by Ginger Black
GENRE: Cozy Mystery
After arranging a house swap with a debonair antiques dealer, a darkly handsome American named Luca Tempesta arrives in a quaint English village. Tempesta, who claims to run a detective agency in Los Angeles, is supposedly on holiday – but the inhabitants of the village are unconvinced.
Yet, as they attempt to solve the mystery of the stranger in their midst, it gradually transpires that there are more than enough secrets to go around in the village itself, harboured by the local MP and his uptight, ambitious wife; the has-been former game show host; the respectable couple with the jailbird son; the hometown journalist, striving for a scoop that will rescue her from debt; and so on. The place is revealed as a labyrinth of deception masquerading as a picture-postcard hamlet; tension begins to mount in between the dinner parties and evenings at the pub, and soon culminates in an unexpected death.
Behind perfect privets and brightly painted front doors, the lives of Riverside Lane’s residents slowly unravel. Tempesta, guarding his secrets with a vengeance, is suddenly threatened with exposure by the elderly religious zealot Ivy Midwinter, whose own past involved keeping professional confidences. When she challenges him in church, she learns that Tempesta will stop at nothing to protect his privacy ...
Set against the exquisite backdrop of a gastronomic village by the Thames, Riverside Lane is a tautly paced page-turner that also gently satirises middle- class English manners: the upstanding denizens of the village watch and whisper behind a mask of English hauteur, whilst their own fragile lives come undone
A dusky gauze veil lifted to reveal the soft pink light of dawn. The sun recast the Earth in a glorious patchwork of fields, and a cacophony of birdsong stirred the residents of Riverside Lane from their slumber. Cherry and magnolia trees formed a guard of honour over the lane, which lay tranquil, deserted and calm.
High above, skimming the rose-coloured clouds, a British Airways jet descended over the River Thames. Luca Tempesta checked his seatbelt and reached for his cigarettes, curling his fingers around them with the zeal of a junkie. He flipped the packet, prompting disapproving looks from a couple playing chess beside him, and thought about his meeting with the Russian academic. He had felt bound by reckless honour to visit his wife’s friend and mentor in Moscow, despite the risk. The man had deserved to know what happened to Natasha, but it gave Luca even more to hide.
The scent of freshly ground coffee permeated the cabin, reminding the American of his caffeine-addicted wife; he missed her clear, analytical mind and ability to rationalise situations. He thought of her final moments, and her terror as the net had closed in. She had paid the ultimate price for her loyalty. He stretched his legs into the aisle, seeking a comfortable position for his tall frame, and quashed a familiar feeling of dread that he knew served no purpose. It was imperative that he maintain a cool head; he could not afford the luxury of surrender. He turned his attention to a photo of Kingfisher House. Luca’s agency partner, Maria, had found the place through a movie-industry fixer who knew an Englishman in need of a roof over his head in California.
What inspired you to write this story?
Gaynor Pengelly: Julia and I were inspired to write Riverside Lane whilst walking our dogs by the River Thames. Having both moved out of London a few years before, we thought it would be wonderful to set a cozy mystery in our own village.
Bray is famous for being the ‘culinary village’ of the world, with two Michelin 3-star restaurants (The Fat Duck and Waterside Inn), but turn the clock back fifty years and it was the horror capital of the world. Few could forget the late, great Sir Christopher Lee’s penetrating eyes and chilling presence as the Prince of Darkness, in the 1960’s Hammer classic, Dracula shot at Bray Film Studios and Oakley Court.
Once we had a setting for our novel, our attention turned to the characters. We had so much fun developing their personalities, and plotting their stories. After a while they became real people to us, that Julia and I would discuss their quirks and foibles as we would our friends. When the story was complete, we missed them and felt quite bereft!
Julia Thum: For me it was all about the setting. I feel incredibly lucky to live near the beautiful river Thames and it is hard not to feel inspired when you experience its majesty. Thameside villages are quintessentially English and ours is no exception. As with all communities there are rules, but in England they are unspoken and any poor visitors must work them out themselves or pay the price!
What was your favorite part to write?
What was your favorite part to write?
Gaynor Pengelly: My favorite part of writing Riverside Lane was getting into what makes us human, and what makes the English, English! It was fascinating to do an anthropological study on our own people – our obsession with privacy, our celebrated politeness (we say "sorry" when someone else bumps into us and take too much notice of queueing while pretending not to), our famous reserve and infinite capacity for embarrassment.
The English culture is governed by a complex set of unspoken rules, so dropping a hapless American into the middle of our story and expecting him to decipher such Byzantine codes of behaviour was great fun!
Julia Thum: I liked writing the funny parts. Riverside Lane is a social satire so all the humour is character driven, fed by observation of the failures and foibles we all have and the faux pas we can so easily make in a small community where nobody tells you the rules but everybody judges you if you break them.
What was the hardest part to write?
Gaynor Pengelly: The first chapter was the hardest part to write, getting off the starting line is always difficult! We’ve learned not to spend too many torturous hours getting it right - far better to return to those first paragraphs once you’ve written the story and better understand the plot and your characters.
Julia Thum: The sad bits! We became extremely fond of our characters so getting inside their heads when they were abandoned, frightened or lonely was genuinely upsetting. I actually wept writing one bit and I still get a lump in my throats whenever I read it.
How did you come up with your characters?
Gaynor Pengelly: While we set out to make Riverside Lane plot driven, eventually our characters took on a life of their own and before we knew it they were in charge and coming up with their own personalities!
Julia Thum: That was the best bit of the whole experience. Gaynor and I had such a laugh inventing different characters and putting them in situations that amused us. While the Thames forms the narrative spine of Riverside Lane the plot itself is very much character driven and we felt we made some fabulous new friends. We missed them when we finished the book but we’re already having fun with a new cast for the next one.
Do you have anything coming up and can you tell us about it?
Gaynor Pengelly: The next novel in our series of Riverside Lane cozy mysteries, features a fictional character from the cult 1960’s Hammer House of Horror, so look out for some Gothic fun. Its set against the stunning backdrop of an artistic community by the Thames, with a thrilling undercurrent of danger!
Julia Thum: Riverside Lane is the first in a series of cozy mysteries we are setting in different villages along the Thames. We are half way through the next one so watch this space …
Ginger Black is a writing partnership between Gaynor Pengelly and Julia Thum.
Julia left Somerset for London at 16. She founded & ran her own consumer P R agency representing a range of international brands including Braun, Molton Brown, Clairol & Kleenex. After selling the business she trained as a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders & hosted a phone-in show on Radio Luxembourg.
Julia writes bespoke literature & articles for private clients and visits secondary schools & prisons representing two national charities in providing emotional support to pupils & inmates. A keen kayaker and a passionate cook, she lives in Bray-on-Thames with her husband Nicolas and their four children.
Gaynor has worked as a national newspaper correspondent for more than twenty years, interviewing everyone from the great and the good to extraordinary people in ordinary lives. The rich variety of her subject matter and their circumstances has given her a rare insight into human nature and the challenges many people face.
Gaynor's great loves include sitting in pavement cafes watching the world go by, National Trust and English Heritage and hiking across the windswept Yorkshire moors. She lives in Bray-on-Thames with her husband Jonathan and their son, Freddie James.
Ginger Black will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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