Saturday, May 29, 2021

"The Art of Betrayal"

Connie Berry is the author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the UK and featuring an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. Like her protagonist, Berry was raised by antiques dealers who instilled in her a passion for history, fine art, and travel. During college she studied at the University of Freiburg in Germany and St. Clare's College, Oxford, where she fell under the spell of the British Isles. In 2019 Berry won the IPPY Gold Medal for Mystery and was a finalist for the Agatha Award’s Best Debut. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and is on the board of Guppies and her local Sisters in Crime chapter. Besides reading and writing mysteries, Berry loves history, foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Emmie.

If a reader picks up a novel and turns to page 69, will that page give the reader a good sense of the whole book? Berry applied the Page 69 Test to the latest in her Kate Hamilton Mystery series—The Art of Betrayal—and reported the following:
From page 69:
Tom handed me a pair of latex gloves.

After putting them on, I unzipped the bag, took out the pendant, and pressed the release. Inside, under a rock-crystal window, was a coil of black hair and an inscription: M. Grenfel, born Mar 5, 1805, died Feb 4, 1853. “It’s a mourning locket—mid-nineteenth century—a floral design embedded with paste stones, not diamonds. The surface and edges are worn, so it hasn’t spent much time in a jewelry box.” I turned it over to examine the markings. “It’s engraved on the back with the initial E. For Evelyn, I suppose. This is the kind of thing a young girl might receive on her birthday. It’s twelve carat gold-filled—pretty but not especially valuable. Might sell for a hundred pounds on a good day.”

“How about this Grenfel person?”

“He—or she—was in their late forties when they died. A great-great-grandparent, perhaps. Or maybe someone found the locket in a thrift store and bought it because they thought it was pretty.”

“We’ll check the name, Grenfel,” Tom said. “Maybe Evelyn Villiers had relatives who would know where Lucy is living now.”

“What about the aunt in Essex?” I asked. “The one Lucy was sent to live with after her father’s death.”

“Someone’s on that now.”

DCI Eacles cleared his throat. “I don’t fancy our chances of recovering the stolen item—the hoonping.” He stretched out the vowel. “In the meantime, we need to know what’s what with that art collection—if there’d been any funny business going on. We need professional advice. There’d be a small stipend.”

I stared at him. “Are you asking for my help?”

“If Ivor can spare you,” Tom said. “Mrs. Villiers was an elderly woman, living alone with a fortune in art and antiques. An easy target for thieves.”

“The point is,” Eacles said unpleasantly, “oother items may be missing as well. You said the woman had records. We need an inventory, by someone who knows what they’re about.”

“Have you spoken with Mrs. Villiers’ solicitor?” I asked Tom. “There may have been a valuation done at the time of Wallace Villers’ death.”

“If there was, I’ll let you know.”

“We’d be grateful for your help,” Eacles said, flattening out the a sound in grateful. He smiled, revealing large yellow teeth. Never turn your back on him, girlie.
Since I don’t yet have a printed copy of The Art of Betrayal, I’ve used page 69 of my manuscript. The scene finds American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton in DI Tom Mallory’s office at the police station in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Having just given evidence in the death of a local recluse, Evelyn Villiers, and the disappearance of a húnpíng, a distinctive type of stoneware jar found in the Han-dynasty tombs of early Imperial China, Kate is introduced to Detective Chief Inspector Dennis Eacles, a transplant from the North of England, who reminds Kate of the ill-tempered old boar on her grandmother’s farm. Eacles asks her to examine a necklace found on the dead woman.

Does page 69 give the reader a good idea of the whole book? Since it’s mostly dialogue, my first impression was no. Thinking deeper, though, I changed my mind. Page 69 focuses on the main plot, solving the murder of the reclusive widow and the theft of the ancient Chinese funereal jar. The scene also gives the reader a glimpse into Kate’s knowledge of antiques and her methods in solving crimes—noticing details and discerning patterns. The old locket with its mysterious inscription foreshadows the long roots into the past Kate will have to untangle. The reader also gets a sense of the conflict between Kate and DCI Eacles, and we’re introduced to Evelyn’s Villiers’ daughter, Lucy, whose disappearance years earlier turns out to be a key piece of the puzzle. What we don’t see on page 69 is Kate’s growing relationship with DI Tom Mallory, the English detective she met on a previous case in Scotland.

All in all, not bad.
Visit Connie Berry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue