, Newburyport, MA

January 15, 2013

A thriller 16 years in the making

Rowley mom strikes chord with suspenseful tale

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall

---- — ROWLEY — When Connie Johnson Hambley dusted off the draft of her first novel, penned more than 15 years ago, and shared it with a few friends last year, she was pleased with the rave reviews she received.

The feedback inspired her to self-publish her suspense thriller, “The Charity.”

Four months after its release, sales of the book have confirmed it’s a hit with readers.

“I am so excited and pleased with the support I have received for the book,” she said.

The story at the heart of “The Charity” began rattling around Johnson Hambley’s head about 16 years ago when she was an investment banker in Boston.

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about it so I finally wrote it down,” she said.

After that, she put it aside to focus on her family — two boys, who are now in college, and a daughter, who is a freshman in high school.

But all through her professional life that led her down many roads — as a parent advisor for Child Magazine, an adjunct finance professor at Babson College, a chief operating officer for a children’s furnishings company and currently a biotech recruiter — she lived the experiences and visited the places that make the scenes in the book come alive. In fact, it was a business trip to the Great Wall of China last year — a “bucket list” trip — that motivated Johnson Hambley to pull out the first draft and reconsider it.

Set in the Boston area, “The Charity” is about Jessica Wyeth, who is blocked from taking her rightful position in the lucrative family business of high-stakes horse racing by her farm’s manager and top trainer, Gus Adams. When Adams is found brutally murdered, all evidence points to Wyeth. Terrified, she runs and becomes a master at hiding in plain view, but ultimately returns to Boston to search for the truth.

Johnson Hambley explains the story as one “that takes place in the outer ripples of a terrorist act” and how this impacts one character.” She did much research on terrorist organizations to lend convincing factuality to the book, and also wove in the experience of being in banking in Boston, which she said provided some very colorful stories and exposure to interesting schemes.

“These were the threads through which I wrote the story of a regular person in an extraordinary situation,” she said.

She said growing up on a dairy farm in a small town in New York, as well as her 20-plus years living in Rowley on Warehouse Lane also contributed to the “crispness” of the details of the story’s setting.

“What is most gratifying to me is that people have said they think about the book and Jessica long after they have finished reading, and it’s keeping people up all night — in a good way,” she said.

Sue Scheuer of Rowley, who has sold nearly a dozen copies of “The Charity” at her Body Basics Pilates studio in town, counts herself among the fans of Johnson Hambley’s book.

“This is a very interesting book with well-developed characters and setting that you become entrenched in — there are sections that make you cry and other times when you just can’t put the book down,” Scheur said.

For Johnson Hambley, who still works her “day job” as a biotech recruiter, the focus now is on writing a sequel to the book, which will be called “The Troubles.”

Additionally, she is promoting “The Charity” at signings, such as her recent one at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport. Her next signing will be at the Wenham Tea House for afternoon tea on Wednesday, Jan. 23, from 3 to 5 p.m.