Taylor, Sarah Stewart 1971–

views updated

Taylor, Sarah Stewart 1971–

PERSONAL:

Female. Born 1971, in Huntington, NY; married. Education: Attended Middlebury College; Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, M.Phil. Hobbies and other interests: Preservation of old cemeteries.

ADDRESSES:

Home—VT. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Journalist and author. Worked variously as a reporter, editor, nanny, professional dog walker, literary agent assistant, teacher in a prison, and community college professor.

MEMBER:

Association for Gravestone Studies.

WRITINGS:

"SWEENEY ST. GEORGE" MYSTERY SERIES

O' Artful Death, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.

Mansions of the Dead, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.

Judgment of the Grave, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2005.

Still as Death, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.

OTHER

Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post and the Boston Globe; maintains a blog.

SIDELIGHTS:

Sarah Stewart Taylor is a journalist, fiction writer, and teacher. Taylor's interest in the preservation of old cemeteries served as the inspiration for her mystery series featuring Sweeney St. George, an art historian who specializes in funerary art. "I've always been fascinated by the ways in which human beings express grief and bereavement," Taylor comments on her Web page. She also notes: "I saw the ‘Art of Death’ exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1992, and I remember thinking that an amateur detective who studied mourning ritual and art would make a great subject for a mystery series. Years later, I came up with Sweeney."

In O' Artful Death Sweeney accidentally becomes a sleuth when she goes to investigate a headstone. Her expertise soon leads her to a centuries-old murder that took place in a small artists' colony, a fictionalized version of the famous Cornish Colony in New Hampshire. "My great grandmother, a concert pianist, was a member of the Cornish Colony," Taylor told Boston Globe contributor Alex Beam. Sweeney spends Christmas at the fictional colony, where she discovers the origin of a distinctive monument in the local cemetery. It turns out that the monument is dedicated to the memory of the deceased Mary Elizabeth Denholm, who was murdered. A more recent murder of a Denholm descendent thickens the plot, and the gravestones play a central role in revealing past secrets while Sweeney hunts for the killer.

A Publishers Weekly contributor called O' Artful Death a "flawed" debut but noted that Taylor "does use her expert knowledge of 19th-century artwork and New England to good effect." Writing in the New York Times, Marilyn Stasio felt that "for a first-time novelist, Taylor does a lovely job of setting an atmospheric scene and luring us inside." Writing in Booklist, GraceAnne A. DeCandido called the book "an elegantly wrought first mystery with layers like carved ivory balls." Library Journal contributor Rex Klett praised the book's "nicely puzzled plot … remarkable characterizations, and eminently readable prose."

In Taylor's second novel, Mansions of the Dead, police turn to Sweeney when a strange collection of mourning jewelry is found adorning the body of Brad Putnam, member of a prominent Boston family and a student of Sweeney. Teaming up with homicide detective Tim Quinn, Sweeney becomes caught up in the search for Putnam's killer and learns of his complicated family life, including the death of a brother in a suspicious car accident. DeCandido called the Sweeney character "a vibrant and deeply attractive heroine." DeCandido also noted that Mansions of the Dead is "an intelligent tale, leaving readers begging to know more."

The series continues with Judgment of the Grave, in which Sweeney meets a young boy whose ancestor from the Revolutionary War era was a stonecutter who made gravestones. They discover the body of a man in Revolutionary War period clothing near the site of a recent reenactment, and then discover that the man was writing a history of the boy's ancestor. Sweeney works with Quinn to solve the murder and to close the case of a militiaman who disappeared two hundred years earlier.

A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Still as Death "is every bit as riveting as the previous installments in Taylor's series." In this story Sweeney has planned her funerary art exhibit for three years, but while it is being held in a Boston museum, a cleaning woman is killed, apparently because she interrupted a thief. The murder weapon is a stone jar stopper, one of the two items now missing from the storeroom. Also in this installment, Sweeney must choose whether to move to London with her partner Ian, while finding herself more attracted to Quinn.

A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the Hermitage is erroneously placed in Moscow, adding that Taylor "might have been less concerned with Sweeney's love life and more diligent in her research." Booklist reviewer David Pitt wrote that this story "displays all the wit and charm of its predecessors."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of O' Artful Death, p. 1555; May 1, 2004, GraceAnn A. DeCandido, review of Mansions of the Dead, p. 1524; May 15, 2005, David Pitt, review of Judgment of the Grave, p. 1640; August 1, 2006, David Pitt, review of Still as Death, p. 53.

Boston Globe, June 19, 2003, Alex Beam, review of O' Artful Death, p. D1.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2003, review of O' Artful Death, p. 511; July 15, 2006, review of Still as Death, p. 706.

Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of O' Artful Death, p. 158.

New York Times Book Review, July 20, 2003, Marilyn Stasio, review of O' Artful Death, p. 15.

Publishers Weekly, May 19, 2003, review of O' Artful Death, p. 56; July 10, 2006, review of Still as Death, p. 56.

ONLINE

MurderExpress.net,http://www.murderexpress.net/ (December 9, 2007), brief biography.

Sarah Stewart Taylor Home Page,http://www.sarahstewarttaylor.com (December 9, 2007).

About this article

Taylor, Sarah Stewart 1971–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article