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 ever. Jeannette, 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.