect setting for murder. I'm betting you were the only guest thinking that. Hahaha! As a reader/reviewer of mysteries and crime, I have found myself thinking those thoughts, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy, I know you prefer to start at the beginning. But honestly, you can jump in anywhere and enjoy these books. Katherine does a great job of orienting new readers quickly. You will want to go back to see how it all started, but I have started several folks on the series with the last 3 or 4 books.

      Delete
    2. Oh, they are the perfect obsession for you!

      Delete
  21. FROM KATHERINE HALL PAGE:
    Have been completely frustrated trying to respond to all these terrific comments as I don’t have any of those things that allow me to reply.
    The Red House! Milne didn’t just write Winnie-the-Pooh!
    And yes, The Moonstone-the first.
    Also Heyer's mysteries-again she wrote those as well as the romances.

    Thank you, thank you all!! If you want to email me at any time it’s: webmaster@katherine-hall-page.org
    Happy Holidays and let’s hope for a better New Year!!
    Katherine

    ReplyDelete
  22. Welcome, Katherine! How did I not know about Stonehurst? I lived in Needham and Newton, but I've never heard of the place! It sounds like perfect inspiration for your new book. I agree with Debs that the closed setting and circle of suspects never grows old. Did you know who the killer was when you started writing or figure it out as the story unfolded?

    ReplyDelete
  23. This sounds fabulous--LOVE that cover! The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is one of my favorites--so haunting. (And I loved that cover, too.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I don't know that book! I will look it up--thank you!

      Delete
  24. AND THE WINNER of The Vanishing Season is: Denise Ann! Email me your address at h ryan at whdh dot com! HURRAY!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Georgette Heyer. Carolyn Hart wrote one in her Henry O series. Will be happy to read the new Faith.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Agatha Christie of course. I can't even think of any others. I know I've read others.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Your book sounds terrific, Jessica! I think personal relationships and domestic settings are always rich with opportunities for deception and intrigue!

    ReplyDelete