A good read

A GOOD book is a particularly welcome gift at any time of the year, but finding a personal connection to an author whose works are especially inviting brings an extra connection to the piece for its readers.

This is certainly the case with three recent mystery novels by the author known as Jean Gillespie, a professional pen name taken on by Isabel Harrar, longtime resident of the Wheeling and West Liberty areas. Now retired from teaching, she spent most of her career on the faculty of Mount de Chantal Visitation.

She also enjoyed the unique experience of seeing her daughter gain her education there and witnessed – for a time – her return to the school as the family’s second generation to teach at the distinguished boarding school.

The author’s husband, Frank Harrar, is also retired from the academic community – but one at a nearby college. He enjoyed a career which included teaching and serving as an administrator on the staff of West Liberty State College for a number of years.

The author is a native of South Lanarkshire, Scotland and makes every effort to return there at least once a year, particularly to feed her writer’s soul.

Much of her tenure at the school was enjoyed during times when its roster included a large number of girls whose homelands were well beyond our national boundaries as it was a popular international girls’ boarding school for most of the years its doors were open.

Harrar has become well known for her personal interest in the St. Clairsville Kennel Club, and for having recently served as its president.

Adding to the Scottish influences surrounding her in everyday life is the loyal companionship of the couple’s gentle Scottish Deerhound, Angus. He is often seen in the company of the author, in her small red convertible sports car.

Now, largely retired from the teaching profession, she has made it a point to participate in life to its fullest with friends and family. This practice includes adventure tourism experiences – one which not long ago found her trekking through ancient ruins in South America with another retired teacher who also spent most of her career on staff at Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy.

While traveling, the writer makes the most of every opportunity to glean ideas for upcoming books through a wide array of research efforts, discovery opportunities, and conversations with friends both old and new.

Evidenced by her detailed descriptions of lands both near and far in the pages of her various novels as they paint the background on which the lives of her characters play out over the pages of her novels.

In addition to building plots for her characters across communities in Scotland, Gillespie has crafted connections for readers to life in England, France, and the United States.

Her third book, “The Road to St. Cecelia’s” is a particularly inviting selection for anyone with personal ties to the Upper Ohio River Valley between Wheeling and Pittsburgh as its pages include numerous references to individuals, locations and highlights of life in this region.

The following, from the book, is just a hint at those highlights: “Raised by a single mother in upstate New York, Susan foster is both stunned and outraged when she accidentally discovers a French birth certificate bearing the same birth date as her own. But it is the discovery of a second one that sends Susan on a search for a sister she never knew existed. From New York to France to rural West Virginia, Susan is relentless in her quest to uncover the web of secrecy her mother has spun to conceal their true identity. Revelations of sacrilege, murder and mental illness do nothing to deter Susan from uncovering the secrets of her mother’s life and her own birth. Susan’s own sanity is kept intact by the loyalty of her best friend and the love of Georges, a young French architect.”

Included in the book’s acknowledgement section is a brief explanation of the very real support given by The Mount religious community and as well as alumnae, parents and supporters of the school, which will forever be known as both an excellent international boarding school for girls and a treasure within the community from the time its doors were first opened at its original site in downtown Wheeling

“I would like to thank the sisters of the Visitation at Mount de Chantal Academy in Wheeling, West Virginia, for their permission to base St. Cecelia’s Academy on the Mount. Appreciation is also extended to the faculty and staff who supported this project. This is a work of complete fiction manufactured in the author’s mind. It is my sincere hope that no one will take offense at the portrayal of certain characters.”

Her novels published to date include the most recent work: “The Road to St. Cecelia’s” and two earlier books: “Secrets of the Powmillon,” and “A Death on Faculty Row.”

All three books are available in paperback and through various sources ranging from Internet mega bookstores such as Amazon.com to the convenience of your local library shelf. They can also be purchased through the author.

Anyone checking the book out from the Martins Ferry Library will enjoy noting it was added to the library’s collection by three residents: a mother and her two daughters. All three are themselves graduates of The Mount.

Her third novel is also special to many local readers as it is dedicated to the memory of another much loved very creative and gifted woman of the arts: actress, singer and jazz stylist: the late Barbara Mayer Good.

All three novels are easily enjoyable – while still thought provoking.

They are her first works to include plots with a broad enough scope that they were able to reach across the ocean to her adopted home in our local region of the Upper Ohio Valley.

Harrar’s local home is in a rural corner of the Upper Ohio River Valley close to several colleges. A fact which prompted many raised eyebrows at the publishing of the first of these three works: “A Death on Faculty Row”.

The book is dedicated to her “wonderful, patient family”.

As a mystery writer Gillespie’s skills, when it comes to constructing a complex plot are exceptional, which goes a long way to assuring readers they will find her works nearly impossible to set aside and great reads for those traveling – or simply kicking back to enjoy a quiet afternoon – whether on the beach, on a favorite window seat at home – or while passing time waiting for younger family members to emerge from a school day or an after school activity.

Her intricately woven mystery novels have been brought to readers through Publish America.

The dedication in “Secrets of the Powmillion” includes the following: “This book is dedicated to the Powmillion waters which have bathed the gentry, powered the Old Mill, lulled us to sleep and hidden and protected the secrets of a special town for centuries.”

The three novels offer authored by Jean Gillespie include solid connections to life in communities large and small across the nation, and are filled with countless scenarios virtually guaranteed to take the reader down unexpected paths to conclusions they can expect to enjoy mulling over. All are a perfect read for just about any book club.

The books are available at www.PublishAmerica.com

Loccisano may be reached at kloccisano@timesleaderonline.com