It’s been a while but, y’all, how’s this for return to the Dearly Departed feature?
Susan Van Kirk, President of the Guppies is here today to talk about the Endurance mysteries, a victim of the Five Star mystery line shut down.
1. Tell us about the Endurance mysteries. What was the premise? Who were the characters?
The premise was that the Midwestern small town of Endurance would reveal the world of Grace Kimball, a widow, who retires from teaching high school English when the first book, Three May Keep a Secret, begins. She had taught for decades in the small town, so wherever she goes she runs into former students she taught when they were silly adolescents. The reader hears her memories of the crazy things they did back then. Most are quite hilarious (and based on some of my real memories.) But into her quiet world come two events: the arson murder of a former colleague, and the arrival of an intriguing new newspaper editor about her age. Single. Mysterious.
The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney is a novella that fits between the first and second books. It features the biracial detective, TJ Sweeney, former student and now friend of Grace, and concerns a hate crime committed in the 1930s. A generous slice of WWII and nostalgia accompanies this story, and Grace makes a cameo appearance. The solution to the murder is quite unique.
Marry in Haste, the second book, continues the relationship between Grace and the editor. In this book one of Grace’s former students is accused of murdering her philandering, but high-profile banker husband. The newspaper editor buys a huge old Victorian to restore it and make it into a bed and breakfast, and he and Grace find the journal of a woman who lived in the house a hundred years earlier. Her story parallels the story of the current day woman accused of murder.
Death Takes No Bribes sends Grace back to the high school where she taught when the principal is poisoned. Who would do such a terrible thing? Surely not one of her former colleagues. Detective TJ Sweeney enlists Grace’s help to find the killer. Despite the poisoning death of the principal, the theater teacher is producing the play, Arsenic and Old Lace. Seriously bad timing.
2. What, or who, was your favorite part of the series?
Grace’s sister-in-law, Letisha Kimball (Lettie), provides comic relief, and she is a hilarious character and quite a foil to Grace. She believes literally everything she reads in tabloid newspapers and magazines, runs Grace’s house with an iron hand, and eventually has a love interest in a retired widower who comes to do a renovation of Grace’s kitchen. I had so much fun writing her that I literally laughed out loud at many of the scenes, especially when she severely sprained her ankle and was given pain medication that made her loopy. In her drugged-up state, she imagines her elderly suitor, Del Novak, carrying her up a flight of stairs just like Clark Gable carried Vivien Leigh up the wide staircase in Gone with the Wind—only his knees creak considerably and he huffs and puffs in a very un-Gable-like manner.
3. Why did it end?
As everyone in the mystery world knows, the publisher, Five Star, closed their mystery line in the middle of publishing my second book. The first book of the series had sold well, but by the time they were closing the mystery line, they spent little to no time publicizing the second book. It ended with a real cliffhanger since no one knew they were going to close when I sent it in. So I published the third book myself so I could explain the conclusion of the cliffhanger. Many mystery writers lost their series in that situation, not just me.
4. Was its ending a relief or were you disappointed?
It was a terrible disappointment.
5. Would you ever resurrect the Endurance series?
I had the rights to the series reverted to me, and I’d published the novella and third book myself. So I self-published the entire series once I had the rights back. It’s available today.
I have thought about resurrecting the Endurance mysteries five years after the story ended. But in between I got busy writing other things. We’ll see. I haven’t ruled it out.
6. What are you working on now?
I have a series with Encircle Publications, and the first book A Death at Tippitt Pond, which combines genealogy, history, and mystery. The main character discovers secrets and historical events in her family tree. The first book concerns her mother’s murder in 1971. That’s history now, even though I lived through that time (sigh). It was fun going back and researching the clothes, pop culture, and the music of the Sixties and Seventies. The second book will go back to the 1850s to the man who built the family home, ran the first printing press, and shepherded a station on the Underground Railroad. Each book has a double plot—one in the present, and one in the past.
Thank you for being here and sharing, Susan! I love a book with a comedic sidekick. Lettie sounds like a handful for sure! If you want to learn more about Susan’s books, here’s her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Susan Van Kirk is the Guppy President of the Sisters in Crime chapter and a writer of cozy mysteries. She lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold and icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Van Kirk taught forty-four years in high school and college and raised three children. Miraculously, she has low blood pressure.
She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Have you read the Endurance books? Is there a Lettie in your life? How grateful are you that Susan knows readers and didn’t let the series die with a cliffhanger? Let me know!