Kathleen Anne Fleming is among a myriad of Oak Park and River Forest High School alums who have gone on to become successful writers. The Oak Park native, who now lives in north suburban Northfield, has just published her fifth book, Canary in the Coal Chute, a mystery based on the story of the celebrated Lizzie Borden murder case in 1892.
Fleming will do a reading at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 11 at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 Madison St., in Forest Park.
As a young teenager, Fleming became fascinated with Lizzie Borden when she saw the 1975 TV movie, The Legend of Lizzie Borden, starring actress Elizabeth Montgomery.
“This book is a labor of love,” said Fleming, over a cup of coffee at a Glenview café. “I poured my heart out in it. I recognized that Lizzie Borden was filled with rage toward her father,”
She recognized that rage in her own mother, a brilliant woman who suffered from severe depression while Fleming was growing up.
“Lizzie Borden was guilty of murdering her father and stepmother, but she was acquitted because she was a woman,” noted Fleming. “She was abused by her father and I hope the book makes clear that is what I think.”
The story features a character named Collette Browning who travels back in time to the 1890s in Fall River, Mass., where the Bordens were prominent residents. Using a Prairie-style door from a bungalow she had lived in as her magical conduit, she steps back in time to interact with the lives of the Bordens and others who were involved in the case. There she uncovers details of the case and encourages her readers to suspend disbelief as she leads them on an odyssey where she reveals the story’s secrets.
Collette, shares similarities with the book’s author, as she is tall, blonde, wears Bohemian skirts and Victorian jewelry and lives in a small North Shore town named Valley Stream, not unlike several of Chicago’s North Shore burgs. She also has two children and is divorced, as is Fleming.
This book is the largest of Fleming’s four novels, which include The Jazz Age Murders, The Demands of the Dead and Factory of Death, along with a collection of short stories. Her love of writing developed at OPRF High School where she studied under Clara King and former superintendent Don Offermann during the late 1970s. (Offermann taught English before moving into administration.)
“I always appreciated Clara King. She was old school, very demanding, and I think she would be in shock that I have written four novels!” Fleming says with a laugh.
She holds a B.A. in English from DePaul University and is a former member of the Mystery Writers of America. She has taught writing at Oakton Community College, now teaches at the Northbrook Public Library, and has led several workshops on the North Shore.
The book is published by Amazon.com.
— Susan Montogomery