It's a conversation grabber-and sometimes stopper. "I write murder mysteries."-the answer to the polite, "What do you do?" What follows has ranged from a perceptible move away to comments like, "You don't look like you write about murder"-(and that would be what kind of face?)-and an enormous number of suggestions for killing without a trace, which continues to give me pause.
There was never any question that when I was given a gift of time-leaving my job during my husband's sabbatical in another country-I would write the novel in my head as a mystery. Since childhood, I had read anything and everything, but it was mysteries that posed the wondrous challenge of trying to guess whodunit before the final page. And here I am so many years later trying to keep readers from doing just that.
Agatha Christie set the bar. As I write, it's one I gaze upon from below with admiration, longing, and very occasionally a glimmer of recognition. I think of Jane Marple as a kind of Great Aunt to my own series character, Faith Fairchild. Jane Marple was-and remains-the quintessential female sleuth, relying on her own intuition and keen powers of observation as the basic tools for detection. She, and Dame Agatha, would scorn the current use of the Internet to ferret out information, having no need for Google.
It all comes down to a passionate interest in people. Miss Marple's self-described "hobby" is "studying people, human nature if you will." I think of my sleuth as someone who metaphorically takes a stick and pokes beneath the surface of a pond to find out what's underneath, someone who wants to know what's behind an individual's public face and explore any disparities. It is in this space, the gap between what seems and what is, that true terror lurks. The good neighbor who waters your plants and feeds your cat while you're away may, in fact, be a serial killer with fifty bodies buried in the backyard.
Bodies! Miss Marple's friend Mrs. Bantry appeals for help saying, "You're so good at bodies!" All my titles start with, "The Body in..." With the current one, number nineteen, the Body in the Sleigh; I hope I've become "good at bodies" too.
Who is your favorite female sleuth?
Editor's Note: Katherine Hall Page is a multple Agatha Award-winning author. Body in the Sleigh, her 18th Faith Fairchild novel, will be published later this month.