A large part of my life has been spent in and around Philadelphia, where I worked for several years at an historic Center City library/museum, as well as for the children’s museum there. I never lived in the city, but both I and my parents (before and after they each acquired new spouses) lived in various suburbs, so I know both the urban and the suburban sides of the region. And that’s why I write the Museum Mysteries.
My protagonist, Nell Pratt, is president of the fictional Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, which looks a lot like Philadelphia’s historical society. The Philadelphia cultural community is like a small town: everybody knows everybody else, and they’re all fighting for the same donors and dollars, so it’s a good setting for cozies. But Nell does get out of the city now and then, and in Razing the Dead (the fifth book in the series) she goes to Chester County to research a site that a prominent (and rich) developer wants to turn into a planned community. It’s not her area of expertise—she’s an administrator, not a historian—but he wants the person at the top, and she’s the president, so she can’t say no. Besides, she figures if she does a good job for him, there might be a nice financial reward for the Society.
The developer came to her because he hopes to avoid any unpleasant surprises from the history of the place, but when he takes Nell on a tour of the site he has chosen for his ideal community, a peaceful dairy farm, they find a body in the cattle pond. The dead man was both a township employee and an amateur history buff—so which role led to his death?
Chester County is rich in colonial history. The farm slated for the development had been owned by the same family since the eighteenth century, and since it lay along a main road, during the Revolutionary War soldiers from both sides tramped through it many times. Was the modern death somehow tied to that troubled past? Or was there someone in the township who didn’t want to see a major development spoil the peaceful suburb? Before Nell and her staff can figure it out, more bodies surface.
In the end the developer’s project will go forward, and maybe a few history books will be rewritten. It was fun to write about an area I know well, while at the same time learning something about its history (which I knew less well!). I may have introduced a few small changes to the Revolutionary War, but they’re part of the “what if…?” tradition of mystery writing.
Who’s to say things didn’t happen the way I described them?
During her varied career, Sheila Connolly has been
- an art historian (medieval architecture)
- an investment banker in San Francisco and Philadelphia
- a non-profit fundraiser
- a professional genealogist.
She considers all these jobs before to have been research material for her current profession of mystery author.
Berkley Prime Crime has generously offered a copy of Razing the Dead to one of my readers. Please comment below before midnight on June 18, 2014. Entries from the US only, please.
Please don't forget to include an email address where I can contact you if you win.