Interview: Cathy Ace, author of The Corpse with the Diamond Hand

Professor Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson have finally said ‘I do’. To celebrate, they set sail on a romantic Hawaiian honeymoon cruise and, for nearly two weeks, the mystery solving newlyweds are worry-free. But then a man drops dead in the games room right in front of them and Cait and Bud can’t help but lend their expertise.

To the others in the games room, the sudden death of Tommy Trussler—the ship’s onboard card-game tutor—appears to have been from natural causes. But the professor suspects something much more sinister. With only two days left at sea—and thousands of possible suspects—the head of security is eager to solve the case and invites Cait and Bud to aid in the investigation. But the unique circumstances of an at-sea investigation mean their involvement cannot be official, and Cait must lean on her charm to conduct her own covert interviews.

Complete with laugh-out-loud moments and mouth-watering descriptions of the ship’s cuisine, the case of the The Corpse with the Diamond Hand will once again have you marvelling at Cait’s cleverness as she brings another murderer to justice.


The Corpse with the Diamond Hand is #6 in the Cait Morgan Mysteries.

 

Q: Aloha Cathy, thanks for stopping by! When I saw that The Corpse with the Diamond Hand was set in Hawaii, and featured a sleuthing professor no less, I had to read it for myself. I really enjoyed it! It was impeccably researched, tightly plotted, and fast paced. It started with a bang and pulled me through one twist after another, but it wasn’t all action; it was also rich with detail.  I really enjoyed seeing Hawaii through the eyes of an author who’s obviously spent time there observing. I also liked spending time with Cait and now I can’t wait for the next adventure. For those readers who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Cait and Bud, can you tell us what the book is about?

A: The setting for the book is a cruise ship that’s visited the Hawaiian Islands, prior to its journey across the Pacific to Vancouver. Cait Morgan, a Welsh Canadian professor of criminal psychology who specializes in victim profiling at the University of Vancouver, is enjoying a belated honeymoon with her “relatively new” husband, Bud Anderson , a retired homicide detective. They still have two sea-days left before they arrive at their home port of Vancouver when Tommy Trussler, the man employed by the cruise-line to teach card games on the ship, drops dead pretty much in front of them. Called in by the ship’s head of security to lend their special skills to the investigation, Cait and Bud initially focus on working out “whodunit”, only to discover they need to protect the innocent, as well as unmask the audacious culprit.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the history between Cait and Bud? And talk about how, over a series, you might decide to change some elements but keep others constant?

A: In the first book in this series, THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, we met Cait sleuthing alone in the south of France, and learned Bud was a friend and work colleague – indeed, you might say he was her boss, because he was the one who’d been hiring her, on occasion, to profile victims on behalf of his homicide team. Cait trusts Bud enough to call upon him when she’s in trouble, as she does in the first in the series. Events unfold in that book which allow Bud and Cait to think about dating. However, because Cait and Bud are so busy solving puzzling whodunits within the books, their relationship grows “between the books”. This means there’s only a hint of romance in my work, but readers can easily spot how things are developing between two mature adults who each have enough tragedy in their past lives to make a new start seem appealing – though maybe a little scary. We learn more about their past lives, their present attachment, and their future plans, in each book.

The way my series is written, each book has an entirely new cast of characters, and a fresh location. Cait and Bud are the constants as they travel to BC’s wine country (THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE), to a resort on the Pacific coast of Mexico near Puerto Vallarta (THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB), and to Las Vegas (THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR). We most recently met them holed up in a creepy Welsh castle where they were planning their destination wedding, in THE CORPSE WITH THE SAPPHIRE EYES. Because of the way jacket notes work, I’m not really giving anything away when I tell you that, despite some terrible problems, they do finally manage to get married, and are now on their honeymoon. One of the things I was keen to avoid was a constant “will they, won’t they” issue across too many books – so I think they’re on just about the right trajectory. Challenges they face, even though their wedding is behind them, are Bud accepting his retirement, and Cait – who has married at the age of forty-eight and a half – getting used to no longer living a single, solitary, academic life anymore.

Q: Writing closed room mysteries is one of the most challenging things to do. How do you do your research and come up with solutions?

A: I enjoy reading books where only a small group of people could have dunnit – so that’s what I write. But, beyond that, I try to tell a slightly different type of tale each time. I’m pretty certain my readers are a well-read bunch, so are familiar with the different sub-genres of traditional crime fiction, and I like to play with that idea. My first book was a classic “dinner table” mystery, focusing on the diners at a deadly meal at a swish apartment block in the south of France. My second involved an entire wine-growing village-style community, where vintners and restaurateurs rubbed cold shoulders, and indulged in some strange cult-like activities. In the book set in Mexico, an ex-pat community living in their newly-constructed “wonderland” at an agave plantation provided the pool of suspects, and in my fourth – possibly the most challenging to write (which might be why it won the Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery in 2015) I set up a situation where a corpse and a group of suspects were locked in one room. In many respects it’s a bit like “And Then there Were None” but set in a room, rather than on an island. Of course the bodies pile up and the suspect pool dwindles, and at times I wished I’d decided on a less constricted setting, but, as readers told me, that was the thrill of the story!

In the fifth book I allowed myself to indulge in a Nancy Drew meets Edgar Allen Poe situation, where creepy corridors, deadly staircases, and bewildering acts of vandalism take their toll on the weird family hosting Cait and Bud at their clifftop Welsh castle. In Cait’s sixth adventure, while a cruise ship might seem to provide a massive pool of potential killers, we quickly find that someone in the room at the time of the death in question must have had a hand in the killing.

All classic set-ups, all with a little twist, but all remaining true to a general theme. With Cait’s background in criminal psychology, it’s how the mind of the killer works, rather than the forensics of the case, that tends to be the core of the puzzle – though, of course, how-dunnit is always a good game to play while considering who-dunnit. For the who-dunnit part of the puzzle, like my character Cait Morgan, my own background is in psychology, which I enjoy having the chance to “apply” in my tales. I carry out a great deal of research into the how-dunnit part of my puzzles. I’m fortunate to have built an online relationship with a very accommodating coroner, whose responses to my emails are wonderfully detailed. That said, I hope no one is watching my search history, because the number of methods of killing people it covers is quite alarming!

Q: What is the difference between a closed room mystery and a locked room mystery? 

A: Locked room mysteries are when the body is inside a locked room and the puzzle is how anyone did it. I will write one of those, but I haven’t done so yet – I write closed room/closed circle mysteries where only a small number of people could have done it…which is where the puzzle lies.

Q: And speaking of research, do you personally visit every setting that you write about?

A: Absolutely. I always choose a place I’ve spent a good deal of time in already. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have traveled a great deal throughout my life – often working in a city or an area for months, so I had the chance to get to know places like an “insider”. Now I can take readers to locations I know well, and love, in my books. The setting for THE CORPSE WITH THE DIAMOND HAND is especially close to my heart because, on one of my many visits to Hawaii, my husband and I were married at a friend’s home near Honolulu, and we took this very cruise, sailing back to our home in Vancouver.

By the way, I also always make sure I have eaten and drunk everything Cait consumes – a part of the research I am happy to undertake…all in the quest for authenticity, you understand!

Q: In keeping with the Golden Age spirit of closed room mysteries, your covers are beautifully retro. Can you tell us a little about those–how was it decided to go for that vintage feel, and who does them?

A: Thank you – I adore my book covers! I’m fortunate that my publishing house, TouchWood Editions, allows me to be very “hands on” with them. They have an in-house artist, Pete Kohut, who puts a lot of time into finding exactly the right photograph, based upon the handful I send him with my vision for the cover. Usually he finds a much better version of the key elements I’ve put forward. Once he has the right photo and layout, he adds a touch of ageing, to give the cover the right feel. His choice of typeface is the icing on the cake. I think it respects the feeling of the Golden Age of the 1930’s without aping it. The style was established with the first in the series and, because each book has a different setting, it’s fun to try to make the series of covers look like a retro series of travel posters.

Q: When people talk about “cozy” mysteries, it can mean anything from “cats, recipes and punny title” to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books. Do you consider your series “cozy?” “Traditional?” Something else?

A: I always think of the term “cozy” as referring to a continuum of many different types of works. What they all have in common (generally speaking) is a lack of foul language, no/little violence on the page, no sex on the page, and no children or animals being killed/harmed. I’m comfortable with that, because there’s such a lot left to work with. Within that range I’d say I write “traditional” mysteries; there are no cats (though there’s Marty, Bud’s tubby, black Labrador), recipes (though there’s usually a good deal of description of the local foods in which Cait loves to indulge), or even a punny title (I accept that each book needing a title incorporating a corpse with a precious body part is something that creates its own challenges, but I enjoy it!). However, there are lots of clues, red herrings, suspects, intriguing facts emerging, and, ultimately, there’s the classic denouement where the sleuth (in my case she’s not an absolute amateur, as she is well versed in criminal psychology) confronts all the suspects and unmasks the perpetrator/s. One of the review quotes I’m most proud of is from The Globe and Mail when it referred to my work as having “…touches of Christie or Marsh, but with a bouquet of Kinsey Millhone…”. It made me so happy, I actually cried.

Q:  Writing can be very solitary. How do you balance the need for solitude with the need to get out and be with people?

A: I’m very fortunate to live in a peaceful, rural haven. Even so, I’m never alone. My two chocolate Labradors are my constant companions, and, even if they desert me for a bout of squirreling, or are snoring on the sofa (as they are right now) I have lots of people in my head talking to me all the time! I’ve always been happy with my own company, but, when I do socialize, I really throw myself into it, and enjoy it. For me, this life allows me the perfect balance.

Q: What’s next for Cait and Bud?

A: I’m delighted to tell you they’re off to one of my favorite cities, Amsterdam, in THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE, which comes out in the spring of 2016. In this book they have the chance to fill in some of Bud’s missing family background, after he discovers his mother had a brother she never, ever mentioned. Was her long-lost sibling the scoundrel she assures her son he was, or a talented artist and Van Gogh devotee who could have made so much more of his life? After that, Cait is sent by her university to teach a special course in Budapest, so in the fall of 2016 we get to meet THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS. On this occasion, Bud has to stay in Canada when Cait jets off to endure a Hungarian winter. Cait’s alone again, and faced with specters from a Canadian cold case, that might have its roots in the cold war.

 


About The Author  

Cathy Ace
About The Author –
Originally from Wales, now-Canadian Cathy Ace writes the Cait Morgan Mysteries. Her series has found her criminal psychologist, foodie sleuth stumbling upon Corpses with a Silver Tongue, a Golden Nose, an Emerald Thumb, Platinum Hair, Sapphire Eyes and, now, a Diamond Hand during her globetrotting. The winner of The Bony Blithe Award for Best Light Mystery in 2015, when not helping Cait solve traditional, closed-circle mysteries, Cathy’s a keen gardener, ably assisted by her green-pawed chocolate Labradors.

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