Mr. Plumbottom was probably somewhere in his mid-to late sixties,
impeccably dressed in a gray suit, a red vest, and a bright yellow patterned tie
with a matching pocket square. He had wisps of gray hair growing out of
his bald head, reminding Isabel of a Chia Pet she once had that she
did not have great success with.
M.V. Byrne, Isabel Puddles Abroad, Kindle Loc. 1043
has crafted a life she loves in her Lake Michigan hometown, but she’s eager to
use her golden years to make up for missed opportunities. That’s why she’s
traveling to England for the first time to visit her pen pal, Teddy Mansfield,
an acclaimed mystery writer who lives just outside the village of Mousehole,
Cornwall. First impressions are charming—Isabel is staying in the guest cottage
on the grounds of Teddy’s beautiful country manor, and Mousehole is home to an
assortment of characters as colorful as any in Teddy’s books.
Teddy’s housekeeper, Tuppence, is a dab hand at baking—her scones are regularly runner-up in the village bake-off, and this year she’s determined to scoop top prize. But it appears that other, possibly more dangerous rivalries have been brewing in Mousehole. And when a resident is found pushing up daisies in a flowerbed, Isabel is drawn into an investigation that will require all of her newly honed skills to solve—and to survive . . .
Isabel Puddles Abroad is the third book in M.V. Byrne’s Mitten State Mysteries. I wish I had read the first two before I downloaded this one because every page was a reading pleasure. In most mysteries, the crime investigation is the plot of the book. In this series, the “backstory” can be more accurately described as “frontstory,” sharing equal time and importance with the crime of murder. There is little sorrow for the victim, an odious woman who caused great pain in others’ lives. Still, Isabel solves the crime.
An aspect of “frontstory” is getting to know the secondary characters almost as well as the primary characters. In this book, Isabel’s English friend Teddy, a mystery writer hiding behind his famous pseudonym, invites her to his home in Cornwall, England. His housekeeper, sister, his two Corgis (Fred and Ginger) and other town folk, including a police detective, are the secondary characters with whom the reader becomes well-acquainted.
Byrne’s use of language is accented by local idioms, which are fun, especially as pondered by Isabel, who tries to use logic against whimsey. Isabel Puddles Abroad is a lovely cozy accompanied by good food and, of course, a cuppa.
Please welcome M.V. Byrne to WWK. E. B. Davis
Did you base the series in Michigan because you’re from the Mitten State?
Yes, Michigan was an obvious choice for that reason, but the area of western Michigan where Isabel lives—as well as the fictional town of Gull Harbor—is where my family really is from and where I spent every summer as a kid, even though we moved away when I was very young. But I still try to get there every summer. This area has been a summer resort for the well-heeled for many years, but the rest of the year it’s just a typical little Midwestern farming community, so this cyclical demographic offers lots of opportunities for recurring characters to interact with new characters. And the juxtaposition of city people vs. country folk creates opportunity for some entertaining conflict. Plus it’s a gorgeous setting, so selfishly, while I’m writing I’m taken back there which is always nice. And as a writer, because I know the area so well and have such a rich family history there, it gives me an embarrassment of riches to draw from which makes everything so much easier. That was a very long winded answer!
The Gull Harbor, Michigan diner where Isabel and Frances often meet is named Land’s End. A town in Cornwall is named Land’s End. Are there similarities between Michigan and Cornwall, England?
I was in Cornwall for just a week researching this book. I didn’t come across the town of Land’s End during my travels. Next time! But I did fall in love with the Cornwall countryside and a few of those villages—St. Ives, Zennor, and Mousehole where I chose to set my story—are magical. I would say the most obvious similarity is the whole summer people vs. local people aspect. Cornwall is also very rural, but also very popular with the posh London set, many of whom either own second homes there or traditionally spend their summer holidays there or go on weekend trips. I know from meeting and talking with many Cornish locals that this can test their tolerance since they are so removed from that world.
What type of dogs are Isabel’s Jackpot and Corky?
Jackpot is a Jack Russell terrier and Corky is a cocker spaniel. I once had a dog named Jackpot, and my grandparents had a cocker spaniel named Corky. I had seen so many pictures of Corky, and heard so many stories about him, I felt like he was mine too, although he died almost twenty years before I was born. I don’t think my grandmother ever got over losing that dog.
Isabel has decided to go back to college to earn her degree in literary studies rather than continue as a private investigator. She’s trying to mitigate the negativity of dealing with murder and criminals. But more than that, Isabel finds herself expecting and preparing for bad news due to world events over the last few years. Do you think that’s universal? Is everyone expecting more bad news? Is this good news for cozy fiction where readers take comfort and escape from calamitous world events?
I think it’s good news for cozy readers AND cozy writers! I wrote most of book two during lockdown in Los Angeles, and it was a wonderful way to escape the overwhelming fear and sadness that was lurking just outside my door. Sadly I do think we live in a world now where we are conditioned to accept bad news, and expect it on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes it feels like we just go from one school shooting to the next, one environmental calamity to the next. And we’ve gotten used to learning that many of our heroes are anything but heroic. I think it’s nice for readers, and again for writers, to inhabit a world where honesty and fairness and justice still win the day! And where we can put the fun back into murder!
Isabel wasn’t happy in her marriage, which Frances knows, but there is no indication her children Carly and Charlie know. Did they hide it from the kids?
I think they did their best. Or at least Isabel did. But no matter how well an unhappy marriage is disguised, if anyone is going to see through it, it’s going to be the children. Isabel is not the sort of mother who would speak ill of her children’s father. But she’s also not going to pretend everything was hunky dory either. As I see Charlie and Carly, they’ve simply chosen to let it be. And as a family they’ve created a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Isabel describes herself as, “…not a quitter…but I’m not a masochist either.” How does Isabel know when to say when? Is age a factor in knowing when to draw the line?
I think—and I say this from personal experience—that one of the advantages of getting older is being able to know when to say when, and to make decisions based on experience and/or practicality. Sticking with things you know in your heart you’d rather quit, purely out of ego, or pride, or vanity is a dilemma reserved for young people, or people who have just not embraced or been blessed with the wisdom to know when enough is enough and then to act accordingly.
What is the “Royal Standard?”
The Royal Standard is the flag that represents both the sovereign currently on the throne and the United Kingdom. When the Royal Standard is flying over Buckingham Palace, for instance, it now means that King Charles is in residence in the palace. It was also the flag draped over the Queen’s casket while she lay in state.
Is there a story behind Teddy’s Cornish town’s name of Mousehole (pronounced Mow-zel)?
Apparently there are a couple different theories. The first is that it comes from the Cornish name, Moeshayle, or, it’s simply a reference to the hamlet’s tiny harbor and a nearby sea cave that looks, well, like a mouse hole. I was quickly corrected by a local, with a goodhearted laugh, when I pronounced it how any English-speaking person would at first. The sign of a real American tourist!
Are all your idioms in use or did you make them up? Such as, “temperamental as the hind leg of a donkey” “a face that looks like a dropped pie” “mad as a box of frogs” On the latter—how do we know they are mad? Do they huff?
I’ve never encountered an angry frog, and I hope I never do. But I would imagine a box full of frogs would be a rather disturbing symphony of croaking. In this instance though, “mad” is referring to crazy, which is the term I find to be most often used when describing someone who is in fact, crazy. But to answer the question, these are not my creations. They are all idioms I’ve picked up in my travels and research. The Brits have a real gift in this department! And there are so many to choose from! I think “a face like a dropped pie” is my favorite.
Do Cornwall and Devon have a rivalry? Do the Cornish really insist that the clotted cream must be spread on a scone before the jelly, and those in Devon do the opposite? Do people even take note of it?
My answer to this is a resounding YES! I assume there is rivalry between the two “counties” that go beyond scones, but when it comes to putting cream or jam on your scone first, yes, it’s real and it matters!
The murder victim was a manipulative woman who lies to destroy others or have control. I’ve recently become aware of the term “narcissistic sociopath.” Have you met or had one in your life?
I hope not!
Barclay, the English detective, was drawn to his career after reading Teddy’s mystery books, featuring a detective. This is his first homicide. Does he value Teddy’s input because he writes mysteries, thinking he’ll have insight? How did he come to know of Isabel’s detective skills?
I think Barclay idolizes Teddy, and asking for his insights initially regarding the investigation is a way to bond with him. But when Barclay realizes this investigation is getting complicated, and he’s feeling overwhelmed and out of his element, he’s looking for help! In my mind, Barclay learned about Isabel’s sleuthing skills by way of Teddy simply bragging a bit about his house guest. And there again, Barclay jumped at the opportunity for some much needed assistance.
I keep trying to envision Banoffee pie and Hobnobs. What are they? Will we someday get recipes?
Banoffee pie is a pie made with bananas and toffee. I was pronouncing it wrong, again, but when I was corrected, that made perfect sense! And it’s a delicious pie! Hobnobs are a biscuit (cookie) very popular in the UK and great for dunking into your tea apparently. They’re an oat biscuit, and although I think they’re a commercial brand, there are homemade recipes. I’ve never had one. I just liked the name!
Is Camilla the duchess of Cornwall? Did she live there?
I don’t know if Camilla ever lived there, but she no longer holds the title. Since I finished the book before the Queen died, it’s already dated! Here’s how I understand it works… The title of Duchess of Cornwall is the customary title given to the wife of the sovereign’s eldest son, who, in addition to being the Prince of Wales, is also the Duke of Cornwall. Previous to the Queen’s death, that was Charles and Camilla. So now William and Kate are the new Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke of Duchess of Cornwall until William ascends the throne.
Is good corn available in England (for Isabel’s chowder)?
There is no better corn than you’ll find in western Michigan in August, so Isabel did her best with what she had to work with. I don’t think I’ve ever had corn on the cob in the UK, so I don’t want to disparage it, but, I can’t imagine it even compares.
Teddy is quite American in his perspective, especially when it comes to the monarchy. Was it all the American television he watched as a child?
I think that’s true of many Brits from Teddy’s generation and generations since. American TV is very popular in the UK, much more so than British TV is here, although I happen to love British TV of all sorts. How the Brits’ fondness for American TV might affect their view of the monarchy isn’t anything I can really address. What I have observed, however, is that Gen X and Gen Z Brits are generally unenthused and fairly apathetic about the monarchy and the royal family.
I was surprised that Teddy anticipated that Isabel and his housekeeper, Tuppence, wouldn’t get along—when they seem to think alike in many ways. And yet, he never suspected that his sister would take against Isabel. What was he thinking, or not, as the case may be?
I think Teddy’s concerns that Tuppence would be possessive and territorial were not only inaccurate, but also they didn’t allow for Isabel’s charming personality to overcome those feelings if they reared their heads. Isabel and Tuppence just clicked as you sometimes do with people. As far as Matilde goes, I think Teddy was just hoping for the best, but quietly preparing for conflict knowing his sister to be a bit of a snob, and where our story picks up, a loose cannon.
What does being “Cornish to the bone” mean?
When referring to Tuppence, I just meant that she was/is someone who was born and bred in Cornwall, as had many, many generations of her family who came before. And I do think Cornish people have a certain reputation in the rest of the UK as being both proud of their heritage, and a bit stubborn about change.
I was surprised that Barclay, the Mousehole detective, took the hairbrush as evidence. Don’t the English have a rule about chain of evidence?
There’s an expression the film director Robert Altman used to describe his films, “There’s real, and then there’s movie real.” I have adopted that philosophy in my mystery writing. I also try to adhere to one of the rules of fiction writing which is… “Life doesn’t have to make sense, but fiction does.” And then there’s always, “the shortest distance between point A and point B is a straight line” to fall back on.
What’s next for Isabel?
I honestly don’t know. I have an idea percolating for a book four, but we’ll have to see if the publishing gods deem that to be.
Best of luck with the publishing gods for book 4 and beyond.
And the burning question: Michiganian (my preference) or Michigander?
Thanks for this great introduction to M.V. Byrne, Elaine! M.V, I look forward to spending happy hours with Isabel.
A fun series travels to England! Sounds like a great adventure.
I LOVE Cornwall. A fascinating place to visit. This series sounds like such fun!
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