Joss, Morag

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Joss, Morag

PERSONAL:

Education: St. Andrews University, graduated; attended the Guildhall School of Music.

ADDRESSES:

Home—London, England.

CAREER:

Has worked as a museum curator, as an educational administrator, as a college lecturer, and as an advisor in arts education for the British National Trust.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Silver Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, 2003, for Half Broken Things.

WRITINGS:

Half Broken Things (novel), Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2003, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Puccini's Ghosts (novel), Sceptre (London, England), 2005, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2006.

"SARA SELKIRK" SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS

Funeral Music, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1998, Bantam Dell (New York, NY), 2005.

Fearful Symmetry, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1999, Dell (New York, NY), 2005.

Fruitful Bodies, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2001, Dell (New York, NY), 2005.

ADAPTATIONS:

Joss's works have been adapted to audiobook format.

SIDELIGHTS:

A native of Scotland, novelist Morag Joss started writing in 1996, after her first short story garnered an award in a national competition. In Funeral Music, Joss introduces series character Sara Selkirk, an extremely talented and renowned cellist. As the novel opens, Sara is still recovering from a breakdown following the death of her lover. Once a frequent and popular performer, she has not given a public performance since that traumatic death. Now, however, she is preparing to give a charity concert at the historic Pump Room in Bath, England. The concert goes well, leading Sara to think she might be able to return to her music career. When she returns the next day to retrieve a forgotten belt, however, she finds concert organizer and museum director Matthew Sawyer stabbed to death and floating in the ancient spring waters of Bath. When Sara uncovers some information about the case from one of her students, Detective Chief Investigator Andrew Poole, she sets about trying to help Poole uncover the cause and culprit of Sawyer's death. Complicating matters is Poole's declaration of love for Sara, even though he is already married and willing to leave his wife for her. As the two work their way through a cast of suspects, more murders occur, and a threat to Sara's livelihood steels her determination to solve the case. An MBR Bookwatch reviewer called the story a "well written allegro paced murder mystery that has a crescendo ending." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented favorably on Joss's "lyrical evocations of Bath, which becomes the book's most compelling character."

Fruitful Bodies, the third Sara Selkirk mystery, finds Sara helping a former musical mentor who has succumbed to the devastating effects of alcoholism. Despite warnings from Andrew Poole, who is now her boyfriend, Sara takes the woman into her home. When her friend James starts having stomach problems, Sara recommends treatment at a trendy Bath spa called the Sulis Clinic. However, all is not as it seems at the clinic, and the three individuals in charge there seem to have something to hide. When patients at the clinic begin to die, Sara steps in to try to find answers before more deaths can occur. Joss "portrays characters and relationships that are meaty enough to satisfy," commented a Publishers Weekly critic.

Joss's Half Broken Things, a nonseries title, is a "brilliantly conceived, finely executed novel" that "offers psychological suspense of the highest order," remarked a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Jean in a sixty-four-year-old professional house sitter on the verge of retirement as she faces her last job. The wealthy residents of Walden Manor hire Jean, but burden her with numerous restrictions on where she can go in the house and what she can do there. Still resolved to take on the task, Jean agrees to watch the house from January until September, when the residents are expected to return. When she accidentally breaks a teapot full of keys, she suddenly recognizes that she has found the access to all of the forbidden areas of the house. In a bold move, she abandons her restraint and, reasoning that it is her last job anyway, begins unlocking doors, exploring the house, trying on the owners' clothes, and quite literally making herself at home. Soon, she realizes that she would like to have a "family" to share her new home. She takes in Michael, a hustler and unsuccessful thief whom she characterizes as her "son," and Steph, a pregnant runaway fleeing an abusive boyfriend, who becomes Jean's "daughter." As the characters get bolder and their mental condition deteriorates, they nonetheless manage to forge a bond among themselves that they have never felt before. This creates a sense of belonging, togetherness, and sheer happiness that is overshadowed by the fragility of its temporary nature. When someone familiar with Michael's larcenous past pays a visit, the story takes a darker turn as the manufactured family becomes more desperate to preserve the connections they have developed. As the time of the owners' arrival looms closer, the trio explore what they are willing to do in order to remain together.

A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel a "grim, courageous work that crosses into dark, interior regions American readers rarely dare to tread." Entertainment Weekly reviewer Bob Cannon described it as a "surrealistic, unsettling horror story made spookier by Joss' polite, poetic prose." Emily Melton, writing in Booklist, concluded: "This is an extraordinary book—dark, painful, thought-provoking, and disturbing."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, August, 2005, Emily Melton, review of Half Broken Things, p. 1999; July 1, 2006, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Puccini's Ghosts, p. 37.

Book World, October 23, 2005, Richard Lipes, review of Half Broken Things, p. 13; October 1, 2006, Maureen Corrigan, "Forget the Happy Ending—All These Heroes Hope for Is a Few Orderly Moments," review of Puccini's Ghosts, p. 13.

Drood Review of Mystery, January 1, 2005, review of Funeral Music, p. 10.

Entertainment Weekly, September 30, 2005, Bob Cannon, review of Half Broken Things, p. 97.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2005, review of Half Broken Things, p. 757.

Library Journal, September 15, 2005, Jane la Plante, review of Half Broken Things, p. 56.

MBR Bookwatch, April 1, 2005, review of Funeral Music.

Publishers Weekly, March 14, 2005, review of Funeral Music, p. 51; June 6, 2005, review of Fruitful Bodies, p. 46; July 25, 2005, review of Half Broken Things, p. 42; June 26, 2006, review of Puccini's Ghosts, p. 30.

ONLINE

Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 14, 2007), Carol Fitzgerald and Joni Rendon, interview with Morag Joss; Norah Piehl, review of Puccini's Ghosts.

Crescent Blues,http://www.crescentblues.com/ (June 14, 2007), Augusta Scattergood, review of Funeral Music.

Eurocrime,http://eurocrime.co.uk/ (June 14, 2007), Karen Meek, review of Funeral Music.

Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (October 30, 2005), Mary Whipple, review of Half Broken Things.

Mystery Ink Online,http://www.mysteryinkonline.com/ (June 14, 2007), Fiona Walker, review of Half Broken Things.

Mystery Reader,http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (June 14, 2007), Jane Davis, review of Funeral Music; Jane Davis, review of Half Broken Things.

Shots,http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (June 14, 2007), Mary Andrea Clarke, interview with Morag Joss.

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Joss, Morag

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