Today, Hartford Books Examiner extends season’s greetings to Jane K. Cleland.
Ms. Cleland is the author of “Ornaments of Death”—the tenth Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery—out today from Minotaur Books. She has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Agatha awards and has twice won the David Award for Best Novel. Ms. Cleland, who once owned a New Hampshire-based antiques and rare books business, is the former president of the New York chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and chairs the Wolfe Pack’s Black Orchid Novella Award. She is part of the English faculty at Lehman College and makes her home in New York City.
Early response to “Ornaments of Death” has been favorable. Publishers Weekly noted: “Fascinating tidbits about collectibles, along with evocative descriptions of New Hampshire in winter, elevate [Ornaments of Death]. . . . Distinctive characters, including Josie’s Maine coon cat, Hank, help make this holiday cozy a winner.” Further, Library Journal enthused, “Readers will be happy to catch up with Josie and the residents of the cozy coastal town of Rocky Point during the holidays. Bits of interesting antique appraisals are interspersed with the mystery, complementing the satisfying story;” Kirkus Reviews praised, “[C]harming and informative, [Ornaments of Death] pairs plenty of antiques knowledge with a puzzling mystery.”
From the publisher:
Christmas lights twinkle throughout the cozy coastal town of Rocky Point, New Hampshire, and Prescott’s Antiques auction venue has been transformed into a winter wonderland for Josie Prescott’s annual holiday party. Josie is especially excited this year-Ian Bennington, a recently discovered distant relative, will be joining the fun. Both Ian and Josie are, it seems, descended from Arabella Churchill, a 17th century royal mistress. The party is a success and Ian is a hit. It gives Josie an unexpected thrill to have family-and unexpected dread when he vanishes.
Ian doesn’t keep his dinner date with Josie’s good friend, Lavinia, or his lunch date with her. Surely, he would have done so-if he could. Ian has given his daughter two priceless 17th century watercolor miniature portraits, one of Arabella and one of her lover, King James II, and they’ve gone missing, too. Knowing that after her nasty divorce, Lavinia is facing financial ruin, Josie can’t help wondering if her friend is behind the theft-and Ian’s disappearance.
Determined to find Ian, Josie uses her knowledge of antiques to track the miniatures. In doing so, she learns the true meaning of Christmas-and the true meaning of family. Jane Cleland’s Ornaments of Death is another masterful addition to the Josie Prescott series.
Now, Jane K. Cleland offers a self-appraisal …
John Valeri: “Ornaments of Death” is the tenth Josie book. Congratulations!
Jane Cleland: Thank you so much! Each book is a thrill, and it never gets old.
JV: To what do you credit with keeping the series fresh – and how do you see this new entry as a continued evolution of style and substance?
JC: While the cast of characters stays the same, I always try to add in new information so readers get to know the people they care about better with each story. For instance, Eric and Fred now have girlfriends. Gretchen got married. Josie got a TV show, and so on. In “Ornaments of Death,” Josie learns she has family and Sasha interacts with an attractive man for the first time in the series. (Go, Sasha!) Josie finding family is especially significant, I think, since one of the underlying themes in the series is finding community.
JV: Tell us about the antiques. How do you choose which items to feature – and in what ways do you endeavor to achieve a balance of information and entertainment?
JC: Actually, the first thing I do is choose the antique that will be featured in each book. I try to find unusual objects with great stories. I am fascinated by the stories. I also select two ancillary antiques. While I hear from readers all the time that they love learning new things, I never want to do an “info-dump.” Boring! I try to include enticing details and skip all the rest.
JV: Josie has a memorable cast of supporting characters. What do they add to the fabric of the stories – and in what ways do you think their presence speaks to the idea that we can make our own families?
JC: You ask wonderful questions, John. I addressed this issue a bit in my answer to the first question, and I’ll add this: I don’t think there’s any option; I think we all make our own families, whether they’re comprised of blood relations or friends. Some people are lucky and love their families. Others aren’t. But whom we spend time with is always a choice. Including our pets. Hank, Prescott’s Maine Coon cat, has become as much a character in the stories as any person, and he is now one of Josie’s best friends.
JV: This book is set against the backdrop of the holidays. How does that contribute to the story’s overall ambiance – and what is it about the season that lends itself so well to the mystery genre?
JC: I love Christmas! I’m not religious, but I love the trappings of the season. I love the decorations, and the music, and Santa, and the festive food, and the cinnamon- and vanilla-infused aromas.
The holiday season is always touted as being about family, so Josie finding some was a natural fit.
Thematically, the holiday season is perfect for traditional mysteries. One of the conventions of the genre is that the protagonist recreates order out of chaos. We expect all to be calm and cozy during the Christmas season, and when it’s not, the stakes are ratcheted up.
JV: Speaking of the holidays, can you recall giving or receiving a book (or books) of particular significance?
JC: When I was young, I loved getting Nancy Drew books as presents. My local library was snooty about them and wouldn’t carry any of the titles, so the only way I could read them was to own them. What a joy it was every time I opened one.
JV: Also, what advice would you give to those looking to share their love of reading with others?
JC: I encourage people to read by encouraging them to read whatever they want. If I were a librarian, I’d carry the Nancy Drew books for sure! The trick is to get people to read anything, to engender the love of reading. Once you can read, you can teach yourself anything. Librarians are key, I think. They hold the power to empower.
JV: Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?
JC: Next up is “Glow of Death,” which will be published in December 2016. The pivotal antique is Tiffany lamps. The story considers issues of betrayal, hope, and kindness.
With thanks to Jane K. Cleland for her generosity of time and thought.