What do you get when you combine a decades-old mystery with the idyllic setting of Watch Hill? Finding Mrs. Ford, the debut novel by Deborah Goodrich Royce, which came out this summer from Simon & Schuster Publishing. It’s the story of two college girls, Susan and Annie, who become fast friends and the unsolved mystery that follows them through the next 30 years.
The story travels from a seedy disco in Detroit in 1979, where the girls are waitresses and mobsters are barely disguising their crimes, to Watch Hill in 2014, where Susan Ford is living a quiet life after the death of her husband. A quiet life, that is, until the FBI comes knocking, raising questions about people and events she had hoped to leave in the past.
If Deborah Royce’s name is familiar, you might recognize it from the former actresses’ TV and film credits, like her stints on All My Children and St. Elsewhere. You might also recognize her as one of Rhode Island’s leading philanthropists: Deborah and her husband, Chuck Royce, are investing significant capital into redeveloping historic properties in Westerly, like what is now The Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, The Knick Music Center, and the soon-to-be-reopened United Theatre. They also own Ocean House, the luxury hotel they rebuilt from a derelict building, which makes a small appearance in the novel.
“Watch Hill and Detroit were like characters to me,” Deborah says. She grew up in Detroit, and now splits her time between her homes in Watch Hill and Connecticut. “I hope they’re fully developed, and they’re realistically portrayed places at the moment in which I look at them. I hope other people recognize those places in the way I talk about them from their own lives.”
There are small details throughout that locals will recognize – like the morning cannon salute from Watch Hill Yacht Club at the raising of the flag – that Deborah uses to create a sense of the tiny seaside village. “It’s this magical place that these people are just taking up space for a short moment in,” she says. “Westerly really is an extraordinarily beautiful town.”
Deborah Goodrich Royce is hosting an author event at the Westerly Public Library on October 19, and at Bank Street Books in Mystic on December 11. Her book is available at The Savoy and other local booksellers.