Today I’d like to welcome Alice Fitzpatrick author of the Kate Galway mysteries. Toward the Pebbled Shore, the first book in the series, was a semi-finalist for the 2012 and 2013 Unhanged Arthur Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel and a finalist for the 2013 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel. Her novels are currently looking for their forever home with an agent and a publisher.
Take it away Alice.
That folly was past now—but still he could not visualize her except against the background of the great white house in Riverside Drive, with the peacocks and the swimming-pool and the gilded tower with the roof-garden. “The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey” by Dorothy L Sayers
I have always been fascinated by peacocks. As a Brit now living in Canada, I spend an inordinate amount of time during my trips home touring Georgian mansions and exploring ancient castles. For me, no British stately home is complete without a pride of elegant blue peacocks, their green trains trailing across a wide expanse of lawn. These iconic birds are as familiar as the maid in her black uniform and stiff white apron or the mistress in the morning room sipping tea in a sweater set adorned by a single row of pearls.
Having grown up reading the novels of Agatha Christie, when I came to write my own books, there was no question that I would choose the traditional mystery known as the cozy. These books are often set on a rambling country estate, a seemingly uneventful place. Yet it isn’t long before the shrieks of peacocks are announcing the discovery of a brutal murder.
Although not native to Great Britain, these magnificent birds have been in residence for almost two thousand years. It was the Romans who brought them to the island, and the peacocks have never looked back. They soon became a favourite of feudal lords, landed gentry, and aristocracy. At a time when powerful men were looking for conspicuous ways to express their social position, the exotic peacock was an impressive symbol. There was no more ostentatious display of wealth than a roast peacock, often served with full plumage, on a medieval banqueting table.
As far as I can determine, no peacock has ever figured prominently in a mystery novel. What these birds are experts at, though, is providing atmosphere and, if the writer is so inclined, symbolism.
Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the first British writers to use the peacock to refer to people who swagger and preen: “And yet as proud a pekok can he pulle.” Early Christian artists interpreted the many eyespots on the bird’s 200 tail feathers as the all-seeing eyes of God and the Catholic church. Because the peacock sheds these feathers annually and it was believed that its flesh did not decay, the peacock came to symbolize renewal and resurrection.
But to most of us, peacocks simply represent pride. Thus a peacock strutting through the garden of an estate allows the writer to pass comment on its inhabitants. My own novels, set on an island off the west coast of Wales, feature an abandoned gothic castle complete with peacocks who have reverted to their wild state. To the islanders, the peacocks are a reminder of the hubris of the rich Victorian industrialist who designed and built this architectural monstrosity.
So if you are looking to add a bit of exoticism or social commentary to your novel, look no further than a peacock. I’d like to say that they’d appreciate the gesture, but if they’re as vain as we believe they are, they’ve come to expect it.
Toward the Pebbled Shore
Kate Galway is no stranger to death. After all, she’d grown up under the shadow of her Aunt Emma’s suicide, her body having washed up on the beach the year before Kate was born. Now Kate has returned home to an island off the Welsh coast where she is forced to confront family secrets that are better kept hidden, including that her aunt was murdered and the killer is still on the island.
DS Lazarus sat on the sofa in Kate’s cottage with Constable Byron Finch beside him. Lazarus had undone the top button of his shirt and pulled his blue and beige tie, wrinkled and puckered, to one side to get it out of the way. Lazarus was the kind of man who would look slovenly even if you put him in new clothes. What was it someone said about Dylan Thomas — he looked like an unmade bed? Lazarus wasn’t quite that bad — more like an untidy sofa — but it gave him the appearance of a man who coasted through life, quite content with his lot, happy to take orders, while ducking any responsibility.
Kate resisted the temptation to go over and brush what looked like toast crumbs from his jacket.
“So when was the last time you saw Hannah Sutherland?” he asked.
“The day Siobhan and I were attacked in her garden.”
“We’ve heard about this from the deceased’s sisters. I’d like to hear your version of the events. When was this?”
“A week ago — last Sunday. And no, we don’t know who attacked us. It was dark.”
“Were you at the Hall on a social call?”
She looked at Byron and, knowing what was coming, he lowered his eyes. “No, Siobhan and I were digging for a tea tin we’d seen Hannah bury in the garden earlier that day.”
“And why were you digging up a tea tin in the middle of the night?”
“Sgt. Lazarus, even on Meredith Island, eleven o’clock is hardly the middle of the night. But that aside, we thought that it might contain some evidence into the murder of my aunt.”
Lazarus glared over at Byron. “There’s been a second death? Why wasn’t I told?”
“It was over fifty years ago, sir.”
Kate was impressed with Byron’s ability to keep his voice steady and calm.
Lazarus leaned back. “Oh.” Painfully aware that he’d made a fool of himself, he focused his anger toward Kate. “Regular little Dorothy Sawyer, aren’t you?”
Kate resisted the temptation to smirk. “If you mean Dorothy L. Sayers, she’s the writer. That would make me Lord Peter Wimsey.”
Lazarus ignored her comeback and carried on. “Did you report the attack?”
“We have no police on the island. We handle things ourselves.”
Lazarus’s eyebrows descended and knit themselves together. “I hope that doesn’t mean you take the law into your own hands. The police force doesn’t hold with vigilantism.”
Kate was really getting tired of this fool. “What are you implying, DS Lazarus? That we convene secret courts in the pub at midnight, pass judgment in dark hooded cloaks, and then throw the offender from the highest cliff . . .” and Kate left the sentence hanging to allow the image to work its way into Lazarus’s brain.
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Great post Alice. Brings back great memories. We actually had a couple of peacocks when I was a kid. My mom brought home two abandoned pea chicks and we raised them. They roamed around our suburban horse property until the male started attacking Mom for no discernable reason. After the third time, she decided he/they had to go.
Many years later when my hubby and I moved to a rural area, our neighbor had peacocks, among many birds. Used to have one with a gorgeous tail perch on our deck railing.