Murder at the
By: Ellen Hunter
Magnolia Mystery Series
Reading and signing: 11/5, 2 – 5 p.m. at Two Sisters Bookery, Cotton Exchange
Cruise with the author: 11/6, 1 – 2:30 p.m., $15, including booksigning and mingling; www.WilmingtonWaterTours.com
When I was young, my grandfather, Bob Pryor, would make linguini with white clam sauce and let me pick a movie from his vast VHS collection in the family room. The crime-mystery parody, “Murder by Death,” was always my choice. The classic revolves around millionaire Lionel Twain, as he invites the five most brilliant private eyes to dinner and a murder.
My love for crime-mystery fiction has definitely stemmed from watching movies like “Murder by Death.” Arguably, it is the only genre courageous enough to deal with the biggest issues of our times. Whether we realize it or not, they help us discover how our own moral compasses work. Culpable versus innocent, good versus evil and right versus wrong are all examples of how mysteries show us our rich historical heritage. In what other genre will one find fun in a plot based upon characters solely driven to commit murder out of revenge or greed?
Having fun with murder and mayhem is exactly what best-selling North Carolina author Ellen Elizabeth Hunter does best. In “Murder at the Holiday Flotilla,” Hunter’s long-awaited ninth book in the Magnolia Mystery series, the Wilkes sisters are submersed in killing and chaos yet again. Throughout Hunter’s previous sultry and unmistakably Southern novels, we have followed the sisters’ careers, love lives, and the many times they’ve been unwittingly drawn into murder cases. Now, Melanie Wilkes is about to be inaugurated as president of the North Carolina Association of Realtors, and all Ashley Wilkes wants to do is celebrate a quiet Christmas with her husband, Jon, and their adorable babies, but their fortune has something else in store. A highly controversial state senator is found dead by mysterious means in a $6 million estate and a will has suspiciously surfaced, pointing to Ashley and Melanie as heirs to a hidden family fortune. But is anyone else searching for it? More intriguingly, who else is dying to get it?
Constantly awed by Wilmington’s history, Hunter uses the Colonial period as inspiration for drama within “Murder at the Holiday Flotilla”—in particular, Lord Cornwallis’s brief stay at the Burgwin-Wright House, along with the legend that he left gold behind when he marched to Virginia. “I’ve restored a couple of old houses,” Hunter, told encore last week, “and while strolling around the historic district, the proverbial light bulb went off in my head. I knew I wanted to write about a protagonist who restores old homes and who finds a mystery in each house.
“Faye Brock helped so much with this book by sharing her knowledge of local real estate. I like my books to reflect the way the state is today, populated by educated, professional people who live in cosmopolitan areas. I’ve been told by people who have lived in Wilmington all of their lives that they learn something about the history of their hometown they weren’t aware of. While the books are contemporary, the plots are usually based on some historical event. For example, a fictitious payroll robbery at the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad or the murder of a German POW during WWII. Many people don’t know that the park at Eighth and Ann streets was once a POW camp.”
Brooks Preik, owner of Two Sisters Bookery, is very aware of Hunter’s entertaining Magnolia series, especially since she can barely keep them on the shelf. “She’s sophisticated and writes as fast as you can talk!” Preik guaranteed. “She really cranks them out. We get orders from all over the country. I’ve had people on the waiting list for the last three months to get this ninth installment. Her local interest with local setting appeals to people more than anything.”
Always fun and never splattered with foul, unnecessary language or raunchy unnecessary sex scenes, Hunter’s books remain notoriously light-hearted. Often considered a prized souvenir of the South, she highlights mounds of history within each tale. After 20 years of living in Greensboro, North Carolina, Hunter has finally accomplished a goal within her own personal story: She can now call Wilmington her home. She looks forward to meeting her many loyal readers.