Saturday, August 1, 2015

Marcia Talley--Daughter of Ashes

DEBORAH CROMBIE: This has been a great week on JRW for me. So many good books! And to top it off, my friend and colleague, Marcia Talley, has a new Hannah Ives mystery out this month. 

I’ve just read it and liked it so much that I invited her to Jungle Red to talk about it.  Marcia’s books usually keep Hannah sleuthing in and around Annapolis Maryland (where Marcia also lives), but Daughter of Ashes is set in a bucolic seaside community on the eastern shore of Maryland.  The book opens with Hannah and her husband buying a vacation cottage, a real fixer-upper.  During the course of renovations, they make a horrific discovery – I hope I’m not giving anything away here -- the mummified body of an infant hidden in the chimney. Here's Marcia to tell us more:

MARCIA TALLEY:  Don’t worry about spoilers, Debs.  My publisher gave that fact away on the jacket flap, and so did the reviewer for Publishers Weekly.   But, yes, that’s the event that sets the whole plot in motion.  The idea for this book had been simmering on the back burner of my brain for some time, actually.  Do you remember ages ago,  back in 1995, I believe, you and I attended a workshop at St Hilda’s College in Oxford, UK called Making Crime Pay?  The workshop was taught by Kate Charles and Susan Moody.  In one exercise, we were given two index cards, each with a snippet of a news story on it -- like those fillers you see at the bottom of a newspaper column – and we had to combine them into a single story. I drew one  about a baby found in a chimney and another about a young motorcyclist getting run off the road. I had to figure out the connection between those two events.

DEBS: And you do so brilliantly here, Marcia. But has it really been twenty years??? How is that possible??

MT:  Yes, and thank you.  You wrote a mystery about a baby’s body being found in a wall, too, didn’t you, Debs?  When we passed those index cards around, did you get the article about the baby, too?

DEBS:  That was Water Like a Stone, the 10th (I had to count) Kincaid/James novel, set around narrowboats and the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire. I didn't get the article about the baby at that workshop. Years later, I saw a little sidebar in the Dallas Morning News about a couple who were renovating a house in west Texas and found the mummified body of an infant about a year old in the wall. Obviously great minds think alike... So how did you get from 1995 to 2015?

MT:  Twenty years went by, and then a couple of other things happened that resurrected that baby in  the chimney. To begin with, my husband and I bought a cottage in the Bahamas.  We’d made an offer on another cottage but the deal fell through because of some barely legal real estate shenanigans.  So – at least as far as I was concerned -- a real estate agent had to die.  I was chewing on how best to accomplish that while attending a writers’ retreat in Charlotte, NC, sponsored by Sisters in Crime.  One of the other attendees was author Sarah Shaber who told me about an ongoing scandal in Franklin County, NC, involving the discovery and destruction of historic records dating back to the 1840s.  My heroine, Hannah Ives, is a former records manager so it seemed obvious to me that she’d want to get involved in helping prevent a tragedy like that.  What was in those records, she’d wonder – just like the folks in Franklin County – that somebody with either money or influence or both didn’t want made public.

And then, there’s always my addiction to those makeover shows on HGTV like The Property Brothers.  I had such fun writing scenes like one, when I needed to call Hannah back to the house:

“You’re needed at the cottage,” my husband said.  “Rusty’s got the tile laid in the bathroom, but it seems we have a decision to make about the grout.”
“What’s to decide?” I asked.  “Grout is grout.”
“You might think so, my dear, but I’m holding a color chart in my hands right now.  There’s white, of course, but we’ve also got pure white, antique white, linen white …”
“Darling,” I interrupted, “White is white.  Pick one.”
“Then there’s canvas, cinnamon, and silver,” Paul continued as if I hadn’t spoken.  “Mauve, rose, wheat, cocoa, cayenne, smoke, cadet blue and something called Navajo.”
“Navajo?  What kind of a color is Navajo?”
“Kind of a warm beige.  But you can see why I need you here.”
“Paul …” I began, thinking about the mountains of refuse we still had to dispose of in the courthouse basement.
“I’m leaning toward evergreen myself, maybe black,” he continued.
I had to laugh.  “I’m sure.  But you’re right, we’re going to have to live with the grout for a long time.  Tell Rusty I’ll be home in about twenty minutes.”

DEBS:  (I LOVE The Property Brothers. I can't let myself watch it or I won't do anything else as long as there's a new episode coming on.) So, Rusty is the guy on the motorcycle.

MT:  Exactly.  The contractor’s son who actually discovers the baby’s body.  What was it about the discovery that put his life in danger?  Not surprisingly, dark secrets from Maryland’s past ooze out.

DEBS: PW gave the book a great review, calling it a “tale of love, greed, racism, politics, and power.”

MT:  They did, and the former librarian in me had to laugh when the reviewer added, “Fascinating information on how to search historical records is a bonus.” 

DEBS: Well, I loved the book. I think it’s one of your best, and that's saying a lot.  And I’ve been
meaning to ask where did the title come from?

MT: It’s from a poem by Carl Sandburg about the aftermath of war.

… Oh daughter of ashes and mother of blood, 

Child of the hair let down, and tears, 

Child of the cross in the south 

And the star in the north …
Out of the storm let us have one star.

DEBS: Oooh, that's lovely. Gives me goosebumps. And I see how beautifully that relates to the plot.

MT:  Shhhh … no spoilers!

DEBS:  My lips are sealed.

Readers will have to find out for themselves. Marcia will be dropping in today to chat  AND WILL GIVE A BOOK TO A LUCKY COMMENTER so please stop by and say "hi."  And I'm hoping she'll tell us if that cottage in the photo is actually in Maryland.

Because I might have to move to Maryland if it is...

REDS ALERT! Katie Baer is the winner of Charles Todd's A PATTERN OF LIES! Katie, email me at with your email address and we'll get a book on the way to  you! 

And be sure to come back tomorrow when I'll be filling  you in on the Laz-Y-Jet Spa!


  1. Marcia, I really enjoyed reading the little excerpt you included . . . I'm looking forward to reading "Daughter of Ashes."
    I wondered if the title was related to the Carl Sandberg poem; so glad Debs asked you about that!
    Even if it is good fodder for a mystery writer, it's really sad to think that someone would actually put a child's body in a chimney or a wall . . . .

  2. Oh, this book sounds fascinating. I've lived (still am living) in a series of antique houses under renovation in New England, and while we've found some pretty interesting stuff in the walls, we've never uncovered a skeleton - yet. Can't wait to read it!

  3. Hi Marsha!!! love seeing you here this morning--and you and Debs give such good interview. congrats on the book and the excellent reviews.

    Isn't it amazing that a writing prompt from years ago made it into this book? Just goes to show that nothing is wasted--little bits can percolate in our subconscious and then bob up at just the right time.

    What # is this in Hannah's series Marsha? And how long do you imagine it will run?

  4. This is terrific. We remodeled a house from the 1700's, but nothing of interest came to light. Can't wait to get my hands on this one.

  5. Roberta, Daughter of Ashes is #14 ... and happily, I just signed a contract for #15 which is set (if you can believe it) at a Bigfoot Convention. LOL.

  6. While researching this book, I was astonished (and appalled) to learn how many times bodies of infants are found in walls, under floorboards, in old trunks ... some of the articles -- like one about two infant bodies found in an old trunk in a former hotel in California, trunks that belonged to a woman (now dead) who was distantly related to James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. In Brice House, an historic home in Annapolis, during a remodel, a skeleton was found walled up (in a standing position) at the back of a closet. Historians figured it was the body of some poor, 18th century woman -- perhaps an insane relative -- who had been kept hidden in the attic. There is also a secret staircase that leads from the dining room up to the attic. Whoooooooo!

  7. Luckily, humans do weird and bizarre things, and it seems that writers will have inspiration for all eternity.

    Looking forward to this, Marcia. Love your books!

  8. Hi Marcia, How have I missed your 14 books?! That's about to be rectified. Annapolis is a beautiful city and the Eastern Shore is on my bucket list of places to visit.

    Thank you, Reds, for introducing me to what have become some of my favorite books.

  9. This sounds so great, MArcia--cannot wit to read it. So creepy. And that poem is chillingly sad. A secret staircase--got to love it.

    And Gram--not that you know of yet. When Jonathan bought this house, in 1989 or so? There was a lot of stuff in the basement which he never looked at! Huh. When i moved in, I did. I found an entire beautiful set of Spode china. And--a box of newspapers from World War I.

    (I always wonder how they keep the bodies from smelling bad.)

  10. "Of course a realtor had to die." Hee, hee.

    Love the snippet. I think my husband and I had the same conversation. "Just pick a color!"

  11. Fair warning. I read this book and then struggled for several days to find another book that could hold my interest as well as this one did. I also lost sleep to finish it.

  12. Thanks, Janet. Your comment made my day.

  13. Hank, I am forever grateful to the folks who bought my grandparents' house in Benzonia Michigan. They found a huge stash of family letters in the attic, tracked me down and sent them to me. They covered my grandparents' decades of missionary work in China, and letters my father sent home from the Sourh Pacific during WW2. All are now safely housed in the Archives of Oberlin College.

  14. Marcia, I share your fondness for Property Brothers. But although I lived in two very old houses as a kid, we never found so much as a newspaper scrap tucked away. We did claim General Burgoyne haunted one of them, as it was on the site of his retreat from Saratoga.

  15. Dashing up Camden to visit Youngest in camp, Marcia, but I had to drop in and send my love! Let us know when you're back in Maine!

  16. Gosh, when we renovated, all we found was a Taco Bell cup and a baggie full of pot seeds. Clearly we need an older house! (And I just shared this post withu cousins who live on the Eastern Shore.)

  17. Gosh, when we renovated, all we found was a Taco Bell cup and a baggie full of pot seeds. Clearly we need an older house! (And I just shared this post withu cousins who live on the Eastern Shore.)

  18. I love that you wove together pieces of "found plot" (like found poetry I used to do with my students. Intrigued and will be looking for _Daughter of Ashes_ . . .
    I can also relate to "killing off" those who need it -- so much safer and less messy to do so in fiction (as I did with the awful assistant principal in my therapeutic exercise in writing "The NCLB Murder."
    I had no idea there were so many colors of grout. Now thinking of a wonderful, unique floor, a mosaic made of salvaged tile remnants in a St. Louis eco-home. I think they just used white, but gold would have been a dramatic accent.

  19. As our Hank would say, "Whoa." I'm glad we're the first people to live in our condo...

  20. Some colonial homes put a shoe in the walls. For good luck.

  21. Debs, that cottage is not in Md but could be. There are several almost exactly like that in Dorchester County on Md's eastern shore. Cottages built in the 1740s or 50s when Md WAS English. :-)

  22. Another great series of books, and I think this one has gone to the top of my TBR. Such a compelling topic. And I'm sure I'll enjoy killing a realtor, too. The excerpt was timely - just finishing remodel, decorator kept correcting me, "It's not grout for those tiles, it's epoxy." Okay, still too many to choose from.

  23. I have to put your whole series in my TBR pile, Marcia! The comment about killing off a realtor made me laugh. Isn't that the truth! We've never built or renovated a house. I'm not sure our marriage could survive it. It is surprising though how often I read about bones being found in old structures. You know there was some heartbreaking story behind it. Your married couple sounds amazingly calm about all the choices to be made. Grout. No one flying off the handle. I think I could read it for that alone! I need a role model! Good grief. My capchta pictures are wheelchairs!

  24. Sorry to be late to the party today! But it was TEN degrees cooler this morning than it has been for weeks, and I gave in to the temptation to play hookey and went to the farmer's market. Only problem is that now I have to cook all that stuff I bought...

    Marcia, you are indeed a master plotter, and one of the best brainstorming buddies ever. For years we've called it "plotfesting." The things we've come up with saying, "What if..." and "And then..."

    For those of you who have read Marcia's books, you are in for a treat. I think, as I said, she's outdone herself here.

    For those of you who haven't, BUY THE NEW BOOK! Then go back and start at the beginning of the series. Reading a Hannah book is like sitting down with one your best friends, and, like Janet, I always feel bereft when I finish one. There's nothing quite like them.

    Marcia has a very special talent (along with the great plotting) for writing in first person. I think first person is difficult, and only a few people do it really well. Marcia is one them.

    I can't wait for the book about the Bigfoot convention. What a hoot!! And who else would think of it??

  25. I'm wondering how I have missed this series set in Annapolis, Maryland. When my husband was stationed at the Pentagon, we visited Annapolis several times and stayed a weekend one time. I fell in love with the place, and I have a favorite framed print of the harbor. In fact, I am smitten with Maryland in general. Another favorite getaway my husband and I did was to Ocean City and Assateague Island. Then, there is the nondescript in its d├ęcor restaurant that a friend took us to that had large, delicious crab cakes. And, Baltimore and so much more. Marcia, as far as I'm concerned you are in a perfect spot. Isn't the Mary Surratt house in Maryland, too? That was an interesting side trip.

    So, the only possible action I can take now is to get on board with this series. I'm usually a stickler for reading a series in order, but I wouldn't mind starting with Daughter of Ashes. Hidden bodies are so fascinating, and a child's body seems so horrific that you just have to find out what story is behind that. And gleaning the title from a Carl Sandburg poem is just perfect. Interesting info about the shoe in the wall for luck, Marcia.

    Oh, and about grout. Still in home renovation mode, over the last few months, and one complete bathroom reno, I appreciate the subtle differences in grout color and consider myself quite proficient at picking it out now. And then there's wall paint color, which has almost driven me into the realms of madness. The book Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't begin to touch how many grays there are, not to mention beiges and whites.

    Thanks so much, Marcia, for visiting Jungle Reds today. I'm excited about adding this series to my love of series reading. Hope you're attending Bouchercon in October where I can meet you and say hello.

  26. Looking forward to B'con, for sure. So many friends, old and new!!

  27. Kathy Reel, abandon your TBR pile for just a bit and read Daughter of Ashes. It's fun to read the series in order but not necessary. You will love these books!

  28. Plot festing with Debs is always fun. Once at a B&B in Somerset, UK we were trying to decide where to run Winnie off the road on her bike and the German tourists at the next table quietly gathered up their children and slipped out of the room.

  29. You had me at, "Of course, a realtor had to die." I'm 3 books behind in your series, Marcia, but must do as Debs suggested and read Daughter of Ashes first. Thanks, in advance, for "writing faster, please!"


  30. And, I almost forgot about the bonus of the book: how to research historical records. Yay!


  31. One of the many delights of this blog is discovering authors new to me. I like to read a series in order so just downloaded Sing It To Her Bones to my iPad. Much as I love the feel of an actual hardback book in my hands, I find it easier to read when I can increase the print size. But don't let that make me ineligible for a copy of the new book: I'd manage!

  32. A real delight to hear of an author new to me - with a recommendation from Deborah Crombie! Happy to now go find books by Marcia, and there's lots of them. Fun blog to read. Very informational, almost every day.

  33. Debs, I will follow your advice and add Daughter of Ashes to my next-read short stack (next 3 books). Thanks!

  34. Ooh, I've taken another book bullet (as we say on LibraryThing). Not sure how I've missed these so far, having grown up in Maryland. I'm looking forward to correcting this omission. Hope you'll be coming down our way for B'con!

    Jim in Durham

  35. Late in the day but so happy to have read today's post! I lived in Maryland for 40 years -- it is a wonderful state, full of interesting history and incredible places -- look carefully at a map of Maryland and see what the Eastern coastline really looks like -- so many inlets and bays and rivers are part of the Chesapeake Bay region. Definitely excited to hear about this series.

  36. How great to use news stories as plot lines. As a happy reader, I'm glad for any idea fertiliser for my favourite writers!

  37. Hi, Marcia, and congratulations on the new book! I find so many authors new to me at the Jungle Reds. I've checked with my library and you're now on my HOLD list.

  38. Thank you, Deborah, for letting us know about another good series. And a good mystery, with humour, is the best!

    M Hart Healy

  39. Thanks all! I had a great time chatting with you.