I’m amazed to find that I’ve been writing for 14 years now, although I didn’t have a published book to hold until 2008. I had no idea what I was doing when I started writing—I just jumped in. But I always knew I wanted to write about Ireland.
The second book I ever completed was a sweet romance set in West Cork. I hadn’t even dabbled in mystery at that point, but it was the setting that came first: a small pub in a small town on the coast in a far corner of the country. The real place was called Connolly’s. It must have been fate, right?
I found it by accident the first time my family and I traveled to Ireland, mainly looking for where my father’s family had come from. We allowed all of one week for that trip, and part of that was spent in Dublin, so we moved fast. I had done enough research to know that my father’s father’s family had come from someplace north of a village called Leap (which it’s pronounced “lep”—it got its name from O’Donovan’s Leap, where one of the head men of the village escaped pursuing Englishmen by urging his horse to leap over a small river there. He and his horse survived, and the village got its name.)
We rented a car and pulled into the village (one street, population 210) in the pouring rain, late in the afternoon. We hadn’t made reservations, but we found a B&B with a room, and ate dinner at the local hotel. And when we made our way to the main road the next (sunny!) morning, there was the pub, across the road. Of course we went over and introduced ourselves, and I’ve been going back ever since.
In Buried In a Bog, the first book in the County Cork series, I used the setting of the pub and the town, and then dipped into all the genealogy I’d done on my own family. Then I threw in a body. Where better to solve mysteries than in a pub, where everyone stops in to talk at one time or another? But there’s one problem with writing murder mysteries set in Ireland: there are very few murders. Worse, for most of those that happen, the local police (or gardai in Irish) have a pretty good idea who did the deed. Not a lot of detective work needed!
Actually, Buried In a Bog involves two murders: one that took place a long ago, and a mugging gone wrong in the present—but they’re connected. The second book, Scandal in Skibbereen, brings an American curator to the corner of the country hunting for a lost painting she isn’t even sure exists, and someone dies. Related? It’s not clear, but it was events in the past that led to the truth about the present death.
The third book, An Early Wake, is about music in the pub. When most people say “music” and “Ireland” in the same breath, they’re thinking about the traditional style, the Clancy Brothers and the like, with tin whistles and fiddles. But there’s more to it than that—think about U2 or the Cranberries or more recently, Glen Hansard (who wrote the Academy Award winning song Falling Slowly from Once). Irish music lives on in the modern world—and in West Cork, a lot of it happened at Connolly’s (and, yes, Glen Hansard played there). It’s hard to believe when you look at the place, which has all of two rooms that hold (legally) only 200 people, but it was a major attraction up until the last decade, and people still remember.
And that’s what I wanted to capture in An Early Wake. How did that happen, at that time and in that place? How did the word get out, before the Internet? My protagonist Maura Donovan is struggling to figure out a way to keep the pub she’s inherited in the black, so she lets herself be persuaded to try a night of music bringing together some of the players who’d performed there in the past, because local people who remember the old glory days promise her it can happen again. Unfortunately, one of the former performers dies. And once again, the police have to look at the past and the present to understand the death.
There is always a temptation to write about Ireland as though it is all about men in tweed caps with a foaming pint of Guinness in one hand, spinning stories for friends and tourists alike with a charming brogue, with rainbows overhead and sheep frolicking in the very green meadows. I won’t say that’s not true—now and then. But Ireland is both a modern country (with very real modern problems) and a place with long memories of a less than happy past. I try to weave these together in a way that makes the place come alive, in more than one dimension. So I go and I sit in pubs and I listen, and I talk to strangers, and stories drop into my lap. There’s a bit of magic there.
That’s what I fell in love with, the first time I saw Ireland. That’s why I keep going back, and why I write this series.
Find out all about Sheila and her books on her webpage here.
An Early Wake
(A County Cork Mystery)
3rd in Series
Setting – Ireland
Release Date: February 3, 2015
A Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
The Berkley Publishing Group
Published by The Penguin Group
Cover Illustration by Daniel Craig
Cover Design by Judith Lagerman
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
E- Book ASIN: B00LMGK6LY
Pub owner Maura Donovan may have Irish kin, but she doesn’t seem to have the luck of the Irish. Who could have foreseen that bringing live music back to Sullivan’s Pub would lead to a dead musician?
Summer is ending in County Cork, Ireland, and with it the tourist season. Expat Maura Donovan is determined to keep Sullivan’s Pub in the black as the days grow shorter—but how? When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who’d come play in the back room, she wonders if bringing back live music might be Sullivan’s salvation.
As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. With a slew of potential suspects, it’s going to take more than a pint and a good think to force a murderer to face the music.
With this 3rd installment Maura realizes she has just been going through the motions of owning her pub. She doesn’t know if she is going to be able to keep it open now that the tourists are gone. She voices her concerns to her friend Bridget who assures her things will work out. When a college student comes around telling her the pub was a place musicians used to come just to “jam” she is totally taken by surprise. But Billy, resident historian and storyteller confirms it to be true and even gets word out that musicians are again welcome and they really start to show up she realizes Bridget was right. Then one of the musicians dead in the back room. Maura realizes the music may have died with him.
The author took a different approach to this mystery. There was so much discussion and build up of the music and musicians from years gone by that I suddenly realized that I was 100 pages into the story and we didn’t have a murder yet. I was caught up in the history so that wasn’t a bad thing, just unusual for a cozy mystery. In fact I was prepared for the murder to be more of a subplot which I feel it turned out to be. Maura’s journey was the main plot, life running the pub she inherited, her relationships with Billy, Mick, Rose, Bridget, Jimmy and Sean. Is there more romance ahead? and with who?, and realizing she is starting to finally be accepted by the people of Leap. I enjoyed this.
There was the drama of the dead musician and finding out why he died and excitement as things played out but to me it wrapped up pretty quickly.
I do love these characters and was quite surprised by the direction the author is taking some of them. I am sad that I have to wait a year to find out what happens. She teases us nicely at the end so wait we will, until out next trip to County Cork.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”