Beloved English author Veronica Heley has published nearly 70 novels and among her most popular are her Ellie Quicke Mysteries. The gently determined, overage Ellie recently solved her twelfth crime in the newly released Murder My Neighbour.
Ellie received an excellent review from Publishers Weekly who also have a good summary of the plot: In Heley's irresistible 12th Ellie Quick cozy (after 2010's Murder by Mistake), a former neighbor of Ellie's in suburban London, Flavia Pryce, appears to have dropped off the map on her way to a retirement home several months earlier. Ellie scarcely knew Flavia, but becomes involved when she's mistaken for her own late aunt, Drusilla, who was close to the elderly woman. Flavia's relatives, who have long relied on her for financial assistance, are frantic to locate her. Ellie is, of course, curious—particularly after Rose, "her dear friend and housekeeper," insists she saw a spectral face at the window of Flavia's empty house. Suspicious characters include squatters, a light-fingered nephew, shady businessmen, and a gardener who still has access to the property. Meanwhile, Ellie's demanding daughter, Diana, makes life tough for both Ellie and husband Thomas. If you think you've seen Diana at her worst, just wait.
Like Publisher's Weekly, I have found the uneasy mother-daughter relationship between Ellie and her difficult daughter Diana so interesting because it seems that most such clashes are written from the daughter's viewpoint. Ellie gives us the other side of the coin. So I asked Veronica to divulge a bit of her writer's journey in developing these characters:
I thought I'd imagined Diana, Ellie Quicke's appalling daughter, but it appears she's alive and well and the bane of her mother's life, everywhere.
I am at the moment working on the thirteenth story in the Ellie Quicke series. Diana has featured in all of them, and while I know that my readers enjoy hearing all about Ellie's struggle to solve various neighbourhood crimes, they are equally if not more interested in discovering what dreadful design Diana has upon our heroine, and how Ellie will thwart it.
Let me state, here and now, that although my husband and I have a grown-up daughter, she is as unlike Diana as could be. In fact, I really don't know where Diana came from. Perhaps from listening to friends talking about their problem families?
But who, I ask myself, has a daughter as rapacious and as bullying as Diana? Who else but Diana cuts so many corners in business matters, and twists the truth to her own advantage? Who else assumes she has the right to the best that life can offer, while ignoring the need for honesty at home or at work? Who else ignores the needs of her only son when it suits her to do so?
We'd admire these traits in a business man, wouldn't we? Or at least, excuse them. But in a woman . . .? Not so.
Nevertheless, I have to admire Diana for her nerve, her courage, and her slim figure. In this grabby, me, Me, ME world, I don't think she's unique.
Over the years Diana has acquired various properties but, like fairy gold, these assets have turned to dust and ashes in her hands, so that she has never attained the wealthy lifestyle that she considers her due.
Let's face it; she's an adventuress. I could forgive her much if only she were kinder to Ellie.
So what of her mother in all this? Where do Diana's genes come from
Ellie is now in her early sixties, not as tall as her daughter and conscious of a figure that is far from svelte. She has short curly silvery hair and a good complexion. Ellie always looks as if she'd going to smile, and is interested in everything and everybody. She is loving and giving, sometimes unsure of herself. She has a wide circle of friends.
Diana is fashionable, string-thin, harsh-voiced. Diana is interested in no one except herself. She divorced a loving husband because he didn't live up to her expectations, and she neglects their son.
Which of them is content with her lot? Not Diana.
In this new book – MURDER MY NEIGHBOUR – Diana is so provoked by
Ellie's refusal to go along with her latest plan, that she . . . no, I won't spoil it for you. But what Diana does, or tries to do, alters Ellie's perception of her daughter for good, and drives her to question how Diana became the difficult person she is now.
It goes back to childhood, of course. I see small children badgering their parents in shops to buy them this or that. If they go on long enough, the mother will usually give in, and I note that the mother has just taught her child that he or she will get whatever it is they want, if they persist. Diana did persist throughout childhood, having discovered that Ellie couldn't or wouldn't stand up to her, and that her father would always indulge her slightest whim.
Here we mustn't forget that Ellie suffered a number of miscarriages during Diana's childhood, and that they left her feeling too drained to cope with a strong-minded child.
Frank Quicke, Diana's father, must step forward here. Though Ellie never acknowledged this about her husband, he was brought up in a money-pinching household to believe that Money is King, and that he should always put himself and his ambitions first. He loved Ellie, recognised that she was a better person than him, and feared to lose her. His method of holding on to her was to denigrate her before their daughter and in public at every opportunity.
He'd say, 'Don't touch my computer; you'd be sure to break it.' Or, 'Of course you can't learn to drive, you silly woman. You'd signal right and turn left.'
Almost to the end of Frank's life, if Diana – who was so like him – wanted something, he would give it to her, and he overrode any attempt by Ellie to teach her daughter a sense of right and wrong.
By the time of Frank's early death, Ellie's self-esteem was at an all time low, and it was only when she was left alone in life that she began to think for herself.
So, twelve books later, what does the future hold for mother and daughter?
Ellie has become a stronger person. She is no longer a downtrodden housewife, but the head of a charitable trust which Diana would dearly like to get her hands on – but can't. Ellie has inherited a large house and is now happily married to her best friend, Thomas. Diana has had various traumatic love affairs, and now has her sights set on a wealthy man who is already married.
I'm afraid you'll have to wait till the next book comes out to find out whether it's going to end in tears or triumph for my best-loved, and best-hated villainess.
MURDER MY NEIGHBOUR, Severn House, hb June 2011
FALSE REPORT, Severn House, hb November 2011
Posted by Donna Fletcher Crow, The Monastery Murders