Murder by Syllabub
by Kathleen Delaney
on Tour September – October, 2013
A ghost in Colonial dress has been wreaking havoc at an old plantation house in Virginia. The house is owned by Elizabeth Smithwood, the best friend of Ellen McKenzie’s Aunt Mary. Mary is determined to fly to the rescue, and Ellen has no choice but to leave her real estate business and new husband to accompany her. Who else will keep the old girl out of trouble? When Ellen and Aunt Mary arrive, they find that Elizabeth’s “house” comprises three sprawling buildings containing all manner of secret entrances and passages, not to mention slave cabins. But who owns what and who owned whom? After Monty—the so-called ghost and stepson of Elizabeth’s dead husband—turns up dead in Elizabeth’s house, suspicion falls on her. Especially when the cause of death is a poisoned glass of syllabub taken from a batch of the sweet, creamy after-dinner drink sitting in Elizabeth’s refrigerator. Monty had enemies to spare. Why was he roaming the old house? What was he searching for? To find the truth, Ellen and her Aunt Mary will have to do much more than rummage through stacks of old crates; they will have to expose two hundred years of grudges and vendettas. The spirits they disturb are far deadlier than the one who brought them to Virginia. Murder by Syllabub is the fifth book of the Ellen McKenzie Mystery series.
Read an excerpt:
Kathleen Delaney has written four previous Ellen McKenzie Real Estate mysteries, but has never before transported her characters out of California. A number of years ago she visited Colonial Williamsburg and fell in love. Long fascinated with our country’s history, especially the formation years, she knew she wanted to set a story there. Another trip with her brother and sister-in-law solidified the idea that had been rolling around in her head but she needed more information. A phone call to the nice people at Colonial Williamsburg provided her with appointments to visit the kitchen at the Payton Randolph house, where she got her first lesson in hearth cooking and a meeting with the people who manage the almost extinct animal breeds the foundation is working to preserve. A number of books purchased at the wonderful bookstore at the visitor’s center gave her the additional information she needed and the story that was to become Murder by Syllabub came into being. Kathleen lived most of her life in California but now resides in Georgia. She is close to many historical sites, which she has eagerly visited, not only as research for this book but because the east is rich in monuments to the history of our country. Luckily, her grandchildren are more than willing to accompany her on their tours of exploration. You can find Kathleen on the Web at delaney.camelpress.com.
Catch Up With the Author:
The Pen & Muse
I grew up in southern California during an era where creative writing was not encouraged. Neither was reading above your grade level. So, I would hide my latest library book between the covers of my math book, or any other text book I considered boring, and read. No wonder I never learned to spell. But I did learn about writing, although I didn’t know it then. I only knew I loved to read and considered authors to be rare creatures, blessed with talents I couldn’t possibly emulate.
I read everything, including the label on the ketchup bottle if there wasn’t anything else handy, but mostly I read mysteries. It wasn’t long before I jumped right from the children’s section of the library to Nero Wolf, Mr. and Mrs. North, and Miss Marple. When all my friends were swooning over movie stars, I had a crush on Lord Peter Wimsey. I read all of Josephine Tey’s books, practically memorized Brat Farrar but re-read it to this day. I’d think about writing, try a short story or so but after I read the bio’s of the authors on the books I loved, I’d stick my stories in the cedar chest and hope no one ever saw them. They were graduates in English Literature from Harvard or Oxford, were recipients of prestigious prizes or famous news people, or had won national awards for poetry while still in kindergarten. I married right out of high school and was taking night classes in college while raising five children. So, for years, I read, wrote a little and the file of stories in the cedar chest grew.
Then, one day, I actually got up the courage to submit something I had written to a magazine, a story about my children’s adventures in 4H. They kindly shared those adventures with their father and me as we transported them and their animals to county fairs all over California. Family Fun bought the story. I was hooked. My words were in a national magazine for the whole nation to read, and I had actually been paid. I, too, was an author.
What I really wanted to do was write a novel, a mystery, a cozy. I’d read a lot of thrillers, police procedurals, female private eyes, but loved the puzzle aspect of the cozies, as well as the characters. So, I bought a legal pad, sharpened some pencils and invested in extra coffee. Every morning, very early, I’d sit up in bed, cat on one side, dog on the other, mug of coffee within easy reach, and write. After a while I had a story, which, according to my mother, was a masterpiece. It wasn’t. But I learned a lot writing it. And rewriting it. And rewriting it again. I called it Dying for a Change. It was the first in the Ellen McKenzie real estate mystery series. It ended up getting great reviews, was a finalist in St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic contest, is in libraries all over the country, was purchased by Harlequin for their Worldwide Book Club and it is still available on Kindle.
Why a real estate theme? At that time I was a full time real estate broker, I lived in a small town, raised horses and kids, and knew a lot about being divorced. I’d started going to writer’s conferences by then and the first thing they told you was “write what you know.” So I did. Ellen McKenzie was a character I recognized, or could relate to. She was middle aged, recently divorced and trying to make a new life for herself. She wasn’t me, my ex wasn’t a famous doctor, we never lived in Newport Beach, and I never found a dead body in my entire real estate career, but I could see her as I fleshed her out. Other characters came, often unbidden, as the story developed. Many have stayed. As for the story, I started from the beginning and let it lead me to the end. I still do it that way.
Murder by Syllabub is the fifth book in the Ellen McKensie series. I’ve started each with more of an idea of setting, or theme, than a fixed thought of how the story will end. Arabian horse breeding and showing got things started in the second book, Give First Place to Murder. Living in California’s wine country gave me the idea for And Murder for Dessert. I actually had the murderer wrong in Murder Half-Baked, which is set in an Italian bakery, and couldn’t understand why the book wasn’t coming together. When I realized I had the right motive for the killer, but the wrong person, the whole thing fell into place.
Murder by Syllabub has been a bit more complicated. I had wanted to set a book in or around Colonial Williamsburg since my first visit, but wasn’t sure how to structure it. I wanted it to be an Ellen McKensie and Dan Dunham mystery. (by the time I wrote it, Ellen and Dan were safely married. It only took four books). I ended up sending Ellen and her Aunt Mary to Virginia to help a friend who had inherited an old plantation that was plagued by a marauding ghost and a murder that had its roots in the past. That, and the scenes set in Colonial Williamsburg gave me the opportunity to weave in a lot of fun and interesting information about life long ago, but stay grounded in the twenty first century. Of course, it required another lengthy visit to Colonial Williamsburg and going home with an armful of books on the eighteenth century. Do you know what a sippit is? I didn’t either but I do now. How about syllabub? I’ll give you a hint. It’s a drink, and if you make the modern version, you don’t have to milk the cow. I don’t recommend the version I used in the book, atg least not if you want your guests to stay upright, but the one they serve at the Kings Arms in Colonial Williamsburg is awesome. Their hot mulled cider isn’t half bad, either. See how much fun doing research for a book can be?
I’m not done with Ellen and Dan but the book I’m writing now is the start of a new series. It features dogs and dog breeders. Don’t ask me how it ends. I’m not there yet. Soon, though. Very soon.
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