The Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum, by Ron Benrey
My wife, Janet, and I write cozy mysteries—a genre that has a unique requirement when it comes to setting: Broadly speaking, readers expect the setting to be a character in its own right—unusual, interesting, and playing a central role in the story.
Our “Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries” are set in the fictional Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum—although we’ve spent so much time writing about the institution that think of it as real.
We see it as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the South of England, and also a world center of scholarship about tea history, tea chemistry, and tea tasting.
The Museum was established in 1964 to honor Commodore Desmond Hawker, a 19th Century Master of the China Tea Trade. The institution is really a combination art and natural history museum dedicated to the art, geography, botany, and manufacturing related to Britain’s tea trade and its love affair with tea.
The Tea Museum is housed in an impressive, four-story Georgian-style building on Eridge Road, opposite the Tunbridge Wells Common. It has five major galleries, tea blending and tasting rooms; meeting facilities; a tearoom/restaurant; and a tea garden heated by subterranean steam pipes.
Incidentally, Royal Tunbridge Wells is a real city, roughly 40 miles southeast of central London in England. These days it’s a thriving “bedroom community” for well-to-do businesspeople who work in London.
Tunbridge Wells is often perceived by Brits living in other places as proper and stuffy—the domain of stiff-upper-lipped “retired colonels” who write complaining letters to “The Times” of London signed “disgusted in Tunbridge Wells.”
By coincidence, Janet grew up in The Wells. We located the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum on the very piece of land where Janet lived when she was a teenager. Her family house was later replaced with a petrol station; we saw no reason not to demolish the petrol station in favor of a significantly more attractive edifice.
Here’s a synopsis of “Dead as a Scone,” the first book in our “Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries” series:
Murder is afoot is the sedate English town of Royal Tunbridge Wells … and the crime may be brewing in a tea pot!
Nigel Owen is having a rotten year. Downsized from a cushy management job at an insurance company in London, he is forced to accept a temporary post as managing director of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum. Alas, he regrets living in a small town in Kent, he prefers drinking coffee (with a vengeance), and he roundly dislikes Flick Adams, PhD, an American scientist recently named the museum’s curator.
But then, the wildly unexpected happens. Dame Elspeth Hawker, the museum’s chief benefactor, keels over a board meeting—the apparent victim of a fatal heart attack. With the Dame’s demise, the museum’s world-famous collection is up for grabs, her cats, dog, and parrot are living at with Flick and Nigel—and the two prima donnas find themselves facing professional ruin.
But Flick—who knows a thing or two about forensic science—is convinced that Dame Elspeth did not die a natural death. As Flick and Nigel follow the clues—including a cryptic Biblical citation—they discover that a crime perpetrated more than a century ago sowed the seeds for a contemporary murder.
Ron Benrey writes cozy mysteries with his wife Janet. Ron has been a writer forever—initially on magazines (his first real job was Electronics Editor at Popular Science Magazine), then in corporations (he wrote speeches for senior executives), and then as a novelist. Over the years, Ron has also authored ten non-fiction books, including the recently published “Know Your Rights — a Survival Guide for Non-Lawyers” (published by Sterling). Ron holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a juris doctor from the Duquesne University School of Law. He is a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.