JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I've been a fan of G.M. Malliet since her first DCI St. Just mystery, the Agatha-award-winning Death of a Cozy Writer. Deb Crombie and I were both thrilled to have the chance to read and blurb the first book of G.M.'s new series, the quirky-yet-traditional Wicked Autumn. It has a handsome, single vicar (and former MI5 agent), an airy fairy neo-Wiccan, an iron-fisted head of the Womens' Institute, squires, schoolteachers, surgeons, seductresses - what's not to love? If that's not enough for your village-mystery-loving heart, Wicked Autumn is stuffed with maps, character lists, and - well, I'll let G.M. tell you herself.
I have just sent in the completed manuscript of the second Max Tudor mystery novel. As with my previous novels, the email went out with at least five or six attachments, the extras being “front matter.” Front matter includes all the very important “stuff” such as the dedication of the book, perhaps a quotation that captures the theme of the book, and the acknowledgements—applause for the people who in some way or another helped the author.
Other front matter, in my case, includes a table of contents (my chapters have titles) and a cast of characters. I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels and to my mind, no book is complete without these additions, these warm-up exercises that set the stage—these “old-fashioned” touches that I believe are actually coming back into fashion, since they are so much a part of the art of storytelling. Who could resist reading on, knowing that a story contains a character named Rosemary Barton, Agatha’s “beauty treated to a beastly death” by cyanide cocktail, or Vera Claythorne, the “ex-governess with a Coroner’s Inquest in her past”? Or a chapter called “Gossip,” and another titled, “The Stain by the Wash-stand.” This sort of thing signals you’re in Christie-land, and to me is as crucial to the enjoyment of her books as a fireplace, a shawl, and a pot of tea.
And the maps and diagrams! In a Christie, these are often included somewhere in the midst of the story. I think my heart starts to race every time I turn a page and come across something like a diagram of Roger Ackroyd’s office, so crucial to the solution of that crime. Two of the three books in my St. Just series contain a map or schematic.
Even Stieg Larsson, not exactly a cozy author, employed these devices—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo contained several nods to Christie’s books, including a family tree and a map of Hedeby. The map was not included in the English translation and it really needed to have been. I don’t believe there was a descriptive cast of characters, either, which would have helped, since everyone in Sweden is apparently named Berg, Berger, or Bergman.
I sent my first Max Tudor mystery (Wicked Autumn) to my editor with a hand-drawn map of my fictional village Nether Monkslip attached. My version of this map would have made any third-grader proud, but it did orient the reader and help create that “sinking into the story” feel. Fortunately, my editor agreed it added to the story, and decided to hire Rhys Davies to redraw the map into something magical—it was used to create the endpapers for the book. Rhys, who is from Wales, told me it reminded him of his own village back home. It is completely charming.
Then the editor went one step further, and had an online version of the map made interactive, so that if you cursor over it, little descriptions I wrote of the various buildings and sites pop up. (There’s a link to the interactive version of the map from the top of this page.)
The Max Tudor book I just submitted has a family tree, which helps the reader sort out the family Footrustle. I’m hoping someone will again turn my amateurish effort into something beautiful.