Book Title: FRAMED WOMEN OF ARDEMORE HOUSE
Character Name: Jo Jones
How would you describe your family or your childhood?
Oh gosh, how much time do you have? I grew up shuffled between my mother and my aunt (Gary, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois). Mum never spoke about her life in England—never told me my dad’s name—was estranged from, well, everyone except my aunt (who died when I was in college). It was a weird, lonely way to grow up; mum didn’t want to admit I had autism and basically wouldn’t talk about anything unpleasant. Then, when she passed, I turned out to be the last surviving member of a family I didn’t know anything about. It was raining that day; I tend to remember the little useless details. It was raining, and I had just inherited a mystery property from mystery people. Heading to the UK didn’t really help clearing things up, though. Murder tends to make things complicated like that.
What was your greatest talent?
In addition to being autistic, I am hyperlexic—that’s what they call it when a child starts talking and reading at an absurdly young age. And by absurd, I mean 9 months old. I speed read; I absorb words and letters and numbers and I rarely forget them. Actually, I sort of consume written material. Whole books right down the gullet of a weekend. And I’m an expert at pattern recognition, too. Handy when you are an editor (which I was until, ahem, my divorce). Turns out to be pretty useful to sleuthing, too. (Sleuth. Isn’t that a fun word? Sounds like slither and truth.)
Happily, not anymore. Life lesson: do not marry your boss. Especially do not marry your boss if he turns out to be a philandering, lying, hypocrite who cheats you out of your stake in the publishing house you helped to build. But I digress.
Biggest challenge in relationships?
Well, first, social interactions are a series of secret handshakes, and I never got the manual. So unfair. People say they want someone to complete them, someone who always knows what you’re thinking. Frankly, that sounds awful. I spent most of my life masking my autism and translating my “me”ness into something other people find palatable. Sure, my ex thought he knew what I was thinking, because he expected me to think the way he did (and, embarrassingly, I tried). He also figured he completed me in some important way. Funny. I am a lot more whole and put together without him. I guess in romance, I am just not very good at being someone’s missing piece. Also… WHY can’t people just TELL me what they are thinking? Saves so much time. I am never, ever going to notice a casual flirt.
Where do you live?
Heh. Interesting question. Somewhere between/among Chicago, Brooklyn, and now a tiny cottage in the Pennines, north Yorkshire? And I am newly in charge of a falling-down mansion with a giant hole in the roof. An actual hole, mind. You can see daylight.
Do you have any enemies?
Not on purpose! And usually I can’t really tell if someone’s mad at me, anyway. Let’s give it a definite maybe?
How do you feel about the place where you are now? Is there something you are particularly attached to, or particularly repelled by, in this place?
OMG THERE IS A LIBRARY. Sadly, a mostly ruined library, since it’s been raining indoors for a couple of years. Books and books and books. I hope some are salvageable. I’m rather attached to the manor house, too, even if it is coming apart at the, erm, eaves. It’s my first connection to family! And it helps, probably, that the whole place reminds me of Wuthering Heights.
Do you have children, pets, both, or neither?
Neither. I didn’t much like children when I was one. No offense, of course! They are just small and loud and disruptive. I like the idea of children, though; I always wished I’d had a sibling. And it might be nice if that sibling had kids. I would make the best eccentric aunt. As to pets: love them, but a little hard between countries/houses. I once had someone point out that, given I don’t like being touched, tend to be a bit jumpy, and am well known for knocking things over/off of tables… I might in fact be a cat.
What do you do for a living?
I was an acquisition and developmental editor for a small publishing house. Emphasis on the was. Now I… am bleeding money into an estate that owes back-taxes and hoping my savings don’t run out till I figure out what to do next.
Oh. Tony. 100% Tony.
Greatest source of joy?
What do you do to entertain yourself or have fun?
“Entertain yourself” must have been my mother’s favorite phrase. Don’t be a nuisance, don’t be noisy, don’t be a bother… do something to “entertain yourself.” I read. A lot. But that’s a sitting down sort of thing, and I have a lot of energy to burn off generally. The faster my brain goes, the more I have to engage my hands in something (or else the stimming get’s out of hand for polite company, or so said Mum). Unfortunately, I am a terrible cook—so I organize, build, sort, “arrange,” and tidy. Basically, I read, and I have the world’s cleanest bathroom.
What is your greatest personal failing, in your view?
Oh sh--, there are SO MANY things I do back to front. I don’t know if they are failings, but they sure make basic human interaction difficult. Introductions, for instance. You know, “Hi, I’m Jo Jones, what’s your name” or “How are you? How’ve you been?” Meeting me for the first time is like running headlong into a special interest convention in medias res. I once walked into a roomful of publishing clients and the first thing I did was give the basic anatomical description of a dinosaur’s cloaca. (Like birds, they just have one exit—so everything from reproduction to defecation is on tap for that particular butthole). I wasn’t allowed to a lot of sales meetings after that. But at least I was memorable?
What keeps you awake at night?
Apart from dinosaur mating habits? Or the social interactions of orangutans? Or the fact that there were no rats in Europe until 3000 years ago? Or that we can grow human brain organoids (teeny little brains) in a petri dish, and that an ethical fight has developed about whether or not you have a right to dispose of them? I guess it would be the cloning of human embryos, or the first primate head transplant (1970), or the use of crocodile dung as a contraceptive in ancient Egypt. Or… you know… the dead body on my rug. That takes up a bit of space in there just now.
What is the most pressing problem you have at the moment?
I found a painting in the house. A really strange, haunting painting, of an unknown family member. Thing is, it vanished. I thought I knew who stole it… except they got a little bit murdered. And I might accidentally be a suspect. Ooopsies.
Is there something that you need or want that you don’t have? For yourself or for someone important to you?
This is going to sound so dismal and even childish… but I always wanted to feel at home in my family. Or to have a family, for that matter, beyond my mum and aunt. Maybe someone in the wider expanse of my lineage would understand me—might be like me, since autism runs in families. All I have are shadows and secrets.
Why don’t you have it? What is in the way?
My mother destroyed her diary, and she never told me the truth of my dad. I think the answers are here, in the sprawling house in the Pennines. I just have to keep digging.
An abandoned English manor. A peculiar missing portrait. A cozy, deviously clever murder mystery, perfect for fans of Richard Osman and Anthony Horowitz.
Jo Jones has always had a little trouble fitting in. As a neurodivergent, hyperlexic book editor and divorced New Yorker transplanted into the English countryside, Jo doesn’t know what stands out more: her Americanisms or her autism.
After losing her job, her mother, and her marriage all in one year, she couldn’t be happier to take possession of a possibly haunted (and clearly unwanted) family estate in North Yorkshire. But when the body of the moody town groundskeeper turns up on her rug with three bullets in his back, Jo finds herself in potential danger—and she’s also a potential suspect. At the same time, a peculiar family portrait vanishes from a secret room in the manor, bearing a strange connection to both the dead body and Jo’s mysterious family history.
With the aid of a Welsh antiques dealer, the morose local detective, and the Irish innkeeper’s wife, Jo embarks on a mission to clear herself of blame and find the missing painting, unearthing a slew of secrets about the town—and herself—along the way. And she’ll have to do it all before the killer strikes again…
Thriller [Hanover Square Press, On Sale: February 13, 2024, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781335014030 / eISBN: 9780369747716]
Dr. BRANDY SCHILLACE is an author, historian, show-host and Editor of BMJ’s Medical Humanities Journal. Brandy has written about the history of death, dying, and grief (Death's Summer Coat) and steampunk science (Clockwork Futures). Her recent book, MR. HUMBLE AND DR. BUTCHER–described by the New York Times as a “macabre delight”–explores Cold War medicine, bioethics, and organ transplant. Brandy’s next nonfiction, THE INTERMEDIARIES, will tell the forgotten, daring history of the interwar Institute of Sexology in Berlin: trans activists, the first gender affirming surgeries, and the fight for LGBTQ rights in the shadow of the Nazi Third Reich. Rebels against empires, it’s a heart-stopping story of courage in the face of long odds.
Brandy hosts a regular YouTube show, Peculiar Book Club, featureing livestream chats with bestselling authors of unusual nonfiction, from Lindsey Fitzharris and Mary Roach to Ed Yong and Deborah Blum. She has appeared on Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum, NPR’s Here and Now, and the History Channel. Bylines at WIRED, UNDARK, Scientific American, Globe and Mail, WSJ, and Substack. (she/her/they).
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