As part of Bas Bleu’s 2016 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions, author interviews, or other bonus material about our Bluestocking BAM selection to enrich your reading experience—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)
We’re “broad-spectrum” mystery fans here at Bas Bleu, equally thrilled by hardboiled whodunits, old-school procedurals, and cozy mysteries. Our April Book a Month selection, Murder at the Brightwell, falls in the latter category: It’s the sparkling debut of amateur sleuth Amory Ames, a charming and sophisticated young woman who finds herself caught up in a murder mystery at a posh resort in 1930s England. Our reviewer was smitten by Amory, as well as by the witty dialogue and myriad plot twists novelist Ashley Weaver wove through the story. This week in the Bluestocking Salon, Ashley talks with us about her literary inspirations, her favorite childhood mysteries, and how Amory chose her writer.
Bas Bleu: As a librarian, you’ve spent your career surrounded by millions of books and countless stories. When the time came to write your first novel, how did you choose your story? Or did Amory and her story choose you?
Ashley Weaver: I guess it would be pretty accurate to say that Amory chose me. I had a dream one night with a woman named Amory Ames in it. I didn’t remember anything about the dream but the name, and I thought it would make a great name for a character. I sat down and started writing, and Amory Ames was born! As for the plot and setting, they unfolded very naturally. My favorite genre to read has always been mystery, so I knew that a mystery would work its way into the story. Growing up loving old movies, the 1930s was always one of my favorite eras and Amory fit perfectly into that world. All the elements just seemed to click, and the book flowed from there!
BB: Where did you find inspiration for the delightfully oddball assortment of characters on holiday at the Brightwell?
AW: My goal was to make all of the characters at the Brightwell unique individuals with their own set of secrets and personal motivations. I wanted to give them quirks and idiosyncrasies that would make them stand out as characters and also contribute to Amory’s examination of them as suspects. None of them were specifically based on actual people, but I’m sure bits and piece of people I’ve known worked their way into the characters!
BB: Amory and Milo Ames are both extraordinarily charming…but in very different ways. Milo’s playboy reputation certainly puts a strain on their relationship. Do you foresee his rakish personality being an everlasting challenge for the couple?
AW: I think part of what works in Amory and Milo’s relationship is that their personalities complement each other. Amory is practical and down-to-earth, and Milo is much more reckless and unpredictable. She steadies him in some ways, and he brings some added excitement to her life. His tendency to get himself into trouble may continue to prove something of a challenge for the more level-headed Amory, but they are also developing a greater degree of understanding and trust in their marriage. Their relationship is one that will grow stronger as they work together and learn how to communicate.
BB: We loved the dynamic relationship between Amory and Inspector Jones. Will the two ever sleuth together again?
AW: Originally, I didn’t have any plans for Inspector Jones to return in future novels, but I really enjoyed writing his interactions with Amory. I won’t give too much away, but she has definitely not seen the last of him!
BB: Your mysteries have been described as Christie-esque. Besides Agatha Christie, what writers do you consider kindred spirits?
AW: I belong to a group of historical mystery writers called Sleuths in Time. The other writers in the group are Tessa Arlen, Susanna Calkins, Anna Lee Huber, D. E. Ireland, Anna Loan-Wilsey, Alyssa Maxwell, and Christine Trent, and I feel that I am definitely kindred spirits with all of these ladies. We all have a passion for stories that blend history and mystery!
BB: What mystery from your own life would you most like to solve?
AW: My own life has been surprisingly mystery-free. I suppose that’s why I’ve always enjoyed seeking them out and creating them!
BB: Aside from your own titles, which books are you quick to recommend to other readers?
AW: There are so many authors I love! If people are looking for mysteries, you can’t go wrong with the classics. I love the Sherlock Holmes stories and the works of Agatha Christie. As far as modern mysteries go, I’m a big fan of Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander.
BB: Which book(s) from your childhood helped to shape the person you are today?
AW: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved mysteries. It started with Richard Scarry’s Great Steamboat Mystery and moved on to Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and Trixie Belden. One mystery in particular that I really loved was Phoebe and the MacFairlie Mystery by Donald C. Barrie. That one stuck with me for years, and I recently found a copy for sale online. I read it again and was happy to find that it was just as wonderfully atmospheric as I remembered. I think mysteries always drew me because I liked the allure of the unknown and how all the little pieces of the puzzle added together to make the picture complete. As a child, I loved to go to the library and bring home stacks of mystery books. Now, being a librarian and a mystery author, I feel like things have come full circle!
BB: Thank you, Ashley. We can’t wait to read about Amory’s future adventures!