1. Your first book Love in Mid Air is a romance. What made you switch to writing mysteries?
I’ve always read mysteries so it was probably inevitable that sooner or later I’d turn my hand to writing one. I was originally scared of the fact that they need to be so densely plotted, but I decided to take a deep breath and just plunge. The result is three books in less than twelve months. Choosing the time frame was easy – I love the Victorian era. And I’ve also had a long term interest in forensics, so it was natural to focus on the first forensics unit at Scotland Yard, which was indeed founded in response to the fact they never caught Jack the Ripper. They had so little science back in those days – not even fingerprinting or blood typing, the sort of things modern detectives take for granted. It’s a wonder they ever caught anyone at all!
2. City of Darkness revolves around Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders, which are, to this day, still unsolved. This makes the book a unique one, because although the readers get some answers to their questions, they know that the real cases were never solved. Additionally, the characters don’t end up solving the case. It’s unusual, but I felt that it made for a great story! Was it difficult to write the book like this and still complete the story arc?
It was challenging because I knew going in, of course, that the Ripper was never caught and ergo, that I couldn't end my story with my detective hero triumphantly bringing the bad guy to justice. But I also knew I couldn't leave the reader hanging with no resolution. My solution was to go into the killer’s POV so that the reader would know who the Ripper was, even though my chief detective, Trevor Welles, ends the book in frustration. The man I named as Jack is a real historical figure and one of the prime suspects among Ripperologists (yes, they do exist). I believe he’s a likely candidate.
Another funny offshoot is that, just as you say, I couldn't have my forensics unit emerge triumphant in this book and I found I rather liked that. After all, in real life not every case is solved. So Trevor and his unit won’t have a spotless record going forward in the series. They’ll win some and lose some, although the reader will always know the truth.
3. Book 2, City of Light, is set at the time of the Exposition Universelle, in Paris, and also focuses on the events surrounding the Cleveland Street Scandal. What was the inspiration behind this book? Why did you choose to focus on these particular events?
When Trevor is only one of many Scotland Yard detectives who is trying to solve the Ripper case, his best friend and chief rival in the quest is a man named Rayley Abrams. Once again, I borrowed from history, because when the Ripper wrote graffiti about Jews at one of the crime scenes, all the Jewish officers were immediately pulled from the case.
So Trevor ends up being up in charge at the expense of Rayley, which he realizes is unfair. He suggests Rayley for another plum post, which is going to Paris to study forensics with the French police, who at that time were ahead of the British in body identification. So when City of Darkness ended and I started thinking about where to send my team next, I thought “Rayley’s already in Paris. I’ll just have something happen over there.” And voila, it was the start of City of Light.
The internet is such a boon to writers. When I began to fish around for possibilitiesin 1889, I saw that was the year of the Exposition and the building of the Eiffel Tower, as well as the Cleveland Street Scandal back in London. So I built the second book around these two real-life events.
4. Which of your characters from the City of Mystery series do you most identify with?
They’re not only all like me, they all ARE me! Trevor, Rayley, Emma, Tom, Geraldine and Davy are parts of myself or different ways that I look at things. I always say that no character can have a thought or make a statement that the writer hasn't thought of first. Which is pretty alarming when you consider that I also get in the head of serial killers!
5. Tell me about Book 3, City of Silence, which was justreleased.
City of Silence is set in St. Petersburg, Russia. Queen Victoria – who took an interest in crime, by the way - is the unofficial sponsor of the forensics unit in the series and she asks the team to come alongwith her as she escorts her favorite granddaughter, Alexandra, on a visit to Russia. Alexandra has fallen in love with Nicholas but Victoria considers Russia a dangerous, violent place and doesn't want the two young people to marry. Of course they all no sooner get to the Winter Palace than a series of crimes prove the Queen right, including the murder of a pair of ballet dancers.
6. The next book (Book 4) City of Bells, will be set in Calcutta, India. As my family is from India (andmy dad grew up in Calcutta), I was interested in knowing why you chose to set this book in India.
I love moving my characters all around the globe and when you think of England during the Victorian era, of course you think of India as well. In this book, Aunt Geraldine, a rather eccentric spinster who is a great favorite of my readers, is the lead character. She visited India as a young woman and fell in love with an officer who now, fifty years later, has been accused of murder.
India is also a great locale since few American readers know a lot about it. People have definite visions when they think of Victorian London or the Eiffel Tower but when I send the team to Russia or India, I need to do a lot more world-building for my audience. And that’s great fun since I learn so much myself!