Wednesday, August 23, 2023

An Interview with Barbara Ross By E. B. Davis


Serving up mouthwatering shellfish, the Snowden Family Clambake has become a beloved institution in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. But when new clues rise to the surface five years after the disappearance of Julia Snowden’ s mother’s friend, the family business shifts to sleuthing . . .
Julia and her mother, Jacqueline, have come to the exclusive summer colony of Chipmunk Island to attend a memorial service for Jacqueline’s old friend Ginny, who’s been officially declared dead half a decade after she went out for her daily swim in the harbor and was never seen again. But something seems fishy at the service—especially with the ladies of the Wednesday Club. As Julia and Jacqueline begin looking into Ginny’s cold case, a present-day murder stirs the pot, and mother and daughter must dive into the deep end to get to the bottom of both mysteries . . .


Hidden Beneath is the eleventh book in the Maine Clambake mystery series. Barbara keeps adding to the storyline and shelling more plots with each book. This addition solidifies much of the backstory that Barbara has established, but it ties up loose ends nicely and begins a new endeavor for main character, Julia. I felt sorry for Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, who has too many important things to do and decisions to make, but the truth she seeks lies hidden beneath.


Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK.         E. B. Davis

Julia and Jacqueline use their Boston Whaler to get around the islands. I have this image of a huge whaling ship. I mean whales are big, right? Just how big is a Boston Whaler?


Hi and thanks so much for having me. Boston Whalers come in many lengths from 13 feet to 35 feet. Given the amount of people and stuff the Snowdens have to haul back and forth to Morrow Island, I’ve always pictured theirs as being around 22 feet.


Julia and Jacqueline go to Chipmunk Island to attend a memorial service for Jacqueline’s old friend, Ginny Merrill, who has been declared dead after she disappeared five years before. It is a private island with a homeowner’s association, no cars, and vacation homes, which have been passed down from generation to generation. Are there islands or communities like this in Maine?


There are 3000-4000 islands in Maine, most along the coast but a few in large lakes, like Sebago. Forty-one islands are inhabited year-round, fifteen of those are unbridged (i.e. the only way to get there is by boat, helicopter, or small plane-and then only for the very largest of them.) Six hundred are privately owned. I couldn’t get a count on unbridged islands, seasonally-occupied by multiple households, like Chipmunk in the book, but at least several dozen.


Jacqueline and Ginny were old friends at boarding school, but they haven’t been close for decades. Ginny grew up during the summers with those girls her age residing on Chipmunk Island, who are all this generation’s Wednesday Club members. What is the Wednesday Club?


From the book—


“What exactly is the Wednesday Club?” I asked.

April smiled. She had pleasantly round cheeks and a dimple near her mouth. “The Wednesday Club is nothing more and nothing less than a group of women who pick a topic, say Pompeii, or Elizabethan England, or the Bloomsbury group. Then each member chooses an aspect of that topic and writes a research paper about it.”

“A research paper?” Of all the things I imagined April was going to tell me the club did, writing research papers wasn’t one of them. “Writing a research paper for summer fun?”

April chuckled. “With footnotes and everything. The writing takes place over the winter, when they have access to libraries and such. The papers get presented in the summer, one every Wednesday. The paper’s author hosts the meeting in her home. They have the same little sandwiches, cookies, and fruit squares for every single meeting.”

“But why do they do it?” I asked.

April laughed again. “The group was founded by my great-grandmother and her friends on the island. They were all college-educated women, desperate to keep their minds active and with limited opportunities to do so.”

“Your great-grandmother would be pleased the group is still going,” I said to April.

She rolled her eyes. “My great-grandmother would be more pleased to know it isn’t necessary for women who want to use their educations to have a group like that anymore.”

Does the fact that Ginny emailed Jacqueline wanting her advice and then named her as executor of her estate give Julia any ideas about how or why Ginny disappeared?


It tips Julia that either Ginny had a falling out with her best friends on the island or, she didn’t trust any of them to carry out her final wishes. Figuring out why that would be propels Julia forward in the investigation.


Julia discovers the club members are tearing the house apart to find Ginny’s will. Jacqueline takes offense because they have no authority to be there. Why would it have been such a horrible thing if the house went to the state?


Ginny’s house is one of the few on the island that has direct access to the water. (Most are high on bluffs.) The state could choose to make the land available to the public, for example to kayakers for picnicking. This would bring strangers to the island, something the club members do not want.


The current generation of women want to keep Chipmunk Island the same. Some want Ginny’s house for their own offspring, and yet, after talking with their children, Julia finds none of them have the time, money, or inclination to have a house there. Is this a case of the older generation being in denial or just not recognizing reality?


It varies for each character, but I think, in general, it’s a case of wanting the same happy summers for their grandchildren that the club members had and that their children had. It’s a case of holding onto a past that is becoming obsolete.


Julia finds her old love, Chris, on the island. He took the job of Chipmunk Island superintendent, which required him to stay on the island when it was deserted during the winter. Why did he do that?


Chris comes to the conclusion that he took the job to isolate himself. He and Julia have broken up. He’s estranged from his family. By his own admission, he’s pushed away his friends. He’s punishing himself for something, but what?


I was surprised that the summer would be Lupine Design’s slow season. Isn’t there a lot of tourists in Busman’s Harbor then?


Yes, but the retail aspect is the smaller part of Lupine’s business. Their larger business is selling their ceramics through other retailers and distributors. Most of the work of making the goods has to be done by spring, so they have inventory for wedding season and the summer retail business.

What does “cash on the barrelhead” mean? Where did the phrase originate?

It means immediate and total cash payment required, no credit extended. (This is the only way Julia’s friend, restauranteur Gus Farnham, operates.) There is speculation the expression goes back to the days when both seats and tables in bars were made from barrels, but barrels were used for so many things related to commerce, I’m a little skeptical of the specificity of that explanation.


Ginny strangely painted pictures on the walls that told stories of her growing up. Why would anyone do that? Were they colorful murals?


They were colorful murals, primitives. Ginny is telling a story with her murals, a story from her past with the other members of the Wednesday club. But I can think of many reasons you might do this—for decoration or out of an artistic impulse. Here’s the story of one set of murals that inspired me.


Few cats get clam and lobster to eat. Is Le Roi spoiled?


Le Roi is an expert at conning the guests who come to the Snowden Family Clambake into feeding him treats under their tables.


I was surprised that Ginny’s Portland condo association had Ginny declared dead. Why them?


Ginny has no obvious heirs and appears not to have left a will or instructions when she disappears. Her condo fees are paid automatically by a standing transfer from her bank account, but the fees have risen while she been gone and she’s in arrears. Legally she’s in limbo, not officially dead but assumed to be so. The condo association is advised it is better to pursue having her declared dead than to try to evict her. The other group that might have pursued having her situation resolved legally, her friends on Chipmunk Island, have no interest in having her declared dead unless a will is found.


Although five million dollars is a lot of money, I was surprised that Jacqueline considered the offer on Morrow Island, which included the renovated Windsholme. After spending the time and money renovating the place, with their own plans to hold events there, why would she consider the offer?


Five million dollars is a life-changing amount of money, not just for Jacqueline but for her entire family. I think offers like this are something all small business owners have to consider when their businesses or the real estate they rest on become highly valuable. The Clambake is on sound financial footing now, but it’s not that long ago the Snowden family almost lost it all. Life being what it is, those hard times will probably come around again. Jacqueline is being prudent, taking her time to think it all through.


When one of the Wednesday Club members is killed, the state police are called in to investigate. Julia is working on solving the disappearance, perhaps murder, of Ginny. I was surprised that the police didn’t want to look at the evidence that Julia compiled even though they were working on the new case. Didn’t they think the cases were related?


Ginny has been declared legally dead, presumed drowned. There’s no case for the state police to investigate. But they do, eventually, come to understand the connections and appreciate Julia’s insights.


Julia really shows herself when she reads Ginny’s latest journal and Ginny’s rational for what she bequeaths people in her will. Julia decides to let those people know Ginny’s reasoning. That says something about Julia, doesn’t it?


Julia never knew Ginny in life, but she really gets to know her through her journals. Julia’s impulse is to honor Ginny’s intentions by letting the recipients know why Ginny chose what she did for them. My parents were left an antique card table by a childless couple who were friends of my father’s parents. My parents treasured the table, but I think they always wondered, why it? Why them? Now I have it and I’m no clearer on the story. I think I was supplying a resolution for myself.


What’s next for Julia, and perhaps, Tom?


Thanks so much for asking! Julia and Tom appear in “Hopped Along,” the story that is my contribution, along with novellas by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis, to the collection, Easter Basket Murder, coming January 24. Julia and Tom also appear in the next Maine Clambake Mystery novel, Torn Asunder, coming April 23.



  1. Congratuations on this latest addition to your series, Barbara. Good to know Julia and Tom have more adventures on the horizon.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful series.

  3. Another addition to a great series. I love the atmospheric tone this seaside series introduces.

  4. Nice to see you here, Barbara. Congratulations on your latest!

  5. Thanks, everyone! I always enjoy E. B. Davis's interviews. They make me think.