I have been a mystery-lover all my life. I grew up reading the ladies of the Golden Age: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey. I enjoyed those books for their clever puzzles, but they never touched me emotionally. I never wanted to cry over the body in the library.

 

Then when I was a young mother I started working my way through the local library and I came upon Tony Hillerman. Suddenly I was reading books that not only provided me with a good mystery, but took me to another place, another culture. Hillerman didn't just tell me about the Southwest. He took me there, so vividly that the first time we drove through Indian country, I could point out landmarks like a tour guide. He didn't just describe the Navajo. He made me feel that I was privy to insights about tribal life. And his heroes, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, were wonderful real, fleshed-out characters whom I did care about.

 

I had been a writer for most of my life, but I knew instantly that I wanted to write books like that. Not about the Southwest, obviously, as I'm a Brit, but books that take the reader to another time or place. So I set my first mystery series in a small village in Wales, a place where I had spent happy hours as a child. Then one day I went to Ellis Island and was so emotionally overcome with what I saw and felt there, that I realized I had to write about it. So Molly Murphy became an Irish immigrant who has to flee her native land and becomes mixed up in a murder on Ellis Island in Murphy's Law, the first book in that series.

 

 

Those books are pretty dark and intense and the real world was becoming grim. I knew I wanted to write something lighter and funnier. But I found myself thinking about the 1930s. Similar in many ways to what we are going through now.   People were still suffering the after-effects of the Great War. It was a time of extremes. While men were standing in bread lines, aristocrats were sailing around the Med in their yachts living it up as if there was no tomorrow. I wanted to have fun, so I thought what if my sleuth was royal but had no money? How would she survive other than marrying an awful chinless European prince? So I made her Lady Georgiana, thirty-fourth in line to the throne but penniless.

 

 

This setting is easy for me. I married into an upper class English family, so I know about stately homes and sherry parties and cousins with silly nicknames. And I know London well. So I'm enjoying poking gentle fun at aristocrats against a serious setting.

 

What are some of your favorite cultural mysteries?

 

 

Editor's Note: Rhys Bowen is the award winning author of the Molly Murphy series and the Royal Spyness books

 

Comments
by on ‎10-22-2009 08:52 AM

As for cultural mysteries, I just started reading Philip Kerr's wonderful Bernie Gunther books, which are set mostly in Germany during the Nazi years. The novels are hypnotically atmospheric and pack some great punches.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎10-22-2009 10:59 AM

Hi Rhys - Great to see you here! I'm also a Hillerman fan -- I have family in New Mexico, and his books bring the Southwest to life so clearly, I feel as if I'm there.

 

Your Spyness books certainly do that, but I have a soft spot for Wales, so I really like your "Evan" series.

 

Ian Rankin's books bring Scotland to life, showing a side of it tourists rarely see. Nevada Barr is also great at drawing visual pictures of her National Park settings. James W. Hall and Edna Buchanan's books bring Florida to life -- James Lee Burke is another author who makes his setting practically a character in his books.

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎10-22-2009 12:07 PM

Hi Rhys, I think my first foray into cultural education in a mystery has to be with Faye Kellerman's Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus series and into the heart and minds of orthodox Jews and how it effects their lives, and their work. Being raised Southern Baptist this was about as strange to me as my first paranormal story and has taught me a great deal about the Jewish faith and shown me how ignorant I was.

Debbie

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