South Royalton Writer Sets Mysteries in the Area

  • South Royalton resident and mystery novel writer Kate George stands in front of a warehouse in South Royalton, Vt., on January 23, 2017. (Sarah Priestap photograph)

  • Kate George, of South Royalton, Vt., is a mystery writer. (Sarah Priestap photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, February 09, 2017

Kate George has run out of people to kill in South Royalton.

Not literally, of course.

In person, Kate George is a mild-mannered, red-haired woman who, over the course of her life, has been a motorcycle safety instructor, trainer of police dogs, paste-up tech at a small newspaper, actress, teacher and an assistant to the dean at the medical school at Dartmouth’s school of medicine.

In her current incarnation, George is both a tour coordinator at the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover and an assistant to the principal at South Royalton School.

But in her fictional life, as the writer of a series of mystery novels featuring a Vermonter named Bree MacGowan who lives in South Royalton, George has bumped off a substantial number of people in town. And out of it, one should add. Bodies pop up with regularity when MacGowan, a 30ish single woman who has a tendency to charge headlong into trouble, arrives on a scene.

George’s latest novel, released this week, is Bohemian Catastrophe, the fourth Bree MacGowan mystery after Moonlighting in Vermont, California Schemin’ and Crazy Little Thing Called Dead.

Bohemian Catastrophe takes her madcap heroine out of SoRo, and sends her gallivanting around the country, with a good-looking FBI agent in tow. If you detect in the titles a fondness for punning on the titles of famous pop songs, you’re correct.

Although not an exact parallel, George’s irreverent, wisecracking mysteries have more in common with the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, a former Hanover resident, than they do with hard-boiled private eye procedurals or CSI-like mysteries starring coroners with ice water in their veins.

Bree is likable, independent, often stubborn, a bit of a klutz, drawn to good-looking but inscrutable men, and soft-hearted when it comes to animals.

“Bree is like the person who would have been my best friend in my 30s,” said George in an interview at 5 Olde, a South Royalton watering hole that has not yet shown up in her mysteries.

George was born in Sacramento, raised in California’s Central Valley and has traveled and worked throughout California and in Vancouver, B.C. She received a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California, Davis and married her husband, Grady George, a fellow Californian, in 1995. They moved to South Royalton in 1996 so he could attend Vermont Law School. He is now a financial adviser, and they have twin sons and two daughters.

George, who calls herself a late bloomer, has always loved mysteries and read Agatha Christie and P.D. James when she was younger. She’d read so many that when she was in a conversation with friends about reading a recent Janet Evanovich, she said, “I was audacious enough to say I could write like that.”

OK, so prove it, her friends said.

Her first mystery, Moonlighting in Vermont, opens with Bree, who is moonlighting as a housekeeper at a super deluxe inn in Barnard that is definitely not named Twin Farms, discovering the body of another housekeeper whose head has been caved in with a blunt object.

While all the people who hated the housekeeper (and there are quite a few) quietly rejoice, the police take a dim view of people knocking off other people just because they’re not nice. And as the person to find the corpse, Bree MacGowan immediately leaps to the top of the list of suspects and must set about clearing her name.

Moonlighting in Vermont was published in 2009 by Mainly Murder Press, as was California Schemin’. But after that George decided to release the books herself, both in paperback and digitally. They’re available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Kindle and Nook.

It gives her more control and she makes more money, she said. Given that most publishers expect writers to now do their own publicity, George said, “if I have to do all that anyway, I might as well do it on my own terms.”

In Bohemian Catastrophe, George said, as Bree MacGowan faces one obstacle after another, she matures and becomes more serious. “In the first book she was well-liked, but not necessarily well-respected. But the people with her on this journey come to respect her.”

After this book, George is going to give Bree a rest while George turns to a very different kind of heroine: a middle-aged travel coordinator named Pippa Barnstable. Compared to Bree, Pippa Barnstable is quieter, shyer and not particularly enamored of her line of work.

“I was getting bogged down in Bree, and I didn’t want to write same story over and over. Other characters want to be written, too,” George said.

George has led trips with fans of her books to the U.K. and Ireland, partially for research purposes for her next book, and is planning another one for this summer to Scotland and Ireland.

She does it because, she said, “A) It’s fun; and B) contact with authors is not insignificant; and C) A sense of place is important.”

On her most recent author tour to Scotland in February 2016, she said, she and two people on the trip sat in a tea room and threw out ideas for her next book, which was both useful and enjoyable.

Her readers love to butt into Bree’s love life, George said. The characters become a reader’s friends, just as George came to think of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum as a friend. “They get all involved in her life. It’s funny how she comes to life for people. But mostly they talk about how much fun (the books) are.

“That’s the only thing I really wanted to do, to make them fun to read,” George said.

For information on Kate George and her books, go to kategeorge.com.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.