Friday, February 22, 2013

An Unsuitable Job for a Sleuth? Ask Alicia Stone...


HALLIE EPHRON:  Jeannette de Beauvoir last visited Jungle Red as half of J.A. Squires (Assignment: Nepal and the upcoming Assignment: Robin Hood). Now she's back with series debut, "Murder Most Academic," and a new pseudonym,  Alicia Stone.

Her protagonist this time out is more unconventional than everJeannette, I think you're breaking new ground with this book.
JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR: I could be wrong, but I think that one of the few professions that hasn’t had a mystery series wrapped around it is prostitution. Oh, we all know that Janet Evanovich’s Lula used to be a “ho,” but that’s a stereotypical and limited vision of the profession: high-class escorts and call girls generally dress discreetly, are well-read and cultured, and have a firm grasp of English grammar.

So I hope the world is ready for a series featuring Trinity Pierce, who is definitely a woman with a past. These days she’s a history professor; but until two years ago she was financing her graduate school education (and her mother’s residence in an expensive psychiatric hospital) with regular work as a high-class call girl. She is careful not to share that past with anyone at Boston’s Moreland College, where she hopes to eventually secure tenure.

In the series debut, "Murder Most Academic," Trinity's former madam, Kate Kazanjian, comes to her with a problem: one of her clients is being blackmailed. The client also happens to teach at Moreland, and Kate wants Trinity to figure out what’s going on and save her friend.

HALLIE: This unfamiliar world opens up all sorts of fascinating plot possibilities! Can you give us a few, and any dark corners that you preferred not to explore?

JEANNETTE: Well, being around any illegal activity entails some edginess, doesn't it? But you have to understand, this isn't the world of human trafficking or forced prostitution, so it's actually much more ordinary than most people think.

HALLIE: What kind of research did you do to make this world feel real?

JEANNETTE:
One of my closest friends in the world is, in fact, a madam. I've long been fascinated observing her world, and by the people I've met through her who work in that world.

I didn't have as many prejudices about it as most people, perhaps; I'm half French and grew up in France, where there's a far more relaxed attitude toward such things; but I do recognize that a lot of people make assumptions about the profession. All of the women I met are strong, smart, creative feminists who have chosen to do sex work in order to give themselves time and space to do other things.

HALLIE: Really?! You are so right, that's not what I would have expected.

Like all the best mysteries this one is driven by character. And one thing you take great advantage of is characters who are in some ways opposites: Trinity and Kate. How does that contrast drive your story?

JEANNETTE: Trinity and Kate haven't seen each other since Trinity got the job at Moreland and retired from being a call girl. And I think that was really a mistake, because they're so great together.

Trinity has a dark past, but Kate lives with her *mother*, for heaven's sake, who also mothers all the women who work for her. Kate's used to figuring things out, but within narrow kinds of parameters; Trinity thinks with a little more breadth. They both care a lot about people, though, and that's what unites them. I'm glad that they're back in each other's lives now.

HALLIE:
So what do you think? Can readers get on board with a former prostitute as a series sleuth? I'm guessing yes.

Murder Most Academic is published by Mainly Murder Press and is available in paperback and ebook formats. More at www.aliciastone.com.

20 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I think readers can absolutely get on board with this series . . . “Murder Most Academic” sounds quite intriguing and Trinity Pierce certainly sounds like she’s up to the task of solving the mystery. I think successful books are far, far less about the protagonist’s background and far, far more about the storytelling itself. “Murder Most Academic” is definitely going on my to-be-read list . . . .

Gram said...

I will look for this book.
India Black by Carol K. Carr is a "Madam" and a spy.Does that count?

Hallie Ephron said...

Sure it does, Gram; and Laura Lippman' standalone "And When She Was Good." I agree with Jeannette, it's all in how it's handled. And I'm not nearly as sanguine as she about prostitution in general. But it sure sounds as if she did her research.

Bottom line: utterly fascinating.

Wondering if Hank has done any reporting on prostitution?

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Fascinating Alicia!

since I haven't read this yet, wonder how you are presenting your character in terms of thinking about her past and how she feels about it?

And of course, when you mentioned her Madam, my mind leaped to abuse and pimps, which is what we see on TV.

Did your research take you to talk with prostitutes, either current or former?

Sandi said...

I think it sounds fascinating - in fact, I just bought it for my Kindle. I've long believed that prostitution should not be illegal (legislating morality?), so I'm happy to see a character that breaks the stereotype.

Anonymous said...

I agree with many of the above comments - this is a way of life more women than we read about in the NYT have chosen to follow - and many do find it an honorable path!!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Jeannette de Beauvoir said...

Thanks for all this affirmation! It's been one of the taboos of modern culture, really: we're all still, in a way, behind Dorothy Parker with her "you can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think."

I know a lot of women (and men, too, actually) who do sex work, and have become good friends with many of them. For most of the people I know, it's an interim sort of work, not a career choice. So Trinity fits into that.

It's important to me in this and in future books in the series that she take responsibility for her life, but that even though this isn't something her college would necessarily celebrate, it's not something that causes her shame. It's a fact of her life, it got her where she needed to go, and she is moving on. Well, until Kate comes back into her life, that is!


Anonymous said...

**What about the J D Robb "In Death" series where in 2060 there are Licensed Companions (LC). In fact one of the better characters "Charles" was an LC who retired to become a sex therapist. So, why not, so long as the call girl possition is by choice.

Karen in Ohio said...

What a fascinating slice of life you have chosen to use in your stories, Jeannette.

I just read a standalone mystery about a prostitute this past year, but I could not say if it was Laura Lippmann's or another. But it does seem as though sex workers would be uniquely positioned (no pun intended) to learn quite a bit about secrets of all kinds.

It's even more interesting, to me, that your best friend is a madam. Can you tell us which came first, the friendship or her career?

Jeannette de Beauvoir said...

I'd forgotten about the Licensed Companions! Great comparison.

And you make an excellent point—that the past sex work needs to have been a matter of choice. There is a whole world of sex trafficking that isn't what this novel addresses.

Kate's "girls" are in fact mostly women in college or graduate school, who find it much easier to work one evening a week and leave time for study, rather than be at the till of a 7-11 for so many hours that their studies suffer.

Rhys Bowen said...

What a great back story for a protagonist. I love sleuths with a past.

Jeannette de Beauvoir said...

Thanks, Rhys! I do, too.

Triss said...

This is kind of a fascinating idea, with a lot of potential for story lines. Thanks for sharing it.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, yes..I know someone who is a madam, too...and it's all I can do not to ask her EVERYTHING. (I don't, buit I do wish I could.)

I thnk it sounds terrific and very...:-) cinematic.

Have I done any reporting..ah, interestingly, I don't think so. Huh. After all these years. I guess..if I had to choose a supposedly "bad thing" to focus on, that might not be it.

Jeannette de Beauvoir said...

Well, I thought it would be an interesting background, and frankly, when you look at the many backgrounds/backstories to mystery novels, it's not even as far-fetched as some of the others ...!

And Hank, I do have my fingers crossed about the cinematic possibilities!

Lisa Alber said...

Fascinating! I'm loving it. I wish I'd thought of this idea for myself!

I think readers are far more willing to be adventurous than the "big 6" assume.

Libby Dodd said...

This sounds fascinating.
For those who still cannot deal with such a background, let them read something else while we enjoy ourselves!

Jeannette de Beauvoir said...

Thanks so much for all your encouragement! Please let me know what you think once you've read the book ... and hopefully Trinity will continue in a long series to come!

Bob said...

I read the book shortly after it came out. Really liked it. Many of the comments here have been about prostitution, but that is not the subject of the story, it's just some background that gives the character some depth. Read this for a great mystery story, you won't be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

**Just finished reading this book. Great story and wonderful characters. Looking forward to more with Trinity, Kate, Sean & Kate's loud family. When is the next book coming out???