Last August, Marcia Talley was a fledgling author whose first book, a "whodunit" titled "Sing It To Her Bones," had been picked up by Dell Publishing and was about to hit the bookstore shelves.
Ten months, three printings and 30,000 sold copies later, Talley, 57, is poised for the release of her second Dell Mystery, titled "Unbreathed Memories."
"I'm kind of stunned," says the resident of the Gingerville community, just south of Annapolis. "You always hope for the best, but this really has exceeded my expectations."
"Unbreathed Memories" also is about Hannah Ives, the sardonic, intrepid Naval Academy faculty wife who has survived breast cancer and a topsy-turvy boat ride that nearly killed her as she unraveled an 8-year-old murder at the end of the last Talley mystery.
"Unbreathed Memories" finds Hannah agonizing over the prospect of reconstructive surgery a year after her mastectomy. Hannah's home on Prince George Street in the Annapolis Historic District is being redecorated along the principles of feng shui by her slightly overbearing sister Ruth, and her parents have moved to the Annapolis area, buying a home on Greenbury Point.
Alas, Hannah's younger sister, Georgina, has begun seeing a Baltimore therapist to combat depression. And once the therapist meets her untimely end, it's up to Talley's super sleuth to ferret out the murderer, even as the hurtful memories stirring to life in Georgina's consciousness threaten to tear Hannah's family apart.
Once again, there's much to admire in Talley's writing. The characters are well drawn, and the dialogue sparkles with Hannah's wit even as it bristles with the full intensity of a family's emotional history laid bare.
The final scene is so sad, yet uplifting in its way, that it confirms anew the reason for the popularity of the "whodunit" phenomenon. Murder mysteries engage us not only for the macabre puzzles they pose, but because the genre has always attracted marvelous writers who tell remarkable stories with the utmost skill.
"Unbreathed Memories" is already turning heads in literary circles. Publisher's Week was flattering in its review, while Romantic Times, a periodical devoted to romances, mysteries and historical fiction, has selected Hannah's latest case as one of its "Top Picks" this month.
The author is hard at work on Hannah's third adventure, which is due at the publisher in October. This next one, she says, will spotlight Hannah's dad, and will be set in Annapolis and on the Eastern Shore in Chestertown. "One of the joys of being a writer," Talley says, "is that you get to spend time in places you really like so you can write about them."
Interesting locales are on her mind. Since retiring from her job as a Naval Academy systems librarian, the writer has spent most of the past six months sailing the Caribbean with her husband, Barry Talley, who has been on sabbatical from his post as director of musical activities at the academy.
As she worked on her third novel aboard their Tartan 37 sailboat, Marcia Talley decided that a change of scenery might be just the ticket for Hannah at some point. "Maybe I'll set the fourth book in the Bahamas," she said with a chuckle. "Of course, I'll have to go back there for more research before I write it."