FEATURED AUTHOR: KATHERINE HALL PAGE
ABOUT THE BOOKThe inimitable Faith Fairchild returns in a chilling New England whodunit, inspired by the best Agatha Christie mysteries and with hints of the timeless board game Clue.
For most of her adult life, resourceful caterer Faith Fairchild has called the sleepy Massachusetts village of Aleford home. While the native New Yorker has come to know the region well, she isn’t familiar with Havencrest, a privileged enclave, until the owner of Rowan House, a secluded sprawling Arts and Crafts mansion, calls her about catering a weekend house party.
Producer/director of a string of hit musicals, Max Dane—a Broadway legend—is throwing a lavish party to celebrate his seventieth birthday. At the house as they discuss the event, Faith’s client makes a startling confession. "I didn’t hire you for your cooking skills, fine as they may be, but for your sleuthing ability. You see, one of the guests wants to kill me."
Faith’s only clue is an ominous birthday gift the man received the week before—an empty casket sent anonymously containing a twenty-year-old Playbill from Max’s last, and only failed, production—Heaven or Hell. Consequently, Max has drawn his guest list for the party from the cast and crew. As the guests begin to arrive one by one, and an ice storm brews overhead, Faith must keep one eye on the menu and the other on her host to prevent his birthday bash from becoming his final curtain call.
Full of delectable recipes, brooding atmosphere, and Faith’s signature biting wit, The Body in the Casket is a delightful thriller that echoes the beloved mysteries of Agatha Christie and classic films such as Murder by Death and Deathtrap.
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: December 5th 2017
Number of Pages: 238
ISBN: 0062439561 (ISBN13: 9780062439567)
Series: Faith Fairchild, 24
Touring with: Partners in Crime
INTERVIEW WITH KATHERINE HALL PAGE
Katherine, tell us about your series. Is this book a standalone or do readers need to read the series in order?
I have been fortunate to write a long running series starting with The Body in the Belfry (1990) and now #24, The Body in the Casket, all in print. I had no idea that I was writing a series when I wrote the first book, but as soon as it appeared there would be a few more I realized I needed to make each one work as a stand alone. Reading in order is a matter of temperament, but not a necessity! My amateur sleuth is Faith Sibley Fairchild who grew up in the Big Apple, but falls in love, marries and finds herself in Aleford, a small town west of Boston. Her husband is the Reverend Thomas Fairchild. Daughter and granddaughter of clergy, she had vowed to avoid the fishbowl existence of a parish, but the heart knows no reason. In the first book she has her infant son in a Snugli when she stumbles across the still warm body of a parishioner in the town’s old belfry and rings the bell setting off a chain of events and characters that continue in spirit throughout the books. She left her highly successful Manhattan catering firm, “Have Faith” when she moved, but starts it up again in Aleford. Along the way she has another child, daughter Amy. I didn’t get the memo about not putting kids in murder mysteries. Motherhood seemed to go with my character, but childcare can become difficult when pursuing a hot lead!
Where’s home for you?
I live in two small towns, one twenty minutes west of Boston and not unlike the completely fictitious town of Aleford. I am surrounded by woods and very nice people. The other town is on an island in Penobscot Bay, Maine fortunately connected to the mainland by a lovely suspension bridge. I am surrounded by water and very nice people.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Livingston, New Jersey about forty minutes from Manhattan. When we first moved there in the 1950s, it was a farm community. That continued for a while—there was a 4H Club in my high school. But the post war baby boom changed things—over 500 in my graduating class—and the farms were covered by malls and housing. It was, however, a wonderful place in which to grow up. I’m a Jersey Girl—and no, I don’t pump gas.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
That as I grown older, a lot of the baggage I’ve carried around would become lighter and even fall by the wayside.
What is the stupidest thing you've ever done?
Was conned during a sales call into one of those “free” vacations—NYC—in return for listening to a brief sales pitch about vacation condominiums. If it sounds too good to be true it is. We went on the “vacation” during which the pitch went on for hours, increasingly aggressive and splinters under my nails would have been a relief.
What’s one thing that you wish you knew as a teenager that you know now?
That much of the time would be veiled by the mists of time—and that my braces would eventually come off!
What makes you happy?
My friends and family, specifically my husband of 42 years and our son. Nothing will ever equal the joy we felt when baby Nicholas was placed in our arms. I tear up thinking about it now 34 years later. On another note, I am made quite happy by chilled, not cold good champagne and tasty nibbles.
What makes you scared?
Aside from noir mysteries—when I read, I am right there in the book—I am frightened about what the future hold for my son, his cohort, and the next generation because of climate change in particular. We saw the effects in Maine this summer on the fishing industry that was down because of warming waters.
Do you have another job outside of writing?
I have had two (so far) great careers. My writing job started in the late 1980s and before that I was a secondary school teacher and administrator. The last 5 years I was the head of a program within a public school for teens with special emotional needs due to chronic truancy, difficult family situations and substance abuse. It was rewarding and exhausting. I miss the classroom, and I miss those kids.
How did you meet your spouse? Was it love at first sight?
My husband and I were fixed up, although we did not know it at the time. Mutual friends invited us to dinner, a rather large party. It wasn’t love at first sight, but definitely second as he left to do research in Canada immediately after for some weeks and I pretty much forgot him. Not his wonderful deep voice though—he’s from the Bronx—when he got in touch upon his return. The friends reminded him to call, although he says he didn’t need it. We went out the following night. And here we are.
If you could only save one thing from your house, what would it be?
Taking family and the cat—Samantha, the daughter I never had—as givens, I would take one of my mother’s paintings. She was a professional painter and one large one, an abstract landscape she titled “Winter Light” is my favorite. She gave it to me for a significant birthday. It was one she never wanted to sell, and she knew I loved it. Miss my parents every day.
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
This is very easy. “Bad Taste Leads to Crime” (Le Mauvais Gout Mène Crime) from the Baron Adolphe De Mareste (1784-1867). Definitely words by which we all should live!
What would you like people to say about you after you die?
“She tried her best.” This is actually on a woman’s tombstone from the 1800s in a Deer Isle, Maine cemetery.
How did you create the plot for this book?
I have always wanted to write a traditional country house murder in the spirit of many of Agatha Christie’s set in such places. Hercule Poirot was introduced in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a quintessential country manor house. I have also always had a passion for the theater, especially Broadway musicals. Growing up not far from New York City, this was an important part of my life and my parents had friends in that world. I wanted to draw on those experiences. Faith is catering a weekend long 70th birthday party that legendary Broadway producer Max Dane is throwing for himself. The twist is that all the guests were connected in some way with Max’s only failure: Heaven or Hell The Musical twenty years ago. He hasn’t produced anything since, retreating to his isolated large mansion not too far from Faith’s Massachusetts home. Giving her a tour of the house and interrupting her menu suggestions, he tells her that although he is sure she is a fine chef, he has hired her for her sleuthing abilities. A macabre early birthday gift convinced him that one of the invitees wants to kill him. Before long the two elements became one. Broadway meets Havencrest (Max’s house) equals murder.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
I enjoy research, and for this book I read a number of theatrical biographies, specifically ones about the Broadway producers David Merrick and Hal Prince. I also went back to some of my favorite movies: The Wrong Box (1966), Sleuth (1972 version), Deathtrap (1982), Clue (1985), and especially Murder By Death (1976). These also explain why Max Dane and Michael Caine became one in my imagination.
With what five real people would you most like to be stuck in a bookstore?
Dorothy Cannell, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Roger Lathbury, and Gregory Maguire.
What’s one pet peeve you have when you read?
Again, this is very easy. Being interrupted. Even by my near and dear. There had better be a good reason—fire etc.
Do you have a routine for writing?
I started out writing when the school bus came to pick my son up and stopping when it dropped him off with breaks for housework and even a walk. All these years later it’s still what works for me. I don’t write on weekends if at all possible. And I take more walks now. I have dedicated offices (small) in both my houses now, which is heaven.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?
“She gave me all the clues and I should have guessed the murderer!” Hear it with happy frequency.
What would your dream office look like? I’ve always been envious of those who have writing sheds or shacks outdoors. E.B. White had a perfect small one that you can see still from the waters of Eggemoggin Reach. I’ve seen some in beautiful gardens in Britain like Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst one. Would also like to have work in my tiny abode interrupted by someone bringing me elevenses complete with tea and biscuits (I know this happens-will not name the writer though and dare I mention he had a wife?)
How did you find your publisher, and how long did your query process take?
This comes under the good old “Had she but known.” My husband took a sabbatical in France. Our son was two years old, and the French have excellent day care. Each morning I took him to a lovely little nursery school in the center of Lyon where we were living and returned home to write the book that had been percolating for a very long time in my mind on a manual (old Underwood) typewriter friends loaned me. I went to pick Nicholas up each noon and by the end of the year I had a book. I used the same method I do now. To essentially jump-start myself I rewrite what I’ve written the day before, so I can’t say how many drafts. Not realizing (the had I known part how difficult it was to get published) I saw a query from an agent looking for manuscripts, including those for adults, in the Society for Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s newsletter. I had originally thought I’d do a YA book, so was getting the newsletter. I wrote to her, and she asked to see it, had three offers and we’ve been together ever since. Cue eerie music. My agent’s first name is “Faith.”
What are you working on now?
The 25th in the series—Silver Anniversary—The Body in the Wake, working title.
Read an excerpt:
Chapter One“Have Faith in Your Kitchen,” Faith Fairchild said, answering the phone at her catering firm. She’d been busy piping choux pastry for éclairs onto a baking sheet.
“Yes? This is Faith Fairchild. How may I help you?”
“Please hold for Max Dane.” The voice had a plummy, slightly British tone, reminiscent of Jeeves, or Downton Abbey’s Carson. The only Max Dane Faith had heard of had been a famous Broadway musical producer, but she was pretty sure he’d died years ago. This must be another Max Dane.
She was put through quickly and a new voice said, “Hi. I know this is short notice, but I am very much hoping you are available to handle a house party I’m throwing for about a dozen guests at the end of the month. A Friday to Sunday. Not just dinner, but all the meals.”
Faith had never catered anything like this. A Friday to Sunday sounded like something out of a British pre-World War II country house novel—kippers for breakfast, Fortnum & Mason type hampers for the shoot, tea and scones, drinks and nibbles, then saddle of lamb or some other large haunch of meat for dinner with vintage clarets followed by port and Stilton—for the men only. She was intrigued.
“The first thing I need to know is where you live, Mr. Dane. Also, is this a firm date? We’ve had a mild winter so far, but January may still deliver a wallop like last year.”
A Manhattan native, Faith’s marriage more than 20 years ago to the Reverend Thomas Fairchild meant a radical change of address— from the Big Apple to the orchards of Aleford, a small suburb west of Boston. Faith had never become used to boiled dinners, First Parish’s rock hard pews and most of all, New England weather. By the end of the previous February there had been 75 inches of snow on the ground and you couldn’t see through the historic parsonage’s ground floor windows or open the front door. Teenage son Ben struggled valiantly to keep the back door clear, daily hewing a path to the garage. The resulting tunnel resembled a clip from Nanook of the North.
“I’m afraid the date is firm. The thirtieth is my birthday. A milestone one, my seventieth.” Unlike his butler or whoever had called Faith to the phone, Max Dane’s voice indicated he’d started life in one of the five boroughs. Faith was guessing the Bronx. He sounded a bit sheepish when he said “ my birthday,” as if throwing a party for himself was out of character. “And I live in Havencrest. It’s not far from Aleford, but I’d want you to be available at the house the whole time. Live in.”
Leaving her family for three days was not something Faith did often, especially since Sunday was a workday for Tom and all too occasionally Saturday was as he “polished” his sermon. (His term, which she had noticed over the years, could mean writing the whole thing.)
Ben and Amy, two years younger, seemed old enough to be on their own, but Faith had found that contrary to expectations, kids needed parents around more in adolescence than when they were toddlers. Every day brought the equivalent of scraped knees and they weren’t the kind of hurts that could be soothed by Pat The Bunny and a chocolate chip cookie. She needed more time to think about taking the job. “I’m not sure I can leave my family…” was interrupted. “I quite understand that this would be difficult,” Dane said and then he named a figure so far above anything she had ever been offered that she actually covered her mouth to keep from gasping out loud.
“Look,” he continued. “Why don’t you come by and we’ll talk in person? You can see the place and decide then. I don’t use it myself, but the kitchen is well equipped—the rest of the house too. I’ll email directions and you can shoot me some times that work. This week if possible. I want to send out the invites right away.”
Well, it wouldn’t hurt to talk, Faith thought. And she did like seeing other people’s houses. She agreed, but before she hung up curiosity won out and she asked, “Are you related to the Max Dane who produced all those wonderful Broadway musicals?”
“Very closely. As in one and the same. See you soon.”
Faith put the phone down and turned to Pix Miller, her closest friend and part-time Have Faith employee.
“That was someone wanting Have Faith to cater a weekend long birthday celebration—for an astonishing amount of money.” She named the figure in a breathless whisper. “His name is Max Dane. Have you ever heard of him?”
“Even I know who Max Dane is. Sam took me to New York the December after we were married and we saw one of his shows. It was magical—the whole weekend was. No kids yet. We were kids ourselves. We skated at Rockefeller Center by the tree and…”
Her friend didn’t go in for sentimental journeys and tempted as she was to note Pix and Sam skated on Aleford Pond then and now, Faith didn’t want to stop the flow of memories. “Where did you stay? A suite at the Plaza?” Sam was a very successful lawyer.
Pix came down to earth. “We barely had money for the show and pre-theater dinner at Twenty-One. That was the big splurge. I honestly can’t remember where we stayed and I should, because that’s where—” She stopped abruptly and blushed, also unusual Pix behavior.
“Say no more. Nine months later along came Mark?”
“Something like that,” Pix mumbled and then in her usual more assertive voice, added “You have to do this. Not because of the money, although the man must be loaded! Think of who might be there. And the house must be amazing. We don’t have anything booked for then and I can keep an eye on the kids.”
The Millers lived next door to the parsonage and their three now grown children had been the Fairchilds’ babysitters. Pix played a more essential role: Faith’s tutor in the unforeseen intricacies of childrearing as well as Aleford’s often arcane mores. Faith’s first social faux pas as a new bride—inviting guests for dinner at eight o’clock— had happily been avoided when her first invite, Pix, gently told Faith the town’s inhabitants would be thinking bed soon at that hour, not a main course.
Faith had started her catering business in the city that never slept before she was married and was busy all year long. Here January was always a slow month for business. The holidays were over and things didn’t start to pick up until Valentine’s Day—and even then scheduling events was risky. It all came down to weather.
Pix was at the computer. Years ago she’d agreed to work at Have Faith keeping the books, the calendar, inventory—anything that did not involve any actual food preparation.
“We have a couple of receptions at the Ganley Museum and the MLK breakfast the standing clergy host.”
The first time Faith heard the term, “standing clergy”, which was the town’s men and women of any cloth, she pictured an upright somberly garbed group in rows like ninepins. And she hadn’t been far off.
“That’s pretty much it,” Pix added, “except for a few luncheons and Amelia’s baby shower—I think she baby sat for you a couple of times when she was in high school.”
“I remember she was very reliable,” Faith said.
“Hard to believe she’s the same age as Samantha and having her second!” Pix sounded wistful. She was the type of woman born to wear a “I Spoil My Grandchildren” tee shirt. Faith wouldn’t be surprised if there were a drawer somewhere in the Miller’s house filled with tiny sweaters and booties knit by Pix, “just to be ready.” Mark Miller, the oldest, was married, but he and his wife did not seem to be in a rush to start a family.
Samantha, the middle Miller, had a long-term beau, Caleb. They were living together in trendy Park Slope, Brooklyn and Sam, an old-fashioned pater familias, had to be restrained from asking Caleb his intentions each time the young couple came to Aleford. Pix was leaning that way herself, she’d told Faith recently, noting that young couples these days were so intent on careers they didn’t hear the clock ticking.
Faith had forgotten that Amelia—who apparently had paid attention to time— was Samantha’s age and quickly changed the subject to what was uppermost in her mind—the Dane job. “Where is Havencrest?” she asked. “I thought I knew all the neighboring towns.”
“It’s not really a town so much as an enclave between Weston and Dover. I don’t think it even has a zip code. I’ve never been there, but Mother has. You can ask her about it. The houses all date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I believe there’s a gatehouse at the entrance. It’s an early equivalent of the mid century modern planned communities like Moon Hill in Lexington. Havencrest wasn’t a bunch of architects like that one though. Just very rich Boston Brahmin families who wanted privacy and plenty of space. I wonder how Max Dane ended up there? From what Mother has said, the houses don’t change hands, just generations.”
“I think I’ll check my email and see if there’s anything from him yet,” Faith said. “And maybe drop by to see Ursula on my way home.” Stopping to visit with Ursula Lyman Rowe, Pix’s mother, was no chore. The octogenarian was one of Faith’s favorite people. She turned back to the éclairs, which were part of a special order, and added a few more to bring to her friend.
“I know you’ll take the job,” Pix said. “I’m predicting the weekend of a lifetime!”
Excerpt from The Body in the Casket by Katherine Hall Page. Copyright © 2017 by William Morrow. Reproduced with permission from William Morrow. All rights reserved.
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