Summer is ending in County Cork, Ireland, and with it the tourist season. Expat Maura Donovan is determined to keep Sullivan’s Pub in the black as the days grow shorter—but how? When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who’d come play in the back room, she wonders if bringing back live music might be Sullivan’s salvation.
As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. With a slew of potential suspects, it’s going to take more than a pint and a good think to force a murderer to face the music.
At the heart of the County Cork mysteries is the second book I ever wrote, set in a small pub in a very small town in southwestern Ireland. It was inspired by a real pub called Connolly’s, which I’ve come to know well over the past decade (especially after having tea with the owner in the back room, with her Irish Wolfhound by the fire and her cat in my lap).
I chose to write about Ireland because I never knew my father’s parents, both of whom were born there (although in different counties), and I thought seeing the country might be a way to get to know them. My grandmother and grandfather came to New York separately, in 1911, and connected when he made milk deliveries to the back door of the house where she was a servant. They didn’t marry until 1918, and they had my father a year later. My grandmother was 38 at the time.
They went on to have two more children. My father became a chemical engineer and earned a master’s degree. His younger brother was a nuclear engineer at Stanford, after getting a Ph.D. at Cal Tech. Their baby sister worked in television in New York on the show Mr. Peepers in the 1950s—not bad for a girl from Syracuse, although she went home to marry a hometown Irish boy (it did turn out that he’d been a spy in Paris in WWII, complete with trench coat—I’ve seen the picture). That’s quite an impressive list of achievements for the offspring of two poorly educated Irish natives who grew up raising cows out in the country. Is it any wonder I wanted to know more? So I made my first trip there in 1998.
What did I learn in Ireland? That there’s a particular kind of humor that seems familiar to me. There’s also a sense of fatalism: even when things are going well (like during the brief Celtic Tiger), there’s the sense that a bad turn is just around the corner, but that’s nothing new and we’ll get through it somehow. That the Irish people love words and talk and songs, and they love sharing all of those.
The new book in the series, An Early Wake, is about music. Not the pipes and tin whistles kind, but contemporary music. I based Sullivan’s pub in the series on Connolly’s, and for reasons that are still a mystery to me, Connolly’s was once a center for bands and music in West Cork. If you see the place, you end up scratching your head: it’s all of two rooms, and it holds no more than 200 people legally, and only half of them in the back room where the stage is. The stage was maybe a foot off the floor and about ten feet square. Yet still they hosted bands you might have heard of, like the Cranberries.
How did the word get out? That’s even more mystifying. No Internet in those days. No money for advertising, in the Cork papers or on the radio. The owner of the place would book the bands and people would just show up. He’s gone now, but I asked his 24-year-old son just how it happened, and he said, quite simply, “magic.”
And he’s right. There’s something magic about Ireland. I felt it the first time I saw the place, and it keeps bringing me back. I want to write about it because I want others to see what’s so special about the country and the people. It’s not all rainbows and leprechauns (although I’ve seen plenty of the first, and maybe a few of the second); there’s something deeper and more complex going on that draws you in.
The title of that first Irish book of mine (never published) was Home of the Heart. It still fits.
Sheila Connolly, Anthony and Agatha Award–nominated author, writes three bestselling cozy mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her Museum Mysteries are based in Philadelphia, her Orchard Mysteries take place in rural Massachusetts, and her County Cork Mysteries are set in Ireland, and include Buried in a Bog and Scandal in Skibbereen, both New York Times bestsellers. In addition, she writes an paranormal romance series, which began with Relatively Dead in 2013. She has also published Once She Knew, a romantic suspense, and Reunion with Death, a traditional mystery set in Tuscany, as well as a number of short stories. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three cats, and visits Ireland as often as she can.
What I Liked:
*The Irish History
One of the things that Sheila Connolly does extremely well is incorporate history into her stories. Her knowledge of Irish history is fascinating, and I always feel as though I've learned something after having read her books. Being that music is one of my fortes, the history lesson on Irish music hit home. It was so cool!
*Maura & Crew
These characters are spectacular. Maura is the PERFECT cozy heroine, and I love seeing her start to set her roots in Ireland. I also really enjoy her relationships with the supporting cast of characters. Ms. Connolly certainly knows how to make characters interact with one another in a realistic and believable way.
How on earth can you go wrong with Ireland?! And to top it all off, an Irish pub? How perfect is that? The descriptions of both make you feel like you've been whisked away on a vacation to a picturesque Ireland. Just beautiful!
No one tells a mystery like Sheila Connolly.
This was a GREAT addition to the County Cork series. It's just another layer of historical brilliance to these characters and their lives. I can't wait for the next book the series!
Rating: 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own.
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