The mother-daughter writing team of P.J. Tracy have used their native Minnesota to great effect in the fun Monkeewrench series, featuring a group of computer programmers who work with the police. It’s been a bit of a wait for the sixth book, (apparently seeming longer to some), but it is out now, titled The Sixth Idea. it’s also been a while since we’ve done our regular post Scene Of The Crime, where we talk to authors about their settings. So welcome back both.
MysteryPeople Scott: What makes Minnesota a great state to write about?
P. J. Tracy: Minnesota is perceived as being a very hegemonous state, but in truth, there is so much diversity here, both ethnically and environmentally. We have vibrant and sophisticated urban areas like Minneapolis and St. Paul with large enclaves of many different nationalities, vast swaths of rural farmland that help feed the nation, the Mississippi River and Lake Superior, untouched wilderness, and more than ten thousand lakes. Each of these widely varied settings has a unique character and culture all their own, so the inspiration for writers is virtually limitless. For anybody who thinks this is fly-over land, they’re missing out. (Just for the record, we’re not on the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce payroll.)
MPS: How has it shaped your protagonists?
PJT: Our detectives, Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth, both grew up here, so they have native perspectives on everything they encounter and share it with the readers. The Monkeewrench gang is comprised of transplants from the southern U.S., so their experiences with Minnesota culture are conveyed through the lens of outsiders who are constantly learning and adapting to the nuances of a foreign land.
MPS: What is the biggest misconception about the state?
PJT: That we have brutally cold, snowy winters and sweltering summers that spawn mosquitoes large enough to carry away a small child. Our winters can be brutal and snowy, our summers hot and humid, but both seasons can also be mild and pleasant…once every five years or so. And the mosquitoes usually don’t get big enough to carry away a small child. But maybe a small dog.
MPS: What can happen in a Minnesota thriller that can’t in many other locales?
PJT: People can be impaled on ice shards (Shoot to Thrill) and corpses can be concealed in snowmen (Snowblind).
MPS: We had to wait almost a whole decade for a new Monkeewrench book. Will we get another trip back sooner?
PJT: Oh, come on, Off the Grid was published in 2012, so it’s only been a four year wait – we’ve stood in line longer than that at the DMV! But truthfully, those four years do seem like a decade to us and probably to a lot of our readers. The great news is the next Monkeewrench novel is finished, edited, and will be released in 2017. And we’re well into the ninth in the series, so no more outrageous waiting times.
MPS: Can somebody be a killer and still be “Minnesota nice”?
PJT: We would have to say no to that. However, they can still pretend to be Minnesota nice, which is an excellent way to lure in victims by giving them a false sense of security and well-being before doing the deed. You can call that Minnesota ice.
You can find copies of P. J. Tracy’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.