Thursday, August 22, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Our guest today is the Agatha and Anthonyaward-winning author, Marcia Talley, whose twelfth Hannah Ives mystery, DARK PASSAGE, has just been released.  Publishers Weekly writes that the novel delivers “steady wit, intrigue, and shocks, building to “a satisfying conclusion.”  Because Marcia is my dear friend as well as all that award-winning stuff,  I got to read the novel in manuscript form and couldn’t agree more!
Marcia's heroine, Hannah Ives, has encountered mysteries in some very exotic locales as well as her home town of Annapolis, Maryland, but I found the setting for Dark Passage particularly interesting.
And, because Marcia is gallivanting around the UK while I am in Texas in August, I'm going to grill her about it.
 So, Marcia, what gave you the idea to set a mystery on a cruise ship?
MARCIA TALLEY: I was attending a family funeral last year, and my
three sisters and I were 
lamenting how we never seemed to find opportunities to get together for fun 
times, so we decided right then to fix that. We found a reliable cruise line -- 
and by that I mean one that doesn't have the habit of running into solid objects, like Italy -- bargain rates, and amazingly, a week in April in which we 
were all free.  The only thing left was to locate our passports and pack our 
bags. Anyway, as I waited in line, preparing to embark, gazing up at the enormous ship that would soon be taking us out to sea and miles away from land, I thought what a perfect setting for a mystery novel.  It’s the ultimate “closed circle of suspects,” isn’t it?  Where could a villain go, except overboard?  I was taking a cruise with my sisters, and I didn’t see any reason why Hannah couldn’t do the same.  Research can be hell, you know?
DEBS:  (The photo above is, from left to right, Marcia and her three equally adorable sisters, Susan, Debbie, and Alison.) Marcia, tell us a bit about the plot of Dark Passage.
MARCIA: Hannah, her two sisters and Julie, Hannah’s fourteen-year-old niece, set sail from Baltimore to Bermuda on a bonding cruise, and have a dramatic first night when Pia Fanucci, a bubbly bartender magician’s assistant whom Hannah befriends, narrowly escapes injury during an on-stage illusion. Pia might make light of the incident, but it’s no laughing matter when young Julie suddenly disappears. Has she gone overboard, or is she injured somewhere on the enormous ship?
Early in the cruise, Hannah had met David Warren, a grieving father whose twenty-two-year-old daughter, Charlotte, vanished without trace from a previous cruise where she was working in the ship’s teen club. Ship’s security doesn’t seem to believe there’s a connection, so Hannah teams up with David and Pia and after a series of twists and turns, they manage to track down a dangerous sea-faring predator.
DEBS:  At one point in the novel, a character observes that law enforcement while at sea is really the ‘wild wild west,’ or words to that affect.  I imagine you on a stress-free vacation, lounging in a hot tub with your sisters, so how did you go about researching cruise ship security?
MARCIA:  I was very lucky there.  I ran into author Hannah Dennison
at a conference and we got to chatting about our respective works in progress.  Hannah (no relation!) mentioned that a fellow she’d gone to college with in the UK, a former policeman, was now head of security for one of the big ships in the Cunard line.  She put me in contact with him, and he answered all my questions.  He was very up front about the issues that confront and frustrate him in his job.  Although ship’s security and medical personnel are usually honest professionals who want to do a good job, you have to remember that they work directly for the cruise line, so sometimes there’s pressure to simply make a problem go away.  I read somewhere that the cruise ship industry spends more money lobbying Congress than Wal-Mart!  As a result, it’s extremely difficult to get accurate statistics on cruise ship crime.
DEBS:  What else did you learn while writing Dark Passage that would surprise us?
MARCIA:  I was shocked to find out that a person goes overboard every two weeks.  Most of these incidents are alcohol-related – as are most accidents on board -- but sometimes a person simply vanishes from a ship and their families never find out what happened to them.  Accident? Suicide? Murder?  Unless there’s a witness, it would be impossible to say for sure.  Security cameras can provide some clues, of course, but they can’t see everywhere.  And I was amazed to learn that there are no security cameras in the passenger corridors!  None!  Passengers apparently consider that an invasion of privacy – I figure they don’t want to be caught sneaking into someone’s room for a little hanky-panky, or upchucking in the hallway after a long night in the bar.
DEBS:  So if there is a crime at sea, who does investigate?
MARCIA: It can be a complicated jurisdictional issue.  According to a law passed by Congress in 2010, any crime against a citizen of the United States that happens on a ship that regularly sails in and out of U.S. ports must be reported to and investigated by the FBI.  But that can’t happen until the ship reaches port, which may be days after the incident.  Ship’s security can secure the crime scene, and in recent years medical staff have been trained to collect evidence (such as performing blood tests and rape kits), but they don’t have the authority to arrest anybody.  That authority lies first with the police in the country where the ship is registered (Panama or the Bahamas, for example), the police in the port of call, or in the case of U.S. citizens, with the FBI. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have the FBI on the case than a cop from some tiny island in the Caribbean.
DEBS:  Seems to me, if somebody goes overboard from a big ship, that would be that.  Buh-bye!
MARCIA:  Sadly, that’s usually true.  By the time a passenger ship large enough to carry 2500 passengers plus another 800 or so crew can stop and turn around, the poor victim would be floundering several miles behind it, if they hadn’t already gotten sucked into the ship’s turbines. One of the largest ships, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas can accommodate 8000 passengers and crew, so I imagine it would take even longer to turn around!  But occasionally, someone does survive a fall overboard, especially if the fall is witnessed, and it happens near land.  But here’s another thing I learned that surprised me.  A U.S. Coast Guard search for a missing person can cost more than $800,000.  Does the cruise line pay?  Nope. Not a penny. Another good reason to be registered in Panama or the Bahamas, I guess.
DEBS:  I loved the way you worked magic into the plot of this novel, Marcia.

MARCIA:  As mystery writers, we’re constantly creating illusions, aren’t we, where something (or someone) isn’t who or what s/he seems.  And that’s very much the case in Dark Passage.  I know very little about the art of magic myself, but before he became an award-winning writer of narrative histories like Teller of Tales, The Beautiful Cigar Girl and Night of Peril, my friend Dan Stashower, was an amateur magician.  (Dan started out writing mysteries, actually, a series with Houdini as the sleuth. ) Anyway, Dan recommended a fascinating book by the master illusionist, Jim Steinmeyer, called Hiding the Elephant.  I learned a lot from Mr. Steinmeyer.  And over lunch one day, Dan even helped me design an illusion for Channing, my fictional magician – The Turbine of Terror!  Be afraid, be very afraid!

DEBS: I laughed out loud at the art auction scene.

MARCIA: I’ve been on three cruises and every single one of them had an art auction on the next to the last day.  I watched people pay up to $20,000 for the tackiest art!  Not exactly Elvis or The Last Supper painted on black velvet, but dangerously close, so it tickled me to poke fun at it.

DEBS: So, what’s Hannah up to now?

MARCIA:  You may remember Hannah’s friend, Naddie Bromley, the retired mystery writer, from earlier books.  Naddie’s moved into Calvert Colony, a posh life care community near Annapolis, Maryland where things turn out not to be as idyllic as they seem.  It’s called Tomorrow’s Vengeance.

DEBS: So, readers, who knew all this about cruise lines? This is really scary stuff. Would you still take a cruise?

And do you have any good cruise stories? Tell us, and one lucky commenter will win a copy of Dark Passage.  It might even be more fun--and safer--than a vacation!

Oh, and one last thing--the winner of Jenn McKinlay's Cloche and Dagger is Lynn S. So Lynn, email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com with your mailing address, and I'll pass it on to Jenn.

PSS: And don't you love Marcia's cover??


  1. Well, all of these insightful observations do not exactly inspire me to seek out a cruise line and make a reservation!
    But I’m definitely going to add “Dark Passage” to my teetering to-be-read pile . . . .

  2. Thanks, Joan! I think that staying safe on a cruise ship is, like anywhere else, a matter of good sense. Don't drink too much -- hard to do since the cruise lines make so much money on the sale of alcohol that they actually encourage you to overindulge -- don't wander around alone late at night, etc.

    Right now I'm sitting on a platform at Westbury train station in the UK waiting for the train that will take me into London for a visit to my publisher's new digs. And I've never met my editor face to face, so really looking forward.

  3. Also not a good idea - standing on the bow with your arms outspread singing 'My Heart Will Go On!'

  4. We have never wanted to take a cruise, although we have friends who do on a regular basis. I'd much rather read about one and this sounds perfect. Love the cover...Dee

  5. So interesting Marcia--and yes, I love the cover!

    There was just something in the news about cruise ships reporting their crime stats--I think reports are improving. We watch cruise ships come in and out of Key West every day. The political fight on the island right now is whether to consider dredging the channel to allow those megaships to come in. (I say no thanks.)

    but John and I have enjoyed several trips with the Windstar line--much smaller boats. fun!

  6. I do love Marcia's cover. Auntie-Mom always goes on cruises between marriages. Once she's married they go camping.

  7. I've never been on a cruise and have no desire to. Just not my scene. But what interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits, Marcia! And of course what a perfect setting for suspense and murder. I look forward to reading the book.

  8. A lot of people (wives) "disappear" from Caribbean resorts, too. Last seen slugging it out with her husband on the beach...

    Marcia, I love books about sisters. There there any tricky moments... as I'm sure your real sisters' personalities crept into the characters.

  9. LOL Reine. Cruises when you're single, camping when married!!

  10. It's always so interesting to find out how things work on the inside--the parts most people never see. And a cruise ship is a floating city, a floating world, really, with all the politics and problems in any community.

    I think I'd like to do the Queen Mary someday, and maybe a Seattle to Alaska cruise. As long as I didn't get seasick... Marcia, however, is a REAL sailor!

  11. I've been on several cruises, as well as trans-Atlantic sailings. I've got to get this book!

  12. This looks SO great! ANd I have to admit, I think cruise ships are terrifying.

    I did a story on the QE2 a million years ago, going just from Boston to NYC. I was expecting glamor, you know? But remember it felt--I don't know, stodgy?

    And yes, I can see the Alaska thing. When I was in Seattle recently, their local news had a franchise segment all about cruises! I bet that would be gorgeous...maybe the JRW cruise to Alaska??

    Marcia, your life is so exciting.. thank you so much for visiting! See you soon..


  13. I can't wait to read the latest Hannah adventure (we Hannah's have lots of adventures).
    Marcia - so pleased that my old school friend was helpful. And yes - what a fabulous cover.

  14. Hi Marcia:
    Last year I did the transatlantic crossing on the QM2 as I was sending my heroine across the Atlantic and wanted to know where someone/something could fall overboard without being noticed!

    Cruise ships are creepy and perfect for mystery novels. Can't wait to read the book.arvedne

  15. Yes, I love the cover!

    This novel must have been great fun to research, Marcia. I'm fascinated by the onboard micro-world. There's a subculture below decks that we passengers don't know anything about--unless we're looking for it. I've only been on one cruise and all the bedroom stewards were Filipino (which interested me in itself--why that was?), and they had their own thriving subterranean economy going--drugs, sex, etcetera--with passengers. I only found out about it because it was a writer's retreat cruise (fun!), and one of the writers did a little research for a story he wrote. That was an eye opener!

    A person overboard every two weeks? That shocks me more than the underground culture.

    Hank, A JRW cruise to Alaska would be fun!

  16. I've sailed on the Queen Mary 2 and thought it was wonderful! Thinking I should have brought my furs, and the hounds with their diamond collars, and someone to walk them, of course!

  17. About the red shoe on the cover. When I first saw the artwork, I thought ... But there isn't a red shoe in the book! My agent went around a bit with the publisher about that, but it was such a striking image that I said, what the heck, and simply wrote a red shoe into the plot. Just not any red shoe, either. One of those designer ones with the colored soles. But when I went to research shoes, every single color I could think of for soles -- red, blue, green, pink, purple, etc. -- was already taken. So, my designer shoes have the famous and exclusive red polka dot soles!

  18. I absolutely loved the 'behind the scenes' stuff, too. As an author, it helps to hang out at the bar and talk to the bartenders. :-). A really good resource was a woman who was a cruise ship junkie, dating one of the staff musicians. She could travel with him and stay in his cabin. Fortunately for me, she also took tons of photos.

  19. This book sounds exactly like something I will enjoy. But the best part is I now have a new series to start before I read this one. I enjoy this site for all the discussions and ideas from the Reds, the guests and the readers.

  20. Roberta, I welcomed the news that some(but not all) of the cruise lines were going to start releasing their crime stats to the public. In 2010, a last minute change to a law that was supposed to make crime stats more accessible was changed at the last minute (gutted! don't get me started!) so that only CLOSED cases needed to be put into the public database maintained by the FBI and the Coast Guard. By those rules, we never would have heard about JonBenet Ramsey, DB Cooper or Jack the Ripper. Sen Jay Rockefeller from West VA is pushing to change that, and so I think the cruise lines are trying to beat him to the draw.

  21. I've been on two cruises. Neither was worth the time and money.
    But I heard Carl Hiaasen talk at a book fair. Early-ish in his career his publisher gave him a hard time about the improbability of his storylines--like an attempted murder where the husband throws his wife overboard from a cruise ship. He explained that he got the ideas from newpaper clippings.
    After the infamous hanging chads, anthrax, etc. his publisher acknowledged that Florida is just a bit "out there" (my words, not theirs)and has not questioned the stories!

  22. Florida is waaay out there, thanks to all the wintering Yankees and con men! Many years ago my husband was teaching at a federal law enforcement academy in Georgia. We accompanied some of his students for a weekend at Disneyworld. The woman checking in customers at the motel was so obnoxious and rude that my husband commented "She must have gone to Nazi charm school." Oh well.
    Cruises. The first was magical. My inlaws were celebrating a significant anniversary and we cruised out of Miami in December. So this is why people go to Florida in wintertime from up north! We were living in Ohio at the time. The few cruises I took after that were anticlimactic. Now I think the only one I would consider would be an Alaskan cruise on a small small ship. Or of course a cruise on my luxury barge I haven't acquired yet down the Nile.

  23. Pat D, I'm with you on the luxury barge down the Nile:-)

  24. Good. I'll go halfies with you.

  25. No, never been on a cruise. Then you have to worry about disabled cruise ships. We all know there were a couple of those recently. In mysteries bodies go overboard all the time.

  26. I've taken a cruise on the Alaska Inner Passage, and it was breath-taking. I recommend early September because -- as it was explained to me -- the seal mating season is over and the ships can get close to some of the glaciers that are otherwise off limits.

  27. Libby (Dodd) -- you're speaking of Hiassen's book, "Skinny Dip" which is my favorite of all his wacky novels. The husband pushes his wife, Jodie, overboard, but she survives the fall and survives by clinging to a floating bale of marijuana until rescued by ... but that would be telling. Her husband thinks she's dead, of course, so she aims to keep it that way. Her revenge is oh so sweet.