Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

An Interview with Connie Berry by E. B. Davis

In Connie Berry’s fourth Kate Hamilton mystery, American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton uncovers a dark secret buried in Victorian England.

As Kate Hamilton plans her upcoming wedding to Detective Inspector Tom Mallory, she is also assisting her colleague Ivor Tweedy with a project at the Netherfield Sanatorium, a former Victorian insane asylum, which is being converted into luxury townhouses. Kate and Ivor must appraise a fifteenth-century painting and verify that its provenance is the Dutch master Jan Van Eyck. But when retired criminal inspector Will Parker is found dead, Kate learns that the halls of the sanatorium housed much more than priceless art.
Kate is surprised to learn that Will had been the first boyfriend of her friend Vivian Bunn, who hasn’t seen him in fifty-eight years. At a seaside holiday camp in 1963, Will, Vivian, and three other teens broke into an abandoned house where a doctor and his wife had died under bizarre circumstances two years earlier. Now, when a second member of the childhood gang dies unexpectedly—and then a third—it becomes clear that the teens had discovered more in the house than they had realized.
Had Will returned to warn his old love? When Kate makes a shocking connection between a sixty-year-old murder and the long-buried secrets of the sanatorium, she suddenly understands that time is running out for Vivian—and anyone connected to her.

Although The Shadow of Memory was set in the summer, I got a distinct chill while reading. While on holiday, bored teens participate in a detective game of whodunit. Sixty years later, they are being murdered one by one. Kate’s friend and landlord, Vivian, was one of those teens. It’s a haunting tale that disturbs Vivian’s happy memories of her camp days and of her long-lost first love. It also provides the basis for a great plot. I love how authors bring together old and new mysteries into a single story.


This is Connie Berry’s fourth Kate Hamilton mystery. The Shadow of Memory was released on May 10th. You can read my interview with Connie on her third book, The Art of Betrayal, here.


Please welcome WWK blogger and author Connie Berry.    E. B. Davis


Would you humor us by telling a Beowulf joke?


Only if you insist! With a master’s degree in British history and literature, Kate realizes that a) no one will get the jokes, and b) no one cares. You’ve been warned!

Q: How did Beowulf defeat Grendel?

A: He simply disarmed him.

Those familiar with the eighth-century epic poem will get the punchline.


Kate seems skeptical and pessimistic in this book. She has doubts about the authenticity/value of a Dutch medieval painting that Ivor must appraise for no apparent reason. She wonders if anyone would want to live in a former lunatic asylum, even if luxuriously renovated. Having found the body of an elderly man, she re-visualizes the death of her husband. What’s at the root of Kate’s pessimism?


Well, I didn’t set out to portray Kate as pessimistic in this book, although she freely admits that unlike her mother, who is always sure things will turn out well in the end, Kate is always pretty sure they won’t. This stems from a history of losing three very important men in her life without advance warning—her Down syndrome brother, her father, and her husband.

What I did intend was a sense of tension and uncertainty on Kate’s part. Her life is at a crossroads. Is she willing to risk giving her heart again? Policing is a dangerous occupation, after all. And while she is in love with Tom Mallory, the question of where and how they will live as a married couple is undecided. They both have families and careers—on separate continents. There’s also the problem of Tom’s mother, who has done everything in her power to separate them. And on top of everything else, Kate is aware that her dear friend Vivian’s life is in danger.


What is the history of medical insurance in the UK? It was once private, like ours here in the US. And then they socialized it. Did the government buy all the private facilities? That sounds like a very expensive proposition.


The National Health Service in the UK was introduced in July of 1948. From that time, all UK residents were given the right to access health services offered by doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists without having to pay directly. It’s not free healthcare. It’s shared healthcare, paid for by taxes. According to the original brochure: “Everyone - rich or poor, man, woman or child - can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except for a few items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a charity. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.”

There were health systems in place before 1948, helping low-income people pay their medical expenses, but after 1948, health care was nationalized. When my husband and I were in Northern Ireland a few years ago, he developed a bad cough and was treated at the local hospital. When he tried to pay, he wasn’t allowed.

The NHS didn’t buy all the private health facilities. There are still private doctors and facilities in the UK for those who can afford them. Some private facilities found they could no longer compete with the NHS and went out of business. Others, like Netherfield Sanatorium, gifted their assets to the nation.

Medical care in the UK isn’t as rosy as it seems. Along with an aging population, there’s a shortage of doctors and other medical workers, who are expected to work many hours for a very modest wage. There are also long waiting lists for surgeries like hip and knee replacements, which means those who can’t afford private care must wait and those who can afford private care often elect to have their surgeries elsewhere.


Tony Currie wears two hats that could be in conflict. What is the relationship between the Cliff House Board of Directors and Pyramid Development, the construction company renovating Cliff House, otherwise known as the former insane asylum.


As Kate learns, the renovation of Netherfield Sanatorium is an expensive proposition and not without its risks. As a savvy real estate developer specializing in historic renovation, Tony insisted that a group of local investors have skin in the game. The board of directors of the Cliff House project all have a vested interest in the success of the project, but the lion’s share of the risks (and potential profits) are Currie’s.


Where did the Cliff House board get the Jan Van Eyck painting?


The painting attributed to the Dutch master Jan Van Eyck was purchased in the mid-nineteenth century by the founder of Netherfield Sanatorium, self-styled doctor of homeopathy and a purveyor of patent medicines. Horace Netherfield saw the painting, “Christ Healing the Demoniac,” while traveling in France and purchased it with the intention of making it the centerpiece of the asylum. He was struck with the emotional power of the image and thought it would give hope to those with mental illnesses.


Kate has a special sixth sense. When an old artifact is the real deal, she knows it and gets an emotional vibe from it. Kate’s lack of a reaction to the Van Eyck painting causes her to doubt its authenticity. And yet, she does get a sense of treachery and danger. Doesn’t that sense count toward her ability?


I suppose it does count, but the impressions Kate gets—a feeling, a word, a phrase—never help her solve crimes (there’s no paranormal activity going on), but these experiences do alert her to the possibility that all is not as it seems. Kate chalks up her “gift”—or as she sees it, her “affliction”—to her notoriously over-active imagination. Since Kate has never been able to fully understand or explain this sixth sense, I certainly can’t. I will say, though, that Kate suspects her father had the same ability.


Provenance, attribution, technique, signature, and scientific analysis are the elements that Ivor states that make up an appraisal. Is this true or are there more?


These five elements are the standard in authenticating fine paintings—at least they were. Attribution, a matter of the appraiser’s experience and expertise, was especially important. In today’s world, scientific analysis has taken the forefront. A number of paintings attributed to well-known artists have recently been proven to be forgeries. Sotheby’s, for example, sold a gorgeous “Frans Hals” painting, “Portrait of a Man,” to an American collector for ten million dollars. When subjected to scientific analysis, the painting was proven to be a forgery. Sotheby’s reimbursed the purchaser. After a lengthy court battle, the art gallery that sold the painting to Sotheby’s was forced to repay them more than five million dollars. The very sophisticated forger is now thought to have produced over twenty-five old masters, one of which, “Venus” by Lucas Cranach the Elder, was owned by the Prince of Lichtenstein. There are probably others, as yet undetected, in museums and private collections.


Why did Kate assume that Vivian was 80 years old? Although 74 or 75 isn’t that far off, does Vivian seem old fashioned or physically old? Does Vivian need a knee replacement?


Eighty is the new sixty—isn’t that what they say? People in their seventh and eighth decades of life can appear much younger than their age or much older. Vivian Bunn is an old-fashioned lady, which is probably why Kate assumed she was older than she is. She’s been the stout, sturdy, bossy type that some in the UK call “Boadicea in Tweed.” But in this book, Kate notices a slight unsteadiness in Vivian’s gate, which makes her wonder if her friend is in need of a hip or knee replacement. That remains unresolved.


Vivian makes Beef and Barley stew with brown bread and Wensleydale Cheddar. This sounds like a winter meal to me. Isn’t it August? Doesn’t swimming weather ever come to England?


Due to the Gulf Stream, the climate in England is far more temperate than it is in the United States, even though the British Isles sit at a higher latitude—which means the winters are milder and the summers cooler than they are here. Brits think nothing of wearing wool cardis and tweeds year round. The average temps in Suffolk in late August/early September (the book ends on September 11) reach a high of 65 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 48. Yes, England can have very warm periods as well, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The last really big heat wave in Britain (2016) saw high temperatures reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Since few people have home air conditioning systems, hundreds of people (mostly elderly) died.


Although Tom is agreeable to live anywhere, he has essentially put the decision of where they will live on Kate. He isn’t really being helpful, is he?


Tom is head-over-heels for Kate—isn’t that nice?—and he truly wants her to be happy. That’s why he is willing to move anywhere. Besides, he now has an offer to work for an international private investigations firm operating out of Toronto, Canada, which means he has a job no matter where they end up. But Tom worries that without her antiques business in Jackson Falls, Ohio, Kate will feel like a fish out of water. Actually, Kate’s motivation is to make Tom happy, too, so they find it hard to come to a decision. Kate’s one non-negotiable—which she hasn’t yet laid out in so many words—is that she will not live with his mother in Tom’s farmhouse. The problem is, Tom’s mother, Liz, doesn’t have the cash to buy a house of her own, and Tom would never put his mother out on the street. Plus the farmhouse is where Tom’s daughter, Olivia, grew up. This dilemma weighs upon Kate’s mind.


Why does Kate question if she is suffering from pareidolia? And please define the term.


Pareidolia is the tendency to see recognizable images in random patterns—like people who see human faces in the grilles of old automobiles. Kate is good at noticing details and recognizing patterns. As she is contemplating possible connections between Netherfield Sanatorium and the abandoned house explored by the teens in 1963, she wonders if she is imagining the patterns—"like people who see the image of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich.” Scientists say we are primed to see faces in the natural world. Is there really a pattern in those long-ago events, or has Kate imagined one because she wants there to be a connection?


What is with the AE in Æthelric?


The letter Æ is a dipthong, introduced into Britain by Norse settlers during the Anglo-Saxon period, three centuries before the Norman Invasion. It was used in Old English to represent a vowel that’s pronounced in Modern English as aah (ash, fan,  happy). Today we mostly just spell that vowel with the letter “a” because of the Great Vowel Shift. The Great Vowel Shift was a change in the pronunciation of English vowels that took place in the late Middle English period—think roughly Chaucer to Shakespeare. This shift, which coincided with the introduction of the printing press, had a profound effect on English phonology—the way the English language is actually spoken. Why did it happen? Scholars have theories, but no one really knows.


What is treacle bread?


Treacle bread is a dense, brown bread made with coarse, wholegrain flour and unsulfured molasses. It’s a country loaf, easy to make—even for me! Martha Stewart has a wonderful and very simple recipe, which you can find here:  Treacle Brown Bread Recipe | Martha Stewart


Why were the Victorians crazy for taxidermy? I remember my grandmother having a mink stole that closed using the paw/claws as hooks—very creepy!


I remember the same thing and felt so sorry for the little animal. But the Victorians took taxidermy to ridiculous extremes. In their passion for natural history and whimsical fantasies, they collected anthropomorphic tableaux set in glass—animals posed in human-like situations: hedgehogs ice-skating, kittens at a tea party, foxes teaching a class of bunnies. Victorian women perched stuffed birds and small animals on their hats. Death was an ever-present reality in the nineteenth century, and in addition to taxidermy, Victorians cut hair from the corpses of their loved ones and wove it into jewelry. They also frequently had photographs taken with dead relatives before burial, propped up with wooden frames or other family members.


Why doesn’t Tom’s mother like Americans?


That’s a good question—one which Tom has never adequately explained. My theory is that Liz Mallory enjoyed her relationship with Tom’s dead wife, Sarah, because Sarah was malleable and easily handled. And, of course, after Sarah’s death, Liz moved in to take care of their daughter, Olivia. Slowly, she began to think of the household as her own. Kate represents a threat because she is definitely her own person—and now the most important person in Tom’s life. Liz also fears that Kate will talk Tom into moving to the U.S.


Is Tom from an aristocratic family? Who is Uncle Nigel? What happened to Tom’s father?


Tom’s background has been a bit of a mystery to Kate. When they met in the Scottish Hebrides, he told Kate he spent his summers with his Uncle Nigel Hartley in Devon—“summer camp in a castle.” When she questioned him further, Tom said the house merely looked like a castle to him as a small boy. Later he told Kate that Uncle Nigel paid his fees when he went up to Oxford.

But there’s been an estrangement in the family. Nigel disapproved of Tom’s mother’s marriage to Tom’s father—on solid grounds as it turned out, since Tom’s father was after what he hoped would be her fortune. Liz was so incensed at her brother’s interference that she cut off all ties with him and refused to take a penny for herself. With his hopes of wealth dashed, Tom’s father had an affair and abandoned the family. He is now dead. To date, Kate has not met Nigel or visited his estate, Fouroaks.


What’s the story on the ring Tom gave to Kate for their engagement?


The ring is a family heirloom. The center stone, a square Assher-cut diamond, was purchased by Tom’s great-great-grandfather Hartley in South Africa in the 1880s. In 1921, his son (Tom’s great-grandfather) had it set into a ring for his bride. It’s been passed down to each generation. Since Uncle Nigel could never settle on just one girl, the ring now belongs to Tom.


What is dendrochronology? Infrared reflectography? Craquelure? Mass spectrometry?


These terms are all part of the scientific process of examining old paintings.

·      Dendrochronology is the process of examining tree rings in old wood to accurately pinpoint the date when the tree was felled. It’s remarkably specific. Since many old masters were painted on wooden planks, dating the wood helps date the painting.

·      Infrared Reflectography is a non-destructive imaging technique that detects the presence of specific pigments in a painting. The process can also reveal what lies beneath the surface of a painting—underdrawings, for example, or pedimenti, the revisions an artist might make during the process of creation.

·      Craquelure refers to the natural pattern of cracks that develop in the paint or varnish of a painting over time. This is a great way to detect a forgery because natural craquelure is almost impossible to reproduce, although there are some techniques involving formaldehyde and a special baking process that produce results that appear genuine to all but a trained eye.

·      Mass Spectrometry is so complicated that describing it is definitely beyond my mental ability. I can tell you that, among other things, the process can isolate tiny amounts of the radioactive isotopes unleashed across the globe after 1945. If these isotopes are found in a painting that is said to have been painted in the sixteenth century (or even the nineteenth century), that painting is forgery.


Is it true that at the turn of the nineteenth century, people wore small portraits of their lover’s eyes?


Courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum

Absolutely true. The fad started in 1785 when England’s Prince George (later King George IV) sent a tiny portrait of his eye to Maria Anne Fitzherbert, the Catholic widow with whom he’d fallen in love and was trying desperately to marry. According to English law at the time, such a marriage was not allowed, and although the couple actually did marry in a secret ceremony, the wedding was declared invalid. George later married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. Anyway, for the next fifty years or so, Lover’s Eyes were a fad. Lovers would exchange portraits of their eyes, painted on bits of ivory no bigger than a fingernail and set into gold frames, sometimes surrounded by precious gems or pearls, and tucked close to the heart or worn openly for all the world to see. Both men and women wore them, with the identity of the subject a mystery. All part of the fun.


Does Ivor know hypnotism?


Ivor knows all sorts of amazing things from his travels around the globe with the Merchant Marine. While in northern Mongolia, he learned a technique, akin to hypnosis, to take someone back to a previous time through recovered memory. Since Vivian’s life depends upon her memory of what she and the other young teens found in the abandoned house fifty-eight years earlier, Ivor takes her back to that place and time so she can mentally relive the experience. Remember, this is fiction.


What’s next for Kate?


It appears Kate is heading for a wedding, but we’ll have to wait for the next book to find out. You never know!



Susan said...

Terrific interview, Elaine and Connie. I’ve read this new book and it is wonderful. Happy launch.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congratulations! I look forward to reading your new release.

Jim Jackson said...

Groaning at the Beowolf joke. Congratulations on your most recent release.

Kait said...

Delightful! Can’t wait to read The Shadow of Memory, and I hope things work out for Kate and Tom!

KM Rockwood said...

Such a lot of information in just the interview! I love mysteries that gently teach me things, and I have a feeling there's a lot to learn in this series.

Molly MacRae said...

Wonderful interview! It clearly shows why Connie's books are so good.