Saturday, November 23, 2013

What I'm writing: Julia Spencer-Fleming

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I get the anchor spot because I'm still touring for THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS (but I'm almost home!) Touring for the newly-published book while working on the next one puts my head in an odd place: by day, I'm deep into the events of HID FROM THEIR EYES (working title for the 9th Clare and Russ book) and by night (or afternoon, if I'm doing a tea-time appearance) I'm talking about the writing of the last book. Sometimes I get confused, but no one can tell because confusion is my normal state.

So: HID FROM OUR EYES. It's a book about fathers and sons,  real and replacement, and the way young men look up to and model themselves on their older mentors. It's also about a series of deaths occuring in 1951 and 1972 and the present day (which is 2006 in the series) all of which appear to be identical. And of course it's about Russ and Clare and the tangled, angry relationship between officers Hadley Knox and Kevin Flynn. Here's a no-spoiler excerpt: 

     He had parked his cruiser in the muddy verge of the county highway, a little way from the circus that was going on up the road. That gave the Millers Kill chief of police the chance to surreptitiously twist and crack his back and flex his knees, which felt every one of his fifty-odd years after being hauled out of bed at four am. He never could have survived being a dairy farmer, that was for damn sure.
     He checked around to make sure no one had seen his display and tugged his wool cap down around his ears. His own cap, not MKPD-issued. He was here on courtesy, not on right, and he had tried to parse the difference with his clothing: his winter uniform blouse and departmental coat over heavy twill pants and his old boots.
     The state police had cordoned off the road coming and going and had two enormous lamps illuminating the crime scene. He trudged up the side of the road, past the other cop cars and the mortuary van, his footsteps uneven on the rutted, half-frozen mud. They had had a thaw the past few days, which he was experienced enough to know wouldn't last, and the bright fluffy snowbanks of January had shrunk into dirty hard obstacles, turning every patch of bare ground into a morass of slush and mud.
     He ducked beneath the tape and approached the scene. Two evidence officers: one the camera man, the other bent over searching for anything that might prove useful in the investigation. Which wasn't ever much – ninety-nine out of a hundred crimes were solved by knocking on doors until someone talked, in his experience. Two detectives in overcoats that made them look like they were headed for the executive offices at General Electric, smoking and talking. One uniform, the first man on the scene.
           “Hey!” A detective spotted him. He recognized the man; Stan Carruthers, a hotshot from downstate who was disgruntled by his exile , as he saw it, to the hinterlands of Troop G. “What're you doing here?” Carruthers glared at the uniform, whose charge was securing the scene and who should have stopped anyone from crossing the line. The trooper tried to appear innocent, and mostly got it right, since he was so young he looked as if he ought to be home sleeping in his mother's house, not guarding a corpse.
           “Who's this?” the second detective asked.
           “Harry McNeil, Millers Kill chief of police.” Harry held out his hand and the the other man shook it automatically. “Pleasure to meet you.”
           “There's no need for you to be here, McNeil.” Carruthers sounded more bored than upset. “We're almost finished up.”
     Harry got his first good look at the body. A young woman, barely more than a girl, sprawled face-forward in a tangle of limbs and hair. She was wearing a fancy dress, a party dress, with petticoats frothed up over her back. Bare feet. No stockings. It looked as if she had collapsed while walking down the road and fallen asleep. 
           “Any idea as to the cause of death?” Harry directed his question to the evidence officer.
     The man shook his head. “No signs of violence from here. We're about to move her, though, so maybe we'll see something from the front.”
           “It's obvious,” Carruthers said. “Some good-time girl, got liquored up and passed out and froze to death. I've seen it before.”
           “In Cossayuharie? In the middle of Route fifty-seven?” Harry looked around. On either side of the two-lane road, fields rolled away in silent darkness. To the west, the first Adirondack hills that would gather and crest a hundred miles away in the High Peaks showed black against the faint starlit sky. Not a single farmhouse light relieved the gloom.
     Carruthers waved his cigarette. “Maybe her john wouldn't pay up. They had a fight, she stumbled out of the car to show him what's what, he took off.”
           “Without her shoes and stockings. Or coat.”
     Carruthers frowned. “Drunks do stupid things, McNeil.”
The mortuary men had left the comfort of their wagon and were placing their stretcher next to the body. “Okay boys,” the evidence officer said. “Nice and easy.”
     They rolled the corpse over, depositing her neatly on her back. Everyone moved closer to get a look. Pretty. Young. No blood, no bruises, no scratches or ripped fabric or anything to indicate she might have been attacked.
           “See?” Carruthers took a last drag and flicked his stub away, a sure sign that he no longer considered this a crime scene. If he ever had. “She passed out and died of exposure.”
     Harry looked at the evidence man again. “Have you found anything? Shoes and stockings? Handbag?”
     The officer shook his head. “Nothing. And I did a thorough search, up and down the road.” His tone was bland, but his eyes shifted to the detectives for a moment. Harry could picture Carruthers yelling at the man to stop wasting his time and for God's sake just get the body bagged already. “Either side of the road as well, although we ought to go back over it in daylight to make sure.”
           “Oh, for Christ's sake. Can one of you geniuses give me any other reason she'd be here like this?”
     There was a pause as Harry turned the picture over in his head.
           “Murdered and dumped.” Everyone turned toward the speaker. It was the responding trooper.
           “Oh, great,” Carruthers said. “Now even the traffic cops are detectives. What's your theory of the crime, Sherlock?”


  1. How nice to meet up with Harry McNeil once again. I’m already enjoying grumpy Carruthers and really looking forward to reading “Hid From Our Eyes” . . . .

  2. I love how this scene develops, how by the time the chief gets to the body, we know, like, and respect him. This is wonderful writing IMHO. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I'd like to see more of Harry. I really like him. Cossayuharie sounds like a place I know along the Mohawk River.

  4. SOOOO good, Julia! I am in awe...
    I know you'll be glad to get home.

  5. What Hallie said--you're amazing Julia! Can't wait for this one (though I won't tell you to hurry:).

    But do hurry home to your family--Ross says they're almost out of hamburger helper!

  6. I love these books and look forward to the next one as each one leaves you searching for more. This is what a great mystery should always do and Julia really knows how to do it. I have read all 7 of her books over and over again and am now reading number 8. Already can not wait for number 9 as I know it will lead me on to number 10. Keep them coming Julia.

  7. Great scene with an economy of words. I really admire your writing.

  8. Wow, this is so polished. I absolutely love your series, Julia. I can't wait to catch up to your latest book. Good luck with the rest of your book tour!!

  9. Wow, Julia, this is great!!! I can't wait to read this--in fact, I want to read it NOW:-) So glad to know you're already making progress on the next book. Great title, too.

  10. FLASH-- and the winner of yesterday's signed copy of The Sound of Broken Glass is Susan! Susan, email me your address at deb at deborahcrombie dot com.

  11. I am with Lucy in that I don't want to tell you to hurry—although of course I want to read this next book as soon as possible.

    Truly truly truly truly, Julia... did I ever tell you I adore your characters and cherish the time I spend with them like old friends I don't get to see very often.

  12. That's an intriguing excerpt. My memory is horrible; Harry is an earlier MK police chief? Look forward to more.

  13. YOU are TOO GOOD, Julia. I am in awe.


  14. I don't know how you keep making each book better than the one before it. "Through the Evil Days" was awesome!!! And now I can't wait to read this one.

    Welcome home (for when you get there.) And congratulations to Bonny Eagle!

  15. Really good, Julia! I want more. (Isn't that the plaintive cry of all of us poor readers out here who whip through your books because the suspense is so awesome when we promised ourselves that we'd savor them and make them last this time?)

  16. I want to read the rest. :)

    Pen M

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  18. I am reluctant to gulp-read Through the Evil Days. I just listened to your radio interview where you explained your 2-year writing time line which I totally appreciate. I can't stretch my reading time to 2 years, but I am pacing myself! Now that I know you've plunged into the next book (and this little taste is tantalizing!) I can proceed with a few more pages of reading at a time. By the way the pictures included in this post are a nice touch. But the bird on the fence is a Magpie - strictly a Western that a clue or error?

  19. What a treat, Julia! I immediately fall into the scene when I start reading your words. Loved the glimpse into another great story!

  20. I already can't wait for this one, Julia! So long to go until it comes out though. :-(

  21. With the book come out? I have waited so long for my friends at Miller's Kill. I love these books and I am so waiting "patiently" for this one. I miss Russ and Clare!!!!