The Mystery of Four by Sam Blake | Magazine | Crime | Interviews
The Mystery of Four by Sam Blake

The Mystery of Four is my 8th book published, although there are two more finished, another adult novel for 2024, and my YA debut Something Terrible Happened Last Night that is out in May this year. At every event I do, I’m asked where my ideas come from – and for every book it’s different.

 For me, stories come from a series of lightbulb moments, they can be anything that sparks my imagination, paintings, articles I read, an overheard moment of conversation, or something I see on TV.  Moments form a stew of bits of ideas and bits of characters that then blend to produce a story. Often, as with Remember My Name or in fact, Little Bones, there’s a plot point that starts me thinking, but with The Mystery of Four, it was more a mixture of things that started with a TV documentary, ended with a significant cat who slipped into the shadows on the first page as I started writing.

sam blake
Sam Blake photo by Alice Rose Jordan

One evening I was in London, and I came back to my hotel room to the end of a documentary made by Trevor MacDonald, who, with a group of crime experts, was tracking down the remains of Fred West’s victims. They strongly suspected that a body had been concealed on a farm, but the owners wouldn’t give permission for them to explore (they weren’t the police). I thought that was a very interesting moral dilemma.

Then I watched the Agatha Christie film ‘Murder is Easy’, set in an English country village with a cast of colourful characters. I bought the book because I was interested that the film makers had decided to insert Miss Marple although she’s not in the original story. That storyline got me thinking about a killer who doesn’t follow a pattern, which often can be the downfall of your average serial killer.

I was looking for a new setting for my next book – Remember My Name was quite urban and I wanted a different pace – I wanted to write a summer book and I love the gossip that can occur in a village, particularly an isolated one. I wanted some colourful characters, individuals from different backgrounds who had all found their way to a beautiful village with all the tensions that make villages fascinating.

I’m in several local Facebook forums, and love reading the posts – I liked the idea that the villagers in my story could be discussing issues that are utterly  tangential or core to the story, potentially misleading each other and the reader.

While being fascinated by village politics I was also very interested in the politics within amateur dramatics groups – which tied in very well with something else – I love quotes and I’ve always loved Doctor Faustus (the play) – it’s the ultimate moral dilemma (back to that) and has some brilliant lines.

As these ideas were coming together, Tess Morgan and began to form in my head. In the Mystery of Four Tess rebuilds Kilfenora House, it’s a hollow shell when she buys it, just like her own life.

Tess has finally returned to Ireland after a long stint in Dubai – her best friend Genevieve Fortune lives in Kilfenora, and shared an Instagram post with her when the house went up for sale. Tess knew it was exactly what she was looking for – somewhere to live but also a business to build, a big project. She needs to rebuild her connections and start again in Ireland. Rebuilding Kilfenora gives her the opportunity to do that.

She has no idea that there is a poison garden in the grounds, that there have been ghostly sightings, or that there’s rumoured to be a curse on the house. She’s focused on its restoration, on navigating a pandemic and opening Kilfenora in its full glory to the public at a grand opening weekend.

Which is where things really begin to go wrong.

Beyond the Kilfenora estate is Kilfenora village, with it’s Facebook group that we see flashes of as the story unfolds. The pub, the doctor’s surgery, the local Spar and the antiques shop ‘Fortune’s Finds’  all feature. The antique shop is run by Gen and her mother, the indomitable and eternally elegant Clarissa Westmacott, a retired actress who went on to become a streaming star.

Clarissa walked straight into the story fully formed – as did Merlin. Tess looks out of her office window in chapter one and sees him slinking through the shadows beside the stable yard. Merlin is actually Clarissa’s cat, but comes and goes as if he lives in Tess’s house. He plays a very important role in the story.

Merlin assisting with editing last summer.

The real jumping off point for this book, the light bulb moment that pulled everything together, was Amanda Lees’ book The Dictionary of Crime (which is essentially an A-Z of how to kill people). I was reading it over breakfast one morning and got very interested in poisons that are readily available but can be untraceable – Agatha Christie was very fond of poison so you can see how the threads are coming together into an Agatha style story.

Against the background of these elements, last year I spotted some paintings on the Saatchi Gallery Instagram feed that I absolutely loved – the women look like they breathing underwater rather than drowning. For me, these three women felt related – sisters – and they were crying out for a story. They made me think of the three furies in Greek myth, so I started researching who they were and what they represented. They are Megaera, who became Meg and represents jealous rage, Allecto – who became Ally who represents anger and Tisiphone who became Laeticia (Tis) in the story. Tisiphone is all about vengeful destruction.

In The Mystery of Four, they don’t all get to play out as full mythical characters, but Meg is very jealous, Ally’s anger is there, but calm anger, and Tis’s vengefulness is more rebelliousness against her very traditional parents – she’s a hippie tarot reader who lives in a camper van which is in stark contrast to her father’s role as the highly respected local doctor who wants to chair the Tidy Towns committee.

These three form the first tier of supporting cast – there are quite a lot of characters in The Mystery of Four so it was essential that they all had a part to play and had distinct voices and characteristics.

They say write what you know – which always makes me laugh – as a crime writer as I’ve never killed anyone,  but I live in Wicklow and although I live at the bottom of the mountains, I wanted the Kilfenora estate to be isolated from the rest of the world. (It’s also very handy in crime to have a location where there are a few internet blackspots.) I hope I’ve been able to create a village and a slightly haunted country house that feels like you could visit it when you put the book down – if you’re brave enough.

(c) Sam Blake

Sam Blake is a multiple No 1 bestselling crime writer who has been shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year three times. The Mystery of Four is out January 5 2023 and the special Eason edition is available here.

Murder is easy … when it doesn’t look like murder.

Tess Morgan has finally made her dream of restoring beautiful Kilfenora House and Gardens into a reality. But the week before the grand opening, her dream turns into a nightmare when a devastating accident looks set to ruin her carefully laid plans. There are rumours that Kilfenora House is cursed, but this feels personal, and increasingly terrifying, as people begin to die in a pattern that mirrors past events.

Could Tess herself be in danger? Clarissa Westmacott, ex star of stage and screen, certainly believes so, particularly when she discovers that someone has been picking purple-flowered aconite in the Poison Garden. And Clarissa will stop at nothing to protect the friend she has come to see as a daughter…

‘Witty, twisty and featuring my favourite antiheroine in a long time’ Alex Marwood

‘Sam Blake’s The Mystery of Four has all the hallmarks of a ‘modern’ golden age murder mystery. A fabulous country house setting, an eccentric cast, and a regular drip feed of dead bodies. Add in an old curse, a determined amateur sleuth, and an ill-omened play and you have an offering that will delight fans of the genre.’ Vaseem Khan

‘A brilliantly twisty thriller featuring three of my favourite things – a country house, a curse, and a cat!’ Roz Watkins

An utterly compelling murder mystery. Perfectly plotted, with echoes of the Golden Age, this is a fabulously clever book. Masterful!’  Victoria Dowd

Pick up your copy and see if you can unravel The Mystery of Four!

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