Later on today, I’ll be posting my review of May Day Murder, the third book featuring the Whitstable-based Pearl Nolan, another in a medium-sized line of detectives/chefs – most of whom are based in the US and tend to have those pun-heavy titles that you either love or hate – The Long Quiche Goodbye for example. But there are UK based culinary sleuths, notably the wonderful Chef Maurice, and now Pearl Nolan. Regular readers will recall that I reviewed the second book in the series, Murder At Sea, a week or so ago, so do go and take a look at that review.
As part of the Blog Tour for May Day Murder, I’ve interviewed Julie Wassmer, the author of said tome. Off we go.
You’ve written scripts for television before, notably Eastenders and London’s Burning. What brought you to crime fiction?
In short – Agatha Christie. I read my first Christie novel at the age of 13 – a copy of Murder on the Orient Express that I borrowed from the public library one rainy afternoon – and from that moment, I was hooked. I went through the library’s collection of Christies pretty fast and then reserved more from elsewhere. I was always an avid reader but I wrote too and I harboured a dream that, one day, I would write a crime novel but my TV work got in the way of that for a couple of decades…
This is the third book featuring Pearl Nolan – what should we know about her going into this book? And how does she find time to run both a detective agency and a restaurant?
Each novel can be read as a stand-alone piece of fiction but it’s in the first book of the series, The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, published in March 2015, that Pearl first decided to revisit her unfulfilled ambitions by starting up her own detective agency. As a young woman, she had embarked on training with the police, keen to use her skills as a “people person” to become a high ranking detective, but a teenage pregnancy had got in the way of her dreams and instead she had spent twenty years bringing up her son, Charlie, while managing a successful seafood restaurant – The Whitstable Pearl – in her home town. Now that Charlie is at university, and the restaurant is ticking away nicely without Pearl’s presence always being required, she recognises she’s suffering from empty nest syndrome and seizes upon some free time to revisit old dreams – as did I with the writing of that novel.
Some authors make up locations for their sleuths, but you chose a real place. Why Whitstable?
Good question! One of the most popular novelists of the 1930s, Somerset Maugham, actually spent some of his childhood years in Whitstable, after his mother died and he was sent to live with his uncle, a local vicar, and while Maugham went on to write of the town in his novels, Of Human Bondage (1915) and Cakes and Ale (1930) he referred to it as Blackstable. It’s been said that he did this because he had an unhappy time in the town and whether that’s true or not, I can’t say for sure, but I do know that in writing The Whitstable Pearl Mysteries I wanted to pay tribute to the town that’s been my adopted home for the past seventeen years and so it seemed natural to me not to fictionalise it but to celebrate it – using its own name. Whitstable is a quirky place with an independent, anti- establishment spirit – which I sometimes feel might be down to its old smuggling history – but it’s also quintessentially English and full of interesting characters – the perfect location for the kind of dark “cosy crime” genre of these books.
There’s a distinct nod towards Agatha Christie here, especially in the set-up. Is she an influence, and who else, if anyone?
Yes, well spotted! As mentioned earlier, Christie was my first introduction to crime fiction and I became an instant fan of the genre through her writing and the intricacy of her plots, but at the time I discovered her, I was growing up in a very rundown part of the East End of London, and these books opened up another world to me of exotic locations and country houses. Clearly my upbringing helped me to go on to write for the fictional TV world of Eastenders but it was through books like Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile and A Caribbean Mystery that I came to appreciate the importance of location and how readers can be transported to other worlds. For that reason, I remain a fan of writers who make great use of location in their work, especially Donna Leon whose Commissario Brunetti novels are set in Venice, and Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series based in Botswana. I also love the work of the American writer, Stephen Dobyns, who brings alive the Saratoga Race Course in his Charlie Bradshaw crime novels. I love the idea of location becoming almost another character in a crime novel and I like to think that when my readers reach the final page of a Whitstable Pearl Mystery they feel that they’ve just been away for a much needed break on the coast.
What’s next for you? More mysteries for Pearl (this is described a trilogy) or something new?
Another good question, not least because it prompts some very good news! The books were indeed intended to be a trilogy but I am absolutely thrilled to reveal that I am being commissioned for more titles by Little, Brown UK and I am currently plotting my next book in the Whitstable Pearl Mystery series – no spoilers…but you can certainly count on murder remaining on Pearl’s menu!
So, thank you very much to Julie for taking the time to answer my questions and pop back later to see what I thought of May Day Murder, available in all good bookshops now.