What if you were powerless to protect the person you cared about most?
When Ruby finds out that her partner has done the unforgivable, she has no option but to move out of their home. With nowhere else to go, a job house-sitting in Cambridge seems like the perfect solution.
But it’s soon clear the absent owner hurts everyone he gets close to, and Ruby’s faced with the fallout. As violent repercussions unfold, her instinct is to investigate: it’s a matter of self-preservation. And besides, she’s curious…
But Ruby’s new boss, Nate Bastable, has his eye on her and seems determined to put a stop to her sleuthing. Is he simply worried for the welfare of a member of staff, or is there something altogether more complicated – and potentially dangerous – at play?
I’m really quite excited today to be on the first day of the blog tour organised by Brook Cottage Books for A Stranger’s House by Clare Chase. Clare has been a great supporter of Being Anne, and I really did want to try her writing. I’m also thoroughly delighted that this one has been published by Choc Lit’s new imprint, Death By Choc Lit. I’m sure everyone already knows that they’re one of my favourite publishers, and it’s really lovely to see them diversifying a little with these new imprints: some of you will remember how much I enjoyed What Doesn’t Kill You by Laura E James (review here) that was published under another new imprint, Dark Choc Lit.
A Stranger’s House was published on 12th February for kindle, and is available through Amazon in the UK and US. My review follows below, along with a lovely giveaway, but first I’m thrilled to welcome author Clare Chase as my guest on Being Anne.
Hello Clare, and welcome to Being Anne – would you like to introduce yourself?
Hello Anne, and thanks so much for having me on your blog today – it’s lovely to be here!
I write women sleuth mysteries set in London and Cambridge. I fell in love with the capital as a student, when I lived in the rather cushy surroundings of Hampstead, in what was then a campus college of London University. (It’s currently being turned into posh flats …)
After graduating in English Literature, I moved to Cambridge and I’ve lived here ever since. I’m fascinated by the city’s contrasts and contradictions, which feed into my writing. Since arriving I’ve worked in diverse settings – from the 800-year-old University to one of the local prisons – and I’ve lived everywhere from the house of a Lord to a slug-infested flat. The terrace I now occupy, with my husband and teenage daughters, presents a good happy medium!
As well as writing, I love family time, art and architecture, cooking, and of course, reading other people’s books.
So, the second novel with A Stranger’s House – was it as difficult to write as second novels often are?
I was lucky, as I’d already written the first draft when Choc Lit offered me a contract for my debut, You Think You Know Me. Knowing I’d got the basics in place for a second book took the pressure off.
All the same, before Choc Lit took me on I was effectively writing for myself – I could take as long as I liked, and no one cared but me. Now, there is that feeling that I need to keep the books coming regularly, to build on what I’ve started, and that notion might make me panic if I let it! However, each time I complete a novel, I develop more craft to fall back on, which helps. There are always sticky patches, but I’ve come to expect them, and take heart from the fact that I’ve managed to work through them in the past.
And where did the idea for the story come from?
The initial idea was sparked by wandering round unfamiliar houses during Cambridge Open Studios, which is a city-wide exhibition that takes place each July. Local artists use their homes to display their work to the public, but there’s so much more on view than the art! I found myself getting an unusual glimpse into other people’s lives. It made me think of all the clues you can pick up about a person simply by seeing their home environment. And then I got to thinking about how you’d feel if you found yourself living in the empty house of a stranger, and the clues you picked up set massive alarm bells ringing. That’s the situation, Ruby, my heroine finds herself in, at the start of the book.
I must admit I like a bit of mystery with my romance… which element do you enjoy writing most? Could you write a simple love story? Or a mystery without the romance?
I love both! I think I’d find it hard to write a novel with no mystery at all, as I’m addicted to armchair sleuthing myself. The first book I ever wrote was a rom com, but even that had some criminal activity thrown in – no murders though! And some kind of love interest always sneaks in when I’m writing too. I could see myself creating a series where a relationship develops much more slowly, but not one where there’s no relationship at all.
I think it’s a classic genre combination really, from books like Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn and Dorothy L Sayer’s Gaudy Night, to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, which usually have a romantic subplot. I reckon Hollywood gets it right with films like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, one of my favourite sleuthing/romance mixes.
Why Cambridge? What makes it such a good setting for a book like this?
I do find it’s the perfect backdrop for crime fiction. I think it’s partly its size, and partly the types of people who end up living here. It’s a small city, and all its inequalities, contrasts and contradictions are therefore very concentrated. My own street, for example, is home at one end to an academic who’s regularly on TV, and to a squat at the other – and it’s not a long road. You get choirs singing madrigals by the river whilst drunks deal drugs on the commons.
Cambridge’s size means secrets travel fast, too. Lots of people are employed by the university in all sorts of capacities, and there are all kinds of connections you might not expect. Gossip exchanged at a college dinner might well be overheard by the casual waiting staff, for example, who are often drawn from the local sixth form colleges! This makes it sound insular, but in fact, it’s also a very international place. You get scholars and tourists visiting from all over the world. Finally, I find it a beautiful location to describe. It provides a striking backdrop for the ugliness of crime.
Would you always want to write contemporary fiction? Would you like to try something different?
I do have a soft spot for time-slip novels. They share that same element of mystery that I love so much in crime fiction, with all their clues about the past. Having said that, I’m in awe of the historical research novelists in that genre have to conduct to make their work convincing. I’d need to up my game considerably on that score if I wanted to branch out!
What’s your day job Clare – and how do you fit your writing around it and the demands of a family? What’s a typical writing day?
I work each morning at the Royal Society of Chemistry for a team involved in fundraising. I really enjoy it – it’s a very varied role, and wonderfully sociable. I’m lucky to have the afternoons free, so I go home, catch up on emails and social media over lunch, and then get down to whichever stage of the writing job I’m due to tackle. Later in the afternoon, my teenage children arrive back from school and we catch up on news and gossip before they dash off to do homework (or so they tell me! ;-)) and I carry on. The whole family reconvenes for supper, and we tend to have easy meals involving vegetables that don’t require peeling! If I’m on a roll then I might do more during the evenings too.
And what writers do you admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
Ooh – I admire loads of authors, but Elly Griffiths – writer of the Ruth Galloway crime series – springs to mind. I love her books and always want to revisit her brilliant cast of characters. The novels are set in Norfolk – not so far from my neck of the woods – and the writing evokes a great sense of place. They follow Ruth’s relationships as well as the core mystery at hand, and I love that mix.
Tell me more about the Choc Lit family – I’ve never known a group of writers so supportive of each other…
You’re absolutely right, and I feel truly lucky to be part of this friendly gang. We’re all in regular contact online – which is facilitated by Choc Lit’s management – and I usually get to catch-up with a number of them in real life at events too, which is great. I mentioned above how much I appreciate the social side of my day job, and being part of the Choc Lit family is like having another whole group of close-knit colleagues. I was so nervous when I got my first publishing contract, but the existing authors were generous with their advice and ready to help in multiple ways.
And what’s next for you? Will we be back in Cambridge for the next one? With the odd dead body?
You guessed it! My next novel, featuring Nate and Ruby from A Stranger’s House, is already written, and is another murder mystery. I’m now part-way through a third Cambridge book, though I’ve had a massive gap in the middle of drafting that one, because of stopping to do edits for A Stranger’s House. I’m hoping to get back to it whilst I can still remember what on earth was meant to be happening!
Thank you Clare – it’s good to get to know you a little better! Shall I tell them what I thought of A Stranger’s House? Oh, go on then…
When “talking” with Clare about her interview, I mentioned I was previously reading one of the current big name thrillers. She said hers was “at the cosier end of the mystery genre”, and I really couldn’t have said it better. And that’s not intended as a criticism in any way – I really enjoyed this book – but if you approach it expecting edge-of-your-seat thrills, chills and buckets of blood, you could conceivably be just a little bit disappointed.
And that really is a ridiculous thing to say, because there are dead bodies, people behaving (very) badly, lots of unexpected twists and turns, and some quite wonderfully done moments of real tension and impending disaster. The focus of this book really was the two main characters, and I really liked both Ruby and Nate, two very real people with their own pasts and secrets, caught up in a really well-crafted mystery. I particularly loved Ruby’s irresistible urge to investigate – but never to the point that you get irritated with her for putting herself in danger. The supporting characters are excellent too – I adored her chatty and indiscrete friend Steph, Maggie is quite superb, and Damien totally fascinating despite the fact we never actually meet him.
The backdrop of Cambridge and the surrounding villages works so well – really vividly drawn, and easy to picture the scenes in which the action takes place. The gentle love story that underpins all the investigating is well done too, with all the “will they, won’t they” and awkwardness – and I really liked the first person/third person narrative that let you get inside their heads a little.
Although 100% present day – with 21st century issues and problems – there’s an extremely endearing old-fashioned quality to this book, a bit Jessica Fletcher, another bit Miss Marple, full of clues and red herrings that have you close to working out whodunnit but then push you down another path. I really enjoyed it, and I’m delighted to hear we’ll be seeing more of Nate and Ruby – I’m really looking forward to spending more time with them.
With thanks to Clare and tour organiser Brook Cottage Books, I’m very pleased to be able to offer a giveaway – a signed paperback copy of Clare’s previous book, You Think You Know Me (also a mystery/suspense novel) plus a sweet treat from Hotel Chocolat. Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Clare’s debut novel, You Think You Know Me, has been shortlisted for an EPIC award, and was chosen as a debut of the month for September 2015 by Lovereading.
Follow Clare on Facebook and Twitter, and find out more about the author and her writing on her website and through her publisher page.