One of the reasons I never wanted to be a real estate agent was having to go into empty houses. You would never be sure what awaited behind every door! In Murder in the Master Judy Murry has created a great mystery centered around a real estate agent and her fictional friends. So great, she’s been nominated for an Agatha!
About Murder in the Master
Real estate rule #1: A dead body creates buzz. A dead body in a house for sale is never the buzz you want.
It isn’t the first-time real estate agent Helen Morrisey has found someone naked in bed while showing a house to a potential buyer. But this one is different. One glance at the bluish cast around his lips and the vacant, staring eyes, and Helen knows big-time developer Al Capelli is never going to sign another sales agreement.
His death is big news for a small, top of the Chesapeake water town where a family empire is built around secrets and their brash money style is resented by locals. Within days, his lover, her old friend, begs Helen to find the killer before she’s arrested for murder. With her fight for the underdog style, Helen jumps in. She quickly realizes that solving a murder mystery in real life is a lot more dangerous than reading one. Helen decides to create her own Detection Club of expert sleuths—Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Nora Charles, Agatha Raisin, and, yes, Nancy Drew to help unearth the truth.
Detective Joe McAlister recognizes the value of Helen’s insight into back office real estate deals and local players. And for the first time since her husband’s death, Helen meets a man who might be able to return zingers as quick as she can toss them out. Mystery lovers hungry for a smart gutsy woman, a fast-moving plot, and an insider’s look into a business everyone talks about, but few understand, will devour this first in a series Murder in the Master.
Helen Morrisey is a real estate agent who loves to read mysteries. When she finds a dead body in the master bedroom while showing a house, she enlists the help of her fictional friends, including Miss Marple, Nancy Drew and Jessica Fletcher. Picking between the red herrings and the actual killer had me guessing. I enjoyed getting a look into the world Murray created in Chesapeake Bay. This is a well-layered mystery that includes a little romance along with suspenseful storytelling.
A Visit with Judy L. Murray
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve dreamed of working full-time as an author since I edited my high school newspaper a gazillion years ago. When I graduated with a newspaper journalism degree from the SI Newhouse School at Syracuse University, I became a newspaper reporter. Practicality and a meager, correct that – empty checkbook took hold quickly and I entered real estate sales. I kept my hand in writing with a monthly column on real estate for a national magazine. I put my MBA to use by creating tons of corporate marketing materials. Over the years in sales, management, coaching and training, as a Philadelphia real estate broker, I was also a restoration addict. I worked with enough delusional sellers, jittery buyers, testy contractors, and diva agents to fill my head with plenty of back-office insight. More than enough to get me started on this series.
I started this first mystery about ten years ago, then set it aside. About three years ago, I picked it up again and started writing every night, well after midnight. I decided time was of the essence, as we say in real estate. I wrote and rewrote. A literary agent devoted to representing mysteries offered me representation. Shortly after, I was fortunate to have a couple publishers offer me contracts. I signed a three-book series contract with Level Best Books and am thrilled to be with a publisher with such a great reputation. That caused me to take the plunge, leave real estate and write full-time. Some days I’m mentally hyperventilating over the next scene I’m writing, but never-the-less I’m grateful.
Since my girlhood obsession with Nancy Drew, I’ve always believed in the power of words. The idea that I can create a series that enables readers to step into a detective story with smart women and twists and turns is so rewarding.
What inspired the idea behind your book? Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences or purely all imagination?
Definitely a combination. I thought there seemed to be a dearth of mature women in today’s mysteries and I hoped readers would relate to Helen, my protagonist. Real estate is a world most people are interested in since it touches so many lives. But it’s also often misunderstood. Real estate is not HGTV. It’s a lot more complicated and a lot more stressful. Houses aren’t built in a day. Buyers and sellers are highly emotional. There are a lot of moving parts. My protagonist’s career gives her the opportunity to be involved with people in a very personal way. It’s a great segue to a mystery.
The setting on the Chesapeake gives me lots of interesting locations and introductions to people with different backgrounds. I do have twins like my protagonist. My husband complains that he was already dead before the first chapter. It’s a running joke among my friends and family. We really do live on a cliff that looks onto the bay. We batten down the hatches when a storm comes up.
Who is your favorite character to create scenes for in the book?
My protagonist, Helen Morrisey, will always be my favorite.
From the first paragraph, it was important that she be a mature woman who is smart and self-sufficient. She needs to go to work every day and make a living. As competent as she is, as a recent widow Helen’s not sure how to navigate through romance in her fifties. She doesn’t even know if she wants to. She’s a slow mover. She struggles to bite her tongue and not intrude on her children’s decisions. She’s bullheaded and tends to put her foot in her mouth. She loves to eat, hates to cook, and hides Twizzlers in her desk drawer and car. She also has a history of coming to other’s defense. Helen’s life is complicated, much like ours.
Helen’s Detection Club is a central character in the series. They are her squad of famous sleuths she creates in her mind to guide her through a maze of clues. Each of her Detection Club members brings different talents to crime solving. When I created this group, I wasn’t sure how they would be received. But their uniqueness seems to be one of the elements in my series readers really enjoy. They like seeing these favorites in action in current day. Ironically, as we get more and more familiar with Helen, we’ll see more and more of their individual traits reflected in her.
Here’s a partial scene that helps set up Helen’s relationship with the detective investigating:
Tuesday afternoon, Joe pulled in beside Helen when she parked at Safe Harbor. He unfolded his legs as he climbed out of a black Ford Explorer.
Helen deliberately took her time. She tucked her hair behind her ears and pasted on an overly bright smile. “What brings you back, Detective? Any news on Capelli’s possible murder?” Her tone was deliberately cheeky as she walked past him. Joe smirked.
“News travels fast. Who told you?”
“Well, no one picks up on the local happenings faster than real estate agents. We usually find out the dirt sooner than later.” She emphasized “sooner.” The fact he was rather hunky, and she guessed, mid-fifties, was a major plus in her book. But it wasn’t going to keep Helen from trying to steal his thunder. Most men couldn’t keep up with her banter. It was a good way to keep them on their toes and out of her personal space.
“Since most agents are women, I’m not surprised to hear gossip fills your day.”
She stopped dead in her tracks. His stock dropped. Or did it go up? “Did you really just say that?”
Joe held his hands up. “Sorry. That was out of line.”
Helen studied his face and decided a man who apologized was worth forgiving, at least the first time. Besides, she had egged him on. “What is it you forgot to ask me? We gossipy agents are always short on time, even if you’re not.” She took off toward the entrance, her heels clicking across the slate walk and up the front steps. She was enjoying their fencing conversation.
If an actor or actress were to play this part, who would it be?
That’s a really hard question. I’m not much of a follower of Hollywood. Probably a combination of Myrna Loy’s style and Patricia Heaton.
Is this book a part of a series?
Yes. The series is Chesapeake Bay Mysteries. I like the setting because it places my readers in a waterfront village and reflects part of our country’s history and the people who, even today, make their living on the water. My second book, Killer in the Kitchen, comes out this September. Helen becomes involved with a celebrity chef for a television shopping network. The third is likely to be called Peril in the Pool House.
Where can readers leave reviews?
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, wherever they’d like. I’m always grateful for my readers’ enthusiasm.
How can readers find your books and are there more coming in this series?
They can find my debut mystery everywhere online along with independent bookstores. I have more and more libraries stocking it. Since my favorite place to spend time is in a library, I’m delighted librarians are promoting it. Finding Murder in the Master on the bookshelf of new releases in my local library was such an incredible personal moment for me. To then be nominated for an Agatha Award as Best First Book, is beyond rewarding. The dream I had when I was in my teens is finally here.
Thanks so much to Books to the Ceiling for inviting me for this interview. I so appreciate the opportunity.