Iowa’s Anna Loan-Wilsey goes to great lengths to research the historical locations her amateur sleuth Hattie Davish finds dead bodies in. Which is a good thing since Anna’s latest novel “Anything But Civil” takes place in 1892 Galena, IL, a community just ‘up the road’ from where I live – a town I’ve visited many times, located near the junction of two rivers I’ve pulled more fish from than I could ever lie about. Needless to say, but I will anyway, I was elated to find almost nothing to nitpick. Kudos to the author for her devotion in establishing proper settings, atmosphere, and ambiance.
“Anything But Civil” is the second book in the Hattie Davish cozy mystery series. The debut offering, “A Lack of Temperance,” introduced readers to sleuth Hattie, a traveling secretary with an eye for detail, an ear for eavesdropping, and a nose in pretty much everybody’s business. Hattie is a delight, and, as she is young, attractive, and unmarried, there is no lack of potential suitors, leaving the reader wondering when, or if, the right man will capture Hattie’s heart.
Anna Loan-Wilsey began her journey to become a published author after she lost her job. She scoured the Internet for tips, attended classes, conversed with authors, all the while honing her craft. Her efforts were rewarded with a contract for “A Lack of Temperance.” She then learned about deadlines, and just how much of a business being a published author truly is. Still, she makes time to hang out at the local Barnes and Noble play place with her daughter and answer any and all questions folks might have for her. In other words, she’s a nice lady, a mother and homemaker who is living her dream.
I appreciated the fact Anna takes great care in creating not just her primary characters, but the secondary ones as well. If a character is involved in a scene, the reader is left with no question of who he/she is and their appearance and importance to the story. Overall, Anna’s writing is clean, precise, humorous when it deserves to be, and makes us wonder ‘who-done-it.’
Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries set in legitimate historical settings should definitely pick up one of Anna’s books.
Q) The obvious question: Why historical settings?
A) Would it be an obvious answer if I said because I love history? I live in a Victorian farmhouse, complete with a parlor, a library, and Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper. I wore a bustle dress for Halloween in high school when my friends were dressing like Madonna. I collect 19th and early 20th century china teacups which I drink tea from every afternoon. When given the choice, i.e. not a book club selection, I always prefer to read historical fiction. I could go on and on. So given the choice of writing in the present or being given the opportunity to research minute tidbits of an era and then pulling them all together to create a story from the past, there was no contest. As I work I become completely immersed and “live” in that time period. It’s about as close to a time machine as I can get.
Q) Since you opt to use differing, genuine locations instead of fictional ones, what is the deciding factor in selecting the community?
A) I like to think of my setting as a vital character in each book, drawing my plots directly from the history of the town. Therefore I’m always on the lookout for communities that have intriguing stories of their own to tell. Eureka Springs, AR was famous for its healing mineral springs. Galena, IL was at one time a thriving steamboat town with a rich Civil War legacy. Newport, RI (the setting of book 3) is infamous as a playground for the richest of the rich in America. As many towns fit this criterion, I then narrow it down to those that have preserved their historical architecture as well. I want my readers to be able to walk through a town and sense that, besides the clothes and the cars, what they’re seeing is what Hattie would’ve seen.
Q) You’re a biologist and librarian. Will those experiences play roles in Hattie’s development in future stories?
A) Absolutely. In fact, they already have. Hattie is an amateur botanist which has served her well in solving several mysteries. Hattie’s eye for order among chaos, her list making and her need to collect and catalog her plant collection were definitely inspired by my library background.
Q) The romance door can only be opened and closed so many times in a mystery series before it becomes a yolk and/or tight wire for the character. How will you handle suitors and keep Hattie fresh without her becoming shrewish in her travels?
A) Good question! I wish I’d considered it more thoughtfully before I wrote my first book. As it is, Hattie has had a “steady” suitor almost from the very beginning, Dr. Walter Grice. But without giving too much away, Hattie and Walter are like any other couple who must navigate the ups and downs that come with a growing attachment, including the physical distance between them, their differing social standings and of course, Hattie’s aversion to Walter’s profession.
Q) Have you begun to create another character for a different mystery series, or does Hattie have your full attention, and why?
A) Right now Hattie has my full attention. I really like Hattie and I’m eager to see where she goes next. And besides, as it takes an enormous amount of time to research a new location for each book as well as the historical details that make the story authentic, it’s nice to have a familiar character I can rely on to step into a story with ease.
Q) Any parting thoughts for fans and potential readers?
A) Just to say thank you! As it said in the introduction, I’m living the dream. I know there are a multitude of new mysteries, let alone books, coming out every year. To be able to add my effort to the list and actually have readers take time out of their busy lives to discover Hattie is a joy and a wonder. I hope you enjoy stepping back into her world as much as I enjoy writing about it.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net