If you love Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, or Jenn McKinlay, don’t miss Marty Wingate’s charming Birds of a Feather series! InEmpty Nest, Julia Lanchester’s life is interrupted by a murder most foul—and a killer who’s watching her like a hawk.
Manager of a tourist center in a quaint British village, Julia Lanchester finds herself with more ideas than time. Her boss is the Earl Fotheringill himself, but apart from him, she doesn’t mix well with the aristocracy. Unfortunately, toxic mold forces her from her cottage and into one of the earl’s countless spare rooms at the Hall. She tries to get a handle on her overload of work, while she finds herself arguing with dinner guests, chaffing at the sudden interest the earl’s son has in running the estate, and missing her new beau, Michael Sedgwick.
Her life goes from bad to sinister when Julia discovers poisoned sparrowhawks on the expansive estate grounds. And soon after, she finds one of the Hall’s visitors murdered—felled by the same poison. While simultaneously both spooked and angry, she still can’t keep herself from snooping, and dragging Michael along into her investigation. But will she find the culprit before her own wings are clipped?
A Few of My Favorite Things
By Marty Wingate
Writers spend a great deal of time with the characters and settings they create, and I say, if you’re going to let something take over your life, why not make it something you enjoy? That’s why I love writing traditional – aka cozy – mysteries. Do I want to spend 80,000 words describing gruesome and despicable acts when instead, I could be describing what fills the plates in the window at Nuala’s Tea Room? (Blackberry sponge, freshly made scones, and a heavily frosted chocolate cake, just in case you’re wondering.)
When I write about Smeaton-under-Lyme, the English village where Julia Lanchester, the protagonist in Empty Nest, lives, I enter a world I dearly love, one that I’ve pieced together from the many English villages where I’ve spent time. It’s all quite familiar to me – from Nuala’s Tea Room, to Three Bags Full (the wool shop) to the Stoat and Hare, one of the two village pubs. And because it’s the Birds of a Feather mystery series, there are birds – Julia learned to love them from her father, a celebrity ornithologist. She has a great fondness for pied wagtails, bramblings, and even sparrow hawks. She sees them everywhere, these birds of field, garden, and wood.
Julia is the manager of the tiny tourist information center in the village, which is set in the Suffolk countryside. She and her co-worker fill racks of maps and brochures about the Fotheringill estate – its rich history, which includes local versions of momentous occasions in English history, such as the invasion by the Vikings and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. They also chat up any visitor that comes along, touting the delights of the area. Julia, a detail-oriented person and really good at ordering the right number of chairs for a large event, pushes herself to think Big, and so finds herself in charge of a pub quiz to attract American tourists, a Christmas Market, and a Boxing Day Bird Count.
Her dad helps out with that. And make no mistake – a celebrity ornithologist in Britain is not that far-fetched. The BBC Two television program “Springwatch” is hugely popular with segments from live nest cams (Look – the baby swifts are hatching!) to instructions on how to build a birdfeeder. Rupert Lanchester, Julia’s dad, would fit right in.
In Empty Nest as in all cozy mysteries, there is, unfortunately, a pesky murder to solve. Also on Julia’s agenda – a boyfriend to figure out, a twitcher (a rabid rare-bird enthusiast) to look after – and there is also Lord Fotheringill, the earl of the manor himself, to keep at arm’s length. It’s a bit difficult, because Julia has had to move into the his home, Hoggin Hall, while her own little cottage is under repair.
Although a setting – or a character, for that matter – is often a blend of many places or people, the outside of Hoggin Hall is quite real. It’s a large brick building, its north and south wing forming a large courtyard and with four turrets at each corner. I see every time I go back to visit the real Smeaton-under-Lyme.
Villages and pubs and birds and cake – these are, you might say, just a few of my favorite things.
Marty Wingate is the author of two previous Potting Shed mysteries, The Garden Plot and The Red Book of Primrose House. Her new Birds of a Feather Mystery series debuted with The Rhyme of the Magpie. Wingate is a regular contributor to Country Gardens and other magazines. She also leads gardening tours throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and North America. More Potting Shed and Birds of a Feather mysteries are planned.