Tuesday, September 6, 2022

A Special Visit from Laurie King!

 RHYS BOWEN: Jungle Reds are so excited today to celebrate the launch of Laurie King's new book,

BACK TO THE GARDEN! And she's here today to visit us and give us insights into this new venture.

I'm sure, like me, you're all big fans of Laurie's work. I'm addicted to Mary Russell. 



Well--exciting news, everyone. This book is so different from Holmes and Russell. It's a thriller/suspense novel set in two time periods--the San Francisco area in the 1970s and the present. So 1970s now counts as historical, right?  The book introduces a new protagonist--Inspector Rachel Laing, a tough broad!

So without further ado:

RHYS: This book is quite a departure for those who love Mary Russell. What was your motivation to write a tense, more contemporary thriller?

LAURIE: I like to change things out regularly, when it comes to writing. If I don’t, I find that I’m doing increasingly awful things to my series characters. (Whether this is due to writerly instincts or some unconscious and pathological urge to hurt the people I love, I couldn’t say.)

A lot of writers are happy to work with the same characters year in, year out. Others of us—like you, Rhys—need to explore different settings, voices, and moods. We have stories to tell that don’t fit within the limitations of a given series. Writing about Mary Russell and her mentor-turned-partner Sherlock Holmes gives me wide scope when it comes to where they go and what issues they face, but there is always an underlying degree of whimsy that would strain a tense and realistic plot to the breaking point.

Plus that, writing a book such as Lockdown (2017) or Back to the Garden lets me return to Russell & Holmes with added enthusiasm. And less of an urge to hurt them….

RHYS: This story is clearly set in an area you know and love in Northern California (therefore delightful for me to read as I too know it well ). The Gardener estate—is it based on a real house? Heart Castle?

LAURIE: The Gardener Estate is very very roughly based on Filoli, a historic house and garden 25 miles south of San Francisco. My fictional estate is in more or less the same place, and it has a vaguely similar history, architecture, and grounds, but I didn’t want to be limited by the real thing. (In another life, I might have been an architect…if I’d had any math and geometry skills at all.) And you’re right, the Gardener Estate is indeed similar to Hearst Castle in its era and in the ambitions of an owner aiming to build a power base.

RHYS: Tell us about Raquel Laing, where she came from. Is this designed to be a stand-alone or may we see Inspector Laing in more adventures?

LAURIE: As I wrote Inspector Laing, I was surprised, and amused, to find strong elements of Sherlock Holmes settling into her bones, from an extraordinary ability to spot and analyze key elements in an investigation to a nature that might generously be called “aloof.” Yet she’s also a cop, and the police only function as a communal enterprise.  That pull creates some interesting tensions, in her and in her work.

Back to the Garden is definitely the first in a new series. I admit that when I first started writing the story, I thought of it as standing alone, only to realize how much more I wanted to know about the characters. Fortunately, my publisher agrees!

RHYS: Real life serial killers—there certainly were a lot of them in the 1970s in our part of California.  To what do you ascribe that? Are there really cold cases, serial killers still never caught?

LAURIE: So bizarre, isn’t it, to think of peaceable “Surf City, USA” Santa Cruz (my home town) as a place infected with murders? But it was, back in the 70s, with one spree killer and two serial killers all within the same period. It was that time that changed how the FBI investigated deaths that seemed to be unrelated, leading to nation-wide forensics units, a data base of criminal information such as fingerprints and DNA, and an encouragement of inter-agency communications, all of which together catch killers.


Estimates of how many serial killers are working today vary hugely, from a tiny handful to a couple thousand. And those who simply stop, such as Dennis Rader (“the BTK killer”) and Joseph DeAngelo (who gave rise to three separate nicknames), are the hardest to identify—DeAngelo’s crimes ran from 1976 to 1986, but he was only caught in 2018, in part because he was a cop and knew how to avoid detection. Others, as you say, will probably never be caught, or only identified after they are dead.

RHYS: What strikes me after reading this book is how multi-layered it is. As well as the mystery/thriller aspect we have underlying themes of wealth, corruption, the Vietnam war, etc. What was your aim in writing the story?

LAURIE: One of the joys of crime fiction is that it can be about anything, so long as the story moves forward exploring the crime. And like a lot of mystery writers, I revel in the possibilities for being subversive, slipping in ideas, facts, or episodes from the past that linger in the reader’s mind.

The best mystery novels—the best novels, period—open a door into an unexplored world of riches. On the one hand, my only aim is to entertain, creating interesting people and sending them off on a satisfying adventure. But if the reader closes the book reluctantly, suspecting that there might have been more on the pages than what they saw, well, I’ve done my job.



RHYS: did you write this planning that the garden would be a symbol? For healing? Beauty? Secrets?

LAURIE: The idea of “garden” does get a lot of play in this story, doesn’t it? The family name, the actual garden, the way changes in the estate’s identity are reflected in its garden—from a formal stage for a family out to establish a political dynasty in the 30s to a 70s commune’s joyous celebration of organic vegetables to a modern setting for tourists and wedding parties. There is also the theme of the garden of Eden, a place of innocence with a serpent in the background—Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are glimpsed throughout. And of course, the title itself, evoking Joni Mitchell and the Woodstock era.

A person might almost think the author enjoyed gardening.

RHYS: Did you find it a challenge to write in two time periods?

LAURIE: Any cold case story has to choose how to weave together its then-and-now timelines. What you want—as a reader and as a writer—is two stories that come together as one, even if they’re separated by many decades. 

I also wanted the reader to see events as they happened, from the point of view of the people experiencing them at the time, with details that might be peripheral to the actual investigation.  Weaving “THEN” and “NOW” together, so that the reader learns things more or less simultaneously with the investigator, allowed me to give the cops the facts that they need to know, while filling in the wider picture for the reader’s deeper understanding. 

Which was, as you say, was a challenge.

RHYS: I've just read the book and I can say you are in for a treat!  Big thanks to Laurie and wishing her all the best for this new venture.

45 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Laurie, on your new book [and your new series] . . . I’m looking forward to meeting Raquel . . . .

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    1. I hope you just fall in love with this enigmatic young lady…
      —Laurie

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  2. So many congratulations, Laurie. I can't wait to see you at Bouchercon and get a signature on this new book.

    I listened to your Sisters in Crime podcast yesterday, which fills in lots of cool details about this book - and everything else. I highly recommend it to the jungle red commenter gang.

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    1. Yay Bouchercon!
      Jungle Reds + SinC does indeed make a great pairing.
      —Laurie

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  3. Welcome to the Reds Laurie and congrats on the new book! So many of us can't wait to read it!

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  4. Congratulations on your new book, Laurie. The 70's is indeed historical as much as it pains me to say it! Raquel Laing sounds like an intriguing character whose story I must read! Back to the Garden is on my TBR list! Fabulous cover, BTW.

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    1. Isn’t the cover great? Their first version was flat-out Malibu, pink with palms. I said, um….
      —Laurie

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  5. LAURIE:Congratulations on your new book! And yes the 1970s is now considered historical, sigh.

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  6. All the changes in technology alone make the 1970’s historical. No cell phone for your Inspector, for example. Always nice to get in on the beginning of a new series.

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  7. Congratulations, Laurie! I look forward to a new book from you, always.

    As much as I love Russell and Holmes, I am also a fan of Kate Martinelli. If Laing is as appealing as your other characters, she will be a big hit.

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    1. Raquel and Kate do have much in common.
      —Laurie

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  8. Congratulations Laurie! I've been a fan since I stayed up all night reading A Grave Talent, many many years ago. I'm looking forward to meeting Raquel and wandering in the garden.

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    1. I’ll meet you there!
      —Laurie

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  9. Congratulations on the new book Laurie!

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  10. Hank Phillippi RyanSeptember 6, 2022 at 8:48 AM

    Hooray hooray hooray! This is such a wonderful engaging terrific booK. And you can hear LAURIE talk about it with me in person today on Mighty Blaze CRIME TIME at 3 PM ET on Facebook— please come join us! And you could win a copy!
    LAURIE, congratulations. This is an absolute triumph.

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    1. Bless you, Hank Ryan!
      —Laurie

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    2. Yay! Looking forward to the two of you talking about BACK TO THE GARDEN at noon, my time!

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  11. This sounds absolutely fantastic! And I am in awe of Laurie (and Rhys) and anyone who writes historical fiction. Such a challenge to TAKE the reader there and, seamlessly, bring them back. Laurie, I'm guessing this book took you longer to write than a new Holmes/Russell book would have. And yet some of the research you'd have needed you've already done for the series.

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    1. You know, I did actually have to research my own history, since I couldn’t remember all those odd details of tie-width and supermarket names…
      —Laurie

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  12. This appeared in my Kindle this morning! I am so excited to read it! It is next once I finish the latest Martin Walker.

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    1. I hear it’s a good one, hope you like BttG following it up!
      —Laurie

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  13. Congratulations, Laurie on your new novel! The Rachel Laing detective novel sounds intriguing! When I think of the 1970s, I remember the overplucked eyebrows, the "natural look" where it looks like you are NOT wearing makeup when you really are wearing makeup,halter tops, Farrah Fawcett hairdo, bell bottoms and strange food. I can imagine how challenging it is to write historical fiction since I am in the midst of writing a historical cozy myself.

    Diana

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    1. Since my characters are mostly hippies, not a lot of plucked eyebrows (which is one way you can tell a posed modern fake in the stock photos companies.)
      —Laurie

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  14. Rhys here. Diana, I apologize for calling Raquel Rachel. ( not me. I have an evil auto correct!)

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    1. Rhys, you’re not the first—nor, I imagine, the last.
      —L

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  15. Laurie, I just have to say, I'm always impressed by the way you manage both a bestselling series (which I know has readers always clamoring for more) and a regular output of stand-alones and other series books. I looked at your book list to catch up, and it made me feel dizzy. I had to sit down and fan myself.

    I'm excited to dive into BACK TO THE GARDEN, because the 70s were my childhood, so I have living memories of that time, with the perspective of a kid. That creates an interesting stereo optic effect when I read what is, yes, now historical fiction set in that era.

    Oh, and speaking of stand-alones, any chance we might see another Leigh Richards book in the future? (Pun intended.)

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    1. If I write only the Russell & Holmes books, I take out my frustration with them (like family in a long lockdown) and damage them. So, best to trade off!
      I’d love to do the other two in the “Leigh Richards” trilogy. Some day…..
      —Laurie

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  16. Congrats, Laurie on you new novel! I've never been so excited about a book. I spent two glorious months as a writer in residence at Villa Montalvo for the Arts, your setting for BACK TO THE GARDEN. What a fabulous place to use as a commune setting in the late 70s. I have photos of me that are similar to the one here. I'll see you at Bouchercon for a signed copy. Can't wait to read it and remember the places I roamed there, especially what is now the wine cellar. LOL.

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    1. Ah yes, the Gardener Estate is similar to Montalvo, though I didn’t have it in mind. (Bits of Filoli, but not a lot.) What a fabulous place to be a writer in residence!
      See you soon!
      —Laurie

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    2. Thanks for clarifying that, Laurie. I asked Mary Alice about it, but I must have confused the two. My residency there gave me the opportunity to leave husband and son behind for an intense immersion that pushed my writing to a new level. Ah, Filoli. More beautiful gardens!

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  17. Laurie, I've been looking forward to this book ever since you started posting about it. I love multi-timeline stories and the whole hippie commune era is such fertile ground. Could you give us a little synopsis?

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    1. Hi Deb! Better than that, I can give you both synopsis and nice juicy excerpt, here: https://laurierking.com/books/back-to-the-garden/overview/
      Enjoy!
      —Laurie

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  18. I read Back to the Garden as an ARC and thoroughly enjoyed it! I remember the late sixties and the seventies too well and have no desire to return to those days of yesteryear, but a temporary visit is just fine. I've enjoyed Russell and Holmes for years and look forward to more of their cases. Have you any plans for Stuyvesant and Grey?

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    1. Hi Pat, glad you liked Raquel Laing! I’d love to do another Stuyvesant & Grey, some day. And another Rae Newborne, and the sequel to Califia’s Daughters, and…..
      Here’s to a long life, eh?
      —Laurie

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  19. Hooray for a new book from you, Laurie! I've read all the Kate Martinelli stories, and am a few books into Mary Russell, but may have to swerve out for Back to the Garden. Ah, the 70s. I got married in 1970, at Villa Montalvo, in fact. A gorgeous venue, as is Filoli. I haven't been to Hearst Castle in 20 years, but remember it well. There's such a wealth of settings to choose from in Northern California.

    An email from Book Passage appeared as I was writing my comment, reminding me of your appearance tonight at 6:00. Delightful, except that I'm still not comfortable meeting in groups. I'm sure you'll be a great treat for those in attendance, and hope you have a marvelous time.

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    1. We did have a great time (and everyone masked up until time came for cookies.) Maybe for the next one!
      —Laurie

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  20. Laurie, it is so good to have you here at Jungle Reds, and I'm so excited about this new book. Everyone who is passionate about reading has certain authors, certain books, and certain experiences that are beyond special. They are the treasures we keep in our mind and on our bookshelves, taking them out from time to time and reliving them all over again. You, Laurie, are absolutely one of those treasures. Reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice was the beginning of so many wonderful other reading experiences and life events. I didn't read it as soon as it was published, so there were several other books in the series already out, too. That was fortunate, as I don't think my newly fired passion could have waited for more. The Beekeeper's Apprentice was my portal into the mystery/crime world and community. Oh, I'd read mystery and crime before, and I'd read all the Agatha Christie's earlier in my life, but you and your writing lit a fire in me for this genre that might not have happened if I hadn't picked up that first Russell and Holmes. Because of it I now have the Reds' books and so many others that I follow and love. I even credit you with me finally attending Bouchercon, a dream of mine, in 2013. And, there are the Friends of Laurie, giving me life-long friends, like Alice and Merrily and others. Alice and I talk on the phone regularly, and I owe this all to you, Laurie. Of course, one of my biggest thrills was actually meeting you. Yes, I was the squealing woman who made a scene. That first dinner with you and the FOLs felt like a dream. I was floating on air. And, I can't forget my review blog, The Reading Room, which has become so important to me and took off when my mystery/crime reading became my reading passion. I have several copies of The Beekeeper's Apprentice now, but I will always keep the original mass paperback that I first read front and center on my main bookcase. I have read all your other books, too, and loved them, but you never forget your first love, do you.

    I can't wait to start Back to the Garden. I should have already read it, but I am, as always, running behind. Just knowing it's there and I will read it soon is so wonderful. I hate that I haven't gotten to meet up with you or any of the FOLs for so long now. I am planning on being at the San Diego Bouchercon next year, and I will be so happy to be reunited with so many friends, authors and fellow readers. So, thank you, Laurie, for absolutely changing my life to a more enriched, passionate life of reading and being with those of a like mind. Happy Book Birthday, dear Laurie!

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    1. Oh, Kathy, what a lovely thing to say. I’m so glad Beekeeper stepped into your life at a key point, and brought you a new community.
      And yes—next year in San Diego!
      —Laurie

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  21. I love visiting Fioli when we visit the area, so now I have one more reason to look forward to this book. Laurie’s never written a book I didn’t like, so this one seems like a pretty safe bet!

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  22. What a wonderful interview. Congratulations Laurie! Love the cover and sounds fabulous.

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    1. Isn’t the cover great? So PURPLE!
      —Laurie

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