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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

An Interview with Connie Berry By E. B. Davis

I attempted a laugh. “I’m fine. Absolutely fine.” My standard response to everything from a hangnail to childbirth. I’m sure those words will be carved one day on my gravestone.

Connie Berry, The Art of Betrayal, Kindle Loc. 1070


In Connie Berry's third Kate Hamilton mystery, American antique dealer Kate Hamilton's spring is cut short when a body turns up at the May Fair pageant.

Spring is a magical time in England--bluebells massing along the woodland paths, primrose and wild thyme dotting the meadows. Antiques dealer Kate Hamilton is spending the month of May in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, enjoying precious time with Detective Inspector Tom Mallory. While attending the May Fair, the annual pageant based on a well-known Anglo-Saxon folktale, a body turns up in the middle of the festivities.

Kate is even more shocked when she learns the murder took place in antiquity shop owner Ivor Tweedy's stockroom and a valuable Chinese pottery jar that she had been tasked with finding a buyer for has been stolen. Ivor may be ruined. Insurance won't cover a fraction of the loss.

As Tom leads the investigation, Kate begins to see puzzling parallels between the murder and local legends. The more she learns, the more convinced she is that the solution to both crimes lies in the misty depths of Anglo-Saxon history and a generations-old pattern of betrayal. It's up to Kate to unravel this Celtic knot of lies and deception to save Ivor's business.


It’s no wonder Connie Berry was nominated for an Agatha Award for her first book in the Kate Hamilton mystery series, A Dream of Death. Connie is a talented descriptive writer. No matter where she placed a scene in The Art of Betrayal, the third book, I could envision the shop, cottage, manor, auction house, and even while on the road. It’s that type of writing that takes readers outside of themselves and into the story on the page.


Main character Kate Hamilton is an interesting character. I’m disappointed that I started this series on the third book. The answers to some of my questions are bound to be in the first two of the series, but I have many more questions about The Art of Betrayal, which was released yesterday.

                                              ____                                               E. B. Davis

Were you an art history major?


I was not. My field was English literature and history. But I did take a fascinating and comprehensive art history class during my junior semester abroad, viewing the art and architecture in person—from the Bronze Age to the early Greeks and Romans to medieval art and the Renaissance, all the way to the Art Deco period of the nineteen twenties and thirties. Kate is interested in fine art because of her work as an antiques dealer and appraiser. Like her, my parents dealt in fine antiques and paintings.


Why is Ivor’s shop called The Cabinet of Curiosities? It’s an antiquities shop. Curiosities reminds me of something very different, like wax lips or sock puppets.


You’re right—probably because we think of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.

However, the name of Ivor’s shop is taken from the Kunstkammer, or “Cabinets of Curiosities” popular in the Renaissance—like the fabulous Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden. Cabinets of Curiosities were collections of rare and historically important or unusual objects. These collections included objects belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art, and antiquities. In England, the best-known example is The Ashmolean Museum, which houses the collection of Elias Ashmole, a wealthy 17th-century collector with a deep interest in astronomy, astrology, and alchemy. He bequeathed his collection to Oxford University on condition that they build a place to house them.

During Ivor Tweedy’s legendary stint with Her Majesty’s Merchant Marine, he began collecting fine and rare objects from around the world.


I looked up BCE and CE with unsatisfactory results. What do the Chinese consider “Common Era?” How does it compare with our BC/AD designations?


The history of calendars is complicated. Each culture has had its own way of designating time. In ancient China, years were numbered from a new emperor's assumption of the throne or an existing emperor's announcement of a new era name. This system remained in place until about 1912, when China joined other nations in reckoning years based on “year one.”

The traditional abbreviations BC and AD are short for “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini,” Latin for year of the Lord. CE for “Common Era” and BCE for “Before the Common Era” are used in exactly the same way. Although both systems are acceptable, because BC and AD hold religious connotations, many prefer to use the more neutral CE and BCE. My publisher uses BCE and CE.


“Just because something can’t be explained doesn’t mean it’s supernatural.” Kindle Loc. 241

“Somehow the húnpíng [funeral urn] had acted as a portal—capturing,

then magnifying my unconscious thoughts.” Kindle Loc. 1430


The above quotes are Kate’s observations about her gift. What is her gift? Would she consider a sixth
sense supernatural? The latter quote seems to be high rationalization to me (and really, if she believes in portals….).


Kate has never been able to adequately explain her gift (curse?), even to herself. Here’s the way she describes it in A Dream of Death:


I don't want to give the wrong impression. I'm not a psychic. I have no paranormal powers. I don't actually believe in such things. Nevertheless, I admit to having experienced something similar before. Nothing as definite as a word, mind you—just an impression, of joy or sadness or longing, as if the emotional atmosphere in which an object existed had seeped into the joints and crevices along with the dust and grime.


Kate doesn’t believe in portals. She uses that as a metaphor here because she has just received on consignment a pottery húnpíng jar dating from the Han dynasty (202 BCE to 220 CE). None of the húnpíng jars known to exist ever held physical remains. Instead, scholars believe, they were intended to attract the life energy of the deceased, acting as a sort of portal through which the departed soul could enter paradise. A belief, not a fact.


Is there a reason Kate’s daughter, Christine, has lousy taste in men?


Kate’s theory has to do with the sudden, unexpected death of her husband (Christine’s father) when Christine was in high school. Having lost her own father in an auto accident on Christmas Eve when she was 17, Kate understands how deep grief and loss can go. She theorizes that by choosing unreliable men, Christine is acting out the sense of abandonment she felt. Psychologists say people do act out unresolved emotional issues, sometimes in destructive ways. Women who grew up with abusive fathers, for example, are way more likely to date and/or marry abusive men.


Aren’t thatched roofs creepy with the bugs slithering around in them?


You’re right! All kinds of critters live in the thatch, and they attract birds who try to scratch them out. That’s one of the problems with thatch. You have to clean and maintain it.

Hundreds of years ago, most thatched roofs were visible from inside. I’ve read about pieces of thatch and insects falling down into the house. Even today, some people like to maintain the natural thatch look inside, but most thatched houses in England have plaster ceilings. We’ve stayed in them. So while you can hear critters moving around in the thatch, none of it falls on your head.


“…Fergus, who gazed at the assembled company

with benign condescension.

Fergus considered mixing with humans a privilege. For them.”

Kindle Loc. 1172


I love Fergus, the Pug. He’s urbane, astute, and snide (oh, maybe that’s Kate—nah if she senses all that stuff from antiques, she has to really know Fergus’s thoughts and attitudes). Maybe he’s just a grumpy old man. Tell our readers about him, please.


Fergus the Pug has a special place in my heart. Humor takes many forms. One of my favorites (perfected by the British) is endowing animals and inanimate objects with human emotions and motives. Here’s an example—a line from my Outtakes file, waiting patiently for a place in one of my books:

Spring was cold that year. None of the perennials dared poke their heads above the soil—except the gullible daffodils. They never learn.

Fergus isn’t exactly a grumpy old man, but he definitely thinks highly of himself—a belief nurtured by his adoring human mum, Vivian Bunn. Fergus expects to go with Mummy everywhere and feels quite put out when he is left home. He is selective about the humans he meets and is known to be a discerning judge of character. He likes Kate because she once saved him from drowning when he took off after a flock of ducks in Blackwater Lake—an embarrassing incident for him. Pugs are not natural swimmers. Fergus is getting up there in age and (thanks to Vivian) has a few extra pounds on him, so he spends a lot of time curled up in his bed by the hearth. He knows when humans are sad or suffering and toddles over to allow them a little petting time.


After age thirty, living with your mother/parents can’t be elective. Why does Tom’s mother live with him?


Tom’s wife, Sarah, died of cancer when their daughter, Olivia, was twelve. As a detective inspector, Tom’s hours were never regular. In fact, as the police force in the UK is literally “Her Majesty’s Police Force,” they are technically always on duty. The solution was for Tom’s mother to move in. Olivia needed her. Now that Olivia is on her own, the relationship between Tom and his mother, Liz, is becoming difficult. For reasons that will be explained in the next book (The Shadow of Memory, 2022), Liz can’t afford to buy her own house. Tom feels obligated to care for her.


What are Nobbly Bobblys?


A Nobbly Bobbly is an ice lolly—for Americans, an ice cream treat on a stick—layers of strawberry and chocolate ice cream covered in a chocolate coating with candy sprinkles. They’ve been around forever. Nestle makes them today.


Has Kate’s mother Linnea Larson lived in England? She uses English slang sometimes in her speech, like “tip-top.”


Does Kate’s mom, Linnea, use that phrase in the book? I don’t remember. Linnea is an American of Norwegian descent. Her slang is sometimes old-fashioned but not particularly British. I remember my Danish grandmother using the phrase “I’m tip-top” to mean “I’m very well.” Kate, though, having been previously married to a Scot and now having spent a lot of time in England is beginning to use some British slang.


Are Domesday Books common enough to be auctioned? I’d have thought most copies would be scarce and scooped up by museums and libraries? Wouldn’t they be considered national treasures?


There is only one Domesday Book—actually two separate books (The Great Domesday Book and the Little Domesday Book) both written in Latin. Since about 1600 they have been kept in a wooden chest, cased, lined, bound in iron and secured by three different locks. The Domesday Book is now housed in The National Archives at Kew. What Ivor auctioned off was a (fictional) translation in English of part of the Little Domesday Book. Translations, some very old, exist in museums and private collections. I don’t know how many. More research needed!


With people Kate likes and respects, she uses discretion. Why didn’t she refrain from telling off Tom’s mother?


Kate has limits. And Liz Mallory pushes those limits all the time. Liz doesn’t like Kate, probably because she fears Kate will lure Tom to the States. She would rather see him stay single—or marry a nice English girl she can manage. While Kate is kind, she isn’t a doormat.

Why is Kate not trusted to go clothes shopping on her own? What would she buy if she had her druthers?


Kate is far from a fashionista. She doesn’t worry much about clothes and would rather wear jeans and a t-shirt or pullover sweater for most events. Her best friend, Charlotte, was a window dresser for an upscale clothing store in Chicago and has a marvelous fashion sense. Kate used to joke that Charlotte was her personal “What Not To Wear” consultant. When Kate needs something special, Charlotte is usually the one who chooses the outfit, which Kate appreciates. She does care how she looks, especially now that DI Tom Mallory is in the picture.


Is a Raspberry Martini in England made with lemon vodka? I was surprised that it wasn’t made with raspberry vodka.


There are lots of recipes for Raspberry Martinis, all different. My recipe calls for intense raspberry ice floating in lemon vodka. Another uses plain vodka with cranberry juice for color, lime zest, and 2 teaspoons of raspberry jam. I think raspberry vodka would make a great martini!


Aren’t citizens of Ireland required to have a passport to get into England?


In The Art of Betrayal, there is a character from Belfast, Northern Ireland. As part of the UK, there is no boundary between Northern Ireland and England. And even under Brexit, the Republic of Ireland is part of the Common Travel Area—a travel zone between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. Irish nationals have a special status in UK law which is separate from and pre-dates the rights they have as EU citizens. 


Not only does Kate perceive that a man is a predator, but she also isn’t so young as to think he is interested in her as a woman. Is getting over yourself the reason why older women make the best sleuths?


Now that is an interesting question, Elaine. As we get older, women do lose some of the naivete we had as teens and young women, don’t we? We aren’t so gullible as to believe that male motives are always pure and uncomplicated by self-interest. When I wrote this predatory male character, I was thinking of a man I knew once (he shall remain nameless) who was exceptionally tall and exceedingly good-looking—so good-looking, in fact, that he was used to women falling all over him. Even older women. I can’t really blame him. That was his experience in life, and he naturally expected every woman to react to him in the same way. When I met him, I was in my early thirties, and I determined that I would not acknowledge his looks in any way. That really baffled him. As an amateur sleuth, Kate uses her brain, not her looks, to learn the truth.


What’s next for Kate?


As I mentioned above, Kate’s next adventure, The Shadow of Memory, will be released in June of 2022.

It’s late summer in the Suffolk village of Long Barston. American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton, is helping antiquities dealer Ivor Tweedy appraise a fifteenth-century painting attributed to Jan Van Eyck.

While cutting through the church graveyard, Kate stumbles upon the body of an elderly man—Will Parker, a retired ex-CID officer. Kate is even more shocked when her friend Vivian Bunn reveals that Will Parker was her first boyfriend. They’d met at a seaside holiday camp in 1963, when they and three other teens explored an abandoned house, the scene of a violent crime—or so they imagined. Vivian and Will haven’t seen each other in fifty-eight years.

At first Will’s death is considered natural. He is in his seventies, after all. But when a second member of the childhood gang also dies unexpectedly, and then a third, Kate begins to suspect the five teens discovered more in that abandoned house than they realized. Can she convince the police they’ve got a serial killer on their hands before Vivian becomes the next victim?

I just turned in the manuscript to my editor at Crooked Lane. Now I have decisions to make. Will I begin sketching out Book Five in the series, or will I begin something entirely new? Or both? Time will tell.

Thank you so much for inviting me on Writers Who Kill and for asking such interesting, thoughtful questions.



Emmie working hard with Connie


Jim Jackson said...

Congratulations on your third in the series, Connie. And another enlightening interview, EB.

Kait said...

Congratulations on your third! I have grown quite attached to this series and have a soft spot for these characters. I gotta ask, how hard is it to write Brits as an American? You do it so well.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congratulations on your new release! And thanks for the Emmie update.

KM Rockwood said...

Looking forward to reading this!

Emmie does seem to be a big help here.

Molly MacRae said...

Congratulations on all your success Connie. I love this series. The books are completely satisfying. Thanks for capturing everything so well in the interview, EB.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Congratulations on your new book. The hard work you put in shows through the pages. Good luck!

Grace Topping said...

Terrific interview, Connie and Elaine. I got to read an advance copy of "Legacy of Murder." It's a fabulous book and a great addition to the Kate Hamilton series. I definitely hope we will be seeing many more books featuring Kate.

Grace Topping said...

Actually, I should have said, "The Art of Betrayal. I've read them all, and they are wonderful.

E. B. Davis said...

Absolutely wonderful. Love reading your books!

Connie Berry said...

Thank you! Kait, writing British is one of the fun parts of setting series there. I've spent a lot of time in the UK in my life, which helps. Can't wait to go back and get my fix!

Marilyn Levinson said...

What a delightful interview, Elaine and Connie. I love England, having visited there many times. I must add your series to myTBR list, Connie.

Susan said...

Love all of Connie’s books. I’ve read this one too and it’s great.

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