INTERVIEW WITH KARI BOVEE

Kari Bovee’s Annie Oakley series weaves whoddunit plots through different episodes of her life. Aided by suffragette reporter Emma Wilson, the legendary sharp shooter cracks the case and questions her place as a woman in her time. The latest, Peccadillo at the Palace, deals with her performance for The Queen with The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and a murder of one of her emissaries. Kari was kind enough to talk to MysteryPeople about the series and her real life heroine.

  1. What drew you to Annie Oakley?

Peccadillo at the Palace: An Annie Oakley Mystery Cover ImageI saw a PBS American experience special on her and was impressed with her grit and determination. She had a difficult childhood, particularly after her father died when she was young. To help her mother, Annie taught herself to shoot game to provide food for the family. When she was a preteen, she was then sent to the Darke County Infirmary to learn how to keep house to be “farmed out” to another family to make money for hers. The couple she eventually worked for were abusive and she actually escaped from them after a year. That took some guts. Because of her shooting talent, she grew up to be incredibly famous, but she never forgot who she was and where she came from. She was the epitome of an empowered woman in her time, and I was very impressed with that.

  1. What about her made you think she’d make a great sleuth?

She was smart.

She knew how to defend herself.

She cared about the welfare of others.

When a slanderous story was printed about her in the Hearst papers and distributed throughout the country, she spent eight years fighting to get the stories retracted, and was successful. She was interested in fighting to expose the truth and seek justice.

  1. Emma Wilson, the suffragette reporter, serves as a wonderful companion in Annie’s investigations.  What does she provide to the series and the period you are exploring other than just a fellow sleuth?

I wanted to create a “side-kick” for Annie who was a bit more worldly and more sophisticated than she is. Someone who came from quite a different background and upbringing. Emma was raised an American blue-blood, and while she likes the finer things in life, she rails against the stuffiness and snobbiness of her parents. While Annie is concerned about always doing the right thing, Emma takes more risks. She’s a rebel with her suffragette causes and uses her position as a journalist to get to the truth. Because she is an investigative journalist, she has connections that help Annie to solve the crime. Also, she provides a bit of comic relief. She’s quirky and fun. I just love her!

  1. In Peccadillo At The Palace, you deal with their performance of the queen, which starts with a murder on their ocean voyage, and leads to a plot involving Irish rebels. How much of your plot comes out of the research in your heroine’s life?

Annie and the Wild West Show did actually go to England to perform for the Queen’s Jubilee, and Annie did have the honor of meeting Queen Victoria. They set up their encampment at the Earl’s Court in London.

In 1887, there was much unrest with the Irish that Victoria and her cabinet was constantly dealing with. India also had a love/hate relationship with the British and the Queen. I took that information, and then created the story.

  1. Was there any challenge in putting your characters in England?

For me, it was exciting. I am an Anglophile, and have dabbled in the study of British history since college. I’ve been to England three times, so I am a little familiar with the palaces and places I’ve put in the novel. I also read a lot of historical and contemporary novels set in England, and watch BBC movies and television shows voraciously. I hope I have portrayed the flavor of what London might have been like in 1887.

  1. Do you have another chapter of Annie Oakley’s life you’re ready to use for a mystery?

Right now I am working on the third full-length novel in the series called Folly at the Fair. It takes place in 1893 when the Wild West Show went to the Colombian Exhibition or World’s Fair in Chicago. I’m having a blast with it!

THE HARD WORD BOOK CLUB MEETS THE ALLIGATOR

Bandit Love Cover ImageWith June being International Mystery Month, The Murder In The Afternoon book club decided to go to Italy with one of its most acclaimed writers. Massimo Carlotto lived the life of a crime novel—on the run for a murder he was eventually cleared of. We will be reading his novel Bandit Love featuring his series character Marco “The Alligator” Burrati.

Burrati is an ex-blues singer, ex-criminal, ex-con, part owner of a blues club and part time private detective. A shadowy drug ring kidnaps his best friend’s lover. For her return, The Alligator and his cohorts have to look into the heist of a research pharmacy. If they want the crooks, the drugs, or the mastermind behind it, they are not told. What ensues is many dark reveals, skulking Rome’s back alleys, and Burrati using his criminal skills as much as his investigative ones.

Bandit love provides a lot to discuss from it’s setting, politics, morality, and view of both women and love. We will be meeting at 1PM Monday June 17th at BookPeople’s coffee bar. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.

3 Picks for June

Peccadillo at the Palace: An Annie Oakley Mystery Cover ImagePeccadillo at the Palace

By Kari Bovee:

The second book in The Annie Oakley series focuses on The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show performing in England for The Queen. When one of her majesty’s emissaries is murdered on the voyage over, Annie finds herself dealing with Irish rebels and an assassination plot. Bovee continues to meld historical detail, human behavior and suspense into an entertaining read.

 

Girl in the Rearview Mirror: A Novel Cover ImageGirl in the Rearview Mirror

By Kelsey Rae Dimberg:

When Finn Hunt, a young woman with a past, finds work as a nanny for a politically connected family in Arizona, she believes she has found solid footing. It all becomes overturned when a mysterious woman approaches Finn to get a message to the father, unraveling everyone’s secrets that lead to deadly consequences. Dimberg uses minute human behavior and the harsh desert light to build mood and suspense that leads to a killer ending.

 

This Storm: A novel Cover ImageThis Storm

By James Ellroy:

The second book in the Demon Dog Of Crime Fiction’s World War Two Quartet has fascist cop Dudley Smith and his corrupt gang violently careening through L.A. and Mexico in search of killers, fifth columnists, and stolen gold as they smuggle heroin and illegal labor. A stylish, sinful, sexy as hell read that will have you questioning whoever’s side you take.

PICK OF THE MONTH-CONVICTION BY DENISE MINA

Denise Mina is mainly associated with dense, dark crime novels that delve into society’s ills. Her last novel, The Long Drop, was a chilling portrayal of a true crime and trial in fifties Glasgow. In her latest, The Conviction, she follows the Monty Python saying, “And now for something completely different.”

Conviction Cover ImageShe introduces us to Anna McDonald, though that is not her real name. Living as a trophy wife with children, she turns to true crime podcasts for her daily escape. Soon her life will become one.

Her husband reveals he has been having an affair with her friend Estelle, and the two of them are leaving with the kids. Her latest podcast, Death On The Dana, interrupts her suicidal despair. It tells of how millionaire Leon Parker and his children died on their yacht. The ships cook was convicted, but the podcast host believes Parker did it. Anna disagrees, since she knew Parker in her former life and doesn’t believe he would have been capable. By the time she decides to look into the crime to get her mind off of her crumbling life, Finn Cohan, Estelle’s anorexic former pop star husband is at her door. With as little to live for as Anna, he joins her in her quest for the truth, doing a complimentary podcast to reignite his fame. Their search leads to revelations that are also connected to Anna’s secret past and brings out a group of killers hired by  someone who wants everything to stay covered up.

Mina delivers many of the trappings of a modern thriller. Our odd investigators travel across Europe, hounded by hitmen, dealing with secrets. She taps into a woman finding her courage and conviction under the threat of her life. She even has a quirky sidekick.

She takes all of that and goes deep. As the plot grows grander in scope, it becomes more intimate with our heroine. A chapter with a Russian killer after them becomes a short story inside the book, with humor and pathos. When Anna’s true identity is revealed, it is devastating information that has us rooting even more for her. Mina is able to hit many of her known themes of class and media, seen from a different angle as she celebrates the power of damaged people.

Her humor is used to standout effect. While we know of her ability to use it, particularly in her Patty Meehan series, she’d never had a subject that allowed her to fully draw it from her literary palette. She uses it in her love-hate relationship with Anna and Flynn and as a crutch to deal with their personal pain.

Conviction is not only proof of Denise Mina’s talent, but of her range. It’s her David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, a possibly more accessible piece that will hopefully draw a larger audience that doesn’t compromise her artistry and themes. She provides the quintessential summer read with a forward momentum driven by it’s broken and bickering leads. I hope she can come up with another case for these two to crack.

 

CRIME & COMMUNITY: MEIKE ALANA INTERVIEWS TERRY SHAMES

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary: A Samuel Craddock Mystery (Samuel Craddock Mysteries) Cover ImageTerry Shames will be back at BookPeople joining debut author S.C. Perkins (Murder Once Removed). Her latest, A Risky Undertaking For Loretta Singletary has her hero, brought out of retirement, Jarret Creek police chief Samuel Cradddock looking for his missing friend. Our Meike Alana caught up to Terry before hand to ask her a few questions.

1. Loretta is a favorite character of mine, and I’m sure of many other fans as well. From the title I expected the book to feature Loretta—but in fact she’s actually missing and the book deals with Samuel’s search for her.  Yet despite her physical absence, Samuel and the reader learn a lot more about the character—some of which is a little surprising! Can you tell us how you came to adopt this approach?

In one of my earlier books, I tried to write a book without Loretta, and found that it fell flat. There is something elemental about her presence in the books. Like a Greek chorus in early Greek literature, she is the voice of the community,. She loves gossip, but it isn’t mean gossip, she just likes to know what everybody is up to. In that role, she’s able to give Craddock information he might not otherwise be privy to. Because she doesn’t take any guff from Samuel and has her own sharp opinions, she also lends humor to the books.

In art there is a concept called Negative Space, which can define what an observer sees on the canvas. In coming up with the idea of  Risky Undertaking, I wanted to highlight how important she is to the community by having her disappear. Samuel is trying to deal with an uproar in town over the annual Goat Rodeo, and he knows if Loretta was around she’d be just the right person to take care of the situation. Without her, things run off the rails. Other characters have to step in, and they are not successful at doing what Loretta does. In particular, she keeps the church ladies in line. Without her, they go off on a wild tear.

Dru Ann Love has a blog in which she asks authors to write a Day in the Life of a character. I did that for Loretta and it was fascinating. It’s interesting how much you learn when you concentrate on how characters spend their days when they aren’t on the page—what time they get up (Loretta is a very early riser), what they eat for breakfast (she never eats much), what they do to relax (Loretta reads romance novels). Loretta is so much of a presence, that her absence actually told us how much she defines the space around her.

2.One of the things we at MP love about your series is that the characters are so well-developed—every visit to Jarrett Creek feels like revisiting old friends. This time around we meet some new faces—can you tell us a little bit more about the characters you’ve introduced? Any maybe a little glimpse as to whether we’ll get to know them better going forward?

The characters in Jarrett Creek are as real to me as if I could walk in and visit them. Sometimes when I bring up a new character, like the Catholic priest, I’ve known all along that he was there, I just never needed him to be a presence in a book. Just like in real life, sometimes we know someone is part of our community, but we don’t actually know them. I like to either bring in these long-time, hidden, community members, or introduce new characters for recurring characters to bounce off of, because otherwise the cast of regular characters  would get stagnant. Occasionally one will take my imagination, and I know they will come back. One of those is XXX, who first showed up in The Last Death of Jack Harbin. He showed up again in my last book and will play a role in the one I’m now contemplating. Other drop-in characters will only be important to a particular story. In the prequel, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, I introduced a woman who was instrumental to the story and to Samuel’s growth. In the end, I knew she would not be in later books, and I actually cried when I had to say goodbye!

Sometimes I’m surprised by the way my minor characters push themselves into the story. For example, I had no idea that Maria and Connor were going to be at odds with each other, giving a larger role to Connor than I had envisioned. It just happened, and seemed perfect.

Not all “drop in” characters are so lovable that I want them to stay around. I liked coming up with the new Baptist preacher, but he butts heads with Samuel right away. Not a good sign for his future.

3. One of Samuel’s really admirable traits is that he’s not afraid to ask for help when he’s out of his depth, and that’s the case here. When he learns that Loretta has been visiting online dating sites (see surprising things about Loretta above!) he sees the need to explore those sites further and has to ask for help from his younger deputy. What led you to adopt that angle?

I’m afraid that I took Samuel’s need for help with on-line dating sites from my own life. I know nothing about dating sites, and a younger guy in my writing group set me straight about them. I always like to play Samuel off against Maria, and it seemed perfect for him to turn to her, as a younger person to learn something about a modern concept that he knew nothing about. And I was surprised by how conversant Connor was with the sites.

There was a particularly important scene in this book in which Samuel asks for help. In this case, Samuel is actually in a state of panic. This was a direct result of one of my readers saying that he loved that Samuel never panicked. I knew in that moment that he had to panic. What better reason for panic than to be frustrated that a close friend was in danger? And what better person to take a stern approach, and bring Samuel back into line, than his old law enforcement pal, Schoppe.

4. Speaking of online dating sites—any interesting stories related to your research for that plot point?

A couple. I discovered that a woman I know who is happily married spent a lot of time on dating websites before she met her husband (and she didn’t meet him on a website). She told me she spent a lot of money on the sites, because they are always advertising new ways to  find someone. I was surprised. She’s adorable. I was surprised. I had no idea the sites were mining for people’s money. The other story was that the man in my writing group who clued me in about dating websites helped me understand that most young people use them these days. Who knew?

5.  One of the challenges in writing a small town setting in crime fiction is the “Cabot Cove” syndrome—at some point, a small town can’t sustain the number of murders that take place. You’ve managed to avoid that and each book feels really fresh in terms of the cases that Samuel investigates. Can you talk a little bit about how you keep things so interesting and varied? Where do some of your ideas come from?

Jarrett Creek is a small town, but it’s part of a wider web of communities, so the first crime actually did not happen in Jarrett Creek. The same was true in the fourth. In several of the books a lot of what happens involves outsiders who stir things up or who commit the crimes or are instrumental in the plot. Samuel has had to drive to Houston, Dallas, Jacksonville, San Antonio, the Hill Country, Bryan/College Station, and Burton to investigate the crimes, so this introduces new territory. In one book, some of the off-stage action takes place in San Francisco. One of the books was a prequel, which is much the same as having the action happen somewhere “different.” You can’t let things get stagnant. I couldn’t stand to do the same story again and again. I’d get bored. But these stories are about people, and people are endlessly different.

6. So a question about your writing process—how has that changed over these years as you’ve transitioned from debut author to seasoned veteran?

I wish I could say that it has changed, but with every book the process is pretty much the same. I think about what the main idea is, about the social and psychological issues in play, and I let mental pictures come. Sometimes the pictures make no sense, but I trust that they will fit somewhere. There is a scene toward the end of Risky Undertaking that I had in my mind from the beginning. It’s what I was working toward. One thing I always have to have, though, is a good first scene. It sets up the whole book. From the first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, when Samuel is on his porch and Loretta comes to visit, to this last book, “Risky Undertaking,” when two brothers are fighting, I feel like that scene puts in motion everything that follows.

7. Can you tell us what’s next for Samuel? Personally and professionally?

The next book is going to be about the biennial motorcycle rally held at the lake in Jarrett Creek. The hard part will be balancing the huge crowd of strangers with the citizens of Jarrett Creek. Also, if there is a crime committed there and Craddock is going to be responsible for finding out what happened, he’s going to have to do it in the long Fourth of July weekend. In addition, the rally hires outside security guard, and I have to figure out where those things fit in. I’ve set myself quite a task! At the same time, I’m curious as to where his relationship with Wendy will go. And even more curious to find out if Samuel is going to train his dog, Dusty, not to be a nuisance.

The Cozy Mystery as a Light Thriller by S.C. Perkins

If I asked you how you like your morning coffee or tea, would you have a specific strength you always enjoy your day-starting drink that never, ever changes? Or are there times when you mix it up, taking your normally dark-roast coffee with a splash of cream or occasionally skipping the milk and sugar in your English Breakfast for a stronger kick? If so, while it’s still your preferred morning brew at heart, a little change every now and again often makes for a new and enjoyable outlook on the drink you love. I’d like to believe the same can be said for sub-genres within the crime-fiction world, including my personal favorite, the cozy mystery.

Murder Once Removed (Ancestry Detective #1) Cover ImageWhen my own debut cozy, Murder Once Removed, came out this past March, BookPeople’s Scott Montgomery dubbed it a “light thriller,” and I couldn’t have been more delighted. Though I can respect and understand the purist’s stance that a cozy should not deviate from the elements that have traditionally defined the lighter take on mysteries, I have to admit I’m happy to see varying “strengths” of cozy mysteries on the market. And because of this, I think we might be seeing more and more cozies that could be considered light thrillers.

But before I get into why I think cozies might be going for more thrills, let’s look at what generally constitutes a cozy mystery and what aspects might give them a little more of the thriller factor.

It’s no wonder the word “cozy” is used, and it’s a big clue, with the book having traits including:

  • a lighter tone with a slower pacing;

  • while the murder happens, it takes place off the page and the gore level is minimal;

  • the protagonist is an amateur sleuth with an interesting profession and is someone with whom the reader might like to be friends;

  • the charming small town (or fun big city) where the reader wants to visit;

  • there’s usually a little bit of romance, often with a dose of will-they-or-won’t-they banter;

  • and the cast of secondary characters who occasionally fly their oddball flags provide a sounding board for the protagonist, a sense of family and/or the voice of reason, and some comic relief.

Also, the protagonists in cozy mysteries are everyday people just like us who get to do what all of us who love mysteries wish we could:  right wrongs, save a life or two, and do it all without seeing anything too creepy, getting hurt too badly, or having the local law enforcement throwing us in jail for interfering with an investigation! We can only dream, am I right?

Anyway, when a cozy mystery veers toward a light thriller, it’s because it draws more heavily than normal on one or more of the aspects of its darker cousin, including—

  • a faster pace;

  • a mystery that involves potentially higher stakes;

  • the protagonist knowing who the villain is instead of attempting to discover whodunit, and racing against time to stop a tragedy from happening (or from happening again);

  • the threat level from the villain starts high and never seems to ease;

  • stronger language and/or a more sinister climactic event;

  • and a heroine or hero who isn’t just flawed, but also may have physical or emotional challenges that leave them more open to attack.

So, how does Murder Once Removed incorporate some thriller-like aspects? Well, without giving too much away—no spoilers here!—my genealogist protagonist, Lucy Lancaster, finds an old photograph called a daguerreotype and some journals that connects her wealthy client, Gus Halloran, to a U.S. senator. Very quickly, Lucy finds out that someone wants what she’s found and is willing to kill to get it. The threats to Lucy’s life, and those of her friends’ lives, come at a faster rate than your traditional cozy mystery.

Plus, while I chose the setting—Austin, Texas—because it’s a big city with a decidedly small-town feel, its urban status helps to set the stage for a darker feel to the narrative (which I hope is pleasantly offset by Lucy’s positive attitude, slight naivete, and doses of humor sprinkled throughout.)

As to why I think we might be seeing more of these types of lighter mysteries, I believe it’s solidly built on the precarious world we live in today. With so many tragedies and so much negativity around us, we all need some of the many optimistic qualities that the cozy mystery embodies:  good-yet-imperfect people trying to do right, warmth, friends and family, and the notion of how one person with a can-do attitude can really make a difference in the world and bring about a happy ending.

They’re also just so dang fun to read, too. And the writing from cozy authors is as well-crafted and stellar as you’ll read anywhere, making the cozy mystery not just a respite for the world-weary reader, but also a treat to enjoy.

If you happen to like the “light thriller” style of mysteries (or think you might be willing to add a dash of them into your reading lineup), here are just a few of the series I would recommend:

The Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries by Carolyn Haines

The Bibliophile mysteries by Kate Carlisle

The Noodle Shop mysteries by Vivien Chien

The Speakeasy Murders by Susanna Calkins

The White House Chef mysteries by Julie Hyzy