There is just something about a holiday book that makes the season merry and bright. Whether it is a love story or a Victorian mystery, combining the true essence of this time of year with a captivating plot is the perfect combination for getting yourself in the holiday spirit.
This month’s Jen’s Jewels Anne Perry is an expert on this very topic of combining holiday cheer and a great read. In her latest holiday release A CHRISTIMAS ODYSSEY, she takes the readers on a journey to the underworld in search of a prodigal son. Through dark alleys and in forbidden lairs of London, Perry conjures up the perfect Victorian holiday read with plenty of intrigue and suspense.
As part of this interview, Ballantine Books has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end of the column. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your holiday season.
Jen: With an esteemed reputation as one of the top Victorian mystery writers, your career has been a fascinating journey in itself. So that my readers may have a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.
Anne: My educational background is a lot of missed school, partly due to illness and a lot of early moving around. Later I was mostly self-educated; I did a lot of reading.
Professionally the only career I wanted was writing, but of course, I had to earn a living before I was published, so I did a variety of jobs, several involving travel. I lived in California for five years which I enjoyed a great deal and learned a lot.
Jen: Your first novel published in 1979 titled THE CATER STREET HANGMAN was the spark that ignited your career. Interestingly enough, this book went on to become a series which is now the “longest sustained crime series by a living author.” Describe for us its premise. And, what aspect of the two main characters, Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte, make them so appealing to your readers?
Anne: The Cater Street Hangmen was never intended to be a series – I was delighted to be published at all! Therefore it had no ‘premise’ for continuing. I found I enjoyed the period because it offered great dramatic contrast between glamour and squalor; London was a city in which almost anything in way of plot was possible, and since it was before scientific forensic medicine and ballistics etc crime could only be solved by common sense, acute observation and deduction, thus allowing the story to be more of a novel than a police procedural. I think the aspects of both Thomas and Charlotte that people respond to are their enthusiasm care for each other and I hope a degree of wits!
Jen: Your second series began in 1990 which features private detective William Monk. For those readers unfamiliar with this series, please share with us its premise.
Anne: The premise of the Monk series was the idea of a man discovering himself entirely from external evidence without any of the understanding which comes from memory, the knowledge why you do anything and what you feel and believe at the time. That, of course, is how we judge others! Gradually Monk comes to have a fairer and gentler view of other people at the same time as a deeper knowledge of himself, and forgiveness in both cases.
Jen: What are the biggest challenges you face with writing two series? And of the two, which is the most labor intensive and why?
Anne: It is always a challenge to make each book both individual and not to repeat yourself, but the Pitt stories deal with plots based in social problems, and political issues; whereas the Monk stories deal more with medical, military and legal problems, often concluding in a trial. In each I try to have a different background and something I need to research, to make it interesting for myself and I hope to the reader. For example, the last one deals with the Opium Wars and the 1867 Pharmacy Bill. The present one deals with the Jameson Raid in 1986/7 in Africa and the import into England of Port wine – among other things!
Jen: You also have written a series that focuses on World War I which features the main characters Joseph and Matthew Reavley. What attracted you to this era? And, please give us a brief synopsis of the storyline.
Anne: I chose World War I to write about because I think it is one of the greatest turning points in the history of Europe and the western world. It also faces the people involved with conflict and decisions more immediate and morally challenging than most of us will have to deal with, but perhaps all of us should know about. There are some profound decisions as to exactly what a person’s moral values are. What will you live or die for? It is very difficult to summarize the plot of five books covering nearly five years of history. It concerns a family of four adult siblings; one an army chaplain in the trenches, one a mother on the home front, one an officer in the Intelligence services and the youngest, an ambulance driver on the Western front. They all face tests of faith, loyalty, judgment and values. What do they believe in? The whole story traces the War from the assassination at Sarajevo through to the Armistice at the end, and covers issues of the change to individuals and nations.
Jen: Your latest endeavor belongs to your overwhelmingly successful Christmas series. A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY is a dark yet suspenseful tale of life in the underworld of debauchery and deceit. What led you to combine Christmas with suspense?
Anne: It seems to be quite a tradition to connect Christmas with suspense, and possibly stories of the supernatural, right back to Dickens. It seems an appropriate season to think of something out of the ordinary, and which questions our values, and comes up with answers that will tell you what you believe to be important.
Jen: Your lead character Henry Rathbone is charged with the daunting task of locating Lucien, the wayward son of his dear friend James Wentworth. Why does he choose to accept the task? And, what makes him the right person for the job?
Anne: Henry Rathbone accepts the task of locating Lucien Wentworth as an act of friendship he could scarcely refuse. He is very far from the right person for the job to begin with but he becomes the right person through patience, loyalty and being willing to learn from others – and above all, courage.
Jen: Do you think Henry and Lucien are somewhat similar in respect to their outlook on life? And, who is the stronger character and why?
Anne: I really don’t think Henry and Lucien are alike at all. Lucien has been extraordinarily self indulgent, and infatuated with a young woman who had very little quality to admire.
Jen: In order to carry out the request, Henry enlists aid from a quirky cast of characters. Let’s start with Squeaky Robinson, the former whore-house keeper. What special talents, besides his utter indifference in the matter, make him a helpful addition to the crew?
Anne: Squeaky Robinson has many talents to fit him for the task of finding Lucien. He is familiar with the criminal underworld and the people in it, geographically and morally.
He has a strong ruthless streak and yet he finds he actually cares what Henry Rathbone thinks of him, to his amazement!
Jen: Crow, a pseudo medical doctor without a degree, spends his life helping those less fortunate residing in the slums. How does his innate distaste for the upper crust translate into his embarking on a journey to save a rich man’s son?
Anne: I don’t think Crow has a dislike for the upper crust – his dislike is for cruelty and waste, whoever exhibits it. It is not a class thing but a matter of compassion. Rich men’s sons can be hurt as much as anyone else’s son, or daughter. Crow, like any other doctor, does not distinguish.
Jen: How does Bessie, the teenager swept up in this undertaking, become the voice of reason in the group? In what way does this adventure enable her to find her inner strength?
Anne: Bessie is the voice of practicality. She has lived in this underworld and experienced its limitations. The adventure makes her realize that she has far more courage and ability than she thought, and she is also likable, and can make friends and be an ally.
Jen: Please take us on a brief tour of your website highlighting your favorite parts.
Anne: My favorite part of the website is the Letters section, because that is my connection with the readers. But I realize that the video section even though I would hate to watch myself! I like the colors of the book covers and I think the brief resumes are helpful.
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you share with us?
Anne: I am currently working on a novel about four ahead of where we are at the moment; that is how it has to be to give the publisher a chance to plan ahead and do a really good job. I have written and delivered – ACCEPTABLE LOSS (Monk), DORCHESTER TERRACE (Pitt) and A SUNLESS SEA (Monk) and a Christmas story for 2011.
Jen: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!
Anne: Thanks for asking me these questions and all best wishes.
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Anne Perry. Please stop by your favorite book store or library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win. Good luck!
Name the lead character in THE CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY.
In December, I will be bringing to you my interview with Laura Alden, author of the hilarious debut novel MURDER AT THE PTA. You won’t want to miss it.