Thursday, November 2, 2017

Marni Graff--Into the Dark

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You know how much I love British mysteries. Here's Marni Graff to tell you about her new book, THE GOLDEN HOUR. She not only has a great character and a great series set in some of my favorite parts of England (the Lake District and Oxford,) but she gets to do what I never have the luxury of doing--writing from the viewpoint of an American character. (Her protagonist, Nora Tierney, is an American children's book author living in England.)

And she incorporates some of my favorite themes, as you will see. Meet Marni, and Nora Tierney!


Thanks to the Jungle Red Writers for having me to guest today. You are all writers I read consistently so this is a real treat for me.

When I started researching THE GOLDEN HOUR, I knew I wanted to veer in a different direction from the first three in the series, which are classic Whodunits. Part of this was from a desire to keep my readers from feeling they were reading the same book over and over, the reason I move Nora around England to vary the settings in the books already written. I also wanted to keep from falling into a writing rut and to challenge myself.
My American children’s book writer with a nose for murder is Nora Tierney. She lives in England and is at a point in her life where she is searching for a house and solidifying her personal relationship with Oxford DI Declan Barnes, so the theme centers on creating a home and choosing our family. It seemed to me that her very domestic situation, accompanied by a teething infant, would be the perfect situation to contrast effectively against introducing a type of character I hadn’t written before: a psychopath.
            The thing that surprised me most about creating the villain, Viktor Garanin, was how much fun I had developing him and his backstory, and then putting him out there on the page to terrorize Nora. Should I hesitate to admit that the days I’d finished writing a Viktor scene were all ones which gave me great enjoyment and satisfaction?  Or just call that a perk of being a writer . . .
            At the same time I imbued Viktor with classic psychopathic tendencies and wrote his disturbing history, I was careful to add a touch of human shading to him. After all, even the darkest personality must still have a side to pass muster in public, so I gave Viktor a love of his garden. How this man could worry about pruning his roses while not hesitating to squash a human life like a bug seemed the perfect contradiction of dark and light!
            What I ended up with was a Cantheystophim? Readers will meet Viktor early on and know more about him than Nora and Declan, being privy to his inner thoughts to see his motivation and his plan, however flawed and outrageous. The epicurean with a brilliant mind also has a love of food, wine and sex, yet can’t help himself when it comes to killing. Of course, he’s convinced he has justifiable reasons, but there’s no question he’s pure evil.
            How his plan crosses the lives of Nora, her young son, and affects Declan’s newest case, the unusual death of an art restorer with international implications, forms the plotline. If Viktor manages to carry his plan off is another matter entirely.
Writers: have you written a baddie you enjoyed creating? What was that experience like for you?
Readers: how do you feel when your favorite authors veer into darker territory? Does it annoy you or keep your interest piqued?

Marni Graff is the author of the award-winning Nora Tierney English Mysteries and the Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. She’s Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press and writes a crime review blog at http//

DEBS: Marni, I've been in that place, and I'm always a little shocked at how much I love writing those really bad characters. It's very liberating. What does that say about us?



  1. Congratulations on your new book, Marni. “The Golden Hour” sounds quite exciting and I’m looking forward to finding out how Viktor’s evil plot unfolds . . . .

    I’m not at all unhappy when writers veer into those darker territories since the characters, [although I never really thought of them as being fun to write], are always intriguing and deliciously menacing . . . and it’s always exciting to see how the writer manages to have the hero/heroine overcome the malevolence by the end of the story . . . .

  2. Waving a big Hi to Marni! I have written short stories in the bad guy's voice, but so far my novels are in from single point of view. It is fun giving that human twist to the really evil person, though.

  3. When authors go darker... I can go there with them if they do it well. One villain who sticks with me is the one in Joe R. Lamsdale's Edge of Dark Water. I do think when the author has fun writing, the reader will have fun reading.

  4. Hi Marnie! And welcome. That is such a great question! I wonder if we are giving our consciences the chance —without any filter – – to explore the territories we as good guys wouldn’t.
    Writing someone who truly believes what they are doing is good, and giving a reasonable rationale for it, that’s what’s scary— definitely fun to write! .
    And brilliant to give your character a love of gardening… Helping plants live while helping people die is perfect.

  5. Are you a gardener too, by the way? Without the psychopath part…

  6. I always enjoy it when my favorite authors stretch beyond their standard repertoire and try something new. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But that desire to grow, and try new ideas is what separates the artist from the hack in any artistic endeavor. Your book (and series) sounds interesting, Marnie. I'll have to watch for it.

  7. Welcome, Marni!

    I've only written one piece from a villain's POV, but it was fun. I find exploring my villain's backstory and motivation often helps me unlock a point in the story for my protagonist.

    I'm okay with dark - although I prefer complex dark as opposed to straight up "crazy" dark.


  8. Marni, welcome to Jungle Reds! The name Tierney made me think of the American actress Gene Tierney from the 1940s. I am a big fan of movies so I recognize names of actors and actresses.

    Interesting coincidence that you have a British character named Declan Barnes, because that is the name of my American-Canadian professor's father who was born in the late 1800s.

    As a reader, I am trying to recall if any of my favorite authors wrote darker novels. It depends. Yesterday I was talking with a book friend on Instagram about a book with violence. She likes darker novels with violence while I prefer cozy mysteries.

    However, if the darker novel involves war, then it makes sense to me.


  9. Welcome, Marni, and congrats on the new book. I think we have to venture into dark territory from time to time if we want to portray the full range of human experiences and capabilities. I remember how much Katy Munger's Dead Detective series improved (IMHO) when she made it a little darker and got into some deep dark motivations. I think we all have some of these capabilities, even if they are well managed or hidden, and to pretend otherwise keeps us from growing up.

  10. Sounds delicious, Marnie. I already have your book on my Kindle, bought it as a pre-order. Can't wait to visit my favorite part of the UK through your eyes.

  11. Hi Marni, and thanks for being here today! I think you did a great job in The Golden Hour of giving us just enough of Viktor to make us really invested in WillTheyCatchHim. For me, in both writing and reading, I need my villains in small doses. Most of my murderers have been ordinary people pushed by circumstances, but I have written a couple of sociopaths, and doing the research--and then putting myself in that character's head--was decidedly creepy.

    Viktor's creepiness is nicely balanced by the adorably baby, and of course by the adorable dog!! (I think this may be our week for dogs on covers:-)) And I love the characters' names. "Nora Tierney" has an old-fashioned (although she is certainly not!) glamor, and "Declan Barnes" is perfect for a police detective.

    I know how scary it is push yourself into new territory in a book. Congratulations on a bang-up job!!!

  12. This sound intriguing!! I love England and children's literature. Darkness interests me very much, but I think I will start at the beginning of your series before I read about the main character being threatened!

  13. I just wrote your name down on one of my notepads floating around. This series is calling to me! I think a darker edge than normal highlights those contrasts between the good guys and the bad guys. How will the good guys react to an evil encroaching on their lives? That is always a question I want answered

  14. Marni, The Golden Hour sounds most intriguing, and I can't believe I am just hearing about this series. It checks all the boxes that I love in a mystery/crime series, so I'll be putting the previous books, as well as The Golden Hour, on my TBR list.

  15. Marni, I'm eager to go find the first three books of your series and catch up! It sounds like one I will really enjoy.

    I do have to admit, though, that as a reader I have mixed feelings about dark territory. I have seen authors I love do it successfully, but I can remember more than a few that I did not enjoy. Basically, I want just enough insight into evil to fully appreciate how evil the character is. I don't want to set up a camp chair and hang out in the darkness. But then, I'm a person who eschews a lot of today's movies, too, because I don't want to wallow in violence or depravity or other darkness. I suspect I have less of a barrier between real life emotions and the ones evoked in fiction than some other readers/viewers.

    1. Susan, you come up with the best analogies! I love "Set up a camp chair and hang out in the darkness."

  16. Marni, have to say "no" to The Golden Hour. The really dark territory that you describe is just not a place that I want to go...not now, not ever. But I do want to try the earlier "whodunits". A friend thought I would like Ruth Rendell's books and lent me one. It was so dark and so full of blood and gore in the first chapter, if had not been some one else's property, it would have gone straight to the trash -- pristine dust cover and all. Thanks for visiting Jungle Reds.

  17. I'm never unhappy when an author I like goes darker in their storytelling as long as the story quality remains good. It's when a story feels as if it was darker solely for the sake of being so that things get dicey.

  18. Marni is on the road in between events and is having trouble commenting from her phone. She will do her best to get back to everyone later!

  19. Hi, Marni! THE GOLDEN HOUR sounds fascinating. I like, as both a writer and a reader, to explore the dark side of characters. After all, even horrible humans are still human, and it's interesting to think about what makes them tick.

  20. Marni is so sorry, but she was never able to log in to the blog. She would love for anyone who'd like to chat about The Golden Hour to email her at

  21. Chiming in late! I love writing an American in London so I know I am going to enjoy reading this series. Thanks so much for visiting us today, Marni.