My Fixation with Maps and the Star O’Brien Series

My Fixation with Book Maps Began with a Texas -Based Author

I stood in the fiction section of my tiny hometown library, the North Haledon Library, in New Jersey. It was the 1990s. I was at the library scouring the shelves for a mystery novel. I started in the author’s last name “A” section, searching for authors who had more than one book on the shelf (a series or multiple standalones). When I came across such a bonanza of books, I carefully pulled one from the shelf to read the synopsis on the inside of the flap jacket. Then I would consider whether or not, I wanted to read the novel and potentially all the library offered for that author.

By the time, I got to the “C” authors, my neck had developed a crick from holding it sideways as I perused titles and author names. Not only was I feeling achy but a panicked feeling invaded the pit of my stomach with the fear that I wouldn’t have enough reading material for the weekend. Then I noticed several mystery books by an author named, Deborah Crombie. I reached for a Crombie book and drew it from the shelf.

When I opened the front cover to read the flap, my eyes fell upon a map, intricately drawn onto the front cover end paper. The back cover end paper contained the same map. Wow! The map details captured my imagination. I’d been to London several times in my career and loved the history, diversity of place, and density of experiences from the roof top gardens in Kensington to the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

Then, I quickly read the synopsis and the author bio. Interestingly, Crombie was a Texas based author writing mystery novels set in England. Intrigued, I immediately produced my library card and checked out one of the books. I left the library with a feeling of anticipation for a new experience. The accompaniment of the maps deepened my reading pleasure. My imagination soared and I relived memories of visiting some of the very places where Crombie’s characters lived and worked. To this day I’ve read every one of Crombie’s books, featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.

From one of Crombie's Books

Are you a Crombie follower? Do you enjoy the maps that decorate the end papers in her books?

What I Love About Books with Maps

I love the tactile nature of maps; the opportunity to move my fingers along the map to where the action is taking place. Maps allow me to conceptually imagine in my mind’s eye (as Agatha Christie said) the actions of the characters in the story. Maps guide us and take us to a place where we can world build.

It is my opinion that providing a map is a gift to armchair travelers who have a trip to somewhere else (or maybe another time) on their bucket list. Or maybe like me they’ve been there and enjoy reliving the experience through the eyes of the story’s characters.

What is that you love about maps that go with books?

Maps in Mystery Stories Started in the 1940s

The idea of maps in mystery stories was around long before I discovered Crombie’s books. For example, in the 1940s Dell Publishing put maps (called mapbacks) of where the action took place on the outside back covers of their paperbacks. Nowadays these mapbacks are collectors’ items.

The Maps in my Star O’Brien Mystery Series

I knew exactly what I wanted when I (a New Jersey based author at the time) began writing a mystery series set in County Mayo, Ireland. I wanted maps.

I’ve been going to Ireland since I was four years old. I know all the places I write about. The settings are real places in County Mayo including Cong, Ashford Castle, Clare Island, and Turlough village. Each of these places is unique but they also share a richness of beautiful landscapes and Irish history. These places drip with atmosphere. There are legends, dark, brooding woods, treacherous cliffs that end in the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, ancient round towers, and sunken cemeteries.

I’ve gone on walks and hikes in these places. Always with some kind of map or trail guide in hand. So, I wanted my series to include a map for each Star O’Brien book. And it does.

Get a copy of a map to go with your Star O’Brien book

Subscribers to my email list receive a copy of a map to go with each book along with commentary from the amateur sleuth, Star O’Brien. For example, the map that goes with “Death at Ashford Castle” is a map of the walk in Cong Woods, including annotations related to the mystery's inciting event.

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Autumn Days in Ireland

And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.

Oscar Wilde

September 1 marks the beginning of autumn in Ireland. It's a time when the weather can be beautiful. Cooler but not too cool. Or blustery towards the evening. All good as far as I'm concerned whether it's a walk along Barney Road in French Hill or a hike along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Sheep grazing in a field.
Field along Barney Road, French Hill

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness….

John Keats – “Ode to Autumn”

It is autumn again. And as I look at a version of this post from a year ago, I am thinking about the passage of time and seasons. We've all been hit by the pandemic – some of us in very tragic ways. One year ago, I posted a blog message about the autumn season in Ireland. I was feeling melancholy about the fact that a year had passed since I'd been in Ireland.

Here I am again, another year has zipped by without a trip across the pond. Mostly because of the pandemic and caution about putting Bill at risk. Here's a picture of Bill from September 2019 at Café Rua on Spencer street for coffee (that's for me) and a sweet for my sweet, Bill.

Bill at Cafe Rua

The 2019 trip was a wonderful 10 days, seeing my cousins and friends. And, the lovely book signing, for the first book in my series, at the Castle Book Shop in Castlebar, County Mayo.

So much has happened in the last year. We moved my mom, who has dementia, here to Florida so that she can be near me. Bill's ability to see and comprehend diminishes each day. But I'm still grateful, we've managed to avoid coming down with the virus. We still have each other. This is a picture of the three of us having lunch a few weeks ago.

Lunch with Bill and Mom

Time is passing as Keats meant when he wrote his Ode to Autumn. Autumn is beautiful but it also marks the passage of time. We are spinning through the seasons and hopefully soon we will have spun through the pandemic. Some days, it seems like more than two years have gone by. I have to remind myself what time of year it is, especially here in Florida where it is easy to think you are living in perpetual summer. Just today I put out my fall decorations and table cloth to mark that it is October, that time is passing, and we will move forward.

A gentle reminder that is is Fall in spite of 90 degree weather

How are you marking the passage of time? What are you doing for the fall season? How are you marking this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Let me know. I love to hear from readers.

And, until the next time. Keep the love going. – Martha

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Keem Bay Beach Ranked as Number One

Keem Bay, Achill Island just ranked as number one in the world. Just in time, because a heat wave hit Ireland recently with 30 degree centigrade temperatures. That' s about 90 for us folks who use Fahrenheit. Wow! That is hot.

Picture of the Atlantic Ocean and Cliffs on Achill Island
Attribution: (Callum Black / Cliffs near Achill Head)

I've been in Ireland several times when the temperatures heated up. And, without air conditioning in the cottage or the car, it can get downright sticky. But luckily, County Mayo has some of the most beautiful beaches in world. You will find one of several of those beaches on Achill Island. The beach which ranked as number one rests against Keem Bay!

Keem Bay is one of those magical places! To get there, you cross the bridge onto Achill Island. And then you move along “Atlantic Drive”. Whatever you do, keep your eyes on the road. The ocean swirls against the rocky, sharp-edged coast below! You will pass by Ashleam Bay, Dooeega, the Meenaun Cliffs, Keel, Doagh, and then finally at the end of a narrow, corkscrew road, you come to the end of the line: Keem Bay.

Picture of Keem Bay beach on Achill Island.
Keem Bay, Achill Island (Photo author: Sergio on Wikimedia Creative Commons Usage 2.0)

I've been to Keem Bay many times. It's beauty is planted in my brain. I've even dreamed of swimming there with the dolphins.

What about you? Where do you go to in your mind when you need to escape the heat?

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My Cozy Ink Podcast Interview is LIVE!

Excited to share the link to my Cozy Ink Podcast interview. I have to admit I was nervous at first but Leah is a wonderful interviewer. We talked about the series heroine, Star O'Brien and why she is in Ireland. I also shared what it is like to be an American writing a series that is set in another country. Here's the link to the interview:

Leah is the creative force behind and host of the Cozy Ink Podcast interview series. Fans get to listen to their favorite authors about a variety of topics, including new releases, characters, and mystery adventures. Leah also interviews authors about their writing process. I expect that portion of our interview will be broadcast at another time. If you'd like to know about the award winning author, Leah Bailey, you reach her at: Leah Bailey's web site. Leah is also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I do hope you enjoy listening to the interview. Here's the link again: Listen to Martha's Interview with Leah Bailey You may just learn something you don't already know about Star O'Brien.

Happy Listening!

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Yours truly, 


P.S. Please drop me a note and let me know if you liked the interview. Thank you. 

Irish American Mom blog features my guest post

I'm guest blogging on Mairead's Irish American Mom's web site this Saturday, June 5. Be sure to click on over there to read my post. The post is about why I set my books in Ireland. To celebrate, I've donated autographed copies of the first two books in the Star O'Brien County Mayo mystery series. Follow this link to Mairead's web site and enjoy the read.

So, until next time, here's to a great start of your June.