Author Archive for Agatha – Page 2

Author Interview: Nancy Herriman

Nancy HerrimanNancy Herriman has written several novels, and has now turned her pen to Elizabethan England and a new character, herbalist Bess Ellyott.

Q: Can you talk about your career a little bit? Looking through your publishing output, I see you had two earlier books that seem to fit the romance category and then you switched it up to writing mysteries. Can you talk about that trajectory?

A: I can, and it was a lengthy trajectory! For ten-plus years I tried my hand at various genres—sexy historical romance, historical young adult fiction, contemporary women’s fiction and romance—to no avail. At last, though, my agent found a publisher interested in a “sweet” historical romance I’d written that was set in 1830’s London. The Irish Healer was my first sale. Unfortunately, the publisher closed its fiction line a short few years later, leaving me searching for a new direction to go. Knowing my love for mysteries, my agent suggested I work on one. I did, and she succeeded in selling my first mystery series, “A Mystery of Old San Francisco,” to Penguin Random House. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Q: Your new novel, set in 1592-93 England, takes place mostly in Wiltshire. Why did you choose that area, instead of the more familiar (to readers) London?

A: I suppose I simply wanted to do something different. Wiltshire is a lovely part of the country, and its ancient history of henges (Stonehenge is located in the county) and mysterious “druid” mounds will come into play in the next book in the series.

Q: Why did you make your central character an herbalist?

A: I don’t seem to be able to help myself! The central character in my first novel is a healer. The female sleuth in in my San Francisco books is a nurse. And Bess Ellyott is an herbalist. A woman with medical knowledge and who regularly encounters death—sometimes suspicious death—seems, to me, to make the perfect sleuth. Plus, I am fascinated by historical medical practices, which I can’t explain.

Q: You are really good at creating an environment, with many of characters of varying degrees of importance to the story as well as the setting itself, down to the food and smells. Can you talk about how that works a bit, or is it simply unexplainable writerly magic?

A: I’ll take “writerly magic” as an explanation! I delight in trying to recreate the sights and sounds and smells of a place, hoping to make the setting more real, more palpable. Admittedly, that requires some imagination on my part, but it’s certainly the aspect of writing I most enjoy. I’ve been lucky to discover contemporary descriptions that help with the task. I do think, though, that Tudor Wiltshire was a tad more stinky than I’ve so far indicated. I need to fix that.

Q: Have you always read mysteries? And if so, what writers have been a particular influence on your work?

A: I’ve been reading historical fiction and mysteries since I was a teenager. Some of my favorite authors are Agatha Christie (of course!), Lindsey Davis and her witty Roman mysteries, the incomparable and much missed Elizabeth Peters, as well as Ruth Downie’s fabulous Medicus series. If I could write even half as well as those ladies, I’d count myself fortunate.

Q: You seem to be setting up threads to follow through for the next book, particularly relating to Bess’ first husband and how he met his death. Can you share any details without giving anything away?

A: In Book 2, Bess will continue to be forced to confront, albeit remotely, the man she believes murdered her husband. Believe it or not, even I have yet to understand the circumstances surrounding Martin Ellyott’s death. For me, the true magic of writing mysteries is allowing the characters to reveal their actions as I write. I’ve more than once discovered that the real killer was not the person I originally intended. Which does force a lot of editing.

Q: Elizabethan England was a particularly brutal time. The way laws were enforced, and the things that were punished (and the degree of punishment) are so different. You illuminated that especially well with the scene with Bess and Richard Topcliffe, who you mention in an afterword was a real person. Can you talk about what drew you to the time period?

A: I have always been intrigued by the Medieval and Tudor periods. Since the common assessment seems to be that their lives were nasty and brutal, I’ve sought to understand that assessment. Are we really today so different or so much better? People then lived on the razor’s edge, wary and fearful of what tomorrow might bring and with precious little resources to protect themselves against that uncertainty. They could ill afford any disturbance that might upset the precarious balance of their lives and their neighbor’s’ lives. If we were put in the same situation, might we not behave similarly? I long to give them the breath to speak to us about who they were. I’m convinced we’d find them not so different from ourselves.

Q: Finally, what’s next for you? Can we look forward to another Bess book?

A: Another Bess book is indeed in the works. It will be out in March of 2019, if everything goes to plan. A traveling actor is found murdered on the summit of a mound long thought to be a druid temple. Rumors of witches and mysterious doings follow.

Thank you, Nancy!

Nancy Herriman: Searcher of the Dead

Searcher of the Dead by Nancy HarrimanAs Nancy Herriman proved with her books set in 1860’s San Francisco, she is an able and entertaining storyteller, no matter what the era. She’s changed her setting to Elizabethan England, and given readers Bess Ellyott, a widowed herbalist living with her brother. She’s fled London after the suspicious death of her husband and finds herself attempting to comfort her distraught sister, who insists her husband is missing.

As Bess and her brother try to calm their sister Dorothie, they must wait to look for him, as there’s not only a curfew in place, it’s very foggy. When morning comes and her brother-in-law is nowhere to be found, her brother Robert, Dorothie and Bess all set out to search and unfortunately find the man hanging from a tree. A ruling of suicide was devastating; not only could the body not be buried in a church graveyard, all the property of the dead person was confiscated by the crown, and as suicide (or felo-de-se) is in fact the verdict of the coroner, Dorothie sets down to a glum watch as her household is dismantled.

Like any detective worth her salt, however, Bess is not only certain she saw something proving murder on the dead man’s neck, she’s willing to break curfew and dig him up to prove her point. She’s helped out by the local constable (who seems to be sweet on her) and together they set out to prove that the death was murder, not suicide. She’s undertaking all of her investigations while her brother is out of town, and she’s in charge of the household.

Suspicion seems to fall on a local Catholic family, especially as there seems to be some kind of mysterious Jesuit lurking in their woods, and when Bess is called to attend to an injury suffered by one of their servants, she is able to do a little detecting while she’s binding a cut. Her volatile sister is little help, and her niece, infatuated with the scion of the Catholic house, is torn, but Bess and the constable work well together to piece together a solution.

Part of the interest and charm of this novel comes from the time period, and from Herriman’s exploration of customs and mores different from our own. She’s also adept at creating a vivid setting and then in filling that setting with interesting, believable and fleshed-out characters, something that adds depth to any novel, and it certainly does to this one. Moreover she sets a brisk pace for herself with lots of action and twists of the plot. This is an excellent start to a new series.

Laura Joh Rowland: A Mortal Likeness

A Mortal LikenessThe second novel in Laura Joh Rowland’s Sarah Bain series, this one has no need to establish character and setting. It just takes off. Sarah, a photographer, is now working with her friend Lord Hugh as a private detective with a minimal amount of success so far. As the book opens, the two are on the trail of an adulterer, who they follow to the Crystal Palace in hopes of catching and photographing him in a compromising situation. This part of their scheme goes well, and the two take off when the man spots them and chases them off.

When Sarah goes home to develop the photographs, they have clear evidence of wrongdoing for the man’s wife to take to court, but Sarah notices a man in the background who appears to be her long-lost father. She can’t help but return to the Crystal Palace the next day to look for him, but when she gets there she finds the couple has not only been murdered, but they seem to be somehow tied to the kidnapping of baby Robin Mariner, the son of the powerful Sir Gerald Mariner.

Sarah and Hugh decide to take their information to Sir Gerald rather than the police (a sticky wicket, as Sarah’s beau is a policeman) and Sir Gerald hires them on the spot to come to his home and see if they can solve the crime. He suspects a family member, not an outsider, despite the evidence of a ladder outside the nursery window the night of the disappearance.

The two are also required to sign a confidentiality agreement, so Sarah leaves for Sir Gerald’s without telling her policeman boyfriend where she’s headed. She just tells him she’s “visiting a friend.” They also leave in the lurch young Mick, a homeless boy who has recently moved in with them. They give Hugh’s valet with instructions only that Mick should continue to attend school.

To say Sir Gerald’s household is dysfunctional is an understatement, as it’s filled with resentful adult children from other marriages as well as his new young wife (mother of Robin) and her sister, Tabitha, as well as a psychic Lady Alexandra keeps around to help her communicate with Robin. Sarah and Hugh are resented by Sir Gerald’s butler who is loath to give them any inside track on the inner workings of the household.

As they begin their investigation they are hampered in their efforts by a serious fire in their rooms and the death of a member of the household. Rowland is adept at creating a setting, and she’s created some very sturdy and interesting characters to center her series on. Mick of course shows up halfway through the proceedings.

The family dynamics of this story make this very much a psychological mystery, and the resolution is both surprising and creepy. Rowland also left a nice fat juicy thread to pursue in the next book – Sarah still has not found her missing father. There is plenty to discover and relish in this very enjoyable book.

Mignon Eberhart: Forgotten Titan

She knew that something was happening in the house.

To me that line, the first one from 1944’s Escape the Night, is probably the ultimate Mignon Eberhart sentence. Eberhart, little remembered today, was once called “America’s Agatha Christie,” and wrote almost sixty novels, the first published in 1929 and the last in 1988 when she herself was 88.

On one of my buying trips to the local library bookshop I came across a nice uniform set of about ten of her titles, bought a couple of titles I knew I hadn’t read (Robin’s voice in my head admonishing we have ENOUGH books) but remained haunted by the others, ending up browbeating a kindly old lady into selling me the rest before the shop opened the next day. And excepting the browbeating stuff, I am very glad I did, because these are the perfect books for the snowy, cold, fluctuating fluey winter we’ve all been suffering through. I’ve been savoring them one by one like that box of Christmas truffles that didn’t last half as long.

The ones I’ve read were written at a brisk clip from the early forties to the early fifties and are all stand-alones, but share common themes and elements, giving both a suspenseful unpredictability and a comforting familiarity.

First of all, there’s the house, usually a big and old, like the gothic ones in Rebecca or Jane Eyre, familiar to the protagonist yet filled with creaks, secrets and strange things hiding in strange places.

In that house are the long time owners, a family, their dependents and their childhood circle of friends, friends familiar enough to seem, for better or for worse, like family. Most importantly there is a man and a woman, who know they love each other, but can’t get comfortably together because of circumstances and various complications, the crucial complication being, of course, murder.

Murder had walked in that house and the house remembered it.

[Another Woman’s House, 1947]

She was murdered about twilight with the shadows of fog and coming night blurring trees and shrubbery together in an amorphous mass that seemed to advance and watch and then retreat, like unwilling witnesses who would not come forward.

[Hunt With the Hounds, 1950]

Because her protagonists aren’t hard boiled private detectives or nosy old ladies who habitually trip over corpses, Eberhart can express the panic of regular people whose lives are upended by crime.

It took a while to get a fact like murder into one’s mind. It took a while to drag one’s self out of that dreadful pit of confusion and darkness and horror.

[Escape the Night, 1944]

Naturally, things are more horrible when the victim is someone close to you, and even more horrible when the killer may well be, too. The worst part of all is that the killer is probably still in the house with you.

But there were not many other people who knew her well enough to hate her. Murder implies a certain intimacy. Hatred implies a dreadful fellowship.

[House of Storm, 1949]

And that’s another thing that strikes me about Eberhart’s work — the intimacy of it, the domesticity. It’s an interior world, one where breaks in the case come not from some tough guy shuttling around to punch a mug in the kisser, but from the small, feminine things that few men even notice: a new bracelet, an old scarf or a strangely familiar “small locket in black enamel and pearls.” The tension comes from people standing in the drawing room trying to carry on with the formalities amid the ultimate uncivilized act, questioning or accusing glances and veiled insinuations striking with as much force as bullets. Her plots remain crackerjack, her observations acute.

It’s impossible to picture now how huge and unquestioned Eberhart’s stature was from her first book until the time she died. Maybe it’s the fact that her usual milieu was the haunts of the upper class makes her seem less authentic to contemporary tastemakers, but few have heard of her and even fewer have read her. She even remains invisible to those dedicated to rediscovering midcentury women authors, who find the bald misanthropy of Patricia Highsmith and the like far more pertinent to our present Gone Girl line-up of damaged, unreliable and violent anti-heroines. But, as Nancy Drew proves, there will always be a place for a plucky, honest female who finds herself in the midst of mayhem.

When Dorothy Hughes was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, Eberhart wrote these words, which certainly apply to herself as well:

I appreciate the fact that Mrs. Hughes introduces characters who spring from the framework of a specific story, ones who act intentionally or even unintentionally to discover and prove the guilt of the murderer (and this is very important: we don’t just assume guilt — we have been presented with enough evidence to sway a jury).

Hughes in her turn, writing of Eberhart, who’d been made the second female Grand Master (Agatha Christie being the first) seven years earlier:

A Mignon Eberhart novel, without need of a mystery plot, would stand on its own, a mirror of the modes and manners of the twentieth century.

A simple, subtle sentence from Another Woman’s House illustrates the point perfectly:

She peeled her stockings with, since the war, habitually careful hands.


Deanna Raybourn: A Treacherous Curse

The third novel in Deanna Raybourn’s delightful Veronica Speedwell series finds Veronica busily at work with her buddy, Stoker, sorting donated artifacts for a proposed new museum sponsored by their patron Lord Rosmorran. They live on his estate and Veronica is also able to pursue her own passion, butterflies. Set in 1888 London, the whole country is in the grip of Egyptology, as fabulous artifacts and tombs were frequently being unearthed by wealthy British who brought them back to England for display and sale.

Veronica and Stoker are not immune to an interest in Egyptology, and when Stoker’s former wife appears to be at the center of a controversy with a missing husband as well as the missing diadem of an Egyptian princess, Veronica is keen to solve the puzzle and save Stoker’s reputation, which has only recently recovered from a beating. Their queries take them first to the leader of the expedition, Sir Leicester Tiverton and his family – his second wife, his difficult adolescent daughter, Figgy, and a family hanger on, Patrick Fairbrother, an assistant to Sir Leicester in their expedition.

The luckiness of Sir Leicester’s find – an Egyptian princess in a sarcophagus – is his crowning achievement; the missing diadem, a sour note. Also a sour note is an apparent curse – the god Anubis “appeared” on the dig, driving out the workers, and “causing” the death of one of the expedition’s members as well as the disappearance of another. only giving grist to the curse. As Veronica and Stoker pursue their enquiries and “Anubis” continues to appear, the curse appears to have followed the Tivertons to London as they prepare for an exhibit of their excavations.

Raybourn is a pro, and she populates her novel with an array of delightful, memorable characters and she’s aces at putting together a good plot. One of the stand out parts of the book is Veronica herself, an intrepid adventuress who lives outside the bounds of Victorian convention.

While presently this seems to be the year of the empowered woman, mystery novels have offered the empowered woman a home from the start – beginning with Christie’s Miss Marple through Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone to Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan. The thread in historical mysteries is especially strong. Characters like Amelia Peabody, Hester Monk, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily, Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy – these are all intelligent and fearless women. They may often have male companions but they are perfectly well able to get the job done themselves. Veronica Speedwell fits in nicely with this company.

Along with Veronica herself, the book is a total blast. The story is nimble and interesting and full of adventure – a fire! A balloon! a trek through a sewer! – and through it all Veronica and Stoker live to investigate another day. I enjoyed the denouement and was sorry to close the cover, and really, what more can you ask for in a good read? I await more adventures with great anticipation.

Ragnar Jonasson: Nightblind

The follow up to the excellent Snowblind, Nightblind finds Jonasson’s main character, detective Ari Thor, married with a one year old son and in line, after five years, to the top spot at the police department. Set in the Icelandic town of Siglufjorour, a former herring capital, the town is enduring leaner times and is in general quiet. Just like St. Mary Meade (or Cabot Cove)… the comparison is apt, because while these novels are set in Iceland, the structure is that of the classic detective novel, and Jonasson, the translator of 17 Christie books into Icelandic, has obviously been greatly influenced by the Queen of Crime.

Snowblind was almost a locked room mystery as the tiny town was cut off completely from the rest of the world by an endless blizzard; in this novel, it’s the darkness that’s emphasized as, with the winter solstice, Iceland endures weeks with daylight lasting only from around 11 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. The darkness preys on the characters in different ways, but ultimately, it’s the darkness of the soul that Jonasson is more concerned with.

As the book opens, Ari Thor’s superior officer, Herjolur, has been shot for no apparent reason outside of a house where drug deals are known to happen. With Herjolur out of the picture, Ari Thor’s old superior officer, Tomas, comes back to town to help with the investigation. The two have a comfortable working relationship and set to work interviewing Herjolur’s family and various other town denizens, one of them a cousin of Tomas’, long drug involved, who helps point them in the right direction.

Ari Thor’s marriage to Kristin is uncomfortable and with a one year old at home, both of them working full time, exhaustion and time never seem to come together to allow the two to discuss their problems. Ari Thor senses something is amiss (and indeed Kristin is pondering an affair with a fellow doctor) but he’s not sure quite what it is. This general sense of unease and malaise (he’s recovering from the flu) pervades the novel. Ari Thor’s complicated family situation is just a part of the picture.

As the investigation tightens, taking the two detectives in surprising directions, the author also laces through the story excerpts from a journal written by an inmate at a mental hospital. It’s unclear who this person is, but Jonasson is a skillful writer who tends neatly to all of his story threads. This book is as delightful as the first, with its tight plotting, memorable setting and characters, and heartbreaking moments. Jonasson is truly a new writer to treasure.

Emily Littlejohn: A Season to Lie

I read many, many, mysteries, in the neighborhood of two a week, enjoying many of them and loving fewer. When I pick up a novel like this one by Emily Littlejohn, I am forcibly and joyfully reminded of the reasons I love this genre so much. This is simply a wonderful mystery, and even better, it reminded me of another series by another favorite writer of mine, Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Littlejohn’s novel is set in a little Colorado town—one that’s on the “B” ski resort list (unlike the “A” list Vail or Aspen), and happy with that status. The setting, as in Spencer-Fleming’s novels set in upstate New York, is practically a character, as Detective Gemma Monroe drives along the treacherous mountain roads, hemmed in by trees and snow.

Gemma is just back from maternity leave when she and her partner (she’s on the graveyard shift) get called out to the local private school on a suspicious prowler call. The Valley Academy, remote and gated, requires the two cops to split up in a raging blizzard and look for anything out of place on the quiet campus. They find something: a dead man, stabbed in the gut, out in a blizzard with no coat. He turns out to be a famous author who has been teaching a few classes at the academy incognito.

Preserving the crime scene as much as possible in a blizzard, the two find a note stuffed in the dead man’s mouth: “This is only the beginning.” They think they may be looking for a serial killer. As they begin to unravel the man’s life, they get drawn into the culture of the school where other things seem to be happening, one of them a form of bullying so cruel and so sneaky that the kids affected are completely traumatized by it.

The underlying theme seems to be fairy tales—the bully at the school is known as “Grimm” and the cottage where the dead man’s best friend lives seems like a witch’s stone house at the edge of the forest. Gemma even encounters a local construction guy, who may have mob ties, quoting Yeats’ poem The Stolen Child to her while she’s at lunch:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand 

While this all sounds creepily fey, Littlejohn has grounded her clever mystery in the details of ordinary life. While Gemma is delighted to be back at work, she still misses and loves her baby, and her boss has set aside a room for her to pump breast milk. I can’t imagine another genre of writing where such a telling detail of a woman’s life would be included, and that’s just another reason I love mystery novels. They tend to illuminate woman’s lives incredibly well.

Along with fairy tales, Gemma is herself struggling with what it means to be a grown up, embracing what’s beautiful in life along with the other parts of life that aren’t so lovely: distrust, fear, aging relatives, murder. It gives the book a real heft.

With the rich array of believable and interesting, fleshed out characters, a memorable setting, a clever mystery, and an underlying theme that adds a creepy intensity to the whole novel, this book and this new series is a real stand out.

C.M. Gleason: Murder in the Lincoln White House

C.M. Gleason is well known as Colleen Gleason, the writer of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles, as well as some romance and some mystery themed novels featuring vampires. As C.M. Gleason she’s veering into straight up mystery territory, but her long experience as an ink-stained wretch (my term for a professional writer who works all the time) has commented her skills in terms of narrative and character development. While she’s new to the mystery genre, she’s not new to writing, and it certainly shows in this assured first mystery.

She’s also not new to writing historicals as some of her other books have been set during the regency and Victorian periods (among others) so her way of setting the stage is also assured. This novel opens at the inaugural ball of Abraham Lincoln, and Gleason is able to get across the feeling of crowded Washington at the time, full of both southerners and Unionists. The uncertain tenor of the time is illustrated by Lincoln’s having to sneak into town for his inaugural to avoid an assignation plot, and the assassination threats from the start meant he had a Pinkerton agent with him at all times.

While Lincoln is a character in the novel, the main character is Adam Quinn, the nephew of Lincoln’s great friend Joshua Speed, and a boy whom Lincoln has known since babyhood. Because of that comfort level, it’s Adam Lincoln turns to when there’s a murder during the inaugural ball. While Gleason may be new to mysteries she’s certainly adept at setting up a classic situation where all of Adam’s deductive reasoning skills come to the fore as he investigates the crime.

This is certainly a set up for a series as Adam is quickly surrounded with an able cohort – a black Doctor who steps up and does an autopsy; a penniless Irish boy Adam takes under his wing, and who comes in useful as a messenger; and a reporter discovered at the crime scene. The reporter later turns out to be a woman in disguise, and to add to her interest, she lives at the Smithsonian with her uncle, the first Smithsonian “secretary.”

Adam himself has lost an arm in an altercation with pro-slavers back home on the plains, so it’s clear where his sympathies lie. (They are somewhat sorely tested by an attractive Southern belle he meets at the inaugural ball.) One of his most interesting characteristics, though, is his skill as a tracker, learned from a Native American back home. He translates these tracking skills to investigating murder, with great result as he employs his observation of footprints, dirt smudges, and information gleaned from the autopsy of the dead man, a well known Abolitionist. I thought that was a great hook and a believable one. I hope Gleason makes even more use of it in future novels.

This is a well told story, engaging in its setting and characters, and a fun read. I also loved this detail, unknown to me: our great president Lincoln was also the one who began calling the president’s mansion “the White House.” I look forward to more of Adam’s adventures in the lively and unsettled world of 1861 Washington, D.C.

Lauren Willig: The English Wife

If you are a fan of great writers of the recent past like Mary Stewart or Daphne du Maurier, Lauren Willig is the writer for you, truly putting the romance part into romantic suspense. A clever mystery, a tragic romance, unforgettable characters—several of whom are dead—Willig has all the elements of romantic, gothic suspense in her story and she runs away with them.

Set at the turn of the 19th century, from about 1894 to 1900, Willig sets her story slightly in the past as well as in the present, so she’s sticking to the twin narrative pattern that is her trademark. She takes the story of the meeting of humble Georgie, an actress in London at a time when stage folk were not so revered, and the fabulously wealthy American, Bayard VanDuyvil, or simply Bay.

It’s obvious to the reader though not so much to Georgie that Bay is enamored—Georgie can barely bring herself to hope that she can elevate herself out of her hardscrabble life simply by falling in love. Even as she cautions herself against fairytales, she finds herself a married woman enjoying a Paris honeymoon before she can believe it.

In the present, the book opens at a ball at a lavish home in New England, with the head of the household found dead—a dagger through his heart—during his housewarming costume ball. His wife is nowhere to be seen, and the work of the novel is to match up these two stories as of course the dead couple are Bay and Georgie.

Doing the detective work is Bay’s bereaved and somewhat mousey sister Janie, who enlists the unlikely help of a common—gasp—journalist. Janie’s mother could not be a bigger snob (she looks down on the Vanderbilts) so Janie is on her own, somewhat hindered in her investigation by her cousin Anne, who long ago stole Janie’s fiancée. Anne is now separated and living with the VanDuyvils.

The story of Janie and the journalist, Burke assumes center stage, interspersed with the story of Bay and Georgie and how they ended up dead. To tell much more would be to give away too many details of this clever, sinuous, elegant story that has a gasper of an ending. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Author Interview: Emily Littlejohn

Emily LittlejohnI had meaning to get to Emily Littlejohn’s books for awhile – mainly thanks to a blurb from Deborah Crombie – and with a rare “free reading moment,” I picked up the second book and was immediately smitten. The blend of the Colorado setting, indelible characters, twisty plots and a haunting overlay of folk tales in her now two novels, got me completely hooked. She was nice enough to answer a few questions.

Q: I just finished your first book, and had a hard time believing it really was a first book, as you write with such a mature and nuanced voice.  What led to this first book?

A: I have always been a huge reader, especially of mysteries and horror fiction. After working in public libraries for over a decade, I felt I’d been exposed to enough good (and not so good) literature to have an understanding of what might make a good story! I’d always wanted to try my hand at writing fiction and I tinkered around on a few drafts of some books that will never see the light of day (they are that bad). When I decided to get serious about writing, it came very naturally.

Q: I loved that the main character, Gemma, was heavily pregnant in the first book and realistically dealing with an infant in the second.  I’ve enjoyed many police novels by women through the years (Anne Wingate and Barbara D’Amato to name two) that really dealt with the balance of work and child care in a realistic way.  Was this something that was important for you to write about? 

A: Ironically, I was six months pregnant with my first child when Inherit the Bones was published. At the time I wrote the book, I loved the idea of a strong, pregnant detective. As I’ve gotten further into motherhood myself, it has become even more important to tell Gemma’s story. Like so many women in every industry, Gemma really does struggle to find that balance between career and family.

Q: While these are certainly technically procedurals, they fall heavily into the traditional detective category (to my delight) but I’m assuming you still needed to ground your story realistically,  What kind of research did you do to get the police details right?

A: Does watching Law and Order count as research? I have a couple of reference books that I use when I need to get a particular detail correct, such as the name of a weapon or a point of procedure. I try to include enough detail to be realistic yet not so much that the reader gets bogged down in the minutiae. I joke that if I don’t include too many police details, I’ll have less that I can get wrong!

Q: Another thing I enjoyed immensely, brought out differently in each novel, were the references to folk or fairy tales.  A Season to Lie was especially haunting with the use of the Yeats poem.  What drew you to these references?

A: After including an element of folklore in Inherit the Bones, I knew I wanted to do the same in A Season to Lie. I stumbled upon the Yeats poem while flipping through an old book of poetry that my father gave me years ago. I’d never read that particular poem before and I found it incredibly visual and striking. I love the idea of my fictional characters alluding to other works of literature, so it was fun to place a particularly nasty character into A Season to Lie who happened to have a fondness for quoting great poets.

Q: I thought both books confounded expectations in a good way.  In the first one, you use the circus as a background, with a dead clown, which sounded cheesy but definitely wasn’t.  The circus setting was very effective and I wonder how you came up with the idea for using it as a background?  You really brought “The Greatest Show on Earth” down to reality.

A: As I started to write Inherit the Bones, three things came to me sort of all at once, and those three things laid the groundwork for the story. They were: pregnant cop; small town still living with unsolved trauma; and dead clown in full make-up. To be perfectly honest, I have absolutely no idea where those three ideas came from. A muse? My subconscious? No idea. But the image of the dead clown, especially, was very striking and I found myself wondering who the person was, behind all that make-up. I knew I wanted to write his story.

Q: In the new book, a dead writer is found in the snow, again, almost cheesy.  He even has a note stuffed in his mouth.  But then you ran with it.  I guess what I’m asking is what steps to you take to make the unbelievable not only real, but resonant? 

A: That’s an interesting question and one that I’m not sure I can answer. I only know that as I write, it’s as though a movie is playing in my mind. I can see the setting, the characters, their next moves, all of it. The farther I get into a story, the more detailed and rich it becomes, and the more real it feels. It truly does start to seem as though this really happened. And I’m simply recounting it for the audience.

Q: What do you start with when you begin a story?  Plot, setting, character?  All seemed essential in both books (my definition of a really good book).  What is it that kicks off a story for you?

A: For me, character drives everything.  If I can’t feel something for the characters—positive or negative—I could care less how spectacular or inventive the plot is. What really kicks off a story for me is typically one or two thoughts…or questions. For Inherit the Bones, it was “who is this dead clown and what if anything does he have to do with an unsolved crime from thirty years ago?” For A Season to Lie, it was “why has a famous author been murdered on the grounds of a private school in the middle of a blizzard?”

Q: One of the other things I truly enjoyed was that while Gemma is grappling with the darkness of her past as well as the darkness of the cases she deals with, she’s also trying to see what’s good in life.  What do you see for Gemma, going forward, as she grows as a character?

A: Gemma will continue to try to find that elusive balance between career and family. She and Brody, her romantic partner, will either settle into domestic life… or they won’t (I know what happens, but no spoilers allowed!). Her grandmother’s dementia is of course progressing and I see Gemma representing that sandwich generation, where she’s caring for an ailing parent (figure) and at the same time caring for her child. And of course crime never sleeps in Cedar Valley, so there will continue to be murders and mayhem.

Q: Can you name a book that was transformational for you?  One that truly set you on the life path of reading/writing?

A: I don’t know about transformational, but I read a lot of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton and Robin Cook in my younger years. Real page-turners. I grew up in a house where there were a lot of books, and nothing was off-limits to me. So, from a very early age, I was a voracious reader. But I didn’t have the confidence to take a stab at writing until I was much older. That’s probably my biggest regret… I wish I’d started writing ten years before I did!

Q: And can you give us a sneak peek of your next book, out in 2018?

A: I’d be happy to! Lost Lake takes place over the course of a few weeks in spring. Gemma is called out to the beautiful but isolated Lost Lake after a young woman disappears on a camping trip. Shortly after, a priceless artifact is stolen from the local history museum and the missing woman’s boss—the museum director—is viciously killed. Are these three crimes connected? As Gemma investigates, she learns of the tragic and gruesome history of the lake… a lake that seems to hold secrets worth dying for.