Bookseller-turned-amateur detective Delhi Laine is back with another atmospheric mystery, but this time, it’s a family affair.
Nineteen years ago, Delhi Laine’s two-year old daughter disappeared. After a frantic but inconclusive search, authorities determined that she must have drowned, her body washed away from the picturesque English park in which she was playing.
Delhi’s heart has never healed, yet her family has since soldiered on. But when a mysterious letter arrives containing the ominous words, YOUR DAUGHTER DID NOT DROWN, their lives are once again thrown into turmoil. With her family torn between fighting for the past and protecting the future, Delhi is caught in the middle. For a mother, the choice to find her daughter seems easy. But for a family left fractured by the mistakes of the past, the consequence, and the truth, may be infinitely more costly.
Fans of Carolyn Hart will be swept away by this story of a family on the brink - and their hunt for the truth.
Thank you, Mrs. Judi Culbertson
Does a woman detective have some advantages over a man detective? What kind of a person/detective is Delhi Laine?
Absolutely. Women amateur detectives usually have more interesting day jobs, and work in fascinating milieus. My character, Delhi Laine, is a used and rare bookseller which explores the world of cut-throat estate sales. It also lets readers learn what valuable books they may have right on their own shelves. Women sleuths are caterers, professional organizers, dog walkers, archeologists, you name it. When was the last time you heard about a man solving crimes from his cupcake shop?
I think that women are also more interested in domestic situations, everything from the reasons a marriage went wrong to why the chow mein tastes funny. Women sleuths can decode psychological hints that turn out to be important later on. It’s also easier for women to ask personal questions, in part because they seem less threatening and people are more used to confiding in a woman.
It’s also natural for women amateur detectives to be perceived as “outsiders” whose findings are discounted by the authorities. How satisfying is it when the underdog turns out to be right and the police have gotten it wrong? Very! In my stories, Delhi is looking for the truth in a situation and often sees things the detective on the case, Frank Marselli, doesn’t. As he points out to her, “You’re the nagging pain you get with appendicitis or a brain tumor. It can’t be ignored, but it doesn’t make anyone’s day.”
Delhi operates on a moral code leftover from being raised as a Methodist minister’s daughter. She sees life realistically and with humor. She’s tenacious in protecting her family and has to find out what really happened. Her other passion is books and she is always hoping to discover the one great find of her life.
What does a writer need, apart from talent, to write a good mystery & detective story?
I’ve published books in several genres, and find that mysteries the most challenging to get right. I read a lot of mysteries and love watching British detective series, especially Morse and Frost, and the Canadian detective, Murdoch. What these stories have in common, along with those created by writers such as Donna Leon and Sue Grafton, is a world that you can settle into, with a main character you want to know more about.
To write a good mystery, you need characters that readers can identify with and a world that they want to keep coming back to. You also need a strong plot with complications and misdirection and, ideally, a clever twist at the end. This happened by accident in my second Delhi Laine book, An Illustrated Death. Until almost the end I thought the murderer was one person; it turned out to be someone else. Most readers were fooled too.
How do you like (and why) your mystery stories to be? Do you give clues through the story for the readers to try to figure out the mystery on their own or you keep everything for the ending? What should be avoided in a mystery / detective story?
As I said, I like mysteries that draw me into a colorful world and let me settle in, whether it be Oxford, Venice, Santa Teresa, or Amish Country. I like getting to know the same people from book to book. I like a strong mystery as well. This is the kind of world and puzzle I’m trying to create.
I give clues throughout the story, information that may not seem important. Often it’s an aside to something else. I hate mysteries that suddenly drop in the perpetrator at the very end. That definitely should be avoided. When I read the cover flap or book description, certain words are a deal breaker for me: crime syndicate, teenage runaway, drug cartel, ex-convict or anything else that signals a hard-boiled world. I also don’t like a story narrated in alternating chapters between the detective and the criminal.
On the other hand, I can’t stand heroines who are relentlessly chipper, inoffensive to the point of being long-suffering. Too-cute descriptions of people and situations make me cringe. I don’t like romance mixed in with my mystery either, though I know a fair number of people do.
How do you think you evolved as a writer from your first published book?
This is hard to say, since I’ve written in different genres and for a long time. A Photographic Death is my thirteenth published book. As far as mysteries, I feel each book is getting better. At least I hope so.
What is the worst thing about our present day mystery & detective literature and what is the best one?
Times have changed since Agatha Christie, and it’s gotten harder to come up with ingenious plots. For a while, authors seemed trying to outdo each other with the grisliest murders possible, overturning past taboos. I find that tough slang and constant profanity get old very fast, along with the belief that a sex scene is de rigeur. Too often these are gratuitous and shoehorned in and don’t add much to the story.
The best thing about present day mysteries, I think, is that they present a more rounded picture of the detectives’ lives and emotional struggles. Good literature of any genre draws you into a believable world and and makes it compelling. I personally like DNA, psychological profiling, and other tools that weren’t available in Dame Agatha’s day. Perhaps in response to forensic science, there’s also been a flowering of mysteries set in other centuries, other countries, relying more on traditional deduction.
It’s a smorgasbord out there.
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JUDI CULBERTSON draws on her experience as a used-and-rare book dealer, social worker, and world traveler to create her bibliophile mysteries. She has co-authored five illustrated guides with her husband, Tom Randall, of such cities as Paris, London, and New York. She is also the author of the acclaimed nonfiction titles SCALING DOWN and THE CLUTTER CURE. She lives in Port Jefferson, New York, with her family.
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Such an interesting interview with this author! Thanks so much for introducing us to her and her series mysteries.
@Lance - Thank you!
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