Tag Archives: West Africa

Time Travel, by Carole Howard

Back in the day, we wrote letters. On paper. We knew that by the time our friend got the letter – even if we splurged on air mail postage – it would be outdated, but so what?

In the 1970’s, my husband and I were living in West Africa with our newborn, my parents’ first grandchild. I’d write to them faithfully, but by the time they responded to something I’d said in a letter to them (two weeks to get to them, two weeks for the reply to arrive), it took a bit of mental maneuvering to put together my statement (or question) and their reaction (or answer). For example:

I’d write: “Guess what! The baby got her first tooth.”

Then I’d get a reaction about a month later, during which time I’d written three or four more letters home: “That’s so exciting, did she cry? Did she drool a lot? Does she look different? Here’s what I used to do to soothe you when you got your teeth…..”

By the time I read the questions about crying and drooling, she’d gotten four more teeth and I honestly couldn’t remember.

I’m in something of the same position right now because I’m writing this on May 8, way ahead of time, because I leave for a trip tomorrow. You’ll read it on May 23, so all my present-tense statements will be better read in past tense. That kind of time-disconnect wasn’t particularly odd back then, it’s just the way things were. Now it’s a little odd. So let’s pretend we’re “back in the day.”

Dear Blog-Reader,

We’re leaving on a great trip tomorrow with friends of ours that you don’t know. First we’ll be staying in a house with them in Puglia, Italy – think OLIVE OIL – then we take an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik (Croatia’s a brand new country for me) and board a boat for some hiking and sailing along the coast. Back to Rome for one night, then home.

By the time we get home, it better be warm enough to plant our garden! You wouldn’t believe how weird this winter has been. Unnaturally warm, then plunging right down into freezing, and now gradually warming up again. Remember that magnolia in front of the house? The one that has bloomed for 32 years straight? This year, it produced buds, then blossoms…… and then came a killing frost. All the flowers died. Or so we thought. Now we have a regrowth, which delights me even more than the annual blossom-fireworks. I’m enclosing a photo.

I’ll write when I’m back and tell you about the trip. And I hope there will be a letter from you waiting for me!

Arrivederi and Dovidenja,













*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone, set in West Africa.


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Book Review for DEADLY ADAGIO by Carole Howard

Title: Deadly Adagio
Author: Carole Howard
Publisher: Second Wind Publishing, LLC
Genre: Mystery
ISBN: 978-1938101373


Deadly Adagio
by Carole Howard

Book review by Maribeth Shanley

Don’t underestimate this author as, in true adagio fashion, she soothes your mind with her characters.

As quickly as your mind begins to drift into sweet repose, the author jolts you to life as she garrotes you just as the character Margaret is garroted into permanent rest with a violin string. Suddenly all your senses are wide awake and you find yourself in the middle of a perfect storm. Ms. Howard commands you to sit down, shut up and pay attention as she rubs your face and mind in African traditions that rivet refined senses, leaving the reader stunned at the insanity of it all.

I love Ms. Howard’s writing style. When the main character, Emily plays her murdered friend’s violin, one can’t get any closer to the heart of how she felt about her friend. “Emily tucked Margaret, in the form of her violin, under her chin and smiled.” That passage made me smile.

Ms. Howard’s intimate relationship with the English language results in her painting facial features and expressions, human thought and bodily language with strokes that left me thinking … when I grow up, I want to write like her.

Click here to read an: Excerpt From “Deadly Adagio” by Carole Howard

MaribethMaribeth Shanley lives in Myrtle Beach, SC with her husband Bob Bibb. They have three furry and three feathered children. Maribeth is now retired from McCormick and Co., Inc. of the famous spice brand. Once retired she decided to try her hand at writing. “I’ve always loved to write and dreamed of becoming a writer. Never did I imagine, however, it would actually happen.” Shanley is the author of the novel Crack in the World, which is based on her own experiences as a sexually abused child.


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Excerpt From “Deadly Adagio” by Carole Howard

deadlyadagioEmily Radly chafes at being a tag-along spouse while her husband tries out a Foreign Service career in Dakar, Senegal.

When Margaret, her closest friend and fellow violinist in an amateur expat-orchestra, is garroted with a violin string, Emily is devastated. She also fears the official investigative team is leaping to “random anti-American violence” as its conclusion.

Emily delves into her friend’s private life for clues. She discovers Margaret was involved in a campaign against the traditional practice of female genital mutilation. Could that be behind her murder?

She risks a visit to the village where Margaret’s anti-cutting activities were centered. A crude and threatening drawing appears in her purse soon afterwards. When the Peace Corps volunteer in that village is also murdered, Emily is certain her own life is in danger.


When they got to the village, they went straight to the cinderblock clinic to see Nora. She was busy with a pregnant woman, holding a stethoscope to an enormous belly and holding up her thumb and index finger. Nyar,” she said with a grin. Emily knew from the market that nyar meant “two.” The woman was having twins, a harbinger of good luck.

Emily remembered what a shock it had been when her doctor told her she was pregnant with twins. Now, of course, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She shook the pregnant woman’s hand and gave her to understand that she was the mother of twins, too. They smiled energetically enough to make up for the lack of language.

Nora was much older than most volunteers. She embodied a certain solidity, echoed by her short stocky body. Her nose was big and hooked, her skin wrinkled, and her eyes far enough apart to sometimes give her listeners pause as to exactly where she was looking; but her self-possessed demeanor made no apology for her face, and that, in itself, made her attractive.

She took Emily and Walter to pay a courtesy call on the chief. He was old and withered but with a stature befitting his authority. The scarification on his face—which had undoubtedly been done at his initiation rite, some 50 or 60 or even 70 years ago—was elaborate and, in its own way, beautiful. The colorful embroidered cloths that were casually draped around him were similarly ornate.

Nora’s introduction was mostly in Wolof, with a little French thrown in. Emily only knew a few words in Wolof, but she heard ciif, which was easy-—it was Wolof for “Chief”—twice, once in connection with the village chief and once for Walter. There was Jere jef, of course, Wolof for “thank you.” There was an interchange whose words she didn’t understand but whose tone and body language were clearly related to her friend’s death and the chief’s sympathy. She wasn’t sure how Nora introduced her, though she thought she picked up the word ambassade.

Nobody paid much attention to her, so she let her eyes drift and her mind wander. She hadn’t been to many villages or huts, since Pete’s job mostly dealt with the physical housing arrangements of the American dips.

At first, she was diverted by the chickens and the children in the hut. They wandered from the sleeping quarters— marked by their mosquito nets, thanks to Nora—to the cooking area with its fire pit and oddly-shaped cooking implements, to the general open area where the kids and birds took turns chasing each other. She tried to concentrate on what few words she could understand. After a while, like the cooking smoke, her attention drifted upwards.

The roof was built with thin poles like bicycle spokes, but only some of them went all the way to the center, so there was an almost spokeless area of about one foot in diameter. Then the straw was laid on top of the spokes, all the way to the center, and loosely tied in bunches. The light peeked through the thatch, a bit stronger through the center hole, and so did the breeze, but not the bugs, and the smoke from the cooking fire drifted up and out, leaving only its smell.

She stared at it with her head tilted back and one hand behind her neck for support, as if she were looking at the starry sky on a camping trip. Did the Africans attend to the symmetry and balance during construction, she wondered, or was the beauty just a side effect of the functionality?

Something tugged at her pants. She got down to the tuggers’ level and started to talk to the kids, even though she knew they wouldn’t understand anything other than the universals: eye contact, smile, soft voice.


carolehowardAfter a career in which her writing largely consisted of training manuals and memos, in which clarity was the holy grail, Carole is thrilled to be writing fiction and memoir.  She lives in the beautiful and rural Hudson Valley of New York with her husband, and with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren just down the road apiece.

Carole gets around, having been to about 50 countries (so far), including eighteen months spent in Senegal, the setting for Deadly Adagio, while her husband was a Peace Corps Administrator. She has also been in several amateur orchestras, which is territory that, like a country, has its own language, customs, government, hierarchy, and sub-groups.

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Interview with Carole Howard, Author of “Deadly Adagio”

deadlyadagioWhat is your book about?

Deadly Adagio is a murder mystery set in West Africa. The protagonist is the wife of a Foreign Service Officer who’s been yanked out of the life she knew and enjoyed in the U.S. and has no intention of being the good little Embassy Wife. She plays in an amateur orchestra, one of whose members is the murder victim. When she digs into the murder investigation, she finds herself involved in some dangerous advocacy to end a local custom she considers brutal.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I knew I wanted to write a mystery. (That’s because no one told me how really hard it is!) And I knew I wanted it to be set in Africa because many readers told me how much they enjoyed the scenes in my first book that took place there. And I knew I wanted it to involve an amateur orchestra. After that, I had to figure it out. First I decided who the victim would be, then who the murderer would be, and then I had to keep finding and re-finding inspiration. But I did!

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

This is one of those yes/no/maybe answers. None of the characters IS me. But all of them, the men and the women, have aspects of me. And aspects of other people I know, too. (So far, the only one to recognize himself in either of my books is my husband.) Plus there’s some flat-out invention, too, of course. I can’t imagine writing about something or someone whose life experiences I’ve never experienced or observed, though of course I have to bend them around to suit my purposes.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

Yes, I did. I wanted the information about the inner workings of an American Embassy in a small West African country – who does what to whom – to be accurate. For that, I found the perfect book: Inside a U.S. Embassy, by Shawn Dorman. I also wanted some concrete information about the tribal practice I alluded to in the answer to question #1: who, how prevalent, why, why not. This information I found on line. (How did anyone do research before the internet?)

What are you working on right now?

My first novel was a character-driven contemporary novel, and my new one is a mystery. Just to make my life difficult, my work in progress is a different genre entirely: it’s a travel memoir about five volunteer experiences, each about two months long, in different and fascinating places in the developing world. There are scenes about tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda, about sex workers educating their colleagues about HIV/AIDS, about gender issues in Thailand, about the magic of zip-lock bags, and a whole lot more.

What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

Finding the right voice. People tell me I’m pretty funny in person, spunky and irreverent. Sometimes, when I write, though, I get so serious. Solemn, even. Yeck. So one of my main goals in revision is to nail the tone, usually by lightening it up.

What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre?

I mostly read fiction, largely contemporary fiction. My favorite kind of book is one in which – in addition to memorable characters and a gripping plot – has interesting information about something I knew nothing about, like glove-making in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral or book restoration in Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book. That’s why I set Deadly Adagio in West Africa, where I’ve lived. I know from experience that things I found “normal” while living there are fascinating and even exotic to folks who haven’t been. I also wanted to include the politics and behind-the-scenes maneuvering of an amateur orchestra because I think most people don’t know anything about it. They think it’s just pretty music.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

Even though I just said my favorite genre is fiction, the book I wish I’d written is something else entirely. It’s Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. She was a divining rod for the intersection of funny, serious, profound, perceptive…. and irreverent. She just nails it every time.


If your book was made into a TV series or movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?

I love this question! For some reason, I’d steer away from the very-famous and very-glamorous actresses (I know Angelina Jolie is going to be devastated by this news) and go with Amy Adams. (Pretty famous and not too shabby in the looks department.) For her husband, I’d go with James Franco. Or maybe Toby Maguire. They’ll just have to duke it out.

Where can we find out more about you and Deadly Adagio?

My author page at Second Wind Publishing:

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