Friday, October 29, 2021

The Midnight Hour--Elly Griffiths

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Every so often on Jungle Red we get to have fan girl moments and today is one of mine. I have devoured Elly Griffiths' books from the very first Ruth Galloway, and although I came a bit late to The Stranger Diaries, I loved that, too, and the subsequent novel featuring DS Harbinder Kaur. So how had I somehow missed The Brighton Mysteries?


I can only plead "too many books in the to-read pile." But a couple of months ago I discovered the first Brighton book, The Zig Zag Girl, in my Audible library, and once I started it, I was absolutely hooked. Of course the good thing about starting a series behind is that you can binge on the available books, and binge I did! I listened to the first five books (the narrator, James Langton, is wonderful) one right after the other and I felt bereft when I finished the fifth book. I love these characters, I love the Brighton in the fifties (and then the sixties) setting, and I love the glimpse into the world of magic and Variety. 

But what, I wondered, drew Elly from Ruth the contemporary archeologist and Harbinder the contemporary detective to post-war theater? The answer is as fascinating as the books, and here is Elly to explain.



ELLY GRIFFITHS: My grandfather, Frederick Goodwin, was born in 1897 in Hastings, England. Along with his two best friends, all three called Freddie, he lied about his age to join up in the First World War. They thought the war would be over by Christmas but, by December 1914, the other two Freddies were dead. Grandad fought on, first in the trenches and then in the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps. He ended the war, aged only twenty-two, as an Acting Major in the RFC.  Like a lot of veterans Grandad didn’t talk about his service, but the one thing he did say has stayed in my mind. ‘After everything I saw in the war, there was only one job I could do. Become a comedian.’

    So Frederick Goodwin became Dennis Lawes. Grandad said it was because the shorter name looked bigger on the playbills but I wonder if he just wanted to leave his old life behind him.


     Grandad was a Variety entertainer, sometimes called Vaudeville in the US. He travelled around the country, performing in a different town every week. Sunday was changeover day and, at certain train junctions, like the tea rooms on Crewe station, the performers would meet and swap stories. I have described this world in the opening pages of The Midnight Hour.

    Somehow, during this peripatetic life, Grandad met and married his first wife, my Grandmother. She died when I was young but I will never forget her name: Ellen (Elly) Griffiths. Ellen and Dennis had one child, my mother Sheila. For reasons of her own, Ellen left her husband and baby when Sheila was only two. Grandad then brought up his daughter on his own, taking her with him from show to show, staying in theatrical digs. My mum had lots of memories of this time: tap dancing on the empty stage, Grandad trying to darn her socks, friendly landladies and scary ventriloquists. She also remembered quite a few chorus girl ‘aunties’. I should say that Grandad married three times and all his wives were dancers. 

    When mum was ten, Grandad sent her to boarding school. It’s hard to know what else he could have done but Mum found the adjustment hard. She’d never been to school before and her companions were acrobats and sword-swallowers, not children her own age. But she made good friends at Heath House and her memories of that time became my children’s series, A Girl Called Justice

    In the holidays, Mum would join her father wherever he was performing. She would get on a train and travel, on her own, from Surrey to Blackpool, Glasgow or Scarborough. ‘When you got there, how did you know where the theatre was?’ I asked once. ‘In any town,’ said Mum, ‘I could always find the theatre.’

    I was very close to my Grandad. He died when I was fifteen and left me his playbills in his will. I didn’t really appreciate this at the time but, about ten years ago, my sister had some of them framed for me. I began to be obsessed with the names. Stephen Lang: not quite himself. Roy Dexter: novelty comedian. Dorothy Gray and Brother (why doesn’t he even get a name? maybe she had lots of brothers and rotated them in the act?). The Two Konyots (?). And, especially, Lou Lenny and Her Unrideable Mule. Was it a real animal or two people inside a mule costume? In either case, it’s easy to see why it was unrideable.



    Grandad was also on the bill with Jasper Maskelyne, the magician who famously put together the Second World War espionage group, The Magic Gang. They created dummy tanks and fake soldiers. They were meant to have made the Suez Canal disappear, through deployment of ‘dazzle lights’. I began to think of a story about a magician called Max Mephisto. He would have been involved in a similar group along with his friend, Edgar Stephens, who later became a police officer. That idea became The Zig Zag Girl, the first of the Brighton Mysteries. 

    The Midnight Hour is the sixth in the series. It’s set in 1965 and the world of entertainment is changing. But I still haven’t worked out the secret of the unrideable mule.

DEBS: Elly's grandfather Dennis Lawes looks just how I imagine her magician character, the dashing Max Mephisto.

Here's more about The Midnight Hour.


September 1965
When theatrical impresario Bert Billington is found dead in his retirement home in Rottingdean, an idyllic village outside Brighton, at first no-one thinks it’s suspicious. But when he is found to have been poisoned,  suspicion falls on his wife, ex Variety star Verity Malone.  But it’s 1965 and Verity has been reading Betty Friedan. She insists on being interviewed by a woman police officer and employs private detectives Emma Holmes and Sam Collins to clear her name.

WPC Meg Connolly finds herself caught between the PIs (one of whom is her boss’s wife) and her sometimes offensive colleagues. The resulting chase takes them to Whitby – where Max Mephisto is playing Dracula’s father – and into the Bert Billington’s dark past in the early days of Music Hall. It becomes clear that the murderer is someone who knows him very well indeed.

Elly Griffiths wrote four novels under her own name (Domenica de Rosa) before turning to crime with The Crossing Places, the first novel featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway. The Crossing Places won the Mary Higgins Clark award and three novels in the series have been shortlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year. The Night Hawks (Ruth #13, published in February 2021) was number two in the  Sunday Times Top Ten Bestsellers list. Elly also writes the Brighton Mysteries, set in the theatrical world of the 1950s. In 2016 Elly was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library for her body of work. Her first standalone mystery, The Stranger Diaries, won the 2020 Edgar award for Best Crime Novel. The second, The Postscript Murders, has recently been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. Elly also writes A Girl Called Justice, a mystery series for children. 

DEBS: Needless to say I have The Midnight Hour pre-ordered and cannot wait to find out what is happening in Brighton!

REDS and readers, do you follow authors from series to series, or standalone to standalone, even though the setting and even the time period may be quite different?  Who are some of your favorite series-shifting authors?

                                               
 



74 comments:

  1. This is fascinating,Elly . . . and I,too, am looking forward to reading "The Midnight Hour" . . .

    Yes, I do follow authors, whether from series or standalones . . . .

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    1. Do hope you enjoy it! Thanks for your support 😊

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  2. If a series interests me, I will follow an author. However, if they change things up too much, I'll leave them and wait for them to write something I will enjoy.

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    1. Sometimes authors do like a change for their own sanity! But I know what you mean 😊

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    2. I get why authors want to change things up. I'm perfectly fine with it. But if it doesn't interest me, I'm not going to follow them.

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  3. Yes, if it's a series author I really like, I will follow them when they publish standalone books, or books in another genre.

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    1. A few authors I read across genres/subgenres include the Reds' own JENN (cozy mystery series to romantic commedy) and LUCY/ROBERTA (culinary cozy mystery series to standalone thriller). I also love TORI ELDRIDGE's Lily Wong thriller series so much that I am looking forward to reading her upcoming standalone, Dancing Among The Flames which is supposed to be paranormal horror/suspense.

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  4. My goodness, Elly, what a fabulous family you have! Did you ever wish, as a child, that you had your mom's life as a little girl? How wonderful you could take inspiration from your grandfather for your books.

    I've been hearing your name for ages and am afraid I've never read any of your books. I love historical fiction, though, and see some bingeing on the Brighton Mysteries, not to mention the Ruth books, in my near future!

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    1. I think I did! I even wanted to go to boarding school although I’m sure I would have hated it. Afterwards I realised how strong my mum must have been to cope with that upbringing

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    2. I remember wanting braces because the girls who had them looked so cool. Glad I didn't need them!

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  5. What an interesting series, I’ll have to begin with the first.

    I certainly follow authors I like from series to series and standalone.
    Best exemples right here in JRW community : Rhys Bowen, Edith Maxwell, Jenn McKinlay and presently Roberta Isleib with Advice column that I like.

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  6. Hi Elly,

    I tend to follow authors, at least to try out their new work. Most of the time I like what they have written, sometimes not. I love Ruth and when I discovered Harbinger (sp) I caught up on her stories. I love your grandfather's life. He must have seen and experienced a lot traveling the country. There's a lot of authors who I've read who I follow - Jenn, Lucy/Roberta, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Edith, but I tend to favor cozies.

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    1. I’m so glad you like the Ruth and Harbinder books. Hope you like this one too. It’s my most cosy series, I think 😊

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  7. Elly love all your books. Currently re-reading all the Brighton mysteries.

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  8. Elly, congratulations on your new book and welcome to JRW. Thank you for sharing your family history with us. The 20th Century was tumultuous, to put it kindly, and all of our families have stories from that time but yours is fascinating! I look forward to reading the books that you have written which spring from that history.

    I try to begin a series with the first book, so it looks like I have many to choose from in your catalog and I see some binging in my future! As with Edith, you will be a new author for me, but Debs is my guru and what she recommends, I always love.

    I frequently follow authors from series to stand alone, genre to genre. Now the Audibles that Debs mentioned are going onto my "wish list."

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  9. Ooo, the Brighton books sound fascinating! I read THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS and really liked it.

    And yes, I'll follow an author from series to series.

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    1. rhisa.teman@gmail.comOctober 30, 2021 at 2:42 PM

      Dear Elly. I have read all your books several times and I have turned my sister and many friends on to them. Please please write a new Harbinger. I also love Deborah Crombie and Louise Penny. And Dorothy Gilman,s Mrs. Pollifax series and her stand alones. Thank you for hours of reading pleasure.

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  10. Hi, Elly, nice to meet you! I'd not read your Ruth Galloway books until recently (so many JRW writers and readers recommended them), and then I zoomed through the first six books. Great characters, including the marsh and the critters. And I'm pretty sure I've read one of the Brighton books, but will have to check my library. Max Mephisto is an unforgettable character, too.

    Genre doesn't usually matter to me, if I like an author's writing style. The one exception--and I know I'm unusual with this one--is Charlaine Harris's TruBlood series. I loved all her other books, but had no interest in Sookie and the bloodsuckers. Weird. Maybe it was just vampire overload from having a Twilight fan in the family.

    What a legacy your Grandad left you!

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    1. Same here Karen, I didn’t read the Sookie books but liked and read all the other ones.

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    2. The book I've read in the Brighton series is The Vanishing Box. So good.

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    3. So glad you’re enjoying the Ruth books. Thank you

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  11. I loved reading your family history and how you developed the Brighton books from it. Ruth Galloway is still my favorite, particularly in her home setting. I'm a marsh and barrier beach person.

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    1. So glad you like Ruth - and the Norfolk setting. She will always be close to my heart

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  12. Debs, the first 2 Brighton books are included in Audible Plus!! Yay. They are now in my library.

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    1. Judy, that's how I got hooked, lol. James Langton, the narrator, is now on my favorite narrator list, and I'm now listening to him read Charles Finch's Charles Lennox books. I have run through my Audible credits this last couple of months!

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    2. It's funny how quickly I became such a huge Audible fan. When they offer the first books in a series as included in "Plus," it's a great opportunity to meet new authors and listen to new narrators. Yippee. The Zig Zag Girl will be my next listen!

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  13. Elly, I have a couple of questions for you. Was it difficult to move from contemporary settings to historical? And did you plan to move the series forward a decade, or did it just come about through the evolution of the characters?

    I think that it's the strength of the character development that ties all of your novels together. That, and the attention to the details of your setting.

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    1. Thank you! That means a lot coming from someone who creates such brilliant characters. I moved the story on 10 years to give Emma time to get bored! Happy ever after is lovely but not always that interesting. I enjoyed the move to historical - no technology! - but do find the research takes a lot of time 😊

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  14. So fascinating, Elly, and congratulations on the new book!
    Don't you think actors and writers have much in common... we're always trying to triangulate our experience with a fictional character to make it feel authentic. We're storytellers, aware of an audience when we speak or write. So great that you have such a storied ancestor and that you knew him.

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    1. I think that’s very true! I loved acting at school and university and I definitely feel that writing can do similar things. I think of my grandad saying you always have to respect your audience. I also love reading my books aloud - there’s a thwarted actor in there somewhere!

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  15. I follow Elly Griffiths and have read everything twice at least. I review on NetGalley
    Actually I think it is 3 series? Ruth Galloway, Brighton series that WAS Magic Men and the newer Harbinder Kaur series ( 2 books currently) Kathleen Ingram https://myainbookblog.blogspot.com/

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    1. So glad you’re enjoying the books. The Brighton mysteries were originally called The Magic Men

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  16. Elly, I had never heard of this series and it sounds right up my alley. And yes, I follow authors I like from series to series and even between genres.

    Also, I was on your web site reading your biography and I just had to share that I, too, wrote Starsky and Hutch fanfic! In my stories, Starsky's little sister, who was, um, my age, went with them and solved cases. All mercifully lost in one of the many moves since that time.

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    1. Julia, so glad you shared that!!! :-)

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    2. How wonderful! I want to hear about Starsky’s sister 😊

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  17. Elly, congratulations on the new book and welcome to Jungle Reds! I thought I met you at Bouchercon 2017 and I remember a novel by a British author (man) whose name was almost like your name. I cannot recall the name, though. I think he wrote police procedurals?

    Goodwin is a good name. If your granddad knew Sign Language, I could see him signing his name Good - Win. Lawes is another name that could be signed "Law - es".

    After reading this post, now I want to read all of your books. That will be my project for 2022 since I already have too many books that I want to finish reading by New Years's Eve this year.

    Debs, interesting that you asked about series and stand alones. I was talking with a book friend yesterday and she mentioned that she does not read series books. I noticed that some people prefer standalones. Unfortunately I love many series and that is a big problem for me since I have limited space in my home.

    There are a few authors whom I love. There is a series that I LOVE now though I did not like the first few books in the series. It is a cozy mystery series with an awful character that was so dislikable that once they got rid of that awful person in the 6th ? book, I noticed that I started liking the books in that series. Other series are series that I loved from the beginning. And Yes, I liked the standalone novels from authors of series that I loved. As long as it is not horror.

    Diana

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    1. I think we did meet at Bouchercon! So interesting about sign language. There is a deaf British actress on Strictly Come Dancing this year and she has introduced BSL into her routines

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    2. Yes, Rose! I think she's done marvelously!

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  18. Thanks for filling in a sad hole in my book knowledge.
    Vaudeville was filled with amazingly talented people, including Buster Keaton and his parents.
    New Vaudeville brought us more wonderful talents like Bill Irwin.

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  19. I am SUCH A FAN. A raging, proselytizing, campaigning hand-selling fan. THE STRANGER DIARIES is one of my favorite books ever ever ever, and I am swooning with delight. Elly! You are an instant auto-buy, and...and now I will stop gushing.
    And this family is a treasure. So many elements of heartbreak and survival. Your grandfather knew you would appreciate those posters someday! What a legacy.

    I'm more of a standalone person in general. But the best series, I think, can be read individually with equal (although different) pleasure.

    (And speaking of vaudeville, yesterday, for the first time, I saw the Abbott and Costello "Susquehanna Hat Company" skit. It is ridiculously hilarious.)

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    1. Aw Hank - you are always so kind and generous. Thank you! It was wonderful to hear you reading from The Stranger Diaries in First chapter fun xoxo

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    2. Oh, a complete pleasure! (But I was so intimidated, I have to admit.) Cannot wait to have you back...Hmmm. Emailing you!

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  20. How have I missed this series? I love the backstory of your mum and your grandfather, Elly. What a rich family history. I can't not wait to dive in! Congratulations on the release of the latest.

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  21. Your grandfather is gorgeous! Slap a mustache on him and he is how I pictured Max Mephisto. I think of the Brighton mysteries as the Magic Men mysteries and I love the characters. So as to the question, yes. I will read different series from the same author. I'm rarely disappointed. Love Ruth and Nelson and their gang. And the stand alones. I'm still chuckling at the character with the coffee shop who mindfully makes the drinks.

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    1. Thank you so much! I have that, in my head, Max looks a lot like grandad 😊

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  22. What a wonderful family history! Did you ever learn what happened to your grandmother? It seems your Elly is a tribute.

    I will follow writers among series and into the world of stand-a-lones. While I often get attached to a particular series and its characters, I find that the quality of the writing is what brings me along.

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    1. My mother met her mother again when she was an adult. It was a complicated relationship- grandma was a complicated woman - but there was love there too

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  23. I am a huge fan of the Brighton Mysteries. In fact, they were my first foray into Elly Griffith's wonderful writing.

    In my experience, strong writing is much more important than genre. So if I like someone's writing in one genre, I am quite likely to enjoy their writing in another. I'm perfectly happy to sample a standalone by an author whose series I love, or to follow a favorite mystery writer into women's fiction or some other genre. There are genres I don't really enjoy, and if that good author goes there I may not follow, but I don't feel that's any reflection on them. (No horror for me, nor bodice-rippers.)

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    1. So glad you’re enjoying the Brighton mysteries

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  24. I love all your books, Elly, and will follow you wherever you want to go as a writer. I just finished chain-reading the Brighton books, with the new one on pre-order, and I've been a fan of Ruth's for a long time. The only books I haven't dipped into are the YA novels, and they're next.

    Bingeing a series seems to be my pattern during the quarantine months. Before the Brighton books it was Iona Wishaw's Lane Winslow novels, and now I'm dipping into Darcie Wilde's Rosalind Thorne Regency mysteries. So good! Of course I will take time out for stand-alones, too. Loved, loved, loved Jenn's new Wait For It!

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    1. I meant to say, the other evening I found myself standing in a little conference room in the back of the lower level of the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, chatting with Hannah, who is nearly three years old. Hannah's mother was tending to Charlotte, who is nine months. We could hear the band warming up onstage through the in-house speakers and it occurred to me that Hannah will have a very remarkable upbringing. Between her father, the trumpet player, and her mother, the talented trombonist, Hannah will grow up hearing some of the best classical ensembles all around the world, meet the top tier of classical soloists, and visit legendary concert halls. She will think it is all very mundane and boring.

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    2. Thank you so much! I feel like that when I find a new writer too - most recently Liane Moriarty. I’m so glad that you feel that way about my books

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  25. Anybody who knows me very well knows how much I love all of Elly Griffiths' books, and I'd like to think that my continual praise of them is what has made them fans, too. The moment that I met Elly/Dom at the Albany Bouchercon, I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend, and, thus, she has become a treasured friend. So, Dom, welcome to Jungle Reds, a blog I read and try to comment on every day. I'm going to say a few comments about your books in answering the prompt question below, but you know that I adore all your series. I was happy to learn a little more about your mother, too, in your post here. I always think of how you told me that she would swim in the sea year-round and how you've followed that swimming in the sea, but not year-round. I can't imagine how your mother was able to do that.

    I think I've answered the last question already, as Elly Griffiths is my favorite series shifting author. I must admit that as in love with the Ruth series as I was, I wasn't convinced I would love the Brighton series, but, of course, I did and do. The Harbinder books, or what began as a stand-alone in The Stranger Diaries, are proof that Dom's brain is bursting with great characters and stories. And, then there is the marvelous Justice Jones children's series, which takes me back to the feeling I had as a child when I first fell in love with mysteries. The Justice Jones series really can't be labeled a children's series, as it is definitely for mystery-loving grown-ups, too, Oh, and one of my favorite things about the Justice series is that it takes place in the 1930s, when there were no cellphones or Internet or Google of anything else to help with detecting. It's just pure old-fashioned detecting. And, I must add about my beloved Ruth series that I have tried in vain to get Elly to do away with Nelson's wife Michelle, but she has turned all my ideas down.

    I have to add our Jungle Reds' Rhys to my list of favorite series-shifting authors. From Evan Evans to Lady Georgie to Molly Murphy to her stand-alones, I love all of them. How these authors write so many different books in the time allotment they do is beyond me.

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    1. Kathy, I have to say I am shocked--shocked!-- that you didn't insist I read the Brighton books before now!

      I think it must have been in Albany that I met Dom for the first time, too. I have a good friend who has just moved very near Brighton, so visiting her and Max and Edgar's Brighton haunts are now on my major next-trip list!!

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    2. Oh, and I ordered the first Justice Jones book from the UK last year and loved that, too.

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    3. Hahaha! I am embarrassed that I dropped the ball on getting you to read the Brighton series. I am hoping to go to England next year or in 2023 at the latest. You should let me know when you're going, as I'm planning on a visit to Brighton to see Dom. We could all meet up. I might have to do two trips. I've been thinking about taking my family with me on an England trip, but I also want to do a trip with just one or two lady friends. I'm not sure who yet. I have a couple of guy friends going next spring, and I'd love to meet up with them in London. One of those friends is my next-door-neighbor friend from childhood.

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    4. Dear Kathy - I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend when I met you in Albany too. Perhaps we knew each other in a former life? Cathbad would definitely think so! Thank you for all your support of all my books. Especially glad that you like Justice xoxo

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    5. I was in Albany, but was much more of a newbie than I am now. Missed Elly - and Kathy - entirely!

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    6. Dom, Cathbad would indeed chalk it up to a previous life friendship. Sounds reasonable to me. Edith, I'm so glad we did eventually meet.

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  26. I enjoy all your series except the Justice Jones which I haven't been able to find yet. I do follow authors and usually but not always like all their work.

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    1. So glad you’re enjoying the books

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    2. Sally, I ordered from Book Depository in the UK. They are very fast AND reasonable.

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    3. Great recommendation Debs. Thank you xx

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  27. I’m such a fan! Have read the Ruth series from the start and recently powered through Brighton and started Harbinder. It was such a treat listening to you on the Shedunnit Podcast. Your bright and cheery voice is not at all what I would have expected from the author of the Ruth Galloway series. Don’t ask me why. It’s like tuning into an episode of Vera, only to hear her singing The Sound of
    Music or something. Anyway, love the books and looking forward to each new addition.

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  28. Hi Elly, I have enjoyed the Ruth series so much. There are several things that I really appreciate about Ruth. First she has a science background and takes charge of the situation based upon her being "the expert." Having been an engineer; I like seeing a woman in charge. I also like how she doesn't stress the small stuff in raising her daughter. I am now reading the Brighton Series and am enjoying it too. I like the relationships between your characters.

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  29. I will follow favorite authors... Elly is def. one. I have two of the Brighton books left to read, having read all her others. Elly's "Grandad" looks very much like my father, so I had to do a double take seeing his photo... from descriptions in the books, I had been sort of picturing my Dad as Max while reading. My Dad was also very handsome and dashing, but isn't of the same era and was all American, so no, no relation. Also, I took a few archeology courses at Uni, so its fair to assume I really enjoy reading about Ruth's adventures too.

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