Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but mystery writer Toni L.P. Kelner does the best she can. Though she’s lived in Massachusetts for sixteen years, she was raised in North Carolina, and when she sits down to write, she goes back home with her mysteries.
Since Kelner’s parents are native North Carolinians, and she has family scattered all through the South, it surprised everybody when she ended up in Malden, Massachusetts. A technical writing career and a romance with future husband Steve brought her up North in 1987, and it turned out to be just what she needed to jumpstart her writing. Feeling nostalgic, and more than a little homesick, she started writing a mystery novel set in North Carolina. Down Home Murder, the first Laura Fleming mystery, appeared in June of 1993. Other novels have followed. Her most recent book, Wed and Buried, was released in February of 2003, and Kelner is working on a new novel.
Kelner credits her move north with inspiring her to write about the South. “The writing books all say to write what you know, but it wasn’t until I moved away that I realized that I knew anything unusual. People up here don’t know what shotgun houses are, and they don’t eat at fish camps, and they don’t take pride in crazy relatives the way Southerners do. I put all of that into my books.”
The Laura Fleming series is set in Byerly, NC, the imaginary mill town where Laura’s large and colorful family lives. Like Kelner, Laura (Laurie Anne to her family) was raised in North Carolina but now lives in Massachusetts. Laura is the only college graduate in her family, the only one to have moved away from Byerly, and the only one to have married a Northerner. Unlike Kelner, Laura is the only one in her family to solve murders.
As a Southerner living in the North, Kelner enjoys writing about the differences between the two regions. She says, “In the books set in Byerly, Laura explains Southern expressions and introduces barbeque to Richard, her Yankee husband.” In Country Comes to Town, the only book set outside Byerly, she shows the subway to cousin Thaddeous, who’s never been out of the South. Richard can’t understand why Southerners drink iced tea in the winter, and Thaddeous is surprised that Northerners will go out in a snowstorm to get ice cream. “Laura enjoys both treats year round.” Kelner grins and adds, “I do too.”
At first, Kelner wasn’t sure if people outside the South would appreciate the flavor of her writing. (As Kelner puts it, she “writes with a Southern accent.”) She needn’t have worried. She’s got readers in all corners of the country, and has even received fan mail from the Netherlands. The mystery community has been just as approving. Her story “The Death of Erik the Redneck” was nominated for an Agatha Award in 1996, and her book Death of a Damn Yankee was nominated for a Romantic Times Magazine Reviewers’ Choice award for Best Amateur Sleuth Novel of 1999. Kelner was also nominated by RT BOOKclub for a Career Achievement Award for Best Mystery Series in 2002, and is up for the same award for 2003. Her story “Bible Belt” has been nominated for an Anthony Award and a Macavity Award.
Kelner’s husband Steve, the reason for her move north, is a consultant at the executive search firm Egon Zehnder International. Their daughters, seven-year-old Maggie and four-year-old Valerie, were born in Massachusetts, which means that Kelner faces the prospect of raising the family’s first Northerners. She says, “At least the girls like buttermilk biscuits. We’re saving pulled-pork barbeque for when they’re a little older.”
NEW from Toni L. P. Kelner
In Wed and Buried, the eighth Laura Fleming novel, Laura and Richard tote their seven-month-old daughter Alice to Byerly to introduce her to the family and to attend the wedding reception of Great-Aunt-Maggie to Big Bill Walters. Nobody knows quite what to make of the new marriage. The newlyweds are hardly spring chickens, and represent opposite sides of the tracks in Byerly. Before the gossip gets a chance to settle, somebody tries to kill Big Bill, and Laura decides what to give them for a wedding present: the identity of the attempted murderer.
Publishers Weekly says, “Good humor abounds amid the murder and mayhem in this sprawling family,” and Bookbrowser is happy to report that, “Toni L.P. Kelner has written another delightfully adorable amateur sleuth tale. Wed and Buried is a quirky, quaint, and refreshing novel.”
The Laura Fleming Series
- Down Home Murder, 1993
- Dead Ringer, 1994
- Trouble Looking for a Place to Happen, 1995
- Country Comes to Town, 1996
- Tight as a Tick, 1998
- Death of a Damn Yankee, 1999
- Mad as the Dickens, 2001
- Wed and Buried, 2003
- “Gift of the Murderer,” Murder Under the Tree, 1993
- “Marley’s Ghost,” Murder Most Merry, 1994
- “Murchison Solves a Mystery,” Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Spring 1995
- “The Death of Erik the Redneck,” Malice Domestic 5, 1996
- “Murchison Catches a Thief,” Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Fall 1996
- “Murchison Passes a Test,” Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Fall 1997
- “Murchison Tells a Secret,” Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Fall 1998
- “Where Does a Herd of Elephants Go?,” Midnight Louie’s Pet Detectives, 1998
- “Not in My Family,” Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Summer 1999
- “An Unmentionable Crime,” Magnolias and Mayhem, 2000
- “Old Dog Days,” A Hot and Sultry Night For Crime, 2003
- “Bible Belt,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, June 2002
- “Blame it on the Brownies,” Criminal Appetites, 2003