Karen Hall Page, author of the Faith Fairchild series—the newest of which, The Body in the Wardrobe, is available today!—is a three-time Agatha Award winner. This year, at Malice Domestic 28, Karen will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. We had a chance to ask Karen some questions about the Agathas, her newest book, and some of her favorite foods.
Of the nominees for this year’s Agatha Awards, are there any standouts/runaway winners/dark horses?
I pretty much have a perfect record of being wrong when it comes to picking award winners, but here are a few thoughts:
This year’s nonfiction nominees are all particularly strong. MWA’s cookbook edited by Kate White, to which I contributed, is great fun, but even in this stellar field, Martin Edwards’s The Golden Age of Murder shines brightest. I read it when it came out—it’s a page-turner—and have gone back since.
Long Upon the Land is the last book in Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series, and knowing that, I read it with a lump in my throat. Also because it was just so darn good—a beautiful exit.
The dark horse is, in fact, a dog—Woof by Spencer Quinn (Peter Abrahams). Peter is one of the most gifted, versatile writers I know, adept at juveniles, series books, and standalone suspense. I loved Ingrid in his Echo Falls series for kids and am now in love with Birdie—and Bowser, of course.
How did winning “Best First Mystery” affect your career?
Awards certainly are lovely and provide a sense of validation—as Sally Field so aptly put it, “You like me!”—and they do help reach a wider readership, so definitely that first Agatha was very important to my career. Yet, at the end of the day, what matters is sitting down to write the best book you can. Taking time and never thinking of awards, just that person who will be turning the pages in whatever manner chosen (I fully expect in the not-too-distant future there will be some sort of osmosis process, although I still like a nice hardcover book).
All this said, I will never forget the total euphoria experienced when I heard my name announced—also, I was so stunned, my editor Ruth Cavin had to tap my arm and tell me to get going!
Your books often feature cooking tips and recipes—what would you cook/want for your last meal?
I was just speculating about this on a recent long car trip with my husband, and we both realized the meal would have to be a banquet. But, to name a few key dishes: butter poached Maine lobster, dilled new potatoes, sliced Jersey tomatoes with basil in a light vinaigrette, roasted fresh asparagus, and a sumptuous cheese course—runny, smelly, all kids—with a baguette and thinly sliced walnut bread from Amy’s Bread in NYC. And definitely a medley of desserts: fresh fruit sorbets, frangipane, flourless dark chocolate cake, and lemon squares! Perrier-Jouet champagne.
Then again, in that dark hour, I might just want my grandmother’s Swedish (Norwegian) meatballs, my Aunt Ruth’s macaroni and cheese, my own deviled eggs, and my Mom’s cherry pie (really). Feeling very hungry now.
The newest Faith Fairchild Mystery is set in GA—how fond of southern cooking are you? BBQ or Comfort/Soul food?
Fond doesn’t come close! Then, both, and everything in between! Starting with BBQ, my tastes are catholic. North Carolina pulled pork with that nice tangy sauce, Texas brisket, Kansas City burnt ends—love them all. Molly Weston took my husband and me to an amazing place and we knew it was the real deal not only from the tantalizing smell, but because it wasn’t all gussied up.
Comfort/Soul food—I’m thinking of the famed Edna Lewis—is all about fresh and local ingredients. Soul food was slow food long before that became a chic label. There is nothing like a low country boil to bring people together. And grits! May have to add cheese grits to my last meal list. And pecan pie and pimento cheese and gumbo and…
With so many amazing books in the Faith Fairchild series, how do you keep it fresh for so long?
When I wrote The Body in the Belfry, I thought I was just writing one book. It was not until my editor asked my agent, “When can we expect the next in this series?” that I realized I’d continue on for a book or so more. (23! Who knew?)
I have to write each book as a standalone (or one-off) and provide a bit of background on who Faith and her family are, but not so much that it is boring for those who have read the other books. It’s been a joy to write such a long series and have the chance to grow characters and try new things—prequels, various locations, yet always with the core cast of characters, although others may come and go, some of them for good!
Part of working to keep the series fresh is a decision I made early on to alternate the locations from Aleford, the small town west of Boston where Faith Fairchild lives to what I call the “someplace else books.” These have been set in France, Norway, the coast of Maine, Manhattan, Vermont, and the now Savannah. The one I’m working on at present, The Body in the Casket, is therefore an Aleford book. It’s a nod to the traditional country house murder mystery, complete with bad weather and the electricity going out! I’m having great fun with it.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Harlan Coben’s new book, Fool Me Once. It was very different from his others, which I like and own, but think this is his best so far. Like everyone I know, I have a stack of books next to the bed, also on my Kindle. I read several books at once. Right now it’s the Julie Smith books I've missed in her wonderful New Orleans Skip Langdon series; a memoir: The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me by Sofka Zinovieff; Leonardo Padura’s Havana Red—I’ve read the other 3 in his series; A Map Of Betrayal by Ha Jin; and Sheila Connolly’s Reunion with Death (we share an alma mater!).
What are you currently binge watching on Netflix?
Granchester and Sherlock. I am also catching up on the Anthony Bourdains I’ve missed, going back to the Travel Channel ones as well as the current series on CNN. I mainly watch movies on Netflix, though, and we watched Woody Allen’s Scoop the other night, which was terrific.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
The Body in the Wardrobe is the 23rd in Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series, and her 30th book overall. She has published for middle grade and YA readers as well as a collection of short stories, Small Plates (2014), and a series cookbook, Have Faith in your Kitchen (Orchises Press). She has been awarded Agathas for Best First, Best Novel, and Best SS and also was nominated for additional Agathas, an Edgar, Macavity, Mary Higgins Clark and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She is the recipient of Malice Domestic 28th’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives in Maine and Massachusetts.