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Crime writer Judy Penz Sheluk discusses small town mysteries

Judy Penz Sheluk

One of my jobs is to inform journalists about AbeBooks, our books and our booksellers. But I like it when a journalist turns the tables and tells me about their book.

Meet Judy Penz Sheluk. She’s a journalist who specializes in antiques and has covered stories about AbeBooks for years. Judy is also a crime and mystery novelist. A member of the Crime Writers of Canada, she cut her teeth on short crime fiction and her novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published by Barking Rain Press in July. She lives in a small town northwest of Toronto, Ontario. Judy was kind enough to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: The Hanged Man’s Noose is a ‘Glass Dolphin’ mystery – what is that a reference to?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “One of the main characters in the book is Arabella Carpenter, owner of the Glass Dolphin antiques shop. The shop was named after her first antique find: a pair of blue Boston & Sandwich glass dolphin-shaped candlestick holders. In my first quarterly newsletter (July 2015), I included some information about the company, as well as a photo and a recent sale of at auction. If anyone’s interested, they can sign up. My next newsletter will be in November , but I would be happy to send the July one to any new subscribers.”

The Hanged Man’s Noose

AbeBooks: There’s journalist and an antiques shop in the novel – sounds like a little of your real life can be spotted in the book?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “Absolutely. I’ve been a freelance writer/editor since 2003, specializing in antiques and the home building industry. In fact, I’m the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home BUILDER Canada. In The Hanged Man’s Noose, Emily Garland, a Toronto-based freelance journalist, is sent to the small town of Lount’s Landing to uncover the truth behind a proposed development plan. She quickly learns not everyone in town is on board with the plan, least of all Arabella Carpenter.”

AbeBooks: It’s a small town mystery – why do you think small towns make such good settings for murder mysteries?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “We tend to have an idealistic image of small town life. That it’s inherently safe. That everyone knows everyone. That’s probably true in one sense, but the reality is few among us don’t harbor a secret, some darker than others. The threat of exposing those secrets can change the small town dynamics pretty quickly. As a writer I can create a world where everyone knows everyone (and therefore everyone can be a suspect).”

AbeBooks: Are there more books planned featuring Emily Garland?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “I’ve just started A Hole in One, the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose, and hope to submit it for publishing consideration by March 2016. In that novel, Arabella will be the protagonist, and Emily will be her sidekick.
I recently completed Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery, and it’s now being considered for publication. It’s another small town mystery, but all the characters are new, with the exception of Arabella Carpenter, who makes a brief appearance.
I’m also planning to write a novella featuring Emily. It would be a prequel to Noose. I have some ideas for it, but I haven’t started writing it yet.”

AbeBooks: What are the mysteries that inspire you?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “There are so many. I grew up reading Nancy Drew and graduated to Agatha Christie, John D. MacDonald, Dick Francis, Ed McBain and Ngaio Marsh. My favorite current-day authors include John Sandford, Sue Grafton, Tana French, Michael Connelly and Louise Penny. I love the way Sandford and Connelly have allowed their characters to age and change. Sue Grafton is a terrific example of how much a writer can evolve over the years. Compare her first book, A is for Alibi, with her more recent W is for Wasted and X. Kinsey Millhone may not have aged a lot, but the plots have become much more complex, and the writing far more layered. Louise Penny is the bright light for all Canadian authors; she proved that there is a market for well-written stories set in Canada. Tana French changes her protagonist with each book, taking them from a minor or lesser character from a previous work. What each of these authors have in common is their ability to create believable settings. I’ve never been to Ireland or to Minnesota, for example, but French and Sandford have taken me there.

“I also read other genres besides crime fiction, though I do tend to gravitate towards darker reads. For example, two of my favorite books are Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden and The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald. All the books I read influence my writing in some way. Reading is the best teacher.”

AbeBooks: What books are on your bedside table today?

Judy Penz Sheluk: “I’m always reading two books at a time, one novel and one collection of short stories. I’m currently reading Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast, and Flash and Bang, a short crime fiction anthology. I do have a flash fiction story, Beautiful Killer, in that anthology, but I’d be reading it regardless because it is the first anthology by members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. I’ve also got Murder Under the Oaks, another collection of short mystery stories, on my table, but I haven’t started it yet. I enjoy short stories because you can read one in a few minutes between other commitments.”

Visit Judy’s site for more information.

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