the 3rd Ben Reese mystery
A Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist 2001
Georgina Fletcher is a private, self-contained, contemplative Scotswoman, a widow, and an English professor at Aberdeen University. The day before she dies, she writes an alarming letter to her heir (the American daughter of her oldest friend) and arranges to have it posted in the event of her death.
“…I have reason to believe that my death was desired, planned and perpetrated with great care and deliberation. Even if I am right, the circumstances of my death will appear to have been brought about by natural causes…”
Georgina is anything but a fool, and it happens just as she’d feared. She’s also punctilious and ethical, and won’t name the person she suspects. Her assumptions are based on speculation, and she refuses to risk condemning any innocent person. She asks instead that her heir, Ellen Winter, hire a detective to investigate her death, free of her own prejudices.
Ellen is one of Ben Reese’s archival apprentices at Alderton University, so she knows he’s an ex-World War II Scout who’s solved other murder cases and is in Scotland on sabbatical. She’d much rather ask Ben to help than use some unknown detective.
It’s a case that comes close to killing Ben as he hunts along the coasts of Scotland, probing the lives of too many people with desires that can deal death. There’s a family member who covets Georgina’s husband’s firm, and an Aberdeen colleague who’s after her place in the department. A mercurial sculptor wants what she won’t give, while an American training hawks on her land fights for his own fixations. The story turns too on ancient wrongs, on fatal obsessions, on hidden guilt that never would’ve been uncovered if Georgina hadn’t died.
It’s a classic mystery that ties together falconry, fly-fishing, stone sculpting, bacteriology, antique manuscripts, early explorations of the New World, the machinations of badly done business, academic deception, life in Malaya at the end of the nineteenth century, the history of rubber production, abused animals rescued—in spectacular spots in Scotland and England.
Pursuit And Persuasion first got my attention the summer of 1995 when our daughter was studying at Oxford. I was going to Scotland to work on Pride And Predator, and visited her in Oxford. We took a bus into Cotswold country, and were walking around being tourists in Burford Church, when I saw an inscription on a gravestone buried in an aisle floor:
Here lieth the body of
John Pryor Gent: who was
murdered and found hidden
in the priory garden in this
parifh the :3d: of April
Anno dominie 1697: and was
buried the :6th: day of the same
month in the :67th: yeare
of his age
I wrote it down on my bus ticket, read the church brochure, talked to the minister the next day—only to discover that no one knew much about Pryor, much less who’d killed him, or why. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the epitaph, but I knew I’d use it somehow. A man murdered and left in the priory garden?—it was way too good to pass up!
It was the goad that got me going. Though I placed the murder a hundred years earlier, because of historical realities then that had given me an idea that could lead to Scotland in 1961.
Of course, if David Munro, my friend the geographer hadn’t helped me with Pursuit and Persuasion, it never would’ve come together. His knowledge of early trade and exploration was mind boggling (see the Pride and Predator page). And when I told him I wanted to use Donnottar as a setting, he found me Muchalls Castle nearby, and Eden House too (where I stumbled on Vaida’s grave, as well as a walled garden that took me in a much needed direction). Muchalls became Georgina’s house; Eden, the lady flyfisher’s.
That’s what’s so tantalizing about writing—the connections that lead to novels from overheard words, half-read articles, gravestones stepped on, places that won’t stop talking to you no matter what you do.
Available as an ebook and in print from Amazon, B&N.com and IndieBound
What They’re Saying:
“There’s an art to the academic mystery, and Sally S. Wright has it pretty much mastered in her Ben Reese Series . . . In Pursuit and Persuasion . . . Wright provides nice variations on the mainstays of the whodunit: a picturesque setting, bookish motives for murder, thick historical background, and an assortment of smart characters.”
-The New York Times Book Review
“Pursuit and Persuasion is a wonderful novel—evocative of Scotland, full of real, living characters, and backed by a solid plot. I highly recommend it.”