It’s the end of the summer and Prodigal Daughter Maggie Crozat has returned home to her family’s plantation-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Louisiana. The Crozats have an inn full of guests for the local food festival–elderly honeymooners, the Cajun Cuties, a mysterious stranger from Texas, a couple of hipster lovebirds, and a trio of Georgia frat boys. But when the elderly couple keels over dead within minutes of each other–one from very unnatural causes– Maggie and the others suddenly become suspects in a murder.
With the help of Bo Durant, the town’s handsome new detective, Maggie must investigate to clear her name while holding the family business together at the same time. And the deeper she digs, the more she wonders: are all of the guests really there for a vacation or do they have ulterior motives? Decades-old secrets and stunning revelations abound in Ellen Byron’s charming cozy debut, Plantation Shudders.
I like the element of the supernatural in Plantation Shudders. And yes, that is the correct spelling, because the author refers to the shudders you get when a cold chill runs up your spine, and not the window decor when using the term. You see, when you get the shudders, that means something bad is going to happen. And in my book, a older couple who keel over after supper is definitely in 'minus' side of the day's events.
I'm feeling like it would be hard to have to turn the family home into a B&B. Granted, many of the larger homes and estates have really too much room for one family, but you'd always have to be on your best behavior with guests coming and going at all hours. But times are tough all over and it's not only the working class feeling the pinch.
The sheriff did not impress me much. It's great that Ms. Byron writes unlikeable characters so well. I get it that he is from a rival old family in the area, but if he draws out the investigation to force the Crozats into losing money (as they generously offered to either have their guests transferred to another accommodation or to let them stay on where they were for free), then it's time for johnny law to step down and let someone who can keep their business and personal lives separate.
Once the older couple, who were not whom they claimed to be, met their maker, the other guests' facades started falling faster than the leaves in autumn. Most or all of them had something to hide. Of course, this is not a bad thing in a murder mystery, because it leaves lots of suspects to sort through. If everyone knew whodunit right from the start, it would make for some very short books!
The setting was wonderfully written by Ms. Byron. I could feel the history and the danger of the old plantation and area seeping into my bones. It's going to be fun watching Maggie and Bo 'dance' around each other in a kind of Cajun "West Side Story", as the Crozats and Durants are rival families.
All in all, Plantation Shudders is a wonderful debut novel! Makes me want to go to Louisiana, check in at the Crozat's B&B (or something similar) in time to sit on the porch reading the follow-up novel and sip sweet tea!
Byron is a native New Yorker who loves the rain, lives in bone-dry Los Angeles, and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. She attributes this obsession to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. Her debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, launches on August 11th. Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots. She’s written over 200 magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning, Graceland. She is also the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. She’s the proud mom of a fifteen year-old daughter and two very spoiled rescue dogs.
Do you like one style of writing (fiction, playwrighting, television, magazines) more than the others? If so, which one and why?
I actually don’t have a favorite. I like to go back and forth because if I do one style too much, I risk burning myself out. I’m really loving writing fiction right now. But I’ve also been doing a lot of guest blogging, and it’s really fun to come up with a short, entertaining piece. It provides a nice balance with the fiction.
So, your debut novel. Excited?!?!?!
Sooooooooo excited!!! I am having the time of my life. One of the biggest thrills is hearing from people who’ve responded to the book. I feel like I’ve been welcomed into a wonderful new world of authors and readers.
Love the 'breed names' you've come up with for your family's pets. Can you tell us a little more about them?
There’s this wonderful rescue in Beverly Hills called The Amanda Foundation. We had a rescue basset hound for years that we adopted from Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California, but when our daughter was seven, she asked for “a pet that moves.” (Anyone who’s ever parented a basset hound will be laughing right now!) We went to Amanda, met with three dogs, and Eliza fell in love with Wiley, a fifteen pound mutt who’s got lots of Corgi in him, as well as other breeds (hence our calling him a “corgi-jack-huahua”).Then two years ago, we went back Amanda to get Wiley a friend. Pogo ( a ten-pound Chihuahua and terrier mix of some kind – hence my calling him a “cherrier”) had been surrendered by a heartbroken family that was no longer allowed to keep him where they lived, and Amanda promised they’d find a good home for him. The minute we expressed interest, they were all over us! His name was Snoopy, but he jumps up and down like a Pogo Stick, so our daughter renamed him Pogo. And get this: a couple of weeks ago, I received a Facebook friend request from a teenage girl. I messaged her to find out how we know each other, because she didn’t look familiar. And she wrote back, “We were Pogo’s first family. I just wanted to see how he was doing.” Tears! I sent her pictures, of course.
Here are our boys. (And me in jammies holding the TV remote!)
Here are our boys. (And me in jammies holding the TV remote!)
What made you decide to have a go at writing books after all your other writing experiences?
I’ve always loved reading mysteries. A good friend started a writers group and since I was feeling the aforementioned burn-out from writing for TV, I thought I’d try my hand at a mystery. My first manuscript, You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Dead, won a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant from the Malice Domestic Conference. While I was hunting for an agent and then waiting for that to sell, I wrote Plantation Shudders. Good thing, too, because You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Dead is still looking for a home.
Has "Graceland" ever been performed at its namesake?
No, not that I know of. But it did get the seal of approval from whatever executive board runs the place. They certainly should like it; it’s basically a mash note to Elvis. BTW, I wrote the play because I didn’t understand the devotion his fans showed him. It seemed, well, fanatical. But writing the play turned me into an Elvis fan, albeit a low-key one.
If money was no object, where would you live?
I’m originally from New York, and my fantasy has always been a Central Park West apartment with a giant terrace and view of Central Park. I’d also have a place in Louisiana, somewhere in Cajun Country, and a vacation house on Bantam Lake in Connecticut. My family had a cottage there for 36 years, but we had to sell it after my dad passed away. I still miss it terribly.
If you could invite any writer from history to a meal and conversation, whom would you invite and what would you discuss?
Emily Bronte. I’m obsessed with Wuthering Heights, and the Bronte family. Number one on my bucket list is eventually visiting Haworth in England and the Bronte Parsonage. I’d pick her brain about her life and every detail that inspired the world and characters in the book. But having read many biographies of the family, I get the impression she was very reserved and not too communicative, so I’d really have to work at getting information out of her.
Any idea how many instalments there will be to the Cajun Country Mystery series?
As many as my publisher will allow me to do! I just turned in the manuscript for book two, Body on the Bayou, and I’m super excited about it. My fingers are crossed that I soon get a deal for additional books because I’m really attached to my characters and to Pelican, Louisiana, the fictional village where they live.
Tell us what the future holds for Ellen Byron, writer?
Hopefully a lot more books in the Cajun Country series! I’m also attending conferences like Bouchercon, where I’ll appear on a panel and at the New Author Breakfast. And my television writing partner and I are working on an animated series, as well as a pilot for a cable station.
If you went to talk to your daughter's school class about being a writer, what would you tell them?
I’d tell them that if you want to pursue a writing career, you must be passionate about it, because it can be a tough road. You hear “no” and “pass” a lot, and it can wear you down. You have to trust your own talent and absolutely adore doing it. I love to write. Love it, whether it’s a play, a TV show, a magazine article, a book, a blog – or a Question and Answer interview! ;-)
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(Disclosure: I received a print copy of this book from the author and publishers in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)