I’m feeling lucky today, if you get my drift. It’s day four of the Mystery We Write Blog Tour that I was hijacked into participating in by W.S. I’m still thinking of payback, but not today. Today’s victim is real easy on the eyes. I’m interviewing Felicity (Flick) Adams, the American-born curator of the fictional Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum—the setting for Ron and Janet Benrey’s “Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries” Let’s see if Mitch can work his charm. For starters, you don’t look like a scientist with a PhD who’s an expert on tea. I’d have guessed you were a cheerleader for an NFL football team. What’s that all about?
Flick: I allow every interviewer one inane question—even if he intends it as a backhanded compliment. You’ve had your opportunity. Please ask me a question that makes sense.
(Long pause as Mitch gulps) Tea? Err, that’s something little old ladies drink with lemon and little sandwiches. Why does England need a museum to showcase tea?
Flick: Most American’s don’t realize that tea is the second most popular beverage in the world. (Water is the first.) Tea is big business—and it has had a fascinating history. The Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum was established in 1964 to be a center of scholarship about tea history, tea chemistry, and tea tasting. The museum also honors Commodore Desmond Hawker, a 19th Century Master of the China Tea Trade. The institution is really a combination art and natural history museum dedicated to the art, geography, botany, and manufacturing related to Britain’s tea trade and its love affair with tea. Thousands of tourists visit us each year—which testifies to the wisdom of “building a museum to showcase tea.”
You keep saying “Royal Tunbridge Wells.” Where does the “Royal” come from? And what does it mean?
Flick: Tunbridge Wells is a small city about 40 miles southeast of London, in the County of Kent. In 1909, King Edward VII—who enjoyed visiting “the Wells”—bestowed the right to add the prefix “Royal” to the city’s name. Some residents use “Royal,” some don’t.
I understand you solved a murder that happened inside the tea museum. I’ve covered lots of murders for the Grand River Journal and they usually happen in dark places like back alleys, drug houses and such. What respectable murderer would kill someone amidst tea cozies, whatever those are?
Flick: That question is clearly based on another misconception about tea—the notion that selling tea is gentle and docile. The 19th century tea trade was a rough and tumble business—with more than its share of robber barons, seedy businessmen, and cutthroat tea purveyors. The museum had to cope with two murders. The first happened quite recently, but it was driven by events in the tea trade that occurred more than a century ago. The second took place more than forty years ago. I can say with confidence that both involved the usual motives for murder: greed, lust, and jealousy.
You sound like you know what you’re talking about. How did you become a double-barreled expert—on murder and tea?
Flick: I’m astonished—you can ask a sensible question that has an interesting answer. When I was in graduate school I wanted to become a forensic scientist—the kind of guru you see on TV, in the different CSI shows. Unfortunately, the advanced courses made me queasy. One professor told me I had too active an imagination—that I couldn’t disconnect my thoughts from the blood and gore, when real people were involved. In the end, I switched to food chemistry. I eventually focused on tea, wrote three books about tea, including the very popular “How to Host an English Tea.” The rest is history.
One woman even with your obvious skills, can’t run a museum by yourself and solve crimes. My research said your sidekick’s name was … something very British. Oh, yes, a guy named Nigel Owen. What’s his story?
Flick: Wow! If Nigel were here, you’d have a bloody snoot about now. Nigel is anything but a “sidekick.” He is currently the Managing Director—that’s equivalent to President—of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum. I agree that Nigel can be a bit stuffy at times, but I expect him to change in the months ahead.
You expect him to change? Are you going to fire him? No, I got it. You weren’t interested in yours truly because it sounds like you two are an item. Do you plan to reel him in?
Flick: Ding! That’s your second dumb question. See you around.
Um… Can I call you in Tunbridge Wells? Er… Do you have a card with your cellphone number?
Flick: [Expletive Deleted]
I must apologize to my loyal readers. I’m not used to doors slamming in my face for these fluff interviews. To get a better idea of what “Dead as a Scone,” the first “Royal Tunbridge Wells Mystery” is about since the interviewee has taken flight:
Murder is afoot is the sedate English town of Royal Tunbridge Wells … and the crime may be brewing in a tea pot! Nigel Owen is having a rotten year. Downsized from a cushy management job at an insurance company in London, he is forced to accept a temporary post as managing director of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum. Alas, he regrets living in a small town in Kent, he prefers drinking coffee (with a vengeance), and he roundly dislikes Flick Adams, PhD, an American scientist recently named the museum’s curator. But then, the wildly unexpected happens. Dame Elspeth Hawker, the museum’s chief benefactor, keels over a board meeting—the apparent victim of a fatal heart attack. With the Dame’s demise, the museum’s world-famous collection is up for grabs, her cats, dog, and parrot are living with Flick and Nigel—and the two prima donnas find themselves facing professional ruin. But Flick—who knows a thing or two about forensic science—is convinced that Dame Elspeth did not die a natural death. As Flick and Nigel follow the clues—including a cryptic Biblical citation—they discover that a crime perpetrated more than a century ago sowed the seeds for a contemporary murder.
Ron Benrey writes cozy mysteries with his wife Janet. Together, they have written nine novels in three series: “The Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries,” “The Pippa Hunnechurch Mysteries,” and “The Glory North Carolina Mysteries.” Ron has been a writer forever—initially on magazines (his first real job was Electronics Editor at Popular Science Magazine), then in corporations (he wrote speeches for senior executives), and then as a novelist. Over the years, Ron has also authored ten non-fiction books, including the recently published “Know Your Rights — a Survival Guide for Non-Lawyers” (published by Sterling). Ron holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a juris doctor from the Duquesne University School of Law. He is a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Today you can visit W.S. at Jean Henry Mead's blog at http://mysteriouspeople.blogspot.com