Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mary Daheim

Mary Daheim's new novel, All the Pretty Hearses, is the 26th book in her Bed-and-Breakfast Series.

A few weeks ago I asked Daheim what she was reading. Her reply:
Readers who know my books probably realize that I base many of my characters on family members, especially in the B&B series. In the Emma Lord mysteries, the setting is the once-real town of Alpine where my ancestors lived almost a hundred years ago. Thus, I’ve shamelessly mined the characteristics and quirks of my nearest and dearest for over twenty years. Luckily, a sense of humor is a family trait.

I once used a relative much earlier in my publishing career. I cast Thomas Cromwell, Chancellor of England under Henry VIII, as my heroine’s uncle in one of my historical novels, Destiny’s Pawn. To my pleasure and enlightenment, Hilary Mantel has written a novel about Cromwell titled Wolf Hall. A splendid novel, in fact, that won the Man Book Prize in 2009. Her research is thorough and, I trust, accurate.

Cromwell—according to family records going back to the Domesday Book in 1067—was a great-great etc.-grandfather of mine on my maternal side. He’s often portrayed in literature and film as a villain, but I never saw him in quite such a dark light. Like most people, he was complicated. I thought—don’t know why, maybe it was the Holbein portrait—that he had a sense of humor. Yes, he was ambitious, ruthless, smart—and a student of human nature. He has often been called The First Bureaucrat. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment, but it fits. Oh, he possessed some disturbing qualities, but he lived in perilous times. And under that tightly-controlled exterior, he was very human.

Not only is Mantel’s novel a great read, but it answered a question I’ve had for years: Why did my mother—who died at 86—have only a trace of gray in her thick brown hair? And why did I inherit the same trait? All four of my grandparents turned gray, as did my father. I discovered it’s the Cromwell genes. Not that Thomas would ever know if he was so lucky, having been executed before he had a chance to find out.

The other good news about Wolf Hall is that Mantel is writing a sequel. Maybe that one will explain why my mother’s sister (known to B&B readers as Gertrude) and her daughter, Coz Judy (aka Judith McMonigle Flynn), both started to turn gray in their teens. You can check out that contemporary part of the family in All the Pretty Hearses, released earlier this month. And yes, I’m Renie—a family nickname.
Visit Mary Daheim's website.

The Page 69 Test: Vi Agra Falls.

The Page 99 Test: The Alpine Uproar.

--Marshal Zeringue