Charles, Kate 1950-
CHARLES, Kate 1950-
(Carol Ann Chase, Carol Ann Fosher)
PERSONAL: Born Carol Ann Fosher, July 13, 1950, in Cincinnati, OH; immigrated to Great Britain, 1986, naturalized citizen; daughter of Elmer Clinton Jr. (an investment officer) and Kathryn Lucile (a homemaker; maiden name, Fancher) Fosher; married Rory Lee Chase (company president), July 14, 1973. Education: Illinois State University, B.A., 1972; Indiana University, M.L.S., 1973. Religion: Church of England. Hobbies and other interests: Visiting churches, traveling, music, singing, cooking, and entertaining.
ADDRESSES: Home—4 St. George's Rd., Bedford MK40 ZL5, England. Agent—Dorothy Lumley, The Dorian Literary Agency, Upper Thornehill, 27 Church Rd., St. Marychurch, Torquay, Devon TQ1 4QY England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. WGUC Radio, Cincinnati, OH, promotion assistant and record librarian, 1981–85; St. Paul's Church, Bedford, England, parish administrator, 1988–91; writer, 1991–; speaker, 1992–2003; freelance desktop publisher.
MEMBER: Crime Writers' Association (member of executive committee, 1993–; vice chair, 1995–96; chair, 1996–97), Barbara Pym Society (executive committee, 1994—chair, 1999–2004), Society of Authors, Mystery Women.
"BOOK OF PSALMS" SERIES
A Drink of Deadly Wine, Headline (London, England), 1991, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Snares of Death, Headline (London, England), 1992, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Appointed to Die, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1993.
A Dead Man out of Mind, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Evil Angels among Them, Headline (London, England), 1995, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Unruly Passions, 1998.
Strange Children, 1999, Warner Books UK/Trafalgar (London, England), 2001.
Cruel Habitations, Little, Brown (London, England), 2000.
Evil Intent, Poisoned Pen Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2005.
Also contributor to Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, 2000, and to the anthologies Unholy Orders, 2000, Malice Domestic 9, 2000, and Murder Most Divine II, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Born and raised in the United States, Kate Charles told CA she has been "a lifelong Anglophile." In 1986, Charles realized her longtime ambition of moving to England, where she began to write mystery novels set in the Anglican church and featuring David Middleton-Brown, a solicitor, and London artist Lucy Kingsley.
The setting of her first work, A Drink of Deadly Wine, was largely inspired by her job as parish administrator in a local Anglican church. In the novel, Reverend Gabriel Neville, a vicar soon to be named Area Archdeacon of the Anglican Church, is threatened by an anonymous blackmailer that his former homosexual affairs will be revealed unless he resigns. The vicar turns to a previous lover, David Middleton-Brown, asking him to investigate the threat, fearing it may ruin his marriage and career. Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review, who termed the novel an "ecclesiastical mystery," remarked that "A Drink of Deadly Wine can add novelty to its other accomplishments. Included among these are characters dotty enough to have wandered in from an Angela Thirkell novel, an Anglican High Church setting resplendent with Gothic pomp and pageantry, and a neatly contained plot that puts a new moral twist on the old whodunit formula." Charles began writing on a full-time basis when the publication of A Drink of Deadly Wine caused her to be dismissed from her position at the parish.
Charles followed this book with The Snares of Death. In the novel, a village minister who removed candles, statues and other devotional items from the local church—claiming they were signs of idolatry—has been found murdered. Although Stasio found that Charles has "a jaundiced eye" when speaking of church officials, "there is real tenderness, though, in her detailed portraits of the faithful, from the sensitive student of church architecture who functions as sleuth to the dear old church biddies who arrange the flowers and spread the gossip." A Publishers Weekly reviewer found that "Charles entertains with well-drawn characters, a serviceable plot—though no real surprises—and a deftly explored High Church milieu."
Appointed to Die tells of a rivalry over who shall become the new dean of an Anglican cathedral. When one candidate turns up dead, the entire church community is thrown into turmoil and Middleton-Brown and Kingsley must uncover the murderer. Emily Melton in Booklist called Appointed to Die "a nicely written, entertaining British novel in the tradition of Charles' compatriot Barbara Pym."
Three murders, a set of valuable ecclesiastical silver, personal scandal, and a robbery figure into the plot of A Dead Man out of Mind. Middleton-Brown and Kingsley must sort through a variety of suspects before uncovering the criminal. A critic for Publishers Weekly called the novel a "continuously absorbing mystery" and praised the "adroitly drawn main characters" and "finely etched supporting cast." Melton described it as "a devilishly clever little mystery that's chock-full of intrigue, scandal, greed, evil, and all sorts of other nastiness not normally associated with the Church."
Evil Angels among Them finds Middleton-Brown and Kingsley helping out a friend who has just been appointed rector of a village church and is receiving a less-than-welcome reception from the locals. When one of the local women is murdered, "suspicions are rampant, and it takes … resourcefulness and intuition to find the killer and smooth the troubled waters," as Melton explained. "Charles's characterizations are entertainingly venomous and penetrating, with just enough believable goodness to balance the equally believable evil at play," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Charles moved away from her series and wrote a number of stand-alone mystery novels. Among them was Cruel Habitations which, like her series, is set in England and features the Anglican Church as a backdrop. A couple, Chris and Sophie Lilburn, move from London to Westmead, England. While Chris settles into his new jobs with the cathedral school and choir, Sophie feels estranged from both her husband and the local community. She finds meaning in her detective work into an old murder case and other investigations. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly commented positively on Charles' "rich cast of well-developed characters and eloquent prose."
Another distinctive stand-alone mystery novel is Strange Children, which takes place in present-day London. Tessa Rowan marries a man, Rob Nicholls, two weeks after meeting him at a wedding. She becomes pregnant, and soon finds her marriage to be strained. Tessa deals with Rob's hidden family secrets, and then must work to prove her husband did not kill his estranged mother. Calling it a "peculiar tale," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted "Charles's intricate plot and simple yet colorful prose will captivate." A Kirkus Reviews critic commented that Charles "lays on the psychological suspense and neurotic compulsions."
The Anglican church and its ministers and controversies again take center stage in Evil Intent. The first days that Callie Anson serves as an Anglican cleric in London are difficult, as a colleague is murdered and she is drawn into the case. Anson's professional life also becomes complicated because of her few alliances and the underlying controversies in the Anglican church about the ordination of women and of homosexuals. In addition, the main character's personal life is problematic as her ex-boyfriend also works as an Anglican minister and has a new fiancée. While a reviewer in Publishers Weekly called Evil Intent "timely," the critic also found that "the bad guys … are so unpleasant as to be implausible." A critic in Kirkus Reviews also found the novel problematic, but noted "Longtime fans … will have ample time to contemplate church protocol and missteps."
Charles herself admits that she enjoys exploring such controversies in her church. She told Julia Spencer-Fleming in an interview published on Spencer-Fleming's Web site, "I'm always on the look-out for issues in the Church which inspire strong feelings—in me and others. I think it's a huge privledge—and responsibility—to be able to shape the way other people look at the Church by the way in which I write about it. What power!"
Noting that critics have compared her novels to those of English novelist Barbara Pym, Charles commented to CA, "I like to think of my books as 'Barbara Pym meets [English crime novelist] P.D. James,' so the comparisons with Barbara Pym are always particularly gratifying!
"I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer, but I suppose that was largely due to being read to from an early age, and reading voraciously as soon as I was able.
"I will always have a special place in my heart for my first novel. It was written with such passion—a book that had to be written—and it was remarkably prescient about the current issues in the Church of England, addressing the issue of 'outing' before that term was part of the Church's vocabulary.
"I would like to write books that resonate with people—that keep them up late at night reading, and linger in their minds for a long time afterwards."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Becker, Kathleen and Julian Earwaker, Literary Norfolk: An Illustrated Companion, Chapter Six Publishing (Ipswich, England), 1998.
Becker, Kathleen and Julian Earwaker, Scene of the Crime: A Guide to the Landscapes of British Detective Fiction, Aurum Press (London, England), 2002.
Booklist, November 1, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Appointed to Die, p. 480; November 1, 1995, Emily Melton, review of A Dead Man out of Mind, p. 456; October 1, 1996, Emily Melton, review of Evil Angels among Them, p. 324.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2001, review of Strange Children, p. 628; August 1, 2005, review of Evil Intent, p. 817.
New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1992, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Drink of Deadly Wine, p. 61; December 12, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Snares of Death, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, October 18, 1993, review of Snares of Death, p. 65; August 28, 1995, review of A Dead Man out of Mind, p. 105; August 19, 1996, review of Evil Angels among Them, p. 54; April 16, 2001, review of Cruel Habitations, p. 48; April 16, 2001, review of Strange Children, p. 50; August 8, 2005, review of Evil Intent, p. 216.
Julia Spencer-Fleming Web site, http://www.juliaspencerfleming.com/ (September 2, 2005), interview with Kate Charles.
Kate Charles Home Page, http://www.katecharles.com (November 16, 2005).