Great Summer Reads 2020 Countdown Blitz Day 5!
Readers of Death Unscripted, the first book in the Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery series, will find the same pleasures in this sequel: fast pacing, engaging characters, twists and turns on the way to a satisfying close. From the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries, this second series is a winner. Once again M.K. Graff reveals her talents in crafting this delightful mix of amateur sleuth and police procedural.
1. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Read, read, and more reading! I read 3 crime novels a week for my crime review blog. And with the virus keeping us in, I'm back to doing jigsaw puzzles, which are great for thinking about plot points. My husband and I have two Aussie Doodle pups we like to walk and play catch it, too.
2. What was the hardest part of writing your book, and how did you overcome it?
The toughest part for me is always what I call the 'muddled middle.' I start with my setting and main characters and then decide who's murdered and why for the end. Then I have to go back and fill it up with subplots, more characters, red herrings, etc. Somewhere around the midpoint I always think, now what happens? I aim to keep Trudy and Ned in my mind and think of what their next steps would be if this were a real investigation, and how I would get to the ending I've devised and the reasons for it. I usually get there in the end!
3. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I've never been to Australia and New Zealand; those are on my bucket list. I've been reading a lot of books lately set in those areas (Vanda Symon; Susan Allott) and have friends who live there, so it appeals to me. I've always wanted to see Austria, for some reason, but I always am drawn back to the UK. I need to investigate Wales and Scotland better!
4. Where do you get information and ideas for your books? I do a lot of research before starting to write, so I'm always on the lookout for anything that will spur a good juicy plot for a mystery. For Death at the Dakota, I visited the exterior when in NY and took my own photos. In reality, The Dakota does not allow filming in its interior, but I was fortunate to have been given the room layout for the apartment that Leonard Bernstein and his family once owned and that's where I've set the movie that Trudy is consulting on. I read two books on The Dakota to glean information about the interiors, and all kinds of little tidbits about living in that amazing building. For instance, if you own a flat there and want to remove an original fireplace during renovations, there is a special room set aside for that mantel and fireplace to be stored in case another owner wants to put it back! Writing two series, I alternate the books, so while I'm writing one in the English series, I'm gathering information on the next in the Manhattan series. Real-life news and magazines give ideas for motives, as do online stories. Once I've decided on a killer and his/her motive and start writing, there's nothing like good ol' Google to add to the research I've already done.
5. Tell us a bit about a future project you are working on? Do you have any little sneak peeks you can share? I'm writing the next Nora Tierney English Mystery now and the working title is The Evening's Amethyst. My English series titles always have a color in them, which is reflected in a color wash for that cover--so you know what this one will be! It's a line taken from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem that fits the action of the book. In this one, my protagonist, American Nora Tierney, is getting her new Oxford home ready for her little family's first Christmas there. Her sister, Claire, is doing a Masters in poetry at Exeter College, part of Oxford University. This is the opening:
Friday, 1st December
A hissing noise outside on the second floor landing roused Claire Scott from a deep exhausted sleep.
She lay on the elderly sofa in her room at Exeter College, huddled under the quilt her mother had sent from Connecticut, Doc Martens discarded nearby, and rubbed eyes grainy with strain. She’d worked until blurry eyes forced her to abandon work for a rest, despite the unforgiving glance of Ed Sheeran from the poster blue-tacked on her wall. The lyrics from his song “Castle on the Hill” showed the kind of modern storytelling that had made Elton John and Billy Joel so popular, and appealed to her writer’s nature. And to be awarded an MBE before he was thirty? This guy was a Renaissance man, taking up painting, opening a pub, too, while she was slacking by sleeping.
She shrugged the thought off. We can’t all be Ed Sheerans. This Master’s program challenged her, while her tutor thought she was too hard on herself. She shifted and a spring poked her as if Dr. Hamilton punctuated her thought.
Most of Oxford University’s colleges with their centuries-old buildings, Exeter from 1314 right up there, were not known for creature comforts. How many students had slept on this couch? At times, living in Oxford felt like existing in a Harry Potter movie.
Claire blinked a few times, wondered at the hour. Her phone lay next to her laptop on the desk under the window, but she felt too lazy to get up. The hissing continued, now quieter. A faulty radiator?
Judging by the weak light it must be after dawn. Claire closed her eyes and prepared to doze off for another hour’s sleep. A scrabbling on the landing outside her room was swiftly followed by a shouted scream that echoed off the ancient stairwell. Claire bolted upright and rushed to her door.
She flung it open to see another graduate student had also been awoken by the scream. Leni Edi stood in her doorway, a robe thrown over her camisole and flannel pants, its belt hanging open, her elaborate braids covered by the silk turban she used for sleep. Her eyes were wide, her coffee-au-lait skin pale. Her chin quivered.“I heard a scream.”
Footsteps pounded on the stairs above as Ang Gordon from the third floor appeared on the landing in tee shirt and boxers, blinking sleep from his dark eyes. “What the hell was that?”
Patti Phillips, short platinum hair standing up away from her scalp, glared down from the top of the third-floor landing. “What’s going on?”
Claire peered over the handrail; a flicker of vertigo caused her to step back and pray she’d seen a mirage. She steeled herself to look down again at the body splayed out below, head on the cobblestoned ground, legs on the lower steps, body twisted at an unnatural angle so that one arm rested near a foot caught on the bottom stair.
“Call 999 and the Porter’s Lodge!” Claire shouted. She ran barefoot down the wooden steps, heart pounding, rounding the landing on the first floor. A blast of cool air from the exposed stairwell hit her as she kept descending to the stone steps on the ground floor, until she caught herself up to stare down at her friend, Bea Smythe-Jones.
The young woman’s long blonde hair partially covered her face. Her nearest arm lay palm up, fingers curled in supplication, as though begging for Claire’s intervention.
Claire knelt on the step above and felt for a pulse in Bea’s wrist; she took in the spreading pool of blood beneath her friend’s head. Ang’s footsteps pounded behind Claire until he pulled up short. “Holy Christ—”
Peter Hamilton, tutor to them all, arrived from the direction of the quad, sweating after an early run. He pulled himself up at the sight of the young woman lying half on and half off the staircase. “Bloody hell!”
Claire gently took Bea’s hand in hers and pressed her wrist. She shook her head in the negative.
Dr. Hamilton called to Ang. “Stay where you are and tell the others not to come down.”
Chilled to her marrow, Claire had to grit her teeth to keep them from chattering. Bea’s hand felt warm, but the lack of a pulse was echoed in the absence of life in the cornflower blue eye that stared at her.
6. Now that we've gotten to know each other, tell us a story of a favorite childhood activity you used to do during the summer. It can be long or short. Funny, sad, or somewhere in between. Just make sure it's yours. Tell us a story?
I grew up in a small town outside Manhattan on Long Island called Floral Park, where the streets were named for trees or flowers. It is a bedroom community for NYC as the Long Island Railroad was a few blocks away and commuters could be in the city offices in half an hour. In the long hot summer days, there wasn't much to do for entertainment until the cool of the evening besides reading. I did that voraciously, but at times my mother would insist me and my sister get outside in the fresh air. Out would come our bikes, or maybe our roller skates, but those never lasted long if it was too hot.
Then one day a new family moved in next door, with a teenaged daughter named Becky. Despite being a few years older then me (I was 12 to her 15) we became friends because we both loved to read. We could spend hours eating Ritz crackers with peanut butter and jelly and reading. One day Becky brought over two decks of cards. She taught me and my sister how to play canasta. After that, several afternoons a week would find the three of us sitting on my front stoop playing canasta, the two decks of cards spread out across the red bricks of the larger top step. If someone in the family wanted to go out, they had to step over our fanned out cards. If it was windy, the cards would blow and we quickly learned that was not a day to play cards, but the books would return.
I remember Becky liked Russian novels and was determined to learn Russian! She had silky chestnut hair I loved because hers was so shiny. Becky moved away and we lost touch, as teens do, but I often wonder where she is now and what she ended up doing? If you're out there, Becky Jane Lawson, contact me!