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Read about Joyce's two mystery series: the Betty Trenka series and the Lady Margaret Priam series.

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Interview with
Lady Margaret Priam

JC: I'm meeting Lady Margaret Priam for tea at the Hotel Villa d'Este in midtown Manhattan. I'm going to interview her to find out more about her than appears in the mystery series in which she stars. As usual, I'm late.

I'm late because of traffic, and then I couldn't decide what to wear. I imagined that Lady Margaret would dress at the height of fashion, and I didn't want to look like a poor country cousin, so I decided on a nice-looking gray suit I save for important business meetings. The skirt's a little short, and it's only a Chanel knockoff, but I do have some really good accessories.

Lady Margaret is late too, and she appeared in lobby looking suitable aristocratic and wearing a suit quite like mine, in a greenish tweed, only I suspect it's the real thing. Chanel is timeless, and lasts forever.

LPM: I hope I haven't kept you. I had to run some fabric samples over to one of Gianni Millennia's clients, and she kept talking and talking...

JC: Ah, yes. The backgrounder on you mentioned you were doing some work with an interior decorator. Thank you for taking time to talk with me, Lady Margaret.

LMP: Just Margaret, please. The "Lady" sounds so pretentious in New York, don't you think? Where shall we begin? We'll order some tea. They make it properly here at the Villa d'Este. And bring some of those lovely little sandwiches. (This to the waiter, who seemed especially eager to please, perhaps because, as Margaret mentioned later, she is a close friend of the hotel's owner, Carolyn Sue Hoopes.)

JC: Well, Margaret...I'm sure your readers are wondering how you happened to leave England and end up in New York.

LMP: I've been here for what? Eight or nine years. I was just leaving an unfortunate marriage back home, and I wanted a new life. Happily, an old friend of my father's...

JC: He's the Earl of Brayfield, is he not?

LMP: Was, yes. He died half a dozen years ago, followed shortly thereafter by my mother. A friend of his from the war years, Bedros Kasparian, from whom he'd purchased a number of Chinese antiquities, offered to sponsor me so that I could live and work here.

It seemed like the perfect solution, so I arrived and worked for Bedros at his shop for a few years. Fascinating, so many beautiful things... Then he retired, and I've been picking up informal work since.

JC: Such as solving murders?

LMP (laughs): It's happened that way, hasn't it? But I don't consider sleuthing my profession. I'm more of an amateur meddler who happens upon unseemly crimes that I simply can't let pass. It isn't right, you know, getting away with murder, even in New York.

We're interrupted briefly by the waiter who brings us tea, sandwiches and some delicious looking cakes.

LMP: Lovely! They do a nice tea here at the Villa d'Este. Carolyn Sue is rather an Anglophile, even if she is from Texas, so she makes certain that her hotel does the tea thing right.

JC: I've scheduled an interview with her when she visits New York.

LMP: A wonderful woman and so very rich. Sometimes I wish I had the wealth to buy anything I wanted, but my brother inherited most of the estate, our house, Priam's Priory, and the title, so I must economise and fend for myself. All the free dinners and charity teas I'm always being invited to help.

JC: Tell me something about that sensational murder a few years back at that big charity ball...

LMP: Helene Harpennis. So sad, but she could be a terror, even while doing so much good for the less fortunate. I understand the Harpennis Foundation is carrying on her work. I just happened to be working on her annual gala and of course I was attending the event the evening she died.

I suppose I did help solve the crime, but it was really a matter of logic and common sense. It's odd the way old hurts stay with a person and then suddenly result in something really awful.

JC: Like murder?

LMP: Sadly yes. It's happened several times in my experience. But I'd really rather not dwell on that.

JC: Then let's talk more about you. Likes and dislikes...

LMP: I really like emeralds. I inherited this emerald ring from my mother. And I suppose that green is my favorite color, and Mozart is my favorite composer. I like dry white wine, I've become very fond of your American Chardonnays.

JC: Favorite designer?

LMP: No one special, I love to look at lots of designers, and once or twice I've fallen for something wild by poor Gianni Versace. But you know, I try not to spend a lot of money on clothes. I'm not a rich person, by any means.

JC: And do you own a tiara?

LMP (thoughtfully): What an odd question. I remember wearing at a grand ball one during my debutante season. It must have been Mummy's, because she liked getting togged out in her Countess of Brayfield rig, but they weren't real stones, only paste. It must be stored somewhere for my brother's daughters if he has any. Tiaras are making quite the comeback in this country. I'd say everyone should have at least one tiara. In case it's needed.

JC: Any favorite authors?

LMP: Given my luck in getting mixed up in murders, I'm rather fond of mystery stories. Dorothy L. Sayers, of course, and Agatha Christie. I adore Sarah Caudwell, a delightful woman, quite an eccentric character, even for England. I read quite a bit about art history, in case Bedros summons me back to work, and the decorative arts of course. Let me think... I rather hate flying, so I just clutch the arms of my seat and pray that the pilot knows the proper direction to fly. I like taking holidays in warm, sunny places, I love riding, and I think I'd really like to spend more time home in England. New York is rather frantic and draining.

JC: You mentioned a prior marriage. Any chance that you'll marry again? I hope I'm not being too personal.

LMP: I have a sort of beau, and we've skirted the idea of marriage, but I don't know that I want to make that sort of commitment. Now that I've reached my thirties, the idea of security and having someone to stand by one is appealing. I've no family now except for my brother, the present Earl, and Bedros, who's sort of a grandfatherly old thing, very sensible and wise. I know people think I must lead a gala sort of life, going to committee meetings and parties, and mixing with Society, but it's a life without much purpose. I have to come to terms with that.

JC: So if you went off to have a career, what would it be?

Margaret spends a few minutes thinking about that.

LMP: I do like decorating rooms, and my little job fetching and carrying for Gianni, but I don't enjoy browbeating clients into buying into my personal vision. I suppose what I'd really like is to be a little girl again, eleven or twelve, living at Priam's Priory, which is a great old hulk of a place that used to be a real religious house back before Henry the Eighth dissolved the monasteries. I'd like to be back riding about the estate all day, even if it meant suffering through French lessons with Mademoiselle, then going up to London to shop at Fortnum's and Harrods, staying at Brown's Hotel, although Mummy and Daddy, certainly, preferred the Hyde Park. I remember it all as such fun. The big fire in the Great Hall at the Priory when the winter winds blew, the daffodils blooming in the spring, even the ghosts who flitted about the place from time to time. I guess I'm not grown up at all. Seriously, though, I'm rather good at persuading people to buy things, so I think I'd be a rather good shop girl at a really nice jewelry store. I've had a lot of experience organizing charity events, but I'm not good at obeying the orders of others, especially when I feel they don't have a sound grasp of what's needed. I think I'd really be better than my brother at managing Priam's Priory. We still farm a good deal of the land, and there are the horses and the other livestock. Now you've given me something to think about. What do I really want to do? I can't muddle through life doing nothing.

JC: You can always solve the odd murder...

LMP: How often does that opportunity arise? Wait, I'm not the one to answer that. Perhaps I should buy a little house here somewhere in the country, decorate it and get myself a horse or two and a pig.

JC: And build a big fire in the fireplace in winter and plant some daffodils for the spring.

LMP (smiling): And hire a ghost to entertain me. More tea?

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