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December Book Club Choice

A Moment of Silence by Anna Dean

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A delightful heroine, a Regency setting, and the intriguing elements of a country-house mystery makes A Moment of Silence a treat of a crime novel. It's 1805 and Catherine, a young fiancé is enjoying her engagement ball. But she is left more than a little perturbed when her soon-to-be-husband Richard Montague suddenly breaks off their engagement, mid-dance, never to be seen again. Enter her aunt, Miss Dido Kent - a woman with a penchant for mysteries and a nose for sinister happenings. Family secrets, long consigned to the darkest recesses of the past, begin to emerge as Dido attempts to unravel the strange happenings. And it will take all her skills to solve this multi-layered mystery.

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Author Q&A

Q. What came first, the decision to write a mystery novel or the decision to set a novel in the early 1800s?
G. Regson, Gloucestershire

A. The decision to write a mystery novel came first – although the late Georgian period has always been one that fascinates me. I started writing 'A Moment of Silence' because I wanted to see if I could create a plot in the traditional mystery style. I had been doing a lot of crosswords and had come to love the logic of them - the subtle hints, the misleading information, the way in which a clue can seem to be saying one thing but in fact mean something quite different. I thought it would be fun to write a book like that.

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Q. What attracted you to the Regency period?
J. West, London

A. It seems to me that the Regency period is the ideal setting for a murder mystery – because it was a time when good manners were considered very important. At their best, good manners are about more than making small talk and remembering to say please and thank you; they are a genuine attempt to consider other people's feelings and needs. A lack of selfishness. Jane Austen calls this 'an attention towards everybody.' And it seems to me that the very extreme of selfishness – the very worst breach of good manners – is murder. A murderer denies someone else life for the sake of his (or her) own convenience. Regency society also valued order very highly. In traditional crime fiction (the genre probably best exemplified by the work of Agatha Christie) a murder is not portrayed in detail. The blood, the mechanics of death aren't very important. What is important is the way in which a violent death disrupts the order of everyday life. By identifying the murderer, the sleuth is asserting the need for order and removing the disruption so that life can continue. The traditional mystery genre didn't exist in the early nineteenth century – but if it had I'm sure it would have been very popular.

Q. Were you an avid reader of historical mystery novels? Would you say that being very familiar with the genre is key to writing a historical mystery novel?
Linda Bettle, London

A. I read very widely. I had read several historical mysteries before I started on the series, but not a great many. I now deliberately avoid reading anything that seems too similar to my own books, to avoid being inadvertently influenced by other authors' stories. There are quite a few books set in the same period which I'd love to read, and I'm promising myself I can start on them when I finish writing the Dido series. However I think some knowledge of the mystery genre is probably necessary before you start writing within it. It has certain traditions and rules which I'm sure readers like to see followed. For example making sure that the solution to the mystery does not rely on any piece of information that has not been mentioned.

Q. What authors have inspired your writing, if any?
C. Wallace, Inverness

A. I've been inspired and influenced by a great many writers. Reading Ellis Peters' books introduced me to historical mystery. But the writer who first made me love general historical fiction was Norah Lofts. I remember long hot summer days reading her books when I was teenager. I particularly loved 'Bless this House'. I loved the way she could bring houses to life and make them into characters in her books. My interest in the Georgian period began with my reading of Jane Austen's work; but there are a great many other writers from that time who have influenced me – many of them writers that few other people have ever heard of. I very much enjoy reading letters and journals from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – I spend quite a lot of time searching through collections in local record offices. Letter writing in the Regency period was pretty much an art-form in itself and women in particular devoted many hours to it. It seemed natural when I created the Dido Kent books to write partly in the letter form. Dido's background and her style of expressing herself are both influenced by the indefatigable letter writers I've discovered in the archives.

Q. Is Belsfield Hall a real place or inspired by a real place?
J. Talbot

A. No, it's not a real place; but it is influenced by a great many real houses that I've visited. The long gallery was inspired by Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, the chapel in the grounds was suggested by the one in the grounds of Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire and the fountain is probably a scaled-down version of the ones at Chatsworth and Castle Howard. Belsfield is a very old house which has been rebuilt and remodelled over the years – I made it that way so I could include some of my favourite features!

Q. How did the character of Miss Dido Kent develop?
J. Dudley, Preston

A. It's impossible to read any biography of Jane Austen without being moved by the picture of an intelligent woman trapped in the role of dependent spinster, suffering all the restrictions that early nineteenth century society placed upon her. And, as I came to know the period better, I realised that this was by no means unusual. In fact it seems that there were rather a lot of unmarried women around at this time – the result perhaps of the French wars which were claiming the lives of young men. Many women – Dorothy Wordsworth for example – found themselves in the situation of having no home of their own. Middle class women were not supposed to work for a living, so many spinsters had no choice but to rely on their brothers for support. That was my starting point for creating Dido. And, as I mentioned above, her character is also influenced by a wide range of letter-writers that I've come across in the archives. I've tried to avoid making her too much of a rebel; tried to stop her thinking in a 21st century way. I want her to be a woman of her times, influenced by the attitudes of the society in which she lives. So I sometimes find her expressing opinions I don't agree with – which makes writing about her very interesting. But Dido is also a product of the Enlightenment and she values reason very highly – that's why she shares my love of puzzle-solving.


Book Club Reviews

This star review was by A.R., Burton-on-Trent..

Just had to write to say how much I enjoyed “A Moment Of Silence”. So many twists and turns in the plot made it very hard to work out who had committed the crime! You have introduced me to a new author, so thank you very much.A.R., Burton-on-Trent.

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The introduction to this book sounded intriguing – and it proved to be so! It was quite interesting in the way it had been written, with the story progressing in the usual way but also through letters which the amateur sleuth was writing to her sister. The eventual “reveal all” moment, after many red herrings and wrong conclusions, was extremely interesting, especially the meaning behind the title, which I will not reveal in case it spoils it for other readers!E.H., Anglesey.


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