Nearly everyone around these parts is familiar with the name of Rachel Heffington. She reads, she writes, she blogs, she bakes, she nannies — she's a veritable Mary Poppins and the reigning queen of impromptu wit: in short, she's a darling. Just this past week Rachel released her debut mystery, Anon, Sir, Anon ("remember, remember the Fifth of November!"). I received an advance copy earlier this autumn, and I was able to savor this delightfully chilling book as the temperatures dropped and the leaves turned gold. Some books beg to be read at a certain time of year; this one is no exception. With its foggy Northamptonshire setting, Anon, Sir, Anon would make the perfect fireside mystery for a November evening. Grab yourself a copy and tuck in for an engrossing tale.
Continuing with her celebratory tour de force, I'm featuring the author this morning on a subject near and dear to the heart of Anon, Sir, Anon's Orville Farnham himself: the quotable nature of William Shakespeare and the Bard's own involvement within this new title. Without further ado, I'll give her the floor.
the library of borrowed wit: shakespeare's influence in anon, sir, anon
by rachel heffington
I remember my first encounter with Shakespeare: I was all of twelve or thirteen and had gone to Regent University to attend a production of Hamlet. I left feeling hopelessly confused as to why Rosencrantz was eating a lollipop and wearing modern clothes...hadn’t Shakespeare written his plays far before Tootsie Pops came into existence? Not to mention the fact that the dialog went (at best) just over my head. Because of this odd experience and the general idea that someone named Macbeth had a ghost and someone else was accustomed to saying, “et tu, Brute?”, for some years I avoided Shakespeare with a creeping feeling that he was either too lofty or too dry for my experience and tastes. What I neglected to take into account, however, was that Shakespeare wrote plays...and plays are meant to be observed.
One fateful night, I watched Kenneth Branagh’s production of Much Ado About Nothing and was carried away on the glorious wings of one who has known what it is to thrill over a passage of Shakespeare. That night, I dreamed in Elizabethan English and was able to slay the most awe-inspiring men with my wit. From then on, it was a natural progression to others of his comedies and then into the slightly heavier works, like Henry IV and Henry V. I have read a few, watched more, and fallen in love with Tom Hiddleston, Kenneth Branagh, and Emma Thompson as they play timeless characters created by Shakespeare. Finally, I could understand why William Shakespeare had become a name synonymous with genius.
It can be hard to remember exact progressions in inspiration just as it is hard to tell the exact stages in which an October dusk turns from blue to daffodil to silver to azure to velvet. Shakespeare lent his brilliance to my library of borrowed wit, I continued to write my stories, and then came The Bartlett Book.
For those of you unfamiliar with Bartlett Books they are, essentially, very heavy volumes of quotations from various authors. Mine was a gift from my soon-to-be sister-in-law and is from the 1930’s. It happened to have a thick section of the more obscure Shakespearean quotes and as I flipped through the quotations one afternoon, a certain line grabbed my notice:
“Death’s a great disguiser.”
How could it not suggest murder? Yet, what sort of detective would have a Shakespeare quote near-to-hand with a body lying at his feet? A Shakespearean actor, perhaps? And thus the eccentric Orville Farnham was born: a man more in love with The Bard’s work than, perhaps, Kenneth Branagh himself. I am a firm believer in the idea that eccentricities are only eccentric if they are repeated. Thus, Shakepeare and Farnham needed to become cemented as one. For this purpose, I invented The Game. If you will permit me, I will share a short scene to explain the rules:
Farnham spread his hand to indicate the chair at the head of the table. “Won’t you, Breen? Allen was about to bring in the pudding.”
The doctor bowed to Genevieve and smiled, but Genevieve saw the quizzing, questing look he shot at Farnham.
“‘I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last,’” Farnham said, not bothering to answer the unspoken question. It appeared to Genevieve that her uncle stared rather hard at his friend as if encouraging him to find some extra meaning in the words.
“Oh Lud.” Dr. Breen pushed his chair away from the table and crossed his legs, resting rough boots on the white tablecloth. He stretched his arms behind his head and grinned in an amiable fashion. “I know this one. I know I know this one.”
Rather than being puzzled or vexed with this new table ornament, Farnham pushed his chair back and did likewise. “You ought to know it. We’ve practiced enough,” he grumbled, settling into the new position. His feet now blocked his face from his niece’s view, but she could see Dr. Breen.
Breen worked his face into one big wrinkle. “Something about...oh, Lud.”
“How--” Genevieve began, intending to ask a question.
Dr. Breen unfolded his arms and beamed at her. “Of course! ‘Why, how now, Stephano!’”
Farnham applauded. “The Tempest. It’s really quite simple, Breen. I give you all the Watsonizing parts, you know. The useless questions asked for decorum’s sake. You shouldn’t have trouble remembering stupid questions.”
“So generous. Unflinchingly generous.”
— Anon, Sir, Anon [chapter 3]
Featured as a game in Anon, Sir, Anon, Shakespeare’s work became ingrained in mine, and no one will be able to recall the character of Mr. Orville Farnham without remembering one of the greatest authors of old whose work deserves presentation to a new era of readers.
I hope readers of my mystery will be inspired to take up one of The Bard’s plays and give it another try. And to those of you who find Shakespeare to your liking? Priceless phrases like, “Let’s whip th’offending Adam out of him,” will slide into your vocabulary and give your conversation a delightful, unconventional color. Believe me, it’s fabulous.
. . .
The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham's niece; murder was passenger. In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets. When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door. Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime.
all about rachel heffington
Rachel Heffington is a Christian, a novelist, and a people-lover. Outside of the realm of words, Rachel enjoys the Arts, traveling, mucking about in the kitchen, listening for accents, and making people laugh. She dwells in rural Virginia with her boisterous family and her black cat, Cricket.