From the number of times
I’ve interviewed Barbara Ross, you know I like her Maine Clambake mystery
series. Her fourth in the series, Fogged
Inn, gained an Agatha Nomination this year in the Best Contemporary Novel
category. What I didn’t know? Barb’s first novel, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, was published by Five Star in
2010. Which explains why her first novel in this series, Clammed Up (2013), was nominated in the Best Contemporary Agatha
category and not in the Best First category. (I’m slow on the uptake at times!)
The fifth book, Iced Under, was released
In Iced Under, Barbara reveals more of the Morrow family history,
including how the family made its money. Since they own Morrow Island, a
private island where the family’s old mansion, Windsholme, stands, albeit
dilapidated, they made a fortune. The money and the industry are gone—all but
history now, except that Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, barely knows of her family
or history, necessitating Julia to research the family when a family heirloom
arrives in the mail. This book answers many readers’ questions, almost like
ending an arc, and I wondered if this was the last book in the series.
Please welcome Barbara
Ross back to WWK. E. B. Davis
Was there purpose in
setting the book during the most brutal of winter months—or since Fogged Inn was set in autumn, was this
just the natural continuation of the series’ seasons?
Hi Elaine. Thanks so much to Writers
Who Kill for having me back. Since I write about life in a resort town, I wanted
to show both the tourist season and the off-season. It’s two different worlds.
The first three books take place when the Snowden Family Clambake business is
open, the next two, Fogged Inn and Iced Under, along with the novella
“Nogged Off” in the collection Eggnog Murder, take place when it is closed. One
huge advantage to the off-season—Julia has a lot more time for solving
What is the connection
between a black diamond and the family business? Why is the necklace called the
The Morrow family made their fortune
harvesting and shipping ice. Black ice is the best quality, frozen quickly with
few or no air bubbles, so it’s clear and melts more slowly. Black diamonds are
also called black ice, and the Black Widow has a large black diamond as its
The Morrow family got
rich in the frozen water business, harvesting Maine ice for world consumption.
How big of an industry was ice and what was the time period of this industry?
The ice industry started early in the early
1800s with ice harvested from ponds in Massachusetts being shipped to southern
cities like Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans, to European colonies in the
West Indies, and even to India. Late in the 19th century the
business changed. Northeastern cities were exploding in population and needed
massive amounts of ice for food preservation and drinks. New York City alone
consumed four million pounds of ice a day. By that time ice harvesting was
concentrated on big rivers like the Kennebec and the Hudson. By World War I,
the business was over. Modern refrigeration and ice-making appeared. Fortunes
were made and lost in a hundred years.
When the Black Widow is
mailed to Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, Julia finds out the stamp was
“precanceled.” Why would any unused stamp be “precanceled” and what
significance does it have in tracking the package?
I had to figure out how to hide where
the package was sent from in the short run, but then it had to be discoverable
by Julia later. My research about how to send an untraceable package took me to
some pretty scary places on the dark web, where people trade hints about how to
ship things paid for in Bitcoins. In the end, I settled for the sender making slight
modifications to the mailing label you get when you pay to mail a package at
that kiosk in your local post office. The sticker it gives you is called a “pre-canceled
stamp,” meaning it isn’t run through the cancelling machine at the processing
Since the Black Widow was
conservatively estimated at a worth of two million dollars, Julia asks a lawyer
about how the laws of inheritance work. What does he tell her, and did you go
to an attorney to pose Julia’s question?
I did. Since the origins and ownership
of the Black Widow are murky, Julia’s mother’s lawyer urges them to settle with
the relatives rather than tying the asset up in years of litigation. Though
Julia’s mother might ultimately win, it would be costly. And she might not.
You’ve taken a few outside-the-norm
chances in your last two books. In Fogged
Inn, the ending is quite unusual for an amateur sleuth story. In Iced Under, you started the book with a
mystery, but it wasn’t criminal. You introduce the murder about halfway
through. It’s obvious because Fogged Inn
was nominated for an Agatha that breaking the norms don’t deter readers’
interest. Would you take these chances if you were an unpublished author trying
to sell your first novel? Is your success an enabling creative factor?
Louise Penny has said, “I’m trying to make every book slightly different. The
challenge and danger of writing a series is writing the same book over and over
again.” I’ve been
changing things up both to keep the reader from getting bored and to challenge
myself. For a writer with a first pub, I would say, “It depends.” If I were
trying to be traditionally published in an established market, like cozies, I
would prove in the first book that I understood the genre and the audience, and
save the experimentation for later in the series. For example, it’s pretty
common for authors of long-running series to change locale in a book or
two—have the sleuth solve a murder while on vacation or visiting family. But
it’s important to establish the series setting first.
When Julia arrives in
Boston to see lost relatives, they are gathered for Hugh’s funeral. When Hugh’s cause of death is determined to
be murder, Julia researches Paolo, Hugh’s hospice nurse. She has good reason to
be suspicious doesn’t she?
I think she does. But it’s a conundrum,
because as a hospice nurse he is often with people when they die. The
particular circumstances of Paolo’s patients’ deaths, which seem to only happen
when he is alone with the patient and everyone in the family has already said their
good-byes, make Julia suspicious.
Why did Hugh Morrow, lost
for decades, assume a new identity?
In the simplest terms, he didn’t want
to be found. He was cutting ties with his parents. Everyone else from his old
life was collateral damage.
Marguerite turned toward me. “Julia, you’ll stay for the
“Of course, she’ll stay,” Vivian said. “She wants to see what
Hugh left her mother.”
Marguerite glared at her daughter. “Vivian that’s beneath you.”
I didn’t think it was.
Barbara Ross, Iced Under,
Kindle Loc. 1281
Why is Vivian such a
stupid materialistic woman?
I don’t think of her that way, exactly.
She is like a type of woman I’ve known, deeply romantic, but more in love with
falling in love than with any person. Lots of marriages, but none of them last.
She’s devoted her entire life to looking for the right man, and as a result
hasn’t any skills for supporting herself. This makes her greedy and insecure.
Taken together, the romanticism, insecurity, and greed are a potently negative
Julia’s and Chris’s
relationship has survived much stress. Why does Julia still doubt Chris?
It’s really all about Julia, isn’t it?
Chris says one doofy thing in Iced Under. (Readers seem divided about how doofy
it really is.) Julia’s the over-thinker in the relationship. Chris goes with
the flow. She’s not going to accept Chris’s love until she believes in her core
she deserves it. It’s that simple. It’s up to her now.
I still want to know more
about Julia’s mysterious friend, Quentin Tupper. But it does seem as if
you’ve brought much of your story full circle. Was this the last book in the
series or is there more to come? If so, what?
The sixth book in the series, Stowed Away, is coming in December
2017. In it we learn a lot more about Quentin.
On a hot summer night
sitting out on a porch catching breezes, would you be more likely to drink
white sangria or a 7 & 7?
Easy one. I LOVE white sangria.
for the interview, Barbara. Good luck at Malice!
Under Jacket Blurb
The snow is deep in Maine’s Busman’s
Harbor and the mighty rivers are covered in ice. Snowden Family Clambake
Company proprietor Julia Snowden and her mother, Jacqueline, are hunkered down
for the winter when a mysterious package arrives—heating up February with an
unexpected case of murder . . .
Inside the mystery package is an
enormous black diamond necklace that once belonged to Julia’s great-grandmother
and disappeared in the 1920s. Who could have sent it—and why? Julia’s search
for clues takes her on a perilous journey through her mother’s troubled family
history, from a squabble over the family fortune in “frozen water” to the
recent unexplained death of Jacqueline’s long-lost cousin Hugh—who’d been
missing and presumed drowned for more than forty years. To protect her mother’s
inheritance, Julia must fend off a small army of feuding relatives, solve the
mystery surrounding Hugh’s demise, and get back home before the next blizzard
buries them all . . .