“When Mary Lanyon takes on the job of temporary housekeeper at Downe, a famous Merino stud, she is looking forward to staying in a gracious homestead with the wealthy Hazlitt family. The owner’s wife, Clio, has been ill, and Mary’s task is to get the house back into shape in the lead-up to the wedding of the only son and heir, Martin.
When she arrives, however, Mary realises things are not right. Clio Hazlitt rarely ventures from her room. The house is shabby, redolent of dust and secrets. As a friendship develops between the women, Mary discovers answers to the questions that have puzzled her: What is the nature of Clio’s illness? What has caused the grim estrangement between Clio and her husband? And why did Clio give up playing music, when she says it meant so much to her?
A Darker Music is a gripping mystery that takes you into the heart of rural Western Australia, and into one family’s troubled past.”
The only way to describe A darker music is by calling it “Australian Gothic”. The sun is shining but you can still feel the darkness and oppression of isolation. It is has the feeling of Jane Eyre Down Under.
Maris Morton paints a unique picture of an Australian winter, a phenomena unknown to us in the Northern Hemisphere; To most of us Australia is a dry, heat soaked desert.
Mary starts to unravel family secrets as she sets about setting the farmstead to rights. There is a gentle unfolding of events with a strong palette of near gourmet food and classical music.
Mary is an incomer and she acts as an observer to a family who’s lives are tainted my tragedy; something Mary is very familiar with. Although there is a lot of sadness to this book, there is also a glimmer of hope for healing.
Clio and Paul are like the walking wounded. Their relationship and lives was irreversibly shattered – and you can see them just going through the motions of everyday life; Unable to offer each other the comfort they both crave.
There is so much in this subtle family drama: loss, mysteries, heartbreak and estrangement; That left me the feeling of a haunted abandonment that Clio felt.
A darker music has a pace consistent to country lifestyle, and it adds an air of anticipation for what events are to come.
What I loved about this book was that Maris Morton showed me a West Australian lifestyle, that I was able to experience through her eyes; Something I would never be able to experience on my own.
A darker music is on par with the likes of Mary Stewart for highly enjoyable new Gothic fiction. It was a unique novel that stands out from the crowd and one not to be missed.
EPBR: What inspired you to become an Author?
MM: I’ve always been a devoted reader, particularly of crime and mystery novels, but never seriously contemplated actually writing one myself – I lacked the confidence, for one thing, and was busy earning a living.
This changed in the late 1990s when I was nearing retirement age. I’d taken on the challenge of nurturing a fledgling public art gallery in a country town and eventually succeeded beyond expectations, with a new gallery now in a state of the art building that is the pride and joy of the local community. Having achieved this, my confidence reached new heights.
Another factor was the nature of my work at the gallery, which demanded constant interface with colleagues and the public, and left me pining for a place of my own where I could quietly concentrate on some project that would satisfy my latent creativity. I tried pottery and artwork, which I’d enjoyed in the past, but once I made a serious effort to write there was no holding me – I was hooked!
That started a long, slow process of teaching myself the craft. I wrote a novel, then short stories (some of which won prizes), listened to publishing professionals and learned the harsh realities of the business, collecting countless rejections along the way, until I started to wonder whether I was wasting my time. Then one magical day I learned that I had won the inaugural Scribe/CAL Fiction Prize — out of 535 entries —with A Darker Music! There was a cash prize as well as publication. Naturally this gave me all the encouragement I needed to go on, although there were many more rejections to be faced.
EPBR: Why did you want to write fiction?
MM: Apart from the pleasure of manipulating words to communicate actions and emotions, over my life I have worked in such a wide variety of jobs in many places that I have accumulated countless stories that only have to be patchworked and polished to make them into readable fiction. I have worked as a teacher (including teaching English as a second language to Cocos and Christmas Islanders); public servant; art curator and art gallery director, as well as exhibiting artist and art restorer; shearers’ cook and shed hand; journalist, and book and restaurant critic; cook and housekeeper. I’ve also been a wife and mother. Now I’m in the fortunate position of being able to mine my past experiences for the raw materials of fiction; scraps of memories of people and places I’ve known can be cut up and stitched together to form new fabrics.
During the 1970s and ‘80s I lived in Western Australia, most of the time in the small country town on which I based my fictional Berricup. There I got to know many farmers, and to appreciate how different their lives are from those of typical suburbanites.
Most of my writing is concerned with aspects of country life (with the exception of Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man, which is set in Perth). Although I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne I have always preferred country life; I’m still a dedicated gardener, and live now in sub-tropical rainforest in the far north-east corner of New South Wales, where the loudest sound is birdsong.
The germ of the idea behind A Darker Music was formed many years ago when a farmer’s wife told me that before her marriage she’d been a keen violinist. When I asked her whether she still played she said ‘No,’ then told me that one of her sons had accidentally smashed her violin. I never discovered why she didn’t get another one — her husband could easily have afforded it — but the sadness of that tale stayed with me. I made the farm where Clio lived more remote, so that Clio’s isolation was more complete, setting it in countryside that was familiar to me.
The genesis of The Herb Gardener was different, bringing together a number of incidents and characters from my past and combining them to make the drama. The farm is based on one which belonged to old friends; I went back and stayed there to get the feel of the place again. The olives, the sandalwood and the dam — and the dead kangaroo — were all real.
My present project is another crime novel titled Meadowcroft (isn’t that a lovely word?). It’s based on my experiences of working as a cook, back in the 1980s, in an establishment very like Meadowcroft. This one also features my ongoing character Mary Lanyon, an Australian widow who now works as a temporary housekeeper; she appears in Portrait of the Artist and A Darker Music. While she is no modern Miss Marple, Mary is perceptive (and curious) enough to help solve the mysteries she encounters during her work in various households.
Also by Maris Morton:
Still hurting after a painful divorce, Joanna leaves the city, moving with her six-year-old daughter Mia to a country town. She’s looking for a better, happier life, and when she meets farmer Chris Youngman, she discovers the possibility of a future as a farmer’s wife.
Joanna is at first dismayed by the unexpected isolation of the farm, but Chris’s affection helps her to adjust. Then the unexplained death of a young farm worker brings complications she could never have imagined, and Joanna has to fight for her happiness, her family, and even her own life.
I am a big fan of Australian fiction and this book exceeded expectations. It was the perfect blend of mystery and romance. From the start you are dropped right in the middle of the action. Slowly you get to know these characters by deed and reaction; It is very refreshing not always to have to be told.
The countryside is beautifully described and comes alive on the page. It made me want to look up Berricap on a map to see if that town really exists.
The Herb Gardener is one of those book that the sub plots are so tightly knitted together that everything mergers with the main plot and keeps you riveted right until the end. It is really hard not to give anything away, but this book has one of the most unique endings I have ever read before.
This is an undiscovered gem of Australian fiction, as well as being a great mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.
Mary Lanyon enjoys her work as a temporary housekeeper, a role that brings her into contact with many interesting people. Detective Sergeant Des Honeywell was one man Mary met in a difficult time, and she is ambivalent when she meets him again. He has a corpse on his hands – a man Mary knew, an artist.
Honeywell knows nothing of the art world, and takes the opportunity to involve Mary in his investigation. Mary has to revisit her relationship with the dead artist, the good times and the bad, to work out how he was killed and by whom, while Honeywell pursues his own agenda.
A message from Maris : If you Google maris+morton you’ll find heaps of stuff on me. My publisher, Michelle, has set up a blog tour for The Herb Gardener but I don’t know the details. My website is: www.marismorton.com. Please visit her page for all her great new releases.