Did I Talk With a Killer?

by Sheila Connolly

Do you ever wonder what you would do if you came face to face with someone you never expected to meet, but who you know far too much about? It happened to me recently.

In July I was in Ireland, and whenever I’m in West Cork I make a point of going to the Skibbereen Farmers Market, which is pretty close to my idea of heaven. This year there was a new twist.

Somewhere in the back of that crowd…

 

I have a friend at the market who is an antiques dealer, as well as a mystery writer and a for-hire editor, and we’ve been talking for years, whenever I’m there. He always has interesting odds and ends a old books, and we chat about antiques.

My first hardcover book, Cruel Winter, came out earlier this year. It is my fictionalized retelling of a murder that took place in County Cork twenty years ago, which remains unsolved. For the book I stuck all my usual series characters plus a few new ones in the usual pub, and kept them there overnight during a rare Irish blizzard. What did they do? Talk, of course. The wild card was a stranger among them, who lived in England and was trying to get to the airport, and she turned out to be the suspect in, yes, an old murder. She was never arrested or tried, but everyone assumed she’d done the deed. So of course the gang stuck in the pub decided to give her the trial she’d never had, with her cooperation. She could finally tell her side of the story.

The crime portion of the book was based on a true story. I changed a number of things, but in my version I preserved the location and layout, the general investigation procedures, and all the forensic evidence. I spent a year researching it on and off, and despite the fact that it’s an old crime, it still makes national news in Ireland with surprising regularity (Ireland is a small country with little crime, and this remains an open case), and I read all those newspaper articles online.

The primary suspect—indeed, the only one—lived then and lives now in West Cork. So when I called on my antiquarian friend this time, he said, “He’s right over there. Want to meet him?”

Uh, you think? When the literary gods drop an opportunity like that on you, grab it! So I marched over and had a conversation with one of Ireland’s best known murder suspects. No script, no plan. We danced around how much I knew about his history, but he knew that I knew it. He was there selling books of his own poetry at a card table (of course I bought a book—autographed). He read to me a poem he’d written about the farmers market. Since he’s been kind of unemployable for a while, he’s making the rounds of the summer markets selling his book. He also raises fresh greens for sale to restaurants. And he offered to lend me his gardener for my cottage.

This was certainly a conversation I never expected to have.

I’d guess most people have forgotten about the murder, especially if they don’t read the newspapers. I’d bet that I know more about the details of the crime than the general population of Ireland. I never tried to interview him, but there he was in front of me. Older, but still recognizable. And he has a certain charm, even now. He’s articulate, intelligent and oddly self-confident.

In the book, my snowbound characters decided that the primary suspect did not in fact kill the victim. I haven’t changed my mind about that outcome, and for the book I came up with a different theory of the crime, one that fits what limited evidence there was. The “real” suspect and I didn’t discuss it—after all, the book is finished and on shelves now. I used my time to study the person I’d been reading about for over a year, who was accused of a bloody crime, and wondered what the truth was.

Ireland seems full of unexpected surprises like this, and being a mystery writer makes it even better!

What about you? What would you have done? Has something like that ever happened to you?

 

Happy Cruel Winter Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to Sheila Connolly. Her fifth County Cork Mystery, Cruel Winter, is cruelwinterout!

Snow is a rarity in Maura Donovan’s small village in County Cork, Ireland, so she wasn’t sure what to expect when a major snowstorm rolled in around Sullivan’s pub. But now she’s stranded in a bar full of patrons–and a suspected killer in a long-ago murder. Over the next few hours, the informal court in Sullivan’s reviews the facts and theories about the case–and comes to some surprising conclusions. But is it enough to convince the police to take a new look at an old case?

To celebrate, I (Edith) decided to make one of Sheila’s many Irish recipes from her other group blog, Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. She’s over there most Fridays sharing dishes, both savory and sweet, that she has concocted. I’ve adapted the following recipe slightly, but what follows isn’t too far from her Feb 7 post of three years ago. As you can see, I didn’t have Irish whiskey, but figured I couldn’t go too far wrong with using bourbon, instead.

Irish Chicken and Cabbage

Ingredients

1/2 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 bone-in chicken breast halves, with skin on
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic,  minced
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1 T dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
2 cups shredded cabbage
1-1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade/canned/from a bouillon cube)
Sheila’s twist—a tablespoon or two of Irish whiskey (Edith’s substitution—an equal amount of bourbon)

irishchickingred

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie pan and dredge the chicken pieces in it, shaking off the excess.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken pieces and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Tuck the garlic cloves, carrots, onions and rosemary around and between the chicken pieces. Lay the cabbage in an even layer on top and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the whiskey into the broth and pour the liquid over the chicken and vegetables. Cover the contents of the Dutch oven with its oven-proof lid, or with foil (press it against the contents to make a fairly close seal), then place the pot in the oven and cook for 75 (remember, the heat is low). Peek once or twice and baste the top with the pan juices.

irishchickTo serve, place a piece of chicken on the plate and spoon the vegetables and sauce over it. I urge you to check Sheila’s original recipe for pix of the entire process and for the few ingredients I left out (because, oops, I didn’t have them in the house).

I wanted to serve the dish with new potatoes steamed and then lightly sauteed in olive oil and herbs – except somebody in my house used the last potato and didn’t put them them on the shopping list. So instead I made quick whole-wheat soda biscuits. Which went almost better with the dish than the potatoes would have.

Readers: Who has read the County Cork series up to now and can’t wait to get your hands on this one?  [Me! Me!] Anybody been to Ireland and, if so, what was your favorite meal? Your favorite Irish pub near where you live?