Tasha Alexander and Rhys Bowen stopped by to answer a few of my questions about their new books, The Counterfeit Heiress and The Edge of Dreams. Please give them a warm welcome!
Will you tell us a little about your new books?
TASHA: The Counterfeit Heiress was inspired after I read the New York Times obituary of Huguette Clark, who died at 104 in the New York City hospital where she had chosen to live. She had $300 million, an enormous apartment in Manhattan, a Connecticut country retreat, and an oceanside estate in California, yet she wanted to live in a hospital room. What makes someone come to such a conclusion? My character Estella Lamar is not a fictionalized version of Miss Clark, but she, too, is an eccentric heiress who is living life on her own terms.
RHYS: The Edge of Dreams is the 14th book in my Molly Murphy mystery series. This is one of the most suspenseful and complicated books I have written. People have already told me that they stayed up all night to finish it!
Molly has returned to New York (after last spring’s bombing of her house) only to find Daniel dealing with a clever serial killer who sends taunting notes. Her friends have returned from Vienna where Gus has been studying with Freud and are asked to help a young girl, only survivor of a fire that killed her parents. She remembers nothing but is having horribly vivid dreams. It is believed that unlocking the dream images will reveal what happened that night, and whether it has anything to do with Daniel’s complicated investigation.
TASHA: One of the joys of writing historical fiction is that it enables me to create a heroine who, although firmly rooted in the late 19th century, share many of the emotions of their contemporary counterparts. Social mores have changed over time, but the essence of the human condition hasn’t, and I think readers are drawn to books with characters who remind them that we are not so very different.
RHYS: Everyone can identify with Molly. They care about her. She has a strong sense of justice, plenty of spunk, but she’s not always prudent in her impulsive behavior. She’s not a brilliant detective, either, but has great intuition, great compassion. And life hasn’t always been fair to her.
Your books take place in the late 1800s/early 1900s. What do you find most fascinating about that time period?
TASHA: The 1890s was a period of immense change, both social and industrial, and this led to fascinating political situations as well as enabled women to broaden their opportunities. At the same, the British Empire was at its height, and despite the changes in the UK and on the Continent, people were very much of the opinion that the sun would, in fact, never set on the Empire. They felt that they were part of a world that would never end, but we know full well that World War I would utterly destroy their way of life. There is something incredibly poignant about researching a civilization that is on the verge of terminal decline.
RHYS: I loved the belief that anything was possible. Optimism against all odds. In some ways it is so modern. We could walk the streets of Molly’s New York and not feel too out of place. In others it is so primitive to us. Women can’t vote and are under their husband’s thumb. And yet women were doing amazing things (wearing those corsets and layers of skirts). They were going on expeditions, unveiling scandals, discovering radium. Nothing was impossible for them and yet we have the picture of helpless little ladies swooning all the time (which Molly often mocks).
Have you both always wanted to write? Will you tell us a little about yourselves and your backgrounds?
TASHA: I grew up surrounded by books. Our favorite family activity was having my father read out loud to us while we munched on popcorn—Thurber and Saki short stories, Candide, Mrs. Henry De La Pasture’s The Unlucky Family, among others. Stories and books were always a part of my life, and reading was without question essential to my very existence. There is a way in which writing is a natural extension of reading—only with it you get stories that always end the precise way you wish they would. I started scribbling when I was quite young, dreadful short stories that I bound in cardboard flats held together with yarn, and have loved writing for as long as I can remember.
RHYS: My mother tells me I wrote my first poem when I was four and I’ve been making up stories ever since. I love transporting myself to another world (which is why historical mysteries are a natural for me). I spent time working in BBC drama after college and loved that. I was lured to Australia by their broadcasting company but met my husband there and he was on his way to California. So I’ve lived happily there ever since. And been writing professionally all my life. I switched to mysteries in 1997 as they are what I like to read.
What do you enjoy most about writing mysteries?
TASHA: Mysteries are so incredibly satisfying—you get suspense, pressing questions, fascinating characters, and, in the end, justice. Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series has always been one of my favorites. She made me passionate about mysteries, especially historical mysteries.
RHYS: I love the suspense, the puzzle, the strong sense of right, wrong and justice being served, but I also love being transported to another time, another place.
What authors have influenced you the most?
TASHA: Obviously Elizabeth Peters, but also Anne Perry, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, and William Makepeace Thackeray. I read widely, and firmly believe that whether or not we realize it, we are influenced by everything we read, which means I should add David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, David Lodge, Margaret George, Pauline Gedge, Naguib Mahfouz, and Dorothy L. Sayers to the list.
RHYS: Tony Hillerman was one of my idols. He was the first one who made me see that you could transport the reader, open new worlds. As a child I adored the Lord of the Rings (again being taken to another place) Of current authors Louise Penny takes me to freezing cold Canada. And Tasha takes me to Venice and Vienna. Fabulous.
What are you currently reading?
TASHA: I’ve been on a bit of a Russian kick lately, and after re-reading some of my favorite Tolstoy, am now madly in love with Orlando Figes’ Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia.
RHYS: I’m reading the Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay. It’s been on my TBR pile for a year and I felt like a trip to Cambodia in 1925. It’s really good.
What’s next for you?
TASHA: I’ve spent the past few months researching 19th century Greece for my next book, and am about to embark on a trip to Athens and the Cyclades to continue that work.
RHYS: My next book in my other series, the Royal Spyness books, comes out in August. It’s called Malice at the Palace. This series is much lighter and less intense than Molly and a lot of fun to write. And then this year I have an added bonus as I’ve written a Molly Christmas book called Away in a Manger. It will be out for….well… Christmas!
Thank you for interviewing us!
About The Counterfeit Heiress:
In Tasha Alexander’s novel The Counterfeit Heiress, after an odd encounter at a grand masquerade ball, Lady Emily becomes embroiled in the murder investigation of one of the guests, a sometime actress trying to pass herself off as the mysterious heiress and world traveler Estella Lamar. Each small discovery, however, leads to more questions. Was the intended victim Miss Lamar or the imposter? And who would want either of them dead?
As Emily and Colin try to make sense of all this, a larger puzzle begins to emerge: No one has actually seen Estella Lamar in years, since her only contact has been through letters and the occasional blurry news photograph. Is she even alive? Emily and Colin’s investigation of this double mystery takes them from London to Paris, where, along with their friend Cécile, they must scour the darkest corners of the city in search of the truth.
About The Edge of Dreams:
Molly Murphy Sullivan’s husband Daniel, a captain in the New York City police force, is stumped. He’s chasing a murderer whose victims have nothing in common–nothing except for the taunting notes that are delivered to Daniel after each murder. And when Daniel receives a note immediately after Molly and her young son Liam are in a terrible train crash, Daniel and Molly both begin to fear that maybe Molly herself was the target.
Molly’s detective instincts are humming, but finding the time to dig deeper into this case is a challenge. She’s healing from injuries sustained in the crash and also sidetracked by her friends Sid and Gus’s most recent hobby, dream analysis. And when Molly herself starts suffering from strange dreams, she wonders if they just might hold the key to solving Daniel’s murder case.
Rhys Bowen’s characteristic blend of atmospheric turn-of-the-century history, clever plotting, and sparkling characters will delight readers in The Edge of Dreams, the latest in her bestselling Molly Murphy series.