Cape Menace is a historical mystery novel set in 18th century Cape May County. The twists kept me turning pages. I truly thought that I knew who the “bad guy” was—wrong! The author, bestselling mystery writer Amy M. Reade, happens to live in our wonderful county and answered my questions about her inspiration, research into Cape May County’s history, and what she’s working on next.
This Q&A does not contain any major spoilers.
What made you choose 18th century Cape May County as the setting?
Cape May (originally called Cape Mey) was first explored by European settlers in the early part of the seventeenth century, though Native Americans had lived in the region long before that time. Since the books in the Cape May Historical Mystery Collection will be set throughout Cape May’s history, it made sense to start in the early days. I set the book decades after the initial settlement of the region, though. It would have been too far-fetched to set Cape Menace in the Cape May of the 1600s, since there were so few people living in the area at the time.
But by the early eighteenth century there were enough people living on the cape that I could populate a story with possible suspects and still keep the story true to the makeup of the county at that point in its history. It was fascinating to learn about how people lived in the seventeenth century. As the mystery collection moves forward through time, I hope to depict not only Cape May’s history, but also the growth and industrialization of southern New Jersey in general. Setting a story in the early 1700s gives readers a good place to start in tracing Cape May’s development.
Why did you choose Town Bank specifically?
Town Bank was one of the original names of the settlement that was located on the New Jersey cape back in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It was also known by the names New England Town, Portsmouth, Falmouth, Cape May Town, and Town. Town Bank is simply the name I chose to use in the book.
Where was the settlement located?
The original Town Bank was located along the banks of Delaware Bay, about four miles north of Cape May Point. That settlement was lost to erosion over the years and now sits at the bottom of the bay about a half mile from the current shoreline. It could last be seen in the mid-eighteenth century.
The part of Delaware Bay I wrote about in Cape Menace was located about four miles north of Cape May Point.
What inspired you to write the book?
My husband inspired me to write Cape Menace. He suggested that I write a book about where we live. My first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, was set in the Thousand Islands region of New York State, where I grew up. It seemed only right to set a story in the place where I live now. I couldn’t decide which time period to tackle, so I opted to write a collection of books that would allow me the ability to explore different eras of Cape May’s history.
Cape Menace took about two years to write because I was working on several other projects at the same time. Since I had regular deadlines to meet for other novels, it was hard for me to devote as much time to Cape Menace as I would have liked at first. But now that the first book has been released, I’ve prioritized further books in the collection so I should be able to release at least one Cape May book every year for the foreseeable future.
I should note that the books in the Cape May Historical Mystery Collection will all be standalones. In other words, no book in the collection will be connected to any other book except through the setting. Readers can choose the time period they’d like to read about without having to worry that they’ve missed the story that came before it.
What kind of research did the book require?
Research is one of my favorite parts of writing any book, and Cape Menace gave me the opportunity to visit some interesting places and check out some local history books I hadn’t seen before. One of the places I visited was Cold Spring Village. It’s a great place to immerse oneself in history and the long-ago lifestyle of the area. I also visited the Colonial House in Cape May (also known as the Memucan Hughes House, part of the Greater Cape May Historical Society), where Kate Wyatt was a huge help answering my questions and pointing me toward other sources of information. I attended a great lecture given by Jim Stevens at the Avalon Historical Society and I visited the Museum of Cape May County.
I also visited Colonial Williamsburg to learn more about the art and science of apothecary.
There are also some great written resources about Cape May County, and one of my favorites is Cape May County, New Jersey: The Making of an American Resort Community by Jeffery M. Dorwart. I visited several of the county libraries in search of information, too, and found a treasure trove of old Cape May County documents through the Cape May County Library.
Was there an interesting fact that you were unable to use for the story?
There were lots of fascinating pieces of information that I wasn’t able to use in the story. For example, I spent a great deal of time learning about centuries-old healing arts and the use of herbs to heal and treat injuries and illnesses. I have pages of notes about herbs, vegetables, and even weeds that were used by physicians and apothecaries, though I was only able to use a small percentage of that information in the book.
I also learned a lot about the pirates who plied their ships along the inlets and coves of the Delaware River and Delaware Bay. There is a long-standing rumor in this area that Captain Kidd buried treasure in Cape May County, but I did not reference that information in the book.
If I had to pick my favorite fact that didn’t end up in the story, it would be that many of the footpaths used by the Lenni-Lenape and Kechemeche Indians long before European settlers arrived in southern New Jersey have now become the roads we use today. To think that these Native Americans traveled along the same routes thousands of years before anyone thought of settling along the New Jersey cape is fascinating to me.
Were the characters based on historical figures? What about the ships mentioned?
I did not base my characters on any historical figures that I’m aware of.
The ships in Cape Menace were fictional, but they were based on real ships, both pirate ships and whaling boats, that would have plied the waters around Cape May at that time in history.
Is there a historic basis for the witch referenced in the novel?
There was a woman named Goody Garlick who lived on Long Island in the seventeenth century. She was skilled in the use of herbs for healing, but people in her community accused her of practicing witchcraft when certain events, such as the spoilage of a cow’s milk and the death of a very sick young woman, occurred close in time to Goody Garlick’s presence. She was eventually released for lack of evidence, and her then-husband posted a large sum of money as insurance that his wife would behave in the future.
When her first husband died (presumably of natural causes), Goody Garlick remarried. She continued to be accused of witchcraft by townspeople whenever anything went wrong, so in time she and her new husband moved to Cape May County. They lived out their lives peacefully and raised their child, Lydia, in the area that would later become Rio Grande. No one knows where Goody Garlick is buried.
Was there ever an apothecary in Cape May County?
As far as I have been able to determine, there was not an apothecary in Cape May County at the time in which Cape Menace is set. It is rumored that the first doctor in the county was Richard Smith, who arrived in the area in 1705 with a license to practice “Cirurgery and Phisiq.” I haven’t been able to find anything else about Dr. Smith. There is some evidence that doctors and other medical practitioners, such as apothecaries, were not common in this part of New Jersey until the nineteenth century.
Did it really take two days to get from Philadelphia to Town Bank?
It took at least two days to get to Philadelphia from Town Bank. There were no roads at that time, so the journey took travelers through woods and wilderness, around and across bodies of water, and into some very unforgiving territory. Even decades later (just prior to the Revolutionary War), it took one gentleman from the county four days to get to Princeton by horseback because he became lost along the way in the snowy wilds.
On your website, you have playlists for some of your novels. Is there a playlist for Cape Menace?
I cannot listen to music with lyrics I recognize while I write, so I listened to classical music, French traditional music (no particular reason—I just like it), and a great CD of American colonial music from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is currently trapped in my broken CD player, or I’d give you the name of it. Here are the names of a few CDs and songs that are similar to the ones I listened to while I wrote Cape Menace:
- “Colonial America” (CD) by Hesperus
- “Early American Roots” (CD) by Hesperus
- “American Colonial Instrumental Music” (CD) by various artists
- “Flambée Montalbanaise” by Gus Viseur
- “La Mer” by Charles Trenet
- “Fausse Monnaie” by Gus Viseur
- “Chanson Pour L’auvergnat” by Georges Brassens
- “Je Suis Seul Ce Soir” by Swing 41
- “La Vénus Du Mélo” by Stacey Kent
And the list goes on …
If your book were made into a movie, who would play your main characters?
This is such a fun question. If I were a casting director for my own book, I would pick these actors:
- William: Jude Law
- Sarah: Taissa Farmiga
- Richard: Timothée Chalamet
- Goody Reeves: Ashley Judd
- Pastor Reeves: Jeremy Renner
- Arthur Reeves: Miles Heizer
- Patience Ames: Shailene Woodley
- Captain Eli: Harrison Ford
- Widow Cooper: Kimberly Williams-Paisley
I saw that you like wine and suggest pairings with your previous novels. Is there a wine you would pair with Cape Menace?
I do love wine. If I had to choose just one wine as a go-to, it would be Conundrum, a California red blend. I would have to pair this book with a wine from Cape May County, of course, so I would choose the Natali Vineyards’ Rosé (2017).
What’s your favorite book?
If I absolutely had to choose one book to be my favorite, it would probably be Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s a Gothic masterpiece that I can read again and again, and each time I read it I find new things to admire that I didn’t notice before. Everything from the characters to the setting to the suspenseful plot is engaging and thrilling.
You live in Cape May County. Outside of here, what is your favorite travel destination?
My favorite travel destination outside Cape May County is Scotland. I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice and each time I fell hopelessly in love with it. The Highlands are my favorite region, but I also love the Isle of Skye and the eastern coastal towns.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
This is an easy one. If I won the lottery, first I would buy the house that was the inspiration for my book House of the Hanging Jade. It’s located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii and it is nothing short of breathtaking. When I wrote the book, the house was on the market for thirteen million (!) dollars. It’s on the market again and has come down in price, but I would still need to win the lottery to own it. I would invite all my newsletter subscribers to come for a vacation.
Next, I would set up a trust for my church, then I would fund my son’s Boy Scout troop for the next ten years.
How do you balance writing and family life?
My family is very supportive of my writing and everyone honors the time I have to spend holed up at my desk or at the library (pre-COVID). I do try to stop work every day by early evening, but depending on where I am in the writing process, sometimes I have to work into the night. One of the many great things about being a writer is that I can work anywhere and set my own hours, so if someone needs me, I can be there.
Finally, what are you working on currently?
I’m currently working on three projects. The first project is the second book in the Cape May Historical Mystery Collection. I don’t have a working title yet, but it is set around the time of the Revolutionary War. I’m still in the research phase of that book.
The second project is the second book in my Libraries of the World Mystery Series, in which I use special library collections from around the world to commit or solve a crime. The first book in the series, Trudy’s Diary, used the dime novel collection from the Library of Congress. The second book, Dutch Treat, uses collections from the New York Public Library. I just recently scrapped almost everything I had written (half of a full manuscript) and started over, so that book is still in its early stages.
The third project is the fifth book in my cozy mystery series, the Juniper Junction Holiday Mystery Series. The working title of that book is MayDay! The fourth book in the series, Ghouls’ Night Out, will be released on September 15, 2020.
For more information about Cape Menace and Amy M. Reade’s upcoming works, visit amymreade.com.