I fell in love with Ireland the second day I was there.
Not the first day. When my husband and I took our daughter to England and Wales, we tacked on Ireland. After all, my father’s parents both came from there, and it was so close, how could we not?
We stepped off a plane and headed for the place my grandmother was born—and of course we got lost. Like most Americans we didn’t realize that driving in Ireland consisted mainly of following winding two-lane roads (on the wrong side) and avoiding the occasional sheep in the road. Signs are few and far between, and if you ask for instructions you’re usually told something like “turn left at the sixth lane, and if you go past the creamery you’ve gone too far.” While we did finally find the tiny townland we were looking for, it was not a promising start.
Then we set off again for the village of Leap, a tiny place in West Cork overlooking Glandore Harbor on the south coast, a few miles from where my father’s father was born. By the time we arrived it was getting dark, and it had started raining—hard. We stopped at the hotel (the only one in town) and all eight of its rooms were booked by fishermen, but they sent us around the corner to a family who had a couple of rooms available. Then we went back to the hotel for dinner, which was everything we’d ever heard about Irish food: grey meat, mashed potatoes and carrots, all swimming in murky liquid. It kept raining.
Tired and damp and discouraged, after dinner we retreated to our room and went to bed. The next morning I was the first to wake up, and I slid out of bed and pulled back the curtains to find a view of sunshine and sparkling water with gliding swans, and cows grazing on the hill, and I almost cried. That’s when I fell in love with Ireland.
And if that wasn’t enough, I discovered that the pub across the street was called Connolly’s. That’s the place that became Sullivan’s pub, the heart of Buried in a Bog.
But it took ten years to get that book published. I hadn’t even started writing when first saw the pub, but the village made a lasting impression on me, and I used the setting for the second book I ever wrote a couple of years later, with the pub at its center (the less said about that first book, the better). That book never sold, but I refused to give up on it: I rewrote it and changed the major characters not once but twice, but never the setting. Third time’s the charm, it seems: Buried in a Bog was published in 2013 and became a best seller.
Why do I write about Ireland? I write cozy mysteries, which is what I’ve always loved to read. Most cozies are set in small towns, but American cozy writers hadn’t really ventured abroad with their stories. But since most of Ireland (with the exception of the biggest cities) is one small town, where everybody knows everyone else, and their entire family history, I thought it was perfect for cozies.
I once told someone that visiting Ireland was putting on an old shoe: it’s like slipping into something that just fits right, like it’s been yours forever and knows your foot. Ireland felt like home, even though I’d never seen it before. And I keep going back.
My main character, Maura Donovan, was born in Boston and raised by her widowed Irish-born grandmother. She has no interest in Ireland, having seen her share of down-and-out immigrants in Boston. But her grandmother insists that Maura visit Ireland, as her last wish, so Maura goes reluctantly, and there she finds a home and relatives she never knew she had and friends—in short, more than she ever expected. In fact, there’s one point in Buried in a Bog when Maura is overwhelmed by events and is reduced to rare tears, and she demands, “why is everybody being so nice to me?” She’s angry and confused, and unable to handle simple kindness and others looking out for her, a near-stranger. But that’s the way it is in Ireland, particularly if you have any Irish in you.
By the second book, Scandal in Skibbereen, Maura has begun to settle in. The book opens with the arrival of pushy New Yorker Althea Melville, who’s searching for a lost painting, and she can’t understand why everybody isn’t jumping to help her, and she thinks she has to deceive them to get what she wants. It falls to Maura to explain that things don’t work like that in Ireland; people are more than willing to help you, but you have to ask, not demand. By the end of the book even Althea has come around to that point of view.
There’s only one problem with writing murder mysteries set in Ireland: few murders take place there (except in Dublin). I met with a sergeant at the local police (garda) station, who told me that they’d had all of three murders in their district in the past decade, and in each of those cases they’d known who did it. I apologized to him for inflating their crime rate, at least on paper.
What I enjoy most about writing this series is exploring the contrast between insider and outsider, the past and the present, the old and the new. You find all of these side by side in Ireland, and sometimes I have to shake myself and wonder, what decade am I in? The townland where my grandmother was born is still using the mail box installed during Queen Victoria’s reign, and the church holiday bazaar is still raffling off a truckload of firewood. Time seems slower there. The nights are darker and quieter. It’s beautiful and peaceful, and, yes, there are plenty of rainbows.
I’m still in love with the place. I hope I can let readers see what I see there.
Scandal in Skibbereen (County Cork Mystery - Book 2) by Sheila Connolly
Publication Date: 02/04/2014
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: Berkley Prime Crime
Genre: Cozy Mystery
(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound
Sheila Connolly on the WEB: website, twitter, facebook, goodreads
Books in the series:
Buried in a Bog (2013), Scandal in Skibbereen (2014)
Coverart: Click the Image for a larger, clearer view of the covers in this series.
Excerpt from, Scandal in Skibbereen, courtesy of Amazon's Look Inside feature.
As the new owner of Sullivan’s Pub in County Cork, Ireland, Maura Donovan gets an earful of all the village gossip. But uncovering the truth about some local rumors may close her down for good…
Bostonian Maura is beginning to feel settled in her new Irish home, just in time for summer tourist season to bring fresh business to her pub. But the first traveler to arrive is thirsty for more than just a pint of Guinness. Althea Melville is hot on the trail of a long-lost Van Dyck painting.
Maura agrees to help Althea meet with the residents at the local manor house, the most likely location of the missing art. But when the manor’s gardener is found murdered, Maura wonders what Althea’s real motives are. Now, to solve the secret of the lost portrait and catch a killer, Maura will have to practice her Irish gift of gab and hunt down some local history—before someone else is out of the picture…
Sheila Connolly takes readers back to Ireland in her second book in the County Cork mystery series, Scandal in Skibbereen. Readers are treated to a tale of mystery and fine art in the Irish countryside. Connolly's love for all things Irish is apparent throughout the book and is shown in her in depth research and beautiful descriptions of both the landscape and the people. This book will appeal not only to the cozy fan but also art enthusiasts and readers who are just looking for a good whodunit. Another great book, my this talented author.
What I liked:
Sheila Connolly has a knack for writing mysteries that readers want to read. She picks interesting subjects and themes and knows how to draw a reader in quickly and keep them reading. Her books are always very well researched and entertaining. I know when I pick one up that I'm going to enjoy it. Scandal in Skibbereen was no different. It had a fantastic Irish setting and characters that felt like old friends. I hope cozies set in other countries will become a popular trend. I think it will create a lot of much needed diversity in the sub-genre and lots of new mysteries to explore.
One of my favorite parts of Scandal in Skibbereen was of course the Irish countryside setting. The people, the pubs, and the generally slower pace of life all made this a great read. It will be obvious to any reader that Connolly has a love for Ireland and has made her mission to write about it well. She describes the small town of Leap in such a way that even though it probably rains 6 out of 7 days a week readers will still want to visit. Characters like Maura Donovan come to life under her pen. A great setting from an author with a talent for description.
The mystery aspects of the story were well plotted an executed. I really enjoyed all of the behind the scenes information about the art world that comes out in this book. Because, Althea, one of main suspects is searching for a rare missing Van Dyck painting readers are treated to a lot of interesting facts about art that they may not have been exposed to before. The reader will enjoy being educated, as well as entertained.
Maura is a great main character. She is a transplanted Boston girl in middle of County Cork. I love the fact that she feel so in love with the area that she decided to stay. She adds a flavor all her own to the community of Leap because she is so different from most of the inhabitants. It also shows in the way she goes about sleuthing. She has a perspective that is very unique in her setting and her deductive reasoning is always to interesting to read as the story unfolds.
What I didn't like:
I can't say there was too much I didn't like about this one. Connolly is well seasoned author with a lot of experience. She knows how to write what a reader wants to read. A great trait in the publishing business!
This was an excellent book, from the interesting fine art angle to the readers return to the town of Leap. As always I adored the Irish setting and thought Connolly's characters were spot on and true to the Irish spirit and demeanor. A must read for fans of cozies set in other countries and for readers who are looking for a change from the normal cozy read.
Scandal in Skibbereen is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
About the Author:
Sheila Connolly is a New York Times bestselling author and the Anthony and Agatha Award–nominated author of three cozy mystery series. Her Museum Mysteries, set in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, includes Monument to the Dead, Fire Engine Dead, Let's Play Dead, and Fundraising the Dead. Her bestselling Orchard Mysteries, set in small town Massachusetts and filled with delicious apple recipes, includes Golden Malicious, Sour Apples, Bitter Harvest, A Killer Crop, Red Delicious Death, Rotten to the Core, and One Bad Apple. Scandal in Skibbereen is the second in her Ireland-based County Cork Mysteries, following Buried in a Bog.
Sheila has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fundraiser for several nonprofit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company, providing genealogical research services. In addition to genealogy, Sheila loves restoring old houses, visiting cemeteries, and traveling. Now a full-time writer, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations.
She is married and has one daughter and two cats.
The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Scandal in Skibbereen by Sheila Connolly.
~ You must be an email subscriber to participate.
~ US addresses only.
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST, February 18th.
1. Please leave a comment describing your impressions of Ireland. Let us know if you've traveled there or want to and why.
2. Please fill out the FORM.