Mystery novel a collaboration

Fiction: A Columbia freelance writing and marketing team has expanded its repertoire.


March 30, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

There's no mystery to Ron and Janet Benrey's talent.

The Columbia couple take very seriously the art of writing -- from their marketing and freelance writing business, Benrey + Benrey, to their new novel, "Little White Lies." Set in the fictitious town of Ryde, Md., the novel marks the debuts of British transplant Philippa Elizabeth Katherine Hunnechurch, better known as "Pippa" to her friends.

"I have always wanted to write fiction and had been dabbling in it," Ron Benrey said as the couple relaxed in their Columbia home. "We had been writing together for our clients, and it seemed like an interesting idea to learn how to write fiction together."

The book, which was released last month by publishers Broadman & Holman, has garnered good reviews. The Library Journal called it: "A solid beginning to a new mystery series for all collections," and Publishers Weekly said the book was "... fast-paced and liberally seasoned with flavorful bits of British culture and dry humor."

The British flavor comes courtesy of Janet Benrey, who arrived in New York from England in 1964 to work in a city, as her husband puts it, where "it was all the rage" to have a British secretary.

She met Ron Benrey, a magazine writer with a background in engineering. The couple married the next year and began a partnership that has produced two sons, a business and an organized approach to writing, which starts with a skeleton of a novel and builds until the work is completed.

"We can work that way because we know where we are going," Janet Benrey said. "You have to start with the structure of a story worked out."

Ron Benrey added: "We write fiction in a way that makes it fairly easy to collaborate. I do something and then I pass it on to Janet. We work almost like a relay race, passing it back and forth to each other."

The couple said friends swear they can detect who wrote what in the book. And many believe -- incorrectly -- that Pippa, a corporate recruiter, is based on Janet Benrey, who was once a headhunter.

"A headhunter is the kind of character who can look around at other people's lives," Ron Benrey said. "A headhunter has a charter to snoop."

Marcia Talley, an author who, along with the Benreys, is a member of the Annapolis Mystery Writers Group, said readers will enjoy the feisty Pippa -- who faces a spiritual crisis, a crumbling economy and a mystery surrounding the death of a colleague."[Pippa] has a wonderful sense of humor," said Talley, who wrote the Hannah Ives mystery series. "I like the fact that she's British and can look at things in America with a fresh eye."

And while the couple have infused the book with an inspirational message, it is not overdone, Talley said.

"This is not a preachy book," she said. "It's a wonderful book that just happens to have a moral underpinning."

Mary Ellen Hughes, another writer in the group, said the Benreys helped her as she wrote her first novel, "Resort to Murder," which was released in December.

"Four years ago, I needed some help with the finer points, and I got a lot of help from Ron and Janet," Hughes said. "They both have their own ways of looking at the writing and they put their finger right on what you need."

They may soon have to sharpen their editing skills for themselves. There are plans to write individually as well as to collaborate on a series about "Kate and Brian Fox," two retired Washingtonians who buy a marina in Oxford.

The Benreys, who also stay busy with church work and sailing their 32-foot sailboat SeaSaw on the Chesapeake Bay, said there are plans for more Pippa Hunnechurch novels.

Until then, they hope that readers enjoy their book and get the message behind it.

"We want them to have a good, entertaining read and maybe afterward have a chance to think about the consequences of lying," Janet Benrey said.

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