Make Mine Murder
It’s a conversation grabber—and sometimes stopper. “I write murder mysteries.”—the answer to the polite, “What do you do?” What follows has ranged from a perceptible move away to comments like, “You don’t look like you write about murder”—(and that would be what kind of face?)—and an enormous number of suggestions for killing without a trace, which continues to give me pause. Notify the individual’s family members?
There was never any question that when I was given a gift of time—leaving my job during my husband’s sabbatical in another country—I would write the novel in my head as a mystery. Since childhood, I had read anything and everything, but it was mysteries that posed the wondrous challenge of trying to guess whodunit before the final page. And here I am so many years later trying to keep readers from doing just that.
Agatha Christie set the bar. As I write, it’s one I gaze upon from below with admiration, longing, and very occasionally a glimmer of recognition. I think of Jane Marple as a kind of Great Aunt to my own series character, Faith Fairchild. Jane Marple was—and remains—the quintessential female sleuth, relying on her own intuition and keen powers of observation as the basic tools for detection. She, and Dame Agatha, would scorn the current use of the Internet to ferret out information, having no need for Google. Instead, Miss Marple displays an uncanny ability to make connections between apparently disparate individuals and events, past and present. Human beings are much of a type, as are the situations in which they find themselves. The classic village mystery, of which Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage may be the best example, is the genre into which my series falls. However, I do not limit the locale to a place like St. Mary Mead or in my case, Aleford, Massachusetts, a fictitious Boston suburb. I’ve broadened the definition to include New York City; Lyon, France; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and locales in Maine, Vermont, and Norway. What motivates individuals to commit murder, knows no borders. The kinds of communication that exist in a village exist in a city, a country. Miss Marple with her bird watching binoculars or sudden need to weed her garden becomes transformed into someone looking into apartment windows across an airshaft or the individual who spies a moving van, stuffs newspapers into a trash bag, and heads for the curb gleaning clues about the new occupants from the furniture.
It all comes down to a passionate interest in people. Miss Marple’s self-described “hobby” is “studying people, human nature if you will.” I think of my sleuth as someone who metaphorically takes a stick and pokes beneath the surface of a pond to find out what’s underneath, someone who wants to know what’s behind an individual’s public face and explore any disparities. It is in this space, the gap between what seems and what is, that true terror lurks. The good neighbor who waters your plants and feeds your cat while you’re away may, in fact, be a serial killer with fifty bodies buried in the backyard.
Bodies! Miss Marple’s friend Mrs. Bantry appeals for help saying, “You’re so good at bodies!” All my titles start with, “The Body in…” With the current one, number twenty-three, The Body in the Wardrobe I hope I’ve become “good at bodies” too.
The Body in the Wardrobe is the 23rd in Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series and her 30th book overall. She has published for middle grade and YA readers as well as a collection of short stories, Small Plates (2014), and a series cookbook, Have Faith in your Kitchen (Orchises Press). She has been awarded Agathas for Best First, Best Novel, and Best SS and also was nominated for additional Agathas, an Edgar, Macavity, Mary Higgins Clark and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She is the recipient of Malice Domestic 28th’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives in Maine and Massachusetts.