Message From The Author
Q&Awith Rhys Bowen
Molly Murphy's Come to Town!
by Laurie Davie
Already the author of one acclaimed mystery series—the delightfully quirky and cozy Constable Evan Evans books set in her native Wales—Rhys Bowen has now penned a fresh and irrepressible new heroine, Molly Murphy, an Irish immigrant sleuthing in turn-of-the-century New York City. The first in this series, Murphy's Law ('01), won the coveted Agatha Award for Best Novel. And the second Molly book is even better! In her latest adventure, DEATH OF RILEY, Molly decides she's just not cut out to be a servant or the companion of a wealthy snob, and apprentices herself to a private detective, Paddy Riley—much against his will! When her reluctant but kindly employer is found murdered, Molly sets off on a search for his killer that brings her to bohemian artists in Greenwich Village, the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, and a poisonous nest of anarchists planning their own lethal "exhibit." Meanwhile, Daniel Sullivan, the handsome young police detective she's been keeping company with, has a surprise of his own for Molly…
Q: Molly is such a wonderful character—so smart and brave, feisty and funny! What inspired this character? How is she like or unlike you?
Molly is very like me. I am pure Celt and as a young person, I never knew when to keep my mouth shut, especially when I thought someone was being unfair. I spent a lot of time in school visiting the principal's office. I've also been known to point out to the person ahead of me in the quick check line that he has more than nine items (it's nearly always a guy who cheats!).
One of the reasons I decided that I wanted to write a second mystery series was because I was dying to write a strong female first person story. The only ways Molly is not like me are her wonderful long red hair (but I did produce a daughter with long red hair) and maybe she is a little braver than I as well.
Q: In this book, Molly meets the scandalous Irish playwright Ryan O'Hare, among other bohemians, and moves to Greenwich Village. The Village, then as now, is depicted as a hotbed (or Eden) of free-thinking and liberalism—was this actually the case in 1901?
The Village was just starting to move toward a bohemian feel then. Several prominent writers lived there—Mark Twain, Henry James to name a couple. I'm sure characters like Sid and Gus and Ryan O'Hare would definitely have been frowned upon by the general populace. There were certain saloons that they frequented, however, and there have always been artist's colonies within the big cities where the rules of the rest of society don't apply. Think of Paris at this time!
Ryan O'Hare is modeled entirely on Oscar Wilde, whom I have always found fascinating. I would love to have known him—such a great wit and so larger-than-life. It was an interesting challenge to weave real historical figures and events into the story, as every detail has to be correct. Also, I see no reason for setting a book in a historical period if the story doesn't reflect that moment in time. There were big events happening in 1901—they had to come into a story!
Q: Throughout Murphy's Law and DEATH OF RILEY, readers get a palpable sense of the texture of life in turn-of-the-century New York. What drew you to writing a series set in the past? How did you research the era?
I visited Ellis Island and was both fascinated and moved. So much emotion was oozing from those walls. I also looked across at the distant Manhattan skyline and thought: This would be a great place to set a murder. It is so "locked room!"
The research for the Ellis Island story was easy. There
is a huge collection of first-person accounts by immigrants coming to the Island so that I had a pretty good feel for what it must have been like. Also the site is there to visit. When Molly comes ashore in New York it hit me exactly how much research I'd have to do. So the second book was tougher than the first. Almost every page there is something I don't know. Molly goes into a room—would it have electric, gas or oil lighting? Which trolley lines were electrified and which were still horse drawn? I work with a pile of reference books around me. And I go to NYC once a year to check things out for myself.
Writing about 1901 is a boon and a curse. A boon because so much is known and written, a curse for the same reasons. There is a New York Times for every day of the year. Did I have Molly walking down Broadway on a day when the city was paralyzed by a giant snowstorm? This can become obsessive and I have to remind myself that I'm writing fiction. But I still like to get every detail right.
Q: Do you stick to a writing schedule? Outline your plots? Now that you have quite a few mysteries—and series—under your belt, do you find that the process gets easier?
Yes, I stick to a very strict schedule. Once I've done my preliminary research and I'm ready to go, I start writing every day and don't stop until I've finished a first draft. I don't outline. I've tried it and find it too restricting. My characters are constantly leading my story in new directions and I like being open to follow along and see where the story will take me. When I start I know who is going to be killed, why they are going to be killed but not always whodunit. With the Molly books I know the broader background story I want to include—i.e., Ellis Island (Murphy's Law), or Greenwich Village and the anarchist's movement (DEATH OF RILEY). It's like weaving with different-colored threads, making sure they create a good, even pattern.
As to getting easier, I guess that is true. However, I'm always terrified when I start a new book. I always think I won't have enough material for a good story and I'll say everything I want to say by page 80. When I'm close to 200 pages and not yet finished, I give a big sigh of relief! G
For more on Molly and Rhys, visit www.rhysbowen.com.
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