By Holly Sykes

 

American writer, essayist and academic, Katharine Beutner, joined the WiPS Book Club this month to discuss her recent novel Killingly. Set in 1897, Beutner’s haunting story begins with the real-life unsolved disappearance of Bertha Melling, a student at Mount Holyoake in Massachusetts. Intrigue, revelations and terror follow, making it a gripping read for many, including our discerning members.

Katharine began the session with a short presentation about her research for the book. Drawn from history, this mysterious event required a meticulous and robust approach, which Katharine kindly talked us through, detailing the places she’d visited, the archives she’d accessed and the help she’d received from various research assistants and colleagues.

From there, the discussion moved to a fascinating Q&A in which Katharine fielded questions about setting and character, through to queries about her writing practice and her perspective on the wider ethical issue of fictionalizing real-life events. Much to the group’s delight, Katharine also floated the idea of a possible spin-off for Private Investigator Higham, or a sequel following Annie Green, one of the journalists who reported Bertha’s strange disappearance.

Faced with a glut of true-crime stories, as readers are, this literary crime thriller offers a refreshing take on the genre in which intellectually driven young women triumph despite the restraints placed on them by a society that refuses to acknowledge their value. It was an honour to host this award-winning author; huge thanks to Katharine for taking time out of her writing schedule to discuss her book with us.