Cathy Ace came late to her career as a writer, but she’s been making up for lost time. The British-born, Canada-based author published her first novel at age 51 and has since written seven books. Now, after winning Canada’s Bony Blithe Award (which honors the country’s best light mystery) earlier this year, she's promoting her new novel, The Case of the Dotty Dowager. The book is also the first in Ace's new WISE Enquiries Agency series.
If you ask Ace about that career change, she’ll mostly credit her sister for it...and maybe Arthur Conan Doyle. Years ago, while waiting for her sister’s late plane at the airport, Ace grabbed a magazine—she rarely reads them—and decided to answer a call for short story submissions. The only requirement? That the piece feature, as Ace put it, “a strong central character.”
She was 28 when she wrote "Dear George," dashing off the story while sitting in her car. The vehicle was parked just off of Baker Street (where Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective, lived). Musing on the piece, Ace admits that Conan Doyle “may have been an inspiration.”
The story was published straightaway, but Ace didn’t quit her day job. (She's worked in brand marketing and academia.) In fact, she didn’t write any fiction again until 2007 when she was approached by British actor Martin Jarvis about his producing “Dear George” on the BBC’s afternoon reading series. Once the BBC aired her story, Ace decided to try her hand at novels. It wound up being the right call.
Now, after six novels featuring amateur sleuth Cait Morgan, whom Ace describes as having “traveled the world tripping over corpses,” Ace has turned her focus to the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency. The new series, which launched with The Case of the Dotty Dowager, is set in Wales and follows four different women—one Scottish, one Irish, one Welsh, and one English—who work for a detective agency.
Unlike Morgan, who’s an amateur sleuth, the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency are professional investigators. And their stories are told in the third person. This, among other things, makes for a different read—and a different writing experience. “When each woman takes a point of view you can hear her thought process,” Ace says. “And they all have such different voices, so, as a writer, it’s great fun for me to exercise different techniques.”
Being Welsh herself (she grew up in the city of Swansea), Ace is pleased to be returning to her roots with this new series. Set in a fictional town called Anwen-by-Wye, the series has already struck a chord with fans; some have told Ace they’ve been enjoying learning more about “Welsh backgrounds and Welsh locales.” The fans have also told her that they like, as she put it, going into “this true Anglophile joy area” in the new series—because its four central characters hail from all over the U.K.
The Case of the Dotty Dowager, which sees the women tackling a murder on the fictional Chellingworth Estate, is, like Ace’s Cait Morgan series, a return to the cozy genre: it features no on-the-page gore, violence, or sex. But Ace thinks readers will find something new here. The series—for which Ace has already written the second book, The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer (coming out next year), and sketched out the third—is character driven first and foremost and offers a “fascinating look at the way these women from very different backgrounds can work together, not so much despite their differences but because of their differences.”