By Ashliegh Gehl
The month of May means mischief and murder at the Belleville Public Library.
Ottawa-based mystery writer, Mary Jane Maffini, 64, is making her way to the Quinte region for MysteryFest. It’s the library’s inaugural month-long celebration of the grueling genre.
Maffini, a former librarian, started putting pen to paper more than 20 years ago.
“I spent a lot of time in meetings,” said Maffini. “I often felt like killing people, but that’s not quite true.”
Her zest for mysteries started young. She rekindled her fascination with them as an adult.
“I rediscovered them as an adult and tried to write some other things and realized that I knew how mysteries were made,” said Maffini. “I felt I had a chance to construct a mystery. That it would be something I wanted to read.”
She’s also part of The Ladies’ Killing Circle Inc., a group composed of six mystery-writing women who have published seven anthologies together. Maffini was admitted to the group in the 1990s on a temporary basis.
The 90s was a time when short fiction mysteries, written by Canadian women, weren’t getting published, said Maffini.
“We thought it would be one book. That book was very successful. We later incorporated the Ladies’ Killing Circle and did six more anthologies.”
Maffini isn’t the only writer on the roster. Local author J.D. Carpenter, 62, is taking a stab at MysteryFest.
Carpenter is a former racetrack journalist and English teacher who started writing poetry in his early years.
“I think I’ve always wanted to write novels, I was just too lazy to do it,” said Carpenter. “Poems were easier. They took 20 minutes to write instead of two years.”
Carpenter wrote poetry for 25 years until the muse finally left him. He took it as a message to become more disciplined in his craft, welcoming the opportunity to write every day instead of waiting for inspiration to find him.
Carpenter’s readership appreciates the bits of reality he weaves into his stories.
“What people have often told me, people who have read my books, is that they really, really, enjoy them when they know the area in which the mystery is set,” said Carpenter. “My first few novels were set in Toronto, and I would often use actual streets and locations. Somehow that type of detail made the experience of reading the book more real.”
These days Carpenter is busy working on a novel set in a fictionalized Prince Edward County.
“It’s about the murder of a vintner. The development of wineries in the county has developed quite a bit in the last 15 years,” he said, tightlipped about his new book.
Carpenter isn’t the only writer from the county reading at MysteryFest. Hilary MacLeod, 62, will be clawing at listeners as she reads from her debut novel, Return of the Lobster Lover.
MacLeod, a former CBC broadcaster and educator at Loyalist College, landed herself a CBC Bookie for best mystery with her debut.
The Bookie is a CBC Book Club people’s choice award that took place in February, 2011. MacLeod beat county rival Vicki Delany and national bestseller Stieg Larson.
“There was a bit of local rivalry,” said MacLeod. “It really was right down to the two of us right from the beginning. I took a lead because I was off the mark quicker than Vicki Delany. But, you know, she’s been around for a while. She’s got quite a few books. And she does have quite a few followers.”
MacLeod is still feeling the effects of the Bookie.
“I haven’t seen anything concrete about sales,” she said. “I was speaking to my publisher three weeks ago and she said they were still filling orders that had tumbled down as a result of the Bookie. I’ve had people in the business get in touch with me through knowing about me through the Bookie. So while I don’t have anything solid, I have felt the effects of it.”
MacLeod’s second book is expected to come out in July.
“It’s called Mind Over Murder. I’m getting a little bit deeper with themes running through. This one deals with the power of love and of the mind for good and evil,” said MacLeod.
MysteryFest is not just about books.
Cheryl Holland-Hughes, who works at the library, says there’s some theatre in the mix.
“The Quinte Arts Council has teamed up with a theatre company called Murder by Design. They are going to use both galleries to put on a ‘who dun it’ play. So there will be bodies all over the place,” said Holland-Hughes.
MysteryFest starts with J.D. Carpenter on May 12 at 6:30p.m. On May 18, the Murder by Design production starts at 5:30p.m. The event is $25. On May 19, Mary Jane Maffini reads at 6:30p.m. Hilary MacLeod finishes off the series on May 25 at 6:30p.m.