Friday, April 10, 2015

Ellen Crosby--Ghost Image

DEBORAH CROMBIE: There are books that you love so much that you hate to put the book down because you will miss the characters. And then there are books that make you want to plan tours around their locations and background. Ellen Crosby's Ghost Image not only kept me thinking about her protagonist, Sophie Medina, long after I finished the book, but it had me planning a London itinerary around the settings in the novel.
Ghost Image hit another bench mark for me: my daughter loved it as much as I did. My daughter has very discerning taste in books, so if she loves something it moves to the top of my list. We even tried to visit some of the London locations in the book on our recent trip to London.

Ellen, you have everything in this book--Washington, London, rare books, the Founding Fathers, state-of-the-art botanical research, spies--and yet it all works so well! How did you come up with the premise for Ghost Image? And how did you make it all mesh together?

ELLEN CROSBY: Long before I began writing mysteries, I worked on Capitol Hill as the economic advisor to a U.S. senator. Economics is not the sexiest subject. How many people get excited
about the gross national product or the tax code? And because part of my job entailed writing speeches and the occasional newspaper column for my boss, it soon became clear that if I didn't find a way to make a rather dull and complicated subject more interesting, no one was going to pay attention to any of it. Later when I became the Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News, I had the same light bulb moment: listeners back home in America didn't find Soviet politics, which have always been byzantine and convoluted, to be especially enthralling. Given a choice between me nattering about the latest round of nuclear arms negotiations or listening to Lionel Richie and Bruce Springsteen sing their new hits (these were the late '80s, people) well, you see where I'm going with this.

By the time I wrote my first mystery, I had learned a valuable lesson from years of explaining the foreign earned income exclusion and who was fighting whom in Nagorno-Karabakh: if I didn't grab my audience by the throat from the get-go, they'd find something else to read or do. Which is why I always spend a lot of time on what I hope is a compelling first sentence for each of my books, because I want you to keep reading. Nothing makes me happier than a grumpy letter from someone who writes that I kept them up past their bedtime because they had to read "just one more chapter." So here's the opening line of my new book: GHOST IMAGE, due out in April 21:
Jefferson's Garden

When the old prince dies, they're going to cut out his heart and bury it in a monastery in Hungary.

Interested yet?

GHOST IMAGE is the second in a new series about Sophie Medina, a photojournalist who worked for a London-based news agency for many years before returning to Washington with her ex-spy husband. (That story was told in MULTIPLE EXPOSURE, the first book, which came out in trade paperback a few weeks ago).

Six months after the move to D.C., Sophie and Nick, her husband, are still trying to settle in to life in America. Nick is off to the Middle East on a trip for a potential new employer and Sophie, who is now freelancing, has reluctantly promised to photograph a high-profile wedding between an Austrian archduke and a senator's daughter as a favor to her old friend, Brother Kevin Boyle, a Franciscan friar and controversial environmentalist. But of course there's trouble in paradise, or more specifically at the engagement party, where the bride flirts with everyone but her finace, and Sophie overhears Brother Kevin, a holy man who took a vow of poverty, arguing with one of the wealthiest men in America.
Franciscan monastery
 The next day Kevin hints to Sophie that he might be in trouble, and that it has something to do with his latest botanical research project. A few hours later, his body is discovered in the gardens of a century-old D.C. monastery and Sophie is certain it was murder. Determined to find her friend's killer, she discovers that Kevin had been hiding a priceless seventeenth-century encyclopedia of plants from his Franciscan brothers. Before long, Sophie is embroiled in an international treasure hunt for a long-lost piece of American history with ties to London's oldest garden, the Founding Fathers, the 1814 burning of the White House, and the world's largest seed bank.

The research for this book was pure fun--and that's from someone whose previous series was all about wine. The idea for the story came about several years ago after I heard an NPR book review of The Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, which is the fascinating account of the Founding Fathers' passion. Actually, their obsession with agriculture and gardening and how it shaped the early history
Millennium Seed Bank

of the United States. The journalist in me has to get things right so I did my homework, which included a private tour of Monticello's gardens, the gorgeous Chelsea Physic Garden in London and the Millennium Seed Bank, where nearly 25% of the world's seeds are stored in a vast underground vault in the English countryside. I had lunch in Georgetown one spring afternoon with Dr. Martin Gammon of Bonhams, the British auction house founded in 1793; he is also the rare book expert for Antiques Roadshow. And, thanks to a friend at Monticello, I met Andrea Wulf in London for breakfast at a trendy Notting Hill restaurant in between taping sessions for a BBC gardening program.

So, if I've done this right, your throat has been grabbed and you're intrigued. And don't you want to know if the old prince really did die? And what happened to his heart after they cut if out?

I hope so. 

DEBS: My daughter and I didn't make it to the Savoy Grill, or the Chelsea Physic Garden, two of Ellen's London settings, on our
Chelsea Physic Garden

recent visit to London. But there is always a next time! Meanwhile, I know what happened to the old prince!  And now I'm betting you want to know, too!

REDS and readers, what are your favorite books that have made you go straight to references to find out more about the subject??


  1. More than any other author, Isaac Asimov's writings often intrigued me to seek out more information.
    And, yes, I most definitely want to find out what happened to the old prince . . . .

  2. Hi Ellen - this book sounds fanTAStic!
    Always wished I could go to OZ... Or Iceland after reading the great mysteries coming out of there

  3. Welcome, Ellen! I am going out and getting this book TODAY — it's such my cup of tea. I have to admit being obsessed (OBSESSED) with the Shetland Islands of Scotland after discovering the novels of Ann Cleeves.

  4. Ellen's book is one of the ones I hope to pick up while at Malice Domestic this year.

    As for the question at hand: The Shadow of the Wind has made me long to visit Barcelona. One of these days...

    And like Susan, Ann Cleeves certainly makes the Shetland Islands seem like a magical place. Looking forward to seeing Ann at Malice as well. Whoo Hoo.

  5. I agree, Jimmy Perez's Shetland Islands and Peter Mays' Isle of Lewis, and Donna Leon's Venice. The Chelsea Physic Garden inspires all things medicinal and poisonous.

  6. That is a wonderful first line Ellen--we writers could all stand to be reminded of how important it is to grab someone's attention right away.

    Now I'm dying to read Ann Cleeves. and this book absolutely!

    But how did you move from wine to this intriguing premise? Sounds like this one might have been percolating for a long time...

  7. Thank you ALL Reds, for the warm welcome--and especially to Debs for inviting me here and her kind words about Ghost Image! I have to confess that when I was growing up I wanted to visit every single place Mary Stewart wrote about--she was probably my inspiration for writing stories with a strong sense of place. Anybody else a Mary Stewart fan? (I am such an Anglophile like Debs . . .) And to answer your questions: Hallie, as for place memories, I can't ever think about Florida without remembering our weekend in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward County library fundraiser. Especially the yacht and that last night in the bar! Susan, your books are right up my alley, too. England + history = perfect. Roberta/Lucy: Multiple Exposure (the first book in this series) was the book I always expected to write after The Merlot Murders came out, so you are right that it was percolating for a while. I blew dust off notes from 2003!

  8. Oh, oh, oh! Me, too, Ellen! Mary Stewart was so widely read--her books are sprinkled with references to other works--she lead me as a kid to seek out Shakespeare (The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing), The Golden Bough, so many others--I took French, read French poetry....And how I longed to visit Provence!

    And now, can't wait to seek out your books!

  9. I have enjoyed all of Ellen Crosby works since I discovered "Moscow Nights." Her wine country books have been perfect gifts for my mom but, honestly, everyone to whom I've recommended her books have become avid readers.
    I must add that having her speak to our library friends group demonstrated what a gracious and entertaining speaker she is. I am looking forward to the release of "Ghost Image!"

  10. It seems like I look something up from everything I read, but there are certain books that have fueled a lasting interest. Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders and Connie Willis' Doomsday Book are responsible for my passion for the plague (yes, I love the alliteration, hehe). Year of Wonders led me to Norman Cantor's non-fiction book, In the Wake of the Plague, a wonderfully readable accounting of the plague's origins and paths.

    Joyce Carol Oates' The Falls sparked my interest in Niagara Falls, and with its connection to Love Canal, was fascinating. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series made me fall in love with Scotland and men in kilts. I am a nut for series set in Scotland. Peter May's Lewis Trilogy that I read last year was amazing. Lucy, count me in as someone who is trying her hardest to get to Ann Cleeves. I have the first three books of the Shetland Island series ready to go, hopefully this summer. Susan, I envy you already ensconced in them. Kristopher, I was hoping to attend Malice this year and meet Ann Cleeves, but, alas, it's not going to happen.

    Ellen, Ghost Image sounds so intriguing, and the fact that Debs and her daughter loved it carries a lot of weight with me. You nailed the opening sentence. It made me start asking questions that I really want the answers to. And, I'm delighted that it's only the second novel in the series, which means I won't have a long ways to catch up. Thanks for being here today, Ellen.

  11. Kathy Reel, if you like Geraldine Brooks--and for everyone who loves wonderfully written narrative non-fiction--you should definitely read anything by Tony Horwitz, her husband, who has written some wonderful (and quite hilarious) books about such topics as the Civil War, the explorers who visited America before Columbus, and Captain Cook's South Sea voyages, among other subjects. Highly recommended! I took "A Voyage Long & Strange" with me to the Dominican Republic recently to re-read the chapters about Santo Domingo.

  12. The thing about Ghost Image is that is has this terrific premise, but I can't talk about it because it would SPOIL the book!!!!

    Ellen, didn't Kathy Harig at Mystery Loves Company say that she absolutely loved this book and that it was your best yet? Great minds and all that:-)

    And on Mary Stewart, too. I read them obsessively, and I still have some of my 1970s copies. And I still want to go to all the places she wrote about!

  13. Very nice. That opening line gets me every time I sit down to write.

    One of these days, I'm going to England and Italy - not just because of the books I've read, but because of the people who gush about them. I read a biography of Francis of Assisi that made me want to walk the same hills.

  14. Thank you, Debs! Kathy Harig did say she enjoyed Ghost Image (and I'll be at MLC on April 26, by the way)--but this is a woman who was so captivated by France after reading the mysteries of Martin Walker (a journalist friend and former Moscow colleague) that she and Tom bought a house in France!! Seriously. Check her website for a link--it is in a charming village in the Dordogne and it's for rent!

  15. I just ordered both the Sophie books, Ellen, because they sound fabulous. I loved your wine country books.

  16. So great!And congratulations on your new series--you do choose the most wonderful topics!

    Didn't they name the airport in Martin Walker's town after his detective? Inspector…remind me. (He is so charming! Martin Walker, I mean…please give him my best)

    And wow, doesn't that sound like the perfect place for the Reds retreat? You ALL are invited!

  17. Thank you, Laura!! And Hank, LOL about Martin Walker and naming the airport . . . I'll have to ask him! (And his inspector is Bruno Courreges).

    Kathy's place does sound idyllic, doesn't it? She was so excited to buy it and, seriously, it happened because Martin made that part of France sound utterly enchanting.

  18. Ellen, I haven't read the wine books. How is this possible? My two favorite things, mysteries and wine, together. Now adding to my TBR list!!!

  19. Dreaming of the bones, by Deborah Crombie. Although I felt like I'm there (and then)while reading it, still id would be fantastic to see those places in real life. I think I might just do this soon.