Susan Breen introduces a charming new series heroine in this poignant and absorbing cozy mystery with a bite. Maggie Dove thinks everyone in her small Westchester County community knows everyone else’s secrets. Then murder comes to town.
When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.
I teach creative writing in Manhattan, right near Times Square. So my classes are filled with people from all over the world. Some students come from Dubai, from India and Korea. Some come from Queens and New Jersey. What I love is that I get to hear all sorts of amazing stories.
The other night I asked my students where they would set a novel if they could pick any time or place in the world. Their answers were fascinating. One picked post-apocalyptic New York (with zombies). Another chose the Swiss Alps. Almost all their settings were unusual and compelling, and it made me think about why I chose to set my novel in a quiet, little village in the Hudson Valley.
Of course all of us who have read Agatha Christie know there can be a lot of drama in quiet little villages. Dame Agatha certainly influenced my perceptions. But mainly I chose to set my story in a small village because I think the stakes in a murder mystery are higher if you know the people involved. It’s one thing to chase down an anonymous predator, but it’s another thing to wonder if that nice lady who’s cut your hair for years might actually be a killer. What’s real? What do you actually know? What lurks in the hearts of the people you think you love?
In the case of Maggie Dove, the novel starts when she has an alarming revelation about her neighbor. She’s never liked him. He’s the sort of man who drives too fast and you have to jump out of the way when he goes by. Maggie can deal with that, but what she can’t deal with is that her neighbor wants her to cut down her favorite tree. (Yes, Maggie Dove has a favorite tree.) This particular tree is an oak. Maggie’s father planted that tree when she was just a girl. Her own late daughter, Juliet, climbed on that tree. Maggie’s found a lot of comfort and joy in looking at, and occasionally hugging that tree, so when Marcus Bender tells her that he wants her to cut it down because it’s blocking his view of the Hudson River, she says no.
Marcus Bender is not a man easily deterred. He offers Maggie money to cut the tree down. She says no. Then, one morning, she smells something unusual bubbling in the tree’s dirt. Marcus Bender has poured lye on her tree. He’s trying to kill it. Maggie’s not a bad-tempered person, but she does occasionally erupt. She goes over to Marcus’s house and bangs on his door and warns him never to go on her lawn again. The next morning, she finds his corpse under her tree.
Now, no one seriously believes Maggie Dove killed her neighbor. But a prime suspect quickly emerges. His name is Peter Nelson. He was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students, and a troubled man, but he was engaged to the daughter that she lost and he’s been a good friend to Maggie. He visits her on Sundays. She enjoys his company. She loves Peter Nelson and she’s absolutely sure he was not the murderer. Unfortunately, she’s the only one in town who thinks that, and so she has no choice but to try to find who the real murderer is. But tracking down a murderer is not so easy, especially when she begins to realize she might be the next target. Which one of her friends is trying to kill her? Now that’s a good setting for a story, I hope!
About the Author
Susan Breen is the author of The Fiction Class, her debut novel that won the Washington Irving Book Award. Her stories and articles have appeared in many magazines, among them The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Compose, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. She teaches at Gotham Writers in Manhattan; is on the faculty of the New York Pitch Conference, South Carolina Writers Workshop, and the Women’s National Book Association; and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters-in-Crime. Breen lives in a small village on the Hudson River with her husband, two dogs, and one cat. Her three children are flourishing elsewhere.
Webpage – http://www.susanjbreen.com/