Thursday, August 31, 2023

Home, Sweet Home? Guest Post by R.J. Koreto

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." So begins Rebecca. The protagonist of my new Historic Homes mystery series, Wren Fontaine, is an architect who specializes in restoring historic homes. No Barbie dream house for her—since girlhood, her goal was to live in Manderley.

Wren knows better than anyone that houses have personalities and they must match the personalities of their owners. An introvert who has trouble reading people, Wren always wanted to live in a beautiful mansion, with beautiful rooms, all by herself.


In Wren's first mystery, The Greenleaf Murders, she is thrilled to land a job restoring a grand Gilded Age mansion. It's now falling apart, but Wren knows she can bring it back to its original glory. She can imagine herself as mistress of the house. But the home has a history of murder—which continues until the present—and she ruefully finds that such extraordinary homes always come with a high price.


In her next mystery, The Turnbull Murders, Wren gets to work on a Federal-style home from 1805, perfection itself in its proportions and design. It once provided a harmonious refuge for a sea captain after a hard life at sea. But a personal disaster stopped him from enjoying his retirement. Today, a movie star has purchased it, and Wren is restoring the home for him, so the actor can have a harmonious refuge from the L.A. crowds. But as a modern murder echoes an old tragedy, Wren realizes the house has long been the center of passionate emotions. The world changes, Wren is forced to conclude, but not homes. And not people.


What is your ideal home? What dream residence matches your personality? Perhaps you want a penthouse apartment with 10-foot windows, giving a view of the city at night. You imagine yourself as a Wall Street tycoon, a mover and shaker, and New York is yours.


Or maybe you want a cottage in the country, with a fireplace to keep the place warm in the winter, and red shutters on the outside. You are at peace with the world, while a golden retriever sleeps on the rug, and tomorrow you can go fishing.


Of course, the many fans of Downton Abbey would love to have a Gothic Revival house with a great hall that could seat 50 people for dinner. You're the Earl or Countess of Grantham, and your family crest is over the entranceway.


Or maybe ultra-modern is more to your taste, stone and wood and plenty of light. Your home becomes the center of a fashionable group, with famous artists and writers coming to your parties.


What would work for you? Have you asked yourself how you might adjust to the personality of your desired home? Wren has to ask herself that again and again, and keeps finding that homes are more complex than she realized once their residents are added. She understands the homes as an architect, but gradually she realizes she needs to grasp how they work with people. She must learn how to work with people herself. 


Fortunately, Wren gets a new perspective when romance enters her life, in the form of a client's cousin, the beautiful and extroverted Hadley Vanderwerf. Wren grows as an architect, but even more importantly, as a person. She gradually realizes that when it comes to murder, homes provide tantalizing clues but don't tell the whole story. One has to understand people too. 


Wren's dreams change over time. She finds herself spending more and more time in Hadley's tiny apartment. She gradually comes to a new realization: Homes are important, but what makes a house a home is less a matter of the architecture and more a matter of the people you share it with.


So let's get back to your dream home. As Wren finds—and as I realized as I wrote the novels—an ideal home is not just about how it’s built. It's about who lives there.


R.J. Koreto
, a writer and award-winning journalist, has published seven mystery novels. His latest books are in the Historic Homes series, featuring architect Wren Fontaine. He and his wife divide their time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha's Vineyard, Mass.




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