The Setting in Church Hill

Shortly after Lay Death was released, I did a book talk and signing at The Virginia Shop (Library of Virginia) –a few short blocks from where about half of the action in the book takes place in Richmond. I imagined Kate’s apartment as being on the second floor of a house my brother lived in for several years. Toward the end of the book, she rents a second house, also modeled on a real house in Church Hill.

[Excerpt from chapter four] We arrived mid-morning in the picturesque old part of Richmond called Church Hill, after the church where Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Street in Church Hill

Herringbone sidewalks in Church Hill, in Richmond, Virginia.

The streets were lined on both sides with cars, but I found a parking space within two doors of my apartment. The herringbone brick sidewalk where we got out was heaved up by the roots of a half-century-old magnolia just coming into bloom, drenching the cool air with intense perfume.

The morning was beautiful, quiet and sunny. The houses on my street stand close together or conjoined, and close to the street, with tiny well-kept front gardens of clipped English box, dogwood, and Chinese holly.

My apartment is the second floor of a small, freestanding brick house shaded by an ancient sycamore tree. We climbed a narrow wooden staircase in an alleyway on the side of the house. Pop barely allowed his fingertips to touch the handrail. He hated my place.

Secondfloor apartment

Kate’s second-floor apartment would look like this.

Later in the book, Kate rents a new place (for reasons which I can’t explain without giving away too much of the story). She comes across the house while walking down Grace Street.

[Excerpt from chapter twenty-two:] I passed the old church. Then, half a block later, I stopped in front of a house with a sign: For Lease.

St. John's in Church Hill Richmond.

St. John’s Episcopal Church (white building, far right) from half a block away on Grace Street.

The house was two-storied, narrow, and very old, probably a total of four rooms and a bathroom, maybe a dormered attic. I stepped back and looked up: Yes, that would be fine. A new place was the answer. I went back out on the street. The building was dark red brick with a narrow black iron balcony on the second floor. I got out my cell and called the number on the sign.

Kate's house in Church Hill

Kate’s “safe house” on Grace Street.