Many young men (well, two) have asked me what was the secret of my success as an author of whammo, socko murder mysteries.
I tell them it’s the simplest trick. Just find yourself a haunted cottage built about the time when Shakespeare was a teenager and move in. There is little else to do in a haunted cottage but get mysterious yourself.
England’s a great location for countryside murder mysteries (See Agatha Christie. Dorothy L. Sayers and Marjorie Allingham). I am, however, an American from rural New England. I come from a town where the air is so good no one dies unless they are murdered.
Day-dreaming of my faraway homeland after more than half a century writing a humorous column for the Guardian and being Literary Editor of the late Punch, I decided to reconstruct my home town. I turned the river into a lake and moved a mountain across to the other bank and started killing people.
This was Death Dyed Blonde, published by Quartet in 2008. Now I’m giving the world another, Murder In A Cold Climate. Its first sentence is “Dr Phyllis Skypeck was getting to be quite a slut”.
Still, an early reader says it’s “like Agatha Christie written by Raymond Chandler.” No knock there. But recently reading the Simple Art of Murder, a Vintage reprint of Chandler’s 1934 essay on what’s what with murder tales, I note that in it he attacks the sloppy police work in murder mysteries of the 1920s and 30s, among them A.A.Milne’s The Red House Mystery, Milne’s only crime novel, published in 1922 and also reprinted by Vintage.
Chandler was of course the creator of the best ever private eye, Philip Marlowe, but it seems to me that he hasn’t much time for murder mysteries that are simply fun. And for the man who created the colourful California world of Bay City in The Big Sleep and the five other Marlowe stories, he fails to see that the mystery writers of the 1920s and 30s were also creating locales we could enjoy stepping into.
They were not big city locales. They were set in the country.
Cosy and quaint my work has been called. The excellent and fascinating Jilly Cooper understood perfectly when she said Death Dyed Blonde was “funny, beautifully observed, gentle… and captured a wonderfully quaint New England community in such a charming way”. That’s a lot better than a kick in the head, and it has nothing to do with serial killers in back alleys or masked rapists on Times Square. I wanted to create a world which was a bit of Eden except for the odd corpse showing up. So Murder In A Cold Climate will soon be available for £9.99 online or from your friendly neighbourhood bookshop.
Welcome to my world. You don’t even have to wipe your shoes before you come in, but don’t trip over that dead man in the corner. The one with the ice pick in his neck. Or is it a bullet between his eyes? Next Spring, I’m going to have to sweep the bodies out of here.
Good night, fellow travellers in Arcady.