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Friday 1 September 2017

ℚ♫ Murder in the Dog Days: Maggie Ryan [6] - P.M. Carlson

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about Murder in the Dog Days (first Published December 1990, this edition , The Mystery Company, 274 pages), a Traditional Mystery, book six of Maggie Ryan series.

"An ingeniously plotted, fair-play, locked-room mystery, one of the best we've encountered." — Tom and Enid Schantz, The Denver Post

"A dandy locked room murder…The investigation is a dangerous one… [the] solution both surprising and satisfying" — A Suitable Job for a Woman

"A satisfying, fast-paced whodunit that also explores a range of social issues, especially the violence of war and its aftermath." — Cynthia R. Benjamins, Fairfax Journal

|| Synopsis || Trailer || Teaser: KCR Preview || The Series || Author Q&A || About the Author || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

A very warm welcome to P.M. Carlson; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter!

Here at BooksChatter we love music; do you have a music playlist that you used in Murder in the Dog Days, or which inspired you whilst you were writing it?

"This is such a good question for this book! My detective Maggie Ryan loves music, and her friend and later husband Nick O'Connor is a professional actor. In the first book of this series we meet him with the lead in an off-Broadway musical, and music of many kinds winds through the series. But when you asked this question I realized for the first time that in MURDER IN THE DOG DAYS different characters have musical motifs.

This story is set in the 1970's, but many of the characters are still dealing with issues left over from the tumult of the sixties. Music is part of their memories and the problems they are still working through. In this book we meet Maggie and her family through music. Maggie, Nick, their toddler daughter, and Maggie's brother Jerry first appear waiting for Jerry's wife Olivia outside the newspaper office where she works. They're singing Peter, Paul and Mary hits from the sixties: "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Puff, the Magic Dragon." "Puff" is about drugs, perhaps, but it's also a story of a boy abandoning wonderful childhood illusions. The music is harmonious and communal, like Maggie's family connections, but there's a strand of underlying sorrow, of war and broken dreams, that echoes what the characters have experienced.

A different sixties song is running through Detective Holly Schreiner's mind. Her experiences in the sixties were traumatic, and the song that haunts her is the raucously ironic "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" by Country Joe and the Fish, with its repeated line "Whoopee! We're all gonna die!"

The murder victim is Olivia's friend, another reporter. His family brings us into the seventies. His twelve-year-old daughter adores John Denver's music, but her father is housebound and trying to report an important story, and they get into a heated argument about the "noise."

When Detective Schreiner follows the clues to some Vietnam vets, she sees a poster involving "Blowin' in the Wind" again, not the harmonious Peter, Paul and Mary version that Maggie's family sings, but Bob Dylan's hard-edged original.

From the beginning I felt that this story should be told against a background of the Civil War's still unforgotten horrors and sorrows. I set it in my brother's area of Virginia where Colonel Mosby's guerrilla raiders terrified Union soldiers, so songs like the cheery words and minor key of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" were also running through my mind."
What was the inspiration for Murder in the Dog Days?
"Well, after hearing about the characters' music, you won't be surprised to hear that I had issues about Vietnam too! I think most Americans did. Even those of us who didn't see combat heard about it on the news every night. There was a universal draft lottery for young males, and most of us had relatives or friends who served in Vietnam. When the war was declared over, most of us tried to put it aside, to pretend it didn't matter any more. Of course people who had served there couldn't forget, had to deal somehow with the physical scarring or post-traumatic stress or ongoing grief for lost friends. And even as a protestor, I felt guilty for not doing enough to stop it.

What really triggered MURDER IN THE DOG DAYS for me came from mysteries. I'd already written several Maggie Ryan books about the sixties involving other human stresses like loss and addiction and balancing needs of family members. Despite Nick and Maggie's sense of humor and the intellectual fun of setting up good puzzles, I realized that Vietnam often braided itself into the plots even when I wasn't consciously trying to make it an issue. I'm a fan first and read a lot of mysteries too. One day I realized that I was looking at the third or fourth thriller where the villain was a crazy, murderous Vietnam veteran, and the psychologist in me started complaining. Real vets are human beings, just like me. But some were so changed by this war that thriller writers were using combat service as shorthand to signal unreasoning evil. What had happened?

I didn't want to think about it. I knew it wasn't necessarily a thriller writer's job to examine the mental history of the villains. But I was a psychologist who wrote traditional mysteries so it was my job to explore motives and characters. Reluctantly, I started reading the case studies, learning and crying and empathizing, and soon it was clear I had to write about the war experiences I'd been trying so hard to ignore."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover for Murder in the Dog Days - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"The cover art for The Mystery Company's edition of MURDER IN THE DOG DAYS is by Robin Agnew. She's not only a gifted artist but also a devoted mystery bookseller, through Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor. All the Maggie Ryan covers picture the crime scene, and she also works in important elements of the story–– for example, the period typewriter and a copy of the Sun-Dispatch newspaper where the murdered investigative reporter worked."
Why should we read this series, and what sets you apart from the rest? / What makes your book/series unique? - What should readers be aware of?
"People have said they appreciate the Maggie Ryan series as mysteries of character. Maggie and Nick enjoy each other's humor and sometimes play pranks on stuffier folks, although they've both had griefs of their own and share a deep sense of justice. As a psychologist I find myself fascinated by how people cope with a variety of problems that the Maggie books allow me to explore.

Fans of fair-play plotting should enjoy MURDER IN THE DOG DAYS. It's been praised as a good locked-room mystery.

Readers who like historical context will learn (or perhaps remember) what the US was like in the late sixties and seventies, including the social dimension–– for example, women could not fight in the military, could not get mortgages if they were of childbearing age, and so forth. As for LGBTQ people, they had to keep themselves deep in the closet if they wanted to have jobs or apartments or avoid getting beaten up.

The book may be hard for readers who want to avoid bad language or characters who remember bad experiences, because I've tried to depict the powerful emotions war engenders. But I want to stress that this book is about recovering, about coping with horrible experiences, about moving ahead even in difficult situations."
What is in store next?
"Next up is MURDER MISREAD, very different from MURDER IN THE DOG DAYS! Instead of being told from the points of view of an eager investigative reporter and a tough cop, MURDER MISREAD's story is presented as seen by two professors at an upstate New York university. Maggie Ryan is working with Professor Charlie Fielding, who studies reading and also collects film memorabilia, and becomes a suspect when his colleague Tal Chandler is found shot at the edge of the campus. The second point of view is that of Tal's wife, Professor Anne Chandler, a professor of French."
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"I love live theatre! Luckily my husband teaches theatre in New York City and I get to see a lot of plays. Here I am about to see Red Bull Theatre's Inspector General (great fun!)"
Thank you for sharing!

Murder in the Dog Days
Available NOW!

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CMash said...

This was a great in depth interview that I now have to read this book. Remembering most of the songs mentioned, I know I will enjoy the time that this book is set in.

P.M. Carlson said...

Loved visiting with you. The interview was great fun, and I love the playlist you put together!