The Mystery Writers of America, along with editor Brad Meltzer, have brought together 21 original stories from 21 contemporary mystery writers in The Mystery Box.
In the first of three guest blog posts, Jan Burke, whose Mystery Box story is titled "The Amiable Miss Edith Montague," introduces the anthology and the questions that tie these stories together.
When Brad Meltzer invited me to participate in The Mystery Box, the newest Mystery Writers of America anthology, he had not yet chosen a theme. In a leap of faith that only Brad and a handful of others could inspire, I agreed to do it. This could have been seen as foolhardy on my part, since wise authors know that anthology themes sometimes venture into the ridiculous. So far, I have not actually seen an anthology themed "Murder at a Calico Cat's Birthday Party in the Louvre," but I've been invited to participate in some that were fairly narrow in scope.
Brad, who later told me that he took my blind agreement to be as binding as a blood oath, came up with a terrific theme: What's inside the box? He made it clear that the box could be real or metaphysical. "Any kind of secret in any type of box."
I loved it. Any child who has seen a gift-wrapped package knows that boxes conceal wonders and seem designed to heighten our curiosity. From the time of Pandora, boxes have been irresistible to us, although we may not always be pleased by what we find within them.
Other types of boxes are the ones in which we figuratively put each other or draw around ourselves, the ones that may keep us from really knowing each other or may prevent us from growing closer. This is perfect fodder for crime fiction.
Writing "The Amiable Miss Edith Montague" allowed me to venture beyond the lines drawn around my series to write a story set nearly a century ago—a time of upheaval—in Jenksville, a fictional town in New York. I enjoyed researching this period of about 1919, when women had the vote in New York but not yet throughout the U.S.; when cars and telephones were changing even rural towns; when publishing birth control education materials could lead to jail time.
The story also allowed me to get to know Marcus Montague, a good-hearted gentleman who narrates it with a wry voice.
The title refers to the victim: Miss Edith Montague, a wealthy and amiable woman, who has been found murdered in her study. The room has been left in disarray, but the only missing item is a wooden box in which she kept receipts, canceled checks and paid bills.
Marcus, her sole heir and grandnephew, has lived with her for many years—orphaned at the age of 10, he grew to adulthood in her care. Sincerely attached to her, he feels her loss acutely.
Marcus is given comfort as well as assistance in solving the case from an unexpected but welcomed quarter—Clorinda Ainsbury, who broke off their relationship when he asked her to marry him, is a private investigator. She is also intelligent, independent, an avid suffragist and still in love with Marcus.
Working together, they discover why the killer sought the wooden box and who feared the secrets Aunt Edith kept in it.
I hope you'll enjoy meeting Marcus and Clorinda. I grew quite attached to them. I'm sure you'll enjoy the other stories as well. I am excited to see what my colleagues did with the challenge Brad Meltzer laid before us, and feel honored to be included in such stellar company.
Jan Burke, author of the Irene Kelly mystery series, won the 1999 Edgar Award for Best Novel for Bones.
The Mystery Box pubs tomorrow! Keep your eyes peeled throughout the week for two more guest blog posts from Mystery Box contributors.