A New Golden Age-Style Mystery (with bonus cocktail recipe!) from Ellen Seltz: Mister Mottley and the Dying Fall

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The only way out is a long way down.

Edmund Mottley, Specialist in Discreet Enquiries, is in a precarious position: his old flame Susan needs his help. Her new fiance is accused of murder, and she wants Mottley to clear his name.

Mottley would rather jump off a cliff than get involved, but when Susan is threatened by a shadowy crime syndicate, Mottley leaps to her aid.
Mottley and Baker, his intrepid valet, pursue the case to an island of otherworldly beauty. But the island is haunted by secrets, treachery, madness, and … something more.
Every clue crumbles under their feet, pushing Mottley’s powers of deduction — and Baker’s loyalty — to the limit. With his own life on the line, can Mottley save Susan before time runs out.  The Mottley & Baker Mysteries are classic whodunnits set in the Golden Age of 1930’s traditional detectives. If you like Miss Marple’s pastoral puzzles or Albert Campion’s rollicking adventures, you’ll fall hard for this cozy historical mystery adventure.


Guest Post

Writing for Refreshment

Ellen Seltz

“The cup of tea on arrival at a country house is a thing which, as a rule, I particularly enjoy. I like the crackling logs, the shaded lights, the scent of buttered toast, the general atmosphere of leisured cosiness.”

― P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

 

Bertie Wooster sums up here the essence of my lifelong love for good old-fashioned mysteries:  They’re really a kind of hospitality. “Come right in, make yourself comfortable,” the author seems to say. “Just for a while, put your worries aside, enjoy the scenery, and take some refreshment.”

Perhaps it’s my training in live theater, but I always feel that my readers and my characters are sharing space – my space. It’s my job to meet their needs, take care of all the details, and make sure everyone gets the most out of the experience.

I thought, for a visit here at Island Confidential in Hawaii, something light and cool would be more suitable than hot tea and toast. So let me introduce you to the gimblet cocktail.

The gimblet, like its more famous sibling, the gimlet, features a combination of lime, spirits, and soda water, served ice-cold. The difference is that the gimblet includes fresh lime juice instead of lime syrup. It’s similar to a lime rickey, but without added sugar.

Like the classic gin & tonic with lemon, the origins of the gimblet and gimlet trace back to the days of British naval exploration and empire – ways to make the medicinal properties of citrus, juniper, and quinine more palatable. Those “make the best of it” snorts evolved into a palate-pleasing balance of flavor, temperature, and kick.

You make a gimblet by mixing one part lime juice to three parts gin. Shake well over ice and strain into a medium glass, then fill to the top with soda water. Being ahead of his time, Mottley prefers his gimblet with vodka.

The gimblet, though little-known today, is immortalized in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. The bar at the Savoy Hotel was a mainstay of jazz-age cocktail culture, and the bartender Harry Craddock was a celebrated expert with an encyclopedic knowledge of mixology. His recipes remain a gold standard and basic reference text for cocktail aficionados everywhere.

Some people find the gimblet overwhelmingly tart, but – well, not to put too fine a point on it, Mottley can be a bit tart in his attitude. It suits him. I’m not much of a drinker myself, but I do enjoy unsweetened lime or grapefruit-flavored sparkling water, so perhaps Mottley inherited his taste for tartness from me.

The gimblet pops up in my new book as a prelude to some pointed questions from Mottley’s old flame Susan Parton. Ever a good hostess, Susan is thoughtful enough to bring Mottley his favorite drink before she puts him on the spot. In fiction as in life, a difficult scene goes better when you have something to drink.

Mottley made his way to a quiet corner and dropped into a low chair. Susan materialised at his elbow and handed him a vodka with fresh lime and soda on ice. She perched on the arm of his chair as he sipped.

“All right?”

“Very nice. If ever you need a job, tell Craddock at the Savoy I sent you.”

“Are you going to take our case?”

“Look, Bunny, are you sure you want me mucking about with this? Denis is in no danger, there’s no legal case against him. Even if his money’s tied up for years, that’s hardly a problem for you.”

“It’s not the money, Edmund. It’s the people. Half the guests we invited tonight were mysteriously ill or otherwise engaged. We were cut dead at Chez Dupin last night.”

“People!” Mottley snorted. “Since when do you care about people? Doesn’t love conquer all, and what not?”

She gazed into his eyes, too intent to take offence. “I know you’ve a low opinion of my intelligence, but I’ve never been quite that silly.”

Mottley shifted in his chair. “My dear girl, of course not…”

“This isn’t a story to dine out on. It isn’t romantic. Denis has worked his whole life to build up that firm. Of course I don’t believe he’s a killer, but I can tell he’s keeping something from me. I just want to know the truth.”

“Bunny.” Mottley covered her hand with his own.

She snatched her hand back. “Don’t Bunny me! You owe me, Edmund. I’ve found someone who doesn’t think of me as a little sister. Someone who loves me back.”

“Oof… I’m sorry, Susan, I’ve said so. I meant it.”

“We need your help.” She leaned in and whispered, “You owe me.”


About The Author  

Ellen Seltz worked in the entertainment industry for twenty years, from Miami to New York and points in between. Her primary roles were actress and producer, but she also served as a comedy sketch writer, librettist, voice artist, propmaster, costumer, production assistant, camera operator and general dogsbody.

She turned to fiction writing in the vain hope that the performers would do as they were told. Joke’s on her.

Ellen is a native of Birmingham, Alabama, where she now lives with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys vegetable gardening and vintage-style sewing.

 

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A new traditional mystery from R. Franklin James: The Bell Tolls

Hollis Morgan has survived imprisonment, received a pardon and persevered to finally become a probate attorney. Tough as she is, her newest case will further test her mettle. She discovers her client, Matthias Bell, is a deceased blackmailer whose last wish was to return the damaging documents letting his victims off the hook. It falls to Hollis to give them the good news. But it becomes apparent that Bell was murdered, and the victims of “Bell’s tolls” are now suspects.

Hollis’ white-collar criminal past has left her with keen survival instincts. A gifted liar, she knows a liar when she sees one. A lot of people in this case are lying and one is a killer.

On top of that, she’s also representing a dying stripper, a wealthy widow whose estranged daughter spurns her attempts at reconciliation, but whose husband sees the potential inheritance as mending all wounds.

Clients aside, Hollis is defensive and wary. Her mother, who hasn’t spoken to her for years, needs a kidney, and Hollis is a match, but neither are ready to put away the past. With Hollis’ fiancé and emotional support off on an undercover mission for Homeland Security, she must count on her own survival instincts. She is swept along on an emotional roller coaster as her absent love and her family’s coldness take their own toll.

Work is her salvation. The specter of a killer keeps her focused. Hollis has always had to rely on her wits, but now she finds that others who don’t have her well-being in mind are relying on them as well.


Interview with protagonist Hollis Morgan and Author R. Franklin James

Island Confidential Interview

Ms. Morgan and Ms. James, thank you both for stopping by Island Confidential. Ms. Morgan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, so our readers can get to know the protagonist a little better?

I’m called Hollis Morgan, I used the word “called” because due to life circumstances I ditched my first name, moved my middle name up front, and retook my maiden name after dropping my married one. I am not your usual protagonist. I was born and raised in California (that’s not the unusual part). Like many families mine is more dysfunctional than most. I’ve been told I’m an attractive woman with thick auburn hair and brown eyes, although at five foot three, I refuse to wear stilettos to compensate. When you catch up to my story I’m just finishing my fifth year off of parole (now, that’s the unusual part).

Yep, I’m an ex-con. I spent 18 months of a three year sentence in a California prison for insurance fraud. I was studying in law school when my then husband set me up to take the fall for his criminal activities. His logic was that as a first time offender, I would never do time—tell it to the judge that sentenced me.

From the frying pan, into the fire is how I would describe my marriage. I married my college sweetheart. The first year of our marriage was heaven, the second year was like purgatory and the third year was hell.  I divorced him from prison and I swore to myself that when I got out I would get my life back. And I stuck to my word, once on parole, I buried my trust muscles deep in my heart and set out to get a judicial pardon, finish law school, take the bar and get my life back on track. I found work as a paralegal, which at that time, was as close to the law as I could get.

I was doubly dumped when my family, a conservative self-conscious bunch, literally turned their backs on me when I left the courtroom to start my sentence. That wasn’t a real surprise, I knew they would never forgive me for embarrassing them, My family resembled strangers who were stuck on the same piece of real estate. We never went on vacations because that would require a certain amount of closeness we didn’t have. Emotions were frowned upon and conversation discouraged.

In the meantime my parole officer, Jeffrey Wallace, introduced me to the Fallen Angels Book Club. The Fallen Angels were former white-collar crime parolees of Jeffrey’s who were trying to re-integrate themselves back into society.  Most had changed their names, all had maintained the paranoia and lack of trust that comes from having your life turned upside down, and all of us loved books.

I admit I’m more paranoid than the others. I have a special talent, I can spot a liar within seconds and as a result I’m an excellent prevaricator. I enjoy the book club because I can be myself and talk about my favorite pastime, reading a good book. But my resolve was broken when one of the Club members was murdered like an antagonist in one of our monthly selections. It doesn’t take the police long to identify our Club as their viable pool of ex-con suspects. The police are even more convinced when a second member is murdered, similar to another book club selection. Why would a member do such a stupid, obvious crime?

I feel as if I’m in the early stages of drowning. In addition to being a murder suspect and losing my freedom–again, it appears my eagerness to solve the killings may have put me in line as the next murder victim.

Ms. James, you’ve brought Hollis Morgan to life–how much do you have in common with her? 

I’m not as courageous or self-composed as Hollis. But I do connect with her sense of fairness and being able to read people fairly quickly. And of course I love books. If I met her in real life – I would want to be her friend.

Do your characters change and evolve?

Yes. It’s taken Hollis years and several relationships (not all romantic) to trust again and to forgive again—starting with herself.

Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean? 

I haven’t thought of killing a real person, but I have thought of killing a person “type”.  Cruel and ignorant people are at the top of my “Do Away With” list.

How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?

My series takes place in northern California, but in a made-up city. It allows me to sprinkle in real places, personalities and events, without having to be out of date with new developments and locale changes.

When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?

Natalie Portman is Hollis, James Marsden as John Faber (boyfriend), Emily Blunt as Stephanie Ross (girlfriend), Sydney Park as Rena Gabriel (girlfriend)  and Jessica Lange as Hollis’ mother, Ava Morgan.

 

What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received as an author?

The best advice I ever received as an author, was to read my manuscript out loud before I delivered it to my publisher.

The worst advice I ever received was from a couple of beta readers who suggested to cut a character because he was a distraction. I resisted because his voice was in my head. That character became the most beloved and lasted throughout the series.

 


About the Author

R. Franklin James grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. From there she cultivated a different type of writing—legislation and public policy. After serving as Deputy Mayor for the City of Los Angeles, under millionaire Richard Riordan, she went back to her first love—writing, and in 2013 her debut novel, THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB was published by Camel Press. Her second book in The Hollis Morgan Mystery Series, STICKS & STONES, was followed by THE RETURN OF THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB, and THE TRADE LISTTHE BELL TOLLS, book five was released in June 2017.

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Interview: Cathy Ace, author of The Corpse with the Diamond Hand

Professor Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson have finally said ‘I do’. To celebrate, they set sail on a romantic Hawaiian honeymoon cruise and, for nearly two weeks, the mystery solving newlyweds are worry-free. But then a man drops dead in the games room right in front of them and Cait and Bud can’t help but lend their expertise.

To the others in the games room, the sudden death of Tommy Trussler—the ship’s onboard card-game tutor—appears to have been from natural causes. But the professor suspects something much more sinister. With only two days left at sea—and thousands of possible suspects—the head of security is eager to solve the case and invites Cait and Bud to aid in the investigation. But the unique circumstances of an at-sea investigation mean their involvement cannot be official, and Cait must lean on her charm to conduct her own covert interviews.

Complete with laugh-out-loud moments and mouth-watering descriptions of the ship’s cuisine, the case of the The Corpse with the Diamond Hand will once again have you marvelling at Cait’s cleverness as she brings another murderer to justice.


The Corpse with the Diamond Hand is #6 in the Cait Morgan Mysteries.

 

Q: Aloha Cathy, thanks for stopping by! When I saw that The Corpse with the Diamond Hand was set in Hawaii, and featured a sleuthing professor no less, I had to read it for myself. I really enjoyed it! It was impeccably researched, tightly plotted, and fast paced. It started with a bang and pulled me through one twist after another, but it wasn’t all action; it was also rich with detail.  I really enjoyed seeing Hawaii through the eyes of an author who’s obviously spent time there observing. I also liked spending time with Cait and now I can’t wait for the next adventure. For those readers who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Cait and Bud, can you tell us what the book is about?

A: The setting for the book is a cruise ship that’s visited the Hawaiian Islands, prior to its journey across the Pacific to Vancouver. Cait Morgan, a Welsh Canadian professor of criminal psychology who specializes in victim profiling at the University of Vancouver, is enjoying a belated honeymoon with her “relatively new” husband, Bud Anderson , a retired homicide detective. They still have two sea-days left before they arrive at their home port of Vancouver when Tommy Trussler, the man employed by the cruise-line to teach card games on the ship, drops dead pretty much in front of them. Called in by the ship’s head of security to lend their special skills to the investigation, Cait and Bud initially focus on working out “whodunit”, only to discover they need to protect the innocent, as well as unmask the audacious culprit.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the history between Cait and Bud? And talk about how, over a series, you might decide to change some elements but keep others constant?

A: In the first book in this series, THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, we met Cait sleuthing alone in the south of France, and learned Bud was a friend and work colleague – indeed, you might say he was her boss, because he was the one who’d been hiring her, on occasion, to profile victims on behalf of his homicide team. Cait trusts Bud enough to call upon him when she’s in trouble, as she does in the first in the series. Events unfold in that book which allow Bud and Cait to think about dating. However, because Cait and Bud are so busy solving puzzling whodunits within the books, their relationship grows “between the books”. This means there’s only a hint of romance in my work, but readers can easily spot how things are developing between two mature adults who each have enough tragedy in their past lives to make a new start seem appealing – though maybe a little scary. We learn more about their past lives, their present attachment, and their future plans, in each book.

The way my series is written, each book has an entirely new cast of characters, and a fresh location. Cait and Bud are the constants as they travel to BC’s wine country (THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE), to a resort on the Pacific coast of Mexico near Puerto Vallarta (THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB), and to Las Vegas (THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR). We most recently met them holed up in a creepy Welsh castle where they were planning their destination wedding, in THE CORPSE WITH THE SAPPHIRE EYES. Because of the way jacket notes work, I’m not really giving anything away when I tell you that, despite some terrible problems, they do finally manage to get married, and are now on their honeymoon. One of the things I was keen to avoid was a constant “will they, won’t they” issue across too many books – so I think they’re on just about the right trajectory. Challenges they face, even though their wedding is behind them, are Bud accepting his retirement, and Cait – who has married at the age of forty-eight and a half – getting used to no longer living a single, solitary, academic life anymore.

Q: Writing closed room mysteries is one of the most challenging things to do. How do you do your research and come up with solutions?

A: I enjoy reading books where only a small group of people could have dunnit – so that’s what I write. But, beyond that, I try to tell a slightly different type of tale each time. I’m pretty certain my readers are a well-read bunch, so are familiar with the different sub-genres of traditional crime fiction, and I like to play with that idea. My first book was a classic “dinner table” mystery, focusing on the diners at a deadly meal at a swish apartment block in the south of France. My second involved an entire wine-growing village-style community, where vintners and restaurateurs rubbed cold shoulders, and indulged in some strange cult-like activities. In the book set in Mexico, an ex-pat community living in their newly-constructed “wonderland” at an agave plantation provided the pool of suspects, and in my fourth – possibly the most challenging to write (which might be why it won the Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery in 2015) I set up a situation where a corpse and a group of suspects were locked in one room. In many respects it’s a bit like “And Then there Were None” but set in a room, rather than on an island. Of course the bodies pile up and the suspect pool dwindles, and at times I wished I’d decided on a less constricted setting, but, as readers told me, that was the thrill of the story!

In the fifth book I allowed myself to indulge in a Nancy Drew meets Edgar Allen Poe situation, where creepy corridors, deadly staircases, and bewildering acts of vandalism take their toll on the weird family hosting Cait and Bud at their clifftop Welsh castle. In Cait’s sixth adventure, while a cruise ship might seem to provide a massive pool of potential killers, we quickly find that someone in the room at the time of the death in question must have had a hand in the killing.

All classic set-ups, all with a little twist, but all remaining true to a general theme. With Cait’s background in criminal psychology, it’s how the mind of the killer works, rather than the forensics of the case, that tends to be the core of the puzzle – though, of course, how-dunnit is always a good game to play while considering who-dunnit. For the who-dunnit part of the puzzle, like my character Cait Morgan, my own background is in psychology, which I enjoy having the chance to “apply” in my tales. I carry out a great deal of research into the how-dunnit part of my puzzles. I’m fortunate to have built an online relationship with a very accommodating coroner, whose responses to my emails are wonderfully detailed. That said, I hope no one is watching my search history, because the number of methods of killing people it covers is quite alarming!

Q: What is the difference between a closed room mystery and a locked room mystery? 

A: Locked room mysteries are when the body is inside a locked room and the puzzle is how anyone did it. I will write one of those, but I haven’t done so yet – I write closed room/closed circle mysteries where only a small number of people could have done it…which is where the puzzle lies.

Q: And speaking of research, do you personally visit every setting that you write about?

A: Absolutely. I always choose a place I’ve spent a good deal of time in already. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have traveled a great deal throughout my life – often working in a city or an area for months, so I had the chance to get to know places like an “insider”. Now I can take readers to locations I know well, and love, in my books. The setting for THE CORPSE WITH THE DIAMOND HAND is especially close to my heart because, on one of my many visits to Hawaii, my husband and I were married at a friend’s home near Honolulu, and we took this very cruise, sailing back to our home in Vancouver.

By the way, I also always make sure I have eaten and drunk everything Cait consumes – a part of the research I am happy to undertake…all in the quest for authenticity, you understand!

Q: In keeping with the Golden Age spirit of closed room mysteries, your covers are beautifully retro. Can you tell us a little about those–how was it decided to go for that vintage feel, and who does them?

A: Thank you – I adore my book covers! I’m fortunate that my publishing house, TouchWood Editions, allows me to be very “hands on” with them. They have an in-house artist, Pete Kohut, who puts a lot of time into finding exactly the right photograph, based upon the handful I send him with my vision for the cover. Usually he finds a much better version of the key elements I’ve put forward. Once he has the right photo and layout, he adds a touch of ageing, to give the cover the right feel. His choice of typeface is the icing on the cake. I think it respects the feeling of the Golden Age of the 1930’s without aping it. The style was established with the first in the series and, because each book has a different setting, it’s fun to try to make the series of covers look like a retro series of travel posters.

Q: When people talk about “cozy” mysteries, it can mean anything from “cats, recipes and punny title” to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books. Do you consider your series “cozy?” “Traditional?” Something else?

A: I always think of the term “cozy” as referring to a continuum of many different types of works. What they all have in common (generally speaking) is a lack of foul language, no/little violence on the page, no sex on the page, and no children or animals being killed/harmed. I’m comfortable with that, because there’s such a lot left to work with. Within that range I’d say I write “traditional” mysteries; there are no cats (though there’s Marty, Bud’s tubby, black Labrador), recipes (though there’s usually a good deal of description of the local foods in which Cait loves to indulge), or even a punny title (I accept that each book needing a title incorporating a corpse with a precious body part is something that creates its own challenges, but I enjoy it!). However, there are lots of clues, red herrings, suspects, intriguing facts emerging, and, ultimately, there’s the classic denouement where the sleuth (in my case she’s not an absolute amateur, as she is well versed in criminal psychology) confronts all the suspects and unmasks the perpetrator/s. One of the review quotes I’m most proud of is from The Globe and Mail when it referred to my work as having “…touches of Christie or Marsh, but with a bouquet of Kinsey Millhone…”. It made me so happy, I actually cried.

Q:  Writing can be very solitary. How do you balance the need for solitude with the need to get out and be with people?

A: I’m very fortunate to live in a peaceful, rural haven. Even so, I’m never alone. My two chocolate Labradors are my constant companions, and, even if they desert me for a bout of squirreling, or are snoring on the sofa (as they are right now) I have lots of people in my head talking to me all the time! I’ve always been happy with my own company, but, when I do socialize, I really throw myself into it, and enjoy it. For me, this life allows me the perfect balance.

Q: What’s next for Cait and Bud?

A: I’m delighted to tell you they’re off to one of my favorite cities, Amsterdam, in THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE, which comes out in the spring of 2016. In this book they have the chance to fill in some of Bud’s missing family background, after he discovers his mother had a brother she never, ever mentioned. Was her long-lost sibling the scoundrel she assures her son he was, or a talented artist and Van Gogh devotee who could have made so much more of his life? After that, Cait is sent by her university to teach a special course in Budapest, so in the fall of 2016 we get to meet THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS. On this occasion, Bud has to stay in Canada when Cait jets off to endure a Hungarian winter. Cait’s alone again, and faced with specters from a Canadian cold case, that might have its roots in the cold war.

 


About The Author  

Cathy Ace
About The Author –
Originally from Wales, now-Canadian Cathy Ace writes the Cait Morgan Mysteries. Her series has found her criminal psychologist, foodie sleuth stumbling upon Corpses with a Silver Tongue, a Golden Nose, an Emerald Thumb, Platinum Hair, Sapphire Eyes and, now, a Diamond Hand during her globetrotting. The winner of The Bony Blithe Award for Best Light Mystery in 2015, when not helping Cait solve traditional, closed-circle mysteries, Cathy’s a keen gardener, ably assisted by her green-pawed chocolate Labradors.

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