Katherine Hall Page, Agatha Award-winning mystery novelist

Dear Reader,

The birthday book in which I keep track of family and friends’ birthdays has a list of Wedding Anniversary Gifts in the front. They start out modest—first is “paper”—and work their way through “flowers,” “wood,” and “pottery” until you start getting to the good stuff. Twenty-fifth is “silver.” The Body in the Wake, number twenty-five in the Faith Fairchild series, is my silver anniversary book. Yet, this silver anniversary is a golden one for me.

When the first book in the series, The Body in the Belfry, was published in February 1990, I was looking more toward a second anniversary—cotton—than a silver one, twenty-nine years later! Writing about Faith and her family has been a golden opportunity for me as a writer. I have been able to sustain one character across a number of significant life events: a prequel as a single woman set in her native Manhattan when she is just starting her catering—and sleuthing—career, continuing through marriage, child rearing (and no, one is never done). through good times and bad.

I’ve always thought of the books as a kind of theater. At the core, my ensemble troupe has an unchanging cast of characters. Side characters come and go, some making frequent appearances, others walking on stage only once. The sets also change. In order to keep the series fresh for readers, and for me, I alternate locales between Aleford, Massachusetts, the fictitious town I created west of Boston where Faith moves after marriage, with the “someplace else” books—those ranging across New England, elsewhere in the United States, and two set in Europe.

The second book, The Body in the Kelp, took place in Maine on Sanpere Island, again fictitious, yet this time very much based on real Deer Isle in Penobscot Bay. My family has spent sixty-one summers there and it’s home for me now four months of the year. Since my parents are buried in a lovely birch-lined cemetery with plenty of extra room, I plan to remain there for a very long time.

I started thinking about the twenty-fifth several books ago and there was no question that the milestone had to be a Sanpere novel. The Body in the Wake is the sixth Maine book and the third featuring the character Sophie Maxwell, who was introduced in The Body in the Birches. Right away, I liked writing about these two women, who are in very different stages of life but share the same values and especially a sense of humor. Married for almost three years in this book, Sophie is fretting about not getting pregnant. Faith, who has been married much longer, but would not describe herself as an “old married lady,” has two children in their late teens. Sophie and Faith’s close friendship was forged under unusual circumstances—most bonding does not come about because of murder!

I decided an anniversary book needed a wedding, so The Body in The Wake ends with Samantha Miller and Zach Cohen’s nuptials on a perfect Maine afternoon in a meadow high above The Reach with the Camden Hills on the horizon. However, before getting to this point, Samantha, the daughter of Pix and Sam Miller—the Fairchilds’ closest friends in Massachusetts and Maine—has to wait out several plot twists, one involving her difficult future mother-in-law, the other Faith’s discovery of first one body with an unusual tattoo and then, a week later, another.

I flat out loved writing this book. The temptation was getting carried away by the scenery and anecdotes about the place, but it’s a mystery, not a travel guide. I reined myself in and let go in other ways, such as describing the fiction writing course that Sophie takes at the former Laughing Gull Lodge, now the Sanpere Shores Conference center. Plus, it wouldn’t be a Faith Fairchild mystery without plenty of food. When the Shores’ chef falls ill, Faith takes his place, joining daughter Amy, who had been working there all summer as sous chef. Maine food is delectable with literally an ocean of ingredients close to hand. Faith serves up her own special lobster rolls, seafood risotto, and chowder, as well as old-fashioned wild Blueberry Buckle and a modern farm-to-table chilled fresh pea soup with mint.

Sanpere is not paradise, despite Faith’s and my deep feelings for it. It is this feeling that pushed me to write about the very real problem of substance abuse. Samantha’s matron of honor, a young mother who is an island native, becomes addicted to opiates after they were prescribed for a severe injury. It was important for me to show that addicts are not criminals, but people in our families and our friendship circles who have a disease. It is as essential for them to get treatment as it is for diabetics to get insulin, or any number of individuals with life-threatening health issues the care they need. The people who are working at resolving this new epidemic are heroes.

Every book has a bit of all the books that came before it incorporated into it and this one most of all. In the Author’s Note I write that the Beatles’ song, “In My Life” kept running through my mind—“There are places I remember.” So it is with the books. As I’ve traveled through them with the Fairchilds and friends, as Lennon wrote, “I’ve loved them all.”

 

With many thanks and best wishes,
Katherine


Copyright Katherine Hall Page and Proximity Internet Productions, 2007-