Friday, May 9, 2014

"Murder at Honeychurch Hall"

Hannah Dennison began her writing career in 1977 as a trainee reporter for a small West Country newspaper in Devon, England. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the Willamette Writers, British Crime Writers’ Association and Toastmasters International. Dennison's books include the Vicky Hill mysteries.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder at Honeychurch Hall, and reported the following:
As luck would have it, page 69 starts Chapter Six:
It took me ages to fall asleep. I wasn’t used to the silence. Living so close to Putney Bridge tube station, I no longer heard the last train rumbling out or the first train screeching in. Yet here, in the middle of nowhere, the quiet seemed—loud—apart from the occasional burst of scrabbling claws overhead that I was convinced were rats.

David’s insistence that I stick with Fakes & Treasures really bothered me. I wished I could make him understand that I wasn’t like Trudy. I’d never sought fame and I hated it. I was still haunted by the most humiliating moment of my life known as “The Big Sneeze” that continued to fly around the Internet on YouTube. Just thinking about it made me feel hot with embarrassment.

I must have drifted into dreamland because the next thing I heard were voices under my window. According to my old pink alarm clock, it was almost eight-thirty in the morning. I scrambled out of bed and peered outside where Mum and William in Wellington boots, stood ankle deep in a pool of muddy water.

William—sleeves rolled up—was rotating a long iron rod that was stuck into the ground. Presumably this was the infamous water valve that Eric loved to tamper with.
This was an interesting experiment that shows my 39-year-old protagonist Kat Stanford’s life is in transition. She’s just quit her hit antique road show but this has caused cracks in her relationship with her not-yet-divorced–boyfriend, David.

Kat’s newly-widowed mother Iris has recklessly purchased a dilapidated carriage house two hundred miles away on a country estate and had re-created Kat’s childhood bedroom for her—hence the “old pink alarm clock.” Kat’s worried because the two of them had agreed to go into business together so she has gone after Iris to make her “see sense” and return to London. Kat just can’t understand her mother’s odd decision—and we’ll learn that the reason is just one of many of Iris’s secrets.

We meet the stable manager, William (late fifties), who is fond of showing off his biceps with his “sleeves rolled up.” Kat thinks William is after her mother’s money. That particular morning, William and Iris “ankle deep in a pool of muddy water” hint at another “below-stairs” employee called Eric who is making Iris’s life difficult. And yes, we’ll soon find out why.

The story is set on a crumbling—but grand—country estate in Devon, England with a fish-out-of-water scenario for both mother and daughter. Yet mystery and murder aside, the core of the story is the relationship between a mother and daughter facing new and uncertain beginnings. I’m fascinated by the notion that it’s sometimes those who are nearest and dearest to us who are often the most duplicitous of all.

Here’s hoping that readers will feel intrigued enough to read on so they can find out exactly what roles David, William and Eric play in the mystery; perhaps to wonder if Kat will be successful in her quest to drag her mother back to London but most of all, they’ll want to know the reason behind Iris’s obsession with Honeychurch Hall.
Visit Hannah Dennison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue