Interview: Catriona McPherson talks to award-winning author Cathy Ace

Catriona McPherson, a Scottish transplant to California and a multi-award-winning crimewriter, interviews Cathy Ace, a Welsh transplant to Canada and Bony Blithe winner, about her new novel The Case of the Dotty DowagerThis first in a new series introduces the world to the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency.

CATRIONA: Carol, Mavis, Annie, and Christine are not at all what I was expecting when I heard about the WISE agency. Well done for avoiding cliches! Can you tell us who/what came first?

Available now in the UK and in the US and eBook from July 1.

Click on the jacket to read the opening chapters

CATHY: The first thing to say is that the people came before the acronym. “Born” in a novella I wrote back in 2007, Annie Parker was the first character to emerge; she’s based on a very good friend of mine named Annie (not much of a stretch there) and my next door neighbour on Brixton Hill of almost twenty years, Eustelle (I pinched this name for the character’s mother) who was born of St. Lucian parents in London. Carol is loosely based on an old flatmate I had when I was at Cardiff University – a lovely, truly innocent girl who was raised on a farm in Carmarthenshire and only spoke Welsh until she was fifteen.

Mavis was inspired by a delightful “I’ll take no nonsense from you lot” Scot who cleaned the offices at the University of British Columbia where I used to teach – she was doing so after a nursing career so she could make enough money for long holidays in a Hawaiian condo. Christine? Well, Christine is everything the other three aren’t – she’s aristocratic, Mensa bright, beautiful, young and well-off. The real Carol, Mavis and Annie are, in fact, respectively Welsh, Scottish, and English – so, by making Christine Irish I had the perfect, WISE, group.

CATRIONA: Do you have a favourite? How much of you is in each of them?

CATHY: You know that’s like asking me which of my dogs is my favourite, right? So my answer has to be that I love them all – equally. Honestly, each of them has their foibles, quirks and shortcomings, but I also hope that readers can connect with each of them on many different levels. I’ve tried to make each woman “real” enough that they can be identified with, or at least understood.

Your follow up question is a toughie. Thanks! I’d like to say there’s not much of me in any of them; the other series of books I write is told in the first person of Cait Morgan, a Welsh Canadian psychologist who’s an overindulgent foodie…which is pretty much a description of me. Having written six books in that series, I wanted to break away from such a personal connection with one character and allow myself to mix with a wider group. Yes, I like each of the WISE women, and in a way they are all my friends. Because I created them all, I suppose there must be something in each of them that’s a little like me, but my greatest joy in writing these books is that they are much less like me than my Cait Morgan character. I truly believe that women are able to empathize with other women who are in circumstances unlike their own – and I can empathize with each of these women.

CATRIONA: I agree. I think the myth of women scratching each other’s eyes out has a whiff of male wishful-thinking about it. Maybe some men are freaked out by the thought that women get together and compare notes!


Cathy Ace

We leave the women of the WISE agency in a different place from where we found them at the beginning of The Dotty Dowager (no spoilers!). Did you plan this or did it come out of the story?

CATHY: With a business that’s not looking too healthy at the beginning of the book, and all four WISE women wondering what the future holds for them, I saw the situation as ripe for an intervention. Sometimes life’s like that – what appears to be the brink of failure turns out to be a new start and (you’re right, no spoilers here) it’s difficult for me to say more about their altered circumstances than that.

When you ask me if this all came out of the story you seem to think that I allow these women to live their own lives – I’m afraid I’m too much of a control freak to ever let that happen. My dogs rule my life, so I have to be in control of something, somewhere!

CATRIONA: OK, the antique dentures: what’s going on with that, Cathy?

CATHY: As a child, my grandmother’s dentures fascinated me. Welsh dentistry in the 1930s sounds terrifying, because that’s when she had all her teeth taken out and dentures fitted. She was in her thirties! My interest was further piqued when I was traveling in Egypt and saw dentures that were over two thousand years old…and Waterloo teeth? Now that’s a story in itself – told in this book, of course. Everything in the book about antique dentures, including those worn by Winston Churchill, is absolutely true – they say that fact is often more strange than fiction…I promise I made up none of this stuff!

CATRIONA: We get three of the four home nations of the WISE women in the Dotty Dowager; will you take them across the sea to Ireland in future books?

CATHY: So you want them to go “overseas” to Ireland? Very exotic! Seriously, Christine’s family estate on the western borderlands between Northern Ireland and Eire is somewhere I want to feature in a future book. I’ve seen it in my mind’s eye, so want to take readers to the lush greenery of horse country and the weather-battered, drafty Georgian home where she spent her early childhood…until she had to attend an English boarding school and knock the edges off her Irish brogue. The details of how that will happen? That will have to wait.

CATRIONA:  Hooray! I love a scruffy posh house. Can’t wait.

You’ve written a great awkward possible relationship in this book. Did you make three of them single, just so you could have this kind of fun?

CATHY: I wanted to portray women at all stages of their lives, and relationships. Carol is happily married and delighted to be pregnant – not a lot of private enquiry agents ever seem to achieve this nirvana, so I thought it would be interesting to examine how she could combine a career and family life. Mavis is in her mid-sixties, widowed, with grown sons, grandchildren and an elderly, infirm mother – again, this isn’t the normal profile for a PI, and I wanted to consider how a woman who’d been an army nurse for many years would be able to retain her own identity post-retirement. Annie’s in her fifties, a bit sweaty now and again, and happily single, though she enjoys a good flirt within the laddish group she mixes with and is quite wicked – in a sweet way. Then there’s Christine, who is utterly bored with the sort of titled twit she’s used to meeting – though she’s eminently dateable, she’s very picky and prefers the unattached life of an independently well-off and titled young woman-about-London, until…well, maybe that’s enough for now.

CATRIONA: Hmm, much more thoughtful and packed with possibility than my rom-com assumption. I salute you.


The second in the WISE enquiries series, available in the UK 30th Oct, and in US and eBook Feb 1.

Henry, Althea and – sadly – Clemmie (the Twysts) are very realistic modern toffs. How did you capture the ways of that tribe?

CATHY: I love the “tribal” reference, because that truly is what they are; they live within society, but outside it at the same time, adhering to their own rules, norms and, quite often, morals – which manage to be traditionally conservative and outrageously liberal all at once. I’ll tell you a secret – Henry is based on an ex-boyfriend. The real person has been disguised to protect the “innocent”, but my insights into the sort of lives that are lived at “Chellingworth Hall” are based upon bizarre, real experiences. If I tell you more I might find myself in the Tower!

CATRIONA: Can you let us in on any of what’s in store for the WISE women next?

CATHY: I’ll tell you as much as I can – without giving away anything that might spoil this first book in the series. The women of the WISE Enquiries Agency will find a way to save the business, at least in the short term, and they’ll also face a situation in book two, The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer (available October 2015), which gives them the chance to spend more time with the Twyst family at Chellingworth Hall, and get to know some of the people who live in the village of Anwen-by-Wye somewhat better.

CATRIONA: Fantastic news! I had assumed Henry was a “monster-of-the-week” (as Joss Whedon calls his one-episode guest stars). Roll on October!

Can’t wait until October? Click here to read the opening chapters of The Case of the Dotty Dowager and meet the women of the WISE enquiries agency.


Editor’s Pick – Death on Demand


Jim Kelly

This month’s Editor’s Pick is DEATH ON DEMAND by Jim Kelly. Whether you’re a long-time fan of Kelly’s Shaw and Valentine police procedurals or new to the books, DEATH ON DEMAND is not to be missed. Here’s why:

Kate said:   9781780290775

“This is the sixth expertly-crafted crime novel to feature that fascinatingly mismatched pair of detectives, DI Peter Shaw and his partner DS George Valentine, with their very different outlooks and modus operandi.  Beginning with an elaborate modern reworking of the classic locked room mystery and expanding from there to incorporate a number of ingeniously interwoven plotlines, DEATH ON DEMAND forms an intriguing, multi-layered puzzle which held me spellbound from the outset.  The complex, intelligent plot is underpinned by the richly-detailed, atmospheric backdrop: the starkly beautiful North Norfolk coastline playing almost as big a role as the main protagonists themselves.  If you haven’t read Jim Kelly before, this is a very good one to start with.”

Friends in High Places

At Severn House, we have a range of great historical fiction authors. With Paul Doherty and Jeri Westerson writing medieval mysteries, Fiona Buckley and Kathy Lynn Emerson featuring Tudor and Elizabethan puzzles, and Barbara Hambly exploring 1830s New Orleans, there is a story to suit every history buff. 9780727885050

But if the Victorians are your area of interest, then the Liberty Lane mystery series needs to be added to your To Be Read pile. The latest in the series, Friends in High Places, is available now. Here’s a sneak peak:

September, 1840. A body is discovered hanging in the attic at Gore House, Kensington home of Lady Blessington. Uncovering evidence that the murder was meticulously prepared for and planned well in advance, Liberty Lane finds herself plunged into a highly dangerous game involving blackmail, treachery, espionage – and cold-blooded murder.

In their starred review of Friends in High Places, Publishers Weekly had this to say:

“A crackerjack plot and engaging characters make Peacock’s seventh Liberty Lane mystery . . . her best yet. […] Peacock . . . makes the political intrigue of the period feel immediate”

Read the full review

If you would like to learn more about Liberty Lane and her latest mystery, click here for Caro’s feature in upcoming4me.

Thrills and Chills – Cool off with our summer reading

Thrills and chills leaderboard rotate

Greetings summer readers! To make your life easier this season, we have put together a list of our top six summer reads to suit all tastes.

Why have we bothered to do this? Because we care, that’s why. Because we know that summer is a wonderful time, but that it can also be hot and sweaty and stressful, and that your reading time is to be cherished. So go ahead and explore our recommendations for the best reads this summer:

If you want a laugh:9781780290744


After attending the funeral of the rich and respected Sir Normington Winthrop, because his is one of the names in the little black book bequeathed to her by her late husband, Mrs Pargeter sets out to discover the connection between the two men. Her investigations will draw her into a shady world of gun-runners, shifty politicians – and a kidnapped vicar.

FACT: Fans of the series have been kept waiting for Mrs Pargeter; this is her first adventure for seventeen years!

9780727884992 If you love romance, with a little drama:

 TRUST ME by Claire Lorrimer

It was love at first sight for Antonia ‘Toni’ Ward and her fiancé, Justin Metcalfe, but jealousy threatens to tear them apart. Can Justin really be trusted? And what about Aaron Osborn? Toni may only see him as a friend, but he desperately wants to take Justin’s place – and will stop at nothing in his attempts to make Toni his own . . .

FACT: Claire Lorrimer is still writing gripping romance novels at the age of 94.

If you enjoy a little espionage:

DISPOSABLE ASSET by John Altman9780727885098

Having completed her mission to silence an agency defector, CIA operative Cassie Bradbury finds herself cut adrift in Moscow, with no documents, no tickets and no identification. Hot on her trail are the Kremlin, the Russian Mafia, and Sean Ravensdale, the disgraced ex-CIA agent who’s been sent to track her down.

FACT: Author John Altman has visited every continent, including Antarctica.

If you have a strong stomach:

 PLAGUE OF THE MANITOU by Graham Masterton9780727884923

Virus expert Anna Grey wonders if she’s going mad when she hears a corpse whisper: ‘Get it out of me.’ There is no such thing as demons, she tells herself. But cynical fortune-teller Harry Erskine knows otherwise and a series of disturbing events are forcing him from his Miami home towards Anna, who as yet has little idea of the evil she is facing.

FACT: The first in this series, The Manitou, was made into a film starring Tony Curtis as Harry Erskine.

If you like supernatural thrills:

PYROPHOBIA by Jack Lance9780727884909

Life is smooth sailing for Jason Evans, until an unknown enemy sends him a strange photograph of a graveyard, with an ominous message: ‘You are dead. You think you’re alive, but you don’t exist.’ Jason soon finds out that his life is not what he has always believed it to be, and he embarks on an incredible search. A search for his own grave . . .

FACT: Jack Lance has been described as ‘the Dutch Stephen King’.

For the history buff:

 WHEN SOMEBODY KILLS YOU9780727885166 by Robert J. Randisi

Somebody has put an open contract out on Eddie G – and pros and amateurs alike are queuing up to have a shot. When Frank Sinatra asks Eddie to go to LA to help his friend Judy Garland, Eddie seizes the chance. The contract follows him. While doing his best to stay alive, Eddie must also solve Judy’s problem of a possible blackmailer.

FACT: Robert J. Randisi was the creator of The Shamus Award, which is awarded by the Private Eye Writers of America for the best detective fiction genre novels and short stories of the year.

Competition time!

To celebrate the eBook release of the brand new Art Marvik marine thriller, SILENT RUNNING, we have teamed up with author Pauline Rowson to give away 5 free eBooks.

To enter, all you need to do is answer a simple question:

Guess the name of the Border Collie dog in SILENT RUNNING. 

Clue 1.

It’s a letter from an ancient Germanic alphabet, related to the Roman alphabet. It’s a mark or letter of mysterious or magical significance, a secret.

Clue 2.

Marvik meets the dog and its owner at Littlehampton Marina, West Sussex, while following up a lead in the case to discover the killer of Esther Shannon. The dog’s name has four letters.

If you need further clues, explore Pauline’s website for more information

Closing Date

The competition is open to all.  Closing date 20 July 2015.