- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2020

MYSTIC, Conn. (AP) - New York Times best-selling author Luanne Rice was at the center of much excitement for those who packed into Bank Square Books on Feb. 1 during the inaugural gathering of The Day’s new regional book club, Read of The Day, in partnership with the bookstore.

Rice, who launched her newest release, “Last Day,” that afternoon, conducted a question-and-answer session with Day Staff Writer Rick Koster to discuss the debut of her first thriller and its timely themes of family and domestic violence. The book also features Rice’s signature theme of sisterhood.

The story takes place in Old Lyme, New London and Mystic and is packed with local lore. It takes readers through the grief of those who loved Beth - the murdered woman at the center of the story - and their journey to find her killer, as well as the haunting significance of a missing painting.

The book is loosely based on the widely publicized Ellen Sherman murder case that happened in the Black Point neighborhood of Niantic in 1985. Rice told The Day after her question-and-answer session with Koster that she closely followed and attended the trial in that case, as her then-husband and stepdaughter were key witnesses.

It was discovered during the trial that Ed Sherman attempted to elaborately cover up the murder by making it seem like his wife was killed while he was on a sailing trip that had started in Rockland, Maine. Rice’s ex-husband, Henry, also went on that trip and drove with Sherman to Maine.

Five years later, Rice said she was in the car on the way to the former Cherrystones restaurant with Henry - with whom she is still close and who was at Saturday’s launch - and his two daughters, when the younger daughter, after hearing Ed Sherman would be tried in New London Superior Court in the murder said, ‘Dad, do you think Mr. Sherman really killed Mrs. Sherman?’”

“And Henry said, ‘Of course not, Mads, he was with us the whole time. From the minute we picked him up from the house, he was with us and he called her from our kitchen and said goodbye,’” Rice said. “But then (his other daughter) said, ‘But Dad, I picked up the extension and he was talking to a ringing phone.’”

“She became a star witness,” Rice said. “And (Ed Sherman) was convicted.”

“Of course it affected all of us,” Rice continued. “He had left her body in an air-conditioned room. He strangled her. He made it look like a rape. … He turned up the air conditioner as high as it could go.”

The case has stayed with Rice ever since, she said, but only managed to permeate her writing more than a year ago - more than three decades after the murder - while she was visiting Rockland, Maine - the same town Ed Sherman left for to go on his sailing trip with her ex-husband.

“Maybe that’s part of it. I went up to Rockland, Maine, to write,” Rice said. “I stayed in this hotel called 250 Main Hotel and it looked right out at the harbor, and I kept thinking, ‘That’s where they left from.’ And I probably fell asleep thinking about it and I woke up and started writing it. It was a geographical situation.”

Having never written a thriller before, Rice, who lives in Old Lyme and is internationally known for her 34 New York Times best-selling adult and young adult novels, also told Koster on Saturday that when she started writing this book, she didn’t know it would turn into a thriller.

“I started writing a novel about a family, and I did have in the back of my mind the story of the Ed and Ellen Sherman murder,” Rice said. “And I wound up having a bad thing happen, and then really not knowing who did it.

“Even though it’s based on a true story, I took a lot of liberties and a lot of side trips,” Rice continued. “When I’m writing a novel, I never know the ending. I don’t plot, I don’t do an outline. So, it surprised me, too, the killer. I was shocked.”

Neither did Rice know that her book would serendipitously coincide with recent news stories involving domestic violence murder cases, citing Jennifer Farber Dulos, a mother of three who disappeared and was presumed killed by her estranged husband; the Todt family of Colchester, who police say were killed by husband and father Anthony Todt in Florida in December; and victim Jason Beck of Norwich, who allegedly was stabbed to death by his partner, Jeffrey T. Stovall Jr. on Jan 15.

“There have been some terrible, terrible domestic violence crimes,” Rice said during her question-and-answer session with Koster. “The list just goes on and on. … This is something that’s really in my heart.”

The book club, which was conceived by Koster, was accepted with open arms by those at Bank Square Books, owner Annie Philbrick said Saturday. Seeing an opportunity to further connect The Day’s staff with the broader community, Koster said the plan for the book club is to have various Day staff reporters host author interviews pertaining to their personal expertise. For example, Day defense reporter Julia Bergman will interview an author who is coming in May. Day marketing staff members Jaclyn Nardone and Doreen Madden helped bring the club to fruition.

Koster said he thought up the book club as a way to highlight renowned authors living in the area - there’s Wally Lamb, Beatriz Williams and David Handler, to name a few - as well as one of the “premiere” independent bookstores of the region. Bank Square Books, which opened in the late 1980s, has been a gem for the region, Koster said, and because it sits directly between New York and Boston, it acts as a prime area to catch renowned authors traveling between the two cities on book tours.

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