An 'American Agatha Christie': Mystery Writer Carolyn Hart Pays a Visit to The Country Bookshop
Carolyn Hart, the "American Agatha Christie," is coming to The Country Bookshop.
On Tuesday, April 1, at 7 p.m., the 71-year-old author is making what she says "may well be one of my last book trips."
"We are so pleased that Ms. Hart has chosen to visit our shop," says Bobbie Bicket, owner of the independent book store in downtown Southern Pines. "A Carolyn Hart signing is a major event wherever she goes. We know we're going to have an overwhelming response here, so we're asking customers to call the shop to make a reservation for the wine and cheese reception we're hosting for her."
Hart will present her new book, "Death Walked In," the 18th mystery in her series featuring Death on Demand bookshop owner Annie Laurance, and her lawyer-turned-sleuth husband, Max Darling, who live in the resort community of Broward's Rock Island, S.C.; and "Set Sail for Murder," her seventh Henrie O mystery featuring retired newspaperwoman Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins, just released in paperback.
With 40 books, two highly successful series and a third in the works, and 2.7 million books in print, Hart is the only author to be nominated nine times for the coveted Agatha Award for Best Mystery Novel; and the first writer to win all three major mystery awards: the Agatha (three times), and the Anthony and Macavity (two times each). She received the 2007 Malice Lifetime Achievement Award, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, "Letters from Home."
As a child in Oklahoma City, Hart decided to be a reporter when she grew up. She worked on the Oklahoma Daily while a journalism student at Oklahoma University where she graduated with honors in 1958 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After college she married fellow student Phil Hart. While he went to law school, she worked on a newspaper.
"I discovered that I'm not suited to be a reporter," Hart says. "I'm not aggressive enough, and I really didn't like going after people with possibly very disturbing questions."
After living in Washington, D.C., and Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., while he was in the military, the couple returned with their son and daughter to Oklahoma City in 1965, where Phil Hart practiced law. They have lived there ever since.
"Falling in love changed the course of my life," Hart says. "After we married and had a family, I didn't want to go back to working at a newspaper because the hours are very long and the pay is low."
Soon boredom and frustration for the stay-at-home mom set in. Hart entered and won a contest for a mystery novel for adolescent girls with her book, "The Secret of the Cellars," published in 1964. The 28-year-old author followed that with four more young adult mysteries before switching to adult mysteries.
Over the next 12 years she wrote seven murder mysteries, "but nothing good happened," she says. "They were published and then they disappeared into publishing's big black hole. 'This is silly,' I said. 'You aren't succeeding. How many years are you going to do this?' I was ready to give up on writing altogether and dedicate myself to improving my tennis game."
At age 51, Hart decided to try one last time with a mystery whose heroine and hero celebrated youth and enthusiasm, and who "admired, valued and loved each other. Voila, Annie and Max. They represent the kind of couple that results when a woman and man treat each other with dignity, respect, and desire."
In 1987, "Death on Demand" was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It sold 100,000 copies and is now in its 21st year in paperback. Seventeen more Annie and Max Darling mysteries followed.
"I think the last book, 'Dead Days of Summer,' is the very best in the series," Hart says. "It has the most suspense."
The 19th Death on Demand mystery, "Dare to Die," will be published next spring.
In 1993, Hart created a new series celebrating age and experience, featuring 60-something sleuth, Henrietta O'Dwyer (Henrie O) Collins, a widowed retired newspaperwoman.
"When I was growing up," Hart says, "I thought the phrase 'an older woman' denoted an exalted status, indicating sophistication, wisdom, grace, importance. Instead, I discovered that our society dismisses older women as negligible. In mystery fiction, older women are often depicted as silly and helpless and as figures of fun, albeit good-natured fun. I wanted to create a woman who deserved respect because she has lived a challenging life, known joy and sorrow, achievement and failure." The first in the Henrie O series, "Dead Man's Island," received an Agatha Award.
The sixth and latest in the series, "Set Sail for Murder," takes place on a Baltic cruise.
"It was really, really a hard book to write," Hart says, "because with security as it is today with international travel, there's no way someone could possibly smuggle a gun or a knife on board a ship. So what are you left with? You're left with poison, which I don't like to do because it's just so awful to envision, or you're left with pushing someone overboard."
In 2003 Hart wrote a stand-alone novel, "Letters from Home," based on her two short stories featuring a 13-year-old girl named Gretchen in a small Oklahoma town in the summer of 1944 when events are dominated by war -- and then by murder.
"I wrote this book to recall the World War II years," she says. "I wanted to try to give a picture of what it was really like to be on the home front. So much of what people see in films today is simply ridiculous and does not match the mores of the time."
Publishers Weekly named it one of the best books of 2003; it won the Agatha Award for Best Mystery; and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
"I suspect it's the best book I'll ever write," she says.
The first in Hart's new mystery series, "Ghost at Work," features an impetuous redheaded ghost, Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Adelaide, Okla., who returns to earth to help someone in trouble. It will debut this fall.
"I have never had more fun writing a book," the author says.
For reservations for the Meet the Author Event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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