The world of antiques and collectibles has always been fertile ground for mystery writers, perhaps most notably with Lawrence Block's long-running series starring Bernie Rhodenbarr, a rare book dealer and sometime thief. But there's also been Lea Wait's Antique Print Mystery series, Max Allan Collins' Trash n' Treasures series, Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy character and a slew of others.
The latest and one of the best entrants into the category is Mary Moody's “A Killing in Antiques: A Lucy St. Elmo Mystery," starring a Cape Cod antiques dealer who heads to Brimfield in search of treasure — but instead finds one friend murdered and another friend accused of the crime.
Moody is a natural-born storyteller who brings the world of antiques to life. That this is the 73-year-old retired banker's first book makes this excellent mystery seem downright incredible — and a serious guilt trip for anyone who is using their golden years as a time of rest and relaxation.
Interview with the author
A western Massachusetts resident, Moody answered a few questions about the book and her lifelong fascination with the world of antiques:
This is your first book; tell us a bit about your background and how you came to become a mystery writer.
I was a banker for almost 40 years and went back and got an MBA. I ended up being the compliance officer. When the FDIC or the Federal Reserve makes a new regulation, or changes one, the compliance officer writes up what that means to the bank, sends a recap to senior management, sends directions to the tellers and the trainers and the computer folks. That may not sound too sparkling to you, but you should have read my greatest hit of all time: “How to Cash a Check.” A classic.
And then that just sort of segued into doing fiction?
MM: I've tried a few short stories but never felt they were right enough to send off anywhere.
Alas, I am an elderly lady, 73, and when Penguin offered me a three-book deal, I wondered if I'd live long enough to write three books. I'm in excellent health, but I didn't begin this book until I retired — and then I had to think about it for ages before I ever put down a word.
I didn't stop laughing for two days. I'm sure I'll live that length of time, even if my friends are dropping like flies. But I felt bad when I realized that I'd lose out on sales because they do love series mysteries.
Author and collector
Are you a collector yourself?
MM: I have always loved American art pottery, especially of the Ohio Valley variety, Roseville and that kind of thing. In my lifetime, I've changed ideas about certain styles, but not that. I love American art pottery. I was given a Weller frog when I was a kid. My mother thought that was a weird gift to give a kid. It was a flower frog. I was fascinated with that thing and almost anything has that kind of a green finish, and it's just something I took to immediately. Every once in a while something pops up that I know is old that I haven't seen before. There's still stuff that's new to me.
My mother was a collector of antiques, and her four daughters all have followed in her footsteps, with quite a lot of variation. I have a sister who has an antiques store in the Berkshires. She sells high-end wicker. It's called Corner House Antiques (http://www.americanantiquewicker.com/). Though we all speak of downsizing, it's pretty much lip service.
Capturing the mood at Brimfield
I love you for promoting your sister's antiques store. One of the things I loved about the book is the way that you really captured the mood of Brimfield. How did you research the setting for this book so that you could portray it that accurately and compellingly?
MM: I've been to every spring Brimfield for at least the past 20 years; my mother went to Brimfield, too. And I've been to other Brimfields as well, but that's my favorite one. Through the winter there are some auctions you can go to, and estate sales. But it usually gets boring toward late winter, and you're looking forward to that spring one.
We heard you've been selling the book at Brimfield. How has that been going?
MM: Yes, I have, in the food court at New England Motel. I just couldn't get a better spot in the world. The center of Route 20, right in the roadway, the original old food court that's been there for 20 years. People are very interested, more in the antiques aspect of the book. My husband told me I was selling about 10 books an hour. It's been a party.
Zac Bissonnette is the author of “Debt-Free U: How I Paid For an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents” and has appeared on “The Today Show” and CNN as well as a contributing editor to Antique Trader on WGBH and NPR.