Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Guest Blogger: Laurie R. King. Murder May Be Everywhere--But What Kind?

Cara – Tuesday

I’m thrilled to host guest blogger and good friend Laurie R. King today. It’s really a delight to hear about the origins and inspiration for Riviera Gold, which publishes on June 9th, where it’s summertime on the Riviera, and the Jazz Age has come to France’s once-sleepy coastline. So have the intrepid Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, in search of their long-time housekeeper Mrs Hudson. Welcome, Laurie. 

As the title says, murder is indeed everywhere.

Casino Monte Carlo

When I travel my characters around the world—Palestine, India, Japan, San Francisco, France, Venice, and now the South of France—I never have any problem having them trip over a dead body or two.  (Although I’ll admit that in a couple of books, I finished the first draft only to realize, Oops, I forgot the corpse. I’m not sure the last one had an actual murder, in the end…)
But the kind of murder—now that is key. Whether the victim is a character we know and care about, or a peripheral figure only there to provide the end of a thread leading to a tangle of deceit and crime, the death has to be plausible to the time and place, and it has to tell us something about the killer. And often the victim starts out as an apparent accident or suicide, only to have the plot uncover the stark fact of murder as the tangle is unspooled.
In any case, whether or not—as the song says—the punishment fits the crime, the corpse certainly has to. A man who dies on lonely Dartmoor could only have been killed by someone whose crime fits into a countryside little but sheep, munitions training grounds, and  tin-mines.  A woman whose death appears to be at the hand of her husband but in fact was killed by another must herself have connections, however hidden, with both men.  A family who dies in an apparent motorcar accident has to do so in a place where such an accident might easily happen.
The same applies to the supporting actors and what they say about the time, place, and persons involved. When my research into 1919 Palestine included a government financial report with a brief mention of problems with salt smuggling, I knew I had to have a salt smuggler—and a colorful one, to balance the prosaic nature of his illicit substance. In another story, when my character goes down in a sputtering plane, in a remote area, it needs to seem plausible that the man she meets there all but embodies the spirit of the woods that surround her.
When I decided to write about the 1925 Riviera, I had a rich choice of crimes, villains, and supporting characters. Some were true to fact: a Russian arms dealer named Zaharoff, who literally made a killing off the Great War, was retired in Monaco.
Modern Monaco

The American expats who colonized Paris during Prohibition were discovering the Riviera during this time, which gave me the Murphys, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and their friends like Picasso: these got me started with my characters. And of course, the Côte d’Azur has always been a part of the Mediterranean smuggling world, connecting Greece, and Africa and beyond with southern Europe. That, combined with the caves that permeate Monte Carlo, set me off with a story line.
Invariably, I need to go to a place to feel comfortable writing about it.  Equally inevitably, my early research fails to give me the exact places I will need when I actually start to write, leaving me scrambling for help from libraries and experts.
Casino Monte Carlo

But when it came to Monte Carlo, I knew from the start that I wanted the Casino, so I planned a morning of wandering.  And I knew I was going to use the Russians who had made Monaco their winter playground before the 1917 revolution, which gave me their favorite hotel, the Hermitage.
The Hermitage, Monte Carlo

Ideally, of course, I would have spent a couple of weeks in the principality, walking its length, poking my nose into its caves, seeing how many forbidden places I could talk my way into, charming door-keepers and managers with the idea of a novelist’s interest.
But Monaco ain’t cheap. Most of its visitors these days are day-trippers staying in Nice or beyond, and looking at my bill for two nights at the Hermitage, I could understand why. Few of the hotel’s other guests appeared to be at the tail end of a two-month trip across Europe, living out of a single suitcase, dressed in LL Bean khakis and sturdy Merrill hiking shoes.  The closest I have to a diamond ring in my jewelry box is the cloudy white sapphire my husband bought me in India, forty years ago.
Eiffel's Skylight at the Hermitage

In the Hermitage, the cleaning women were more fashionable than yours truly.
Still, my credit card was good, and the people were friendly, and I wasn’t trying to get into the high-stakes tables upstairs. I figured my imagination would fill in the blanks—and in any case, we writers lie for a living.
So I wandered, and poked, and took lots of photographic notes, and bemused the other residents of the posh hotel, and in the end, I came away with a nice sense of where my characters were going to play.
Gaming Tables at Casino, Monte Carlo

Which yes, included the Casino:
“Russell, stop gawping like a child at a shop window,” Holmes murmured. 
I suppose my pleasure was a bit blatant, so I lowered my gaze and tucked away my expression, replacing it with a sort of languid and approving curiosity.
 I had little taste for gambling—money, that is, though one might say that my entire life has been a wager against chance—and few substantial skills when it came to cards.  Of course, a woman may always act as a decorative accessory on a male arm, but unless I wished to hover in the distance while Holmes had all the fun, I needed to stick to games that demanded no more skill than laying gaming tokens onto the table.
So the roulette wheels it was.  As with everything else under the casino roof, the machines were perfect: gleaming mahogany, a polished bronze spindle at its centre, and an ivory ball that hopped crisply along the numbers until it chose one to nestle into.  Simple, hypnotic, and—when combined with the casino’s discreet and free-flowing alcohol—potentially devastating to one’s bank account.
Several of our table-mates had note-books in which they built or adapted their systems, jealously guarding their pages from nearby eyes.  I, on the other hand, spent my first hour losing enough to see an undergraduate comfortably through Oxford, dismissing every loss and laughing happily at every win.  Holmes came out slightly ahead of me, but at my next wager, with my last worn jeton before me on the table, I won.  Then won again, and again after that.  Seeing my pile grow before me, I experienced the first pang of the gambler’s hunger.  I did my best to lose it all, but by the end of the evening—we had planned on dinner at 9:00—I had twice the counters I started with. 
Weirdly fascinating.  Utterly compulsive.

1 comment:

  1. What fun! I'm not sure who had the most fun: you watching the people of Monte Carlo or the people of Monte Carlo watching you. The stories . . . .