Read this exclusive Q&A with Ellen Crosby, author of the Wine Country Mystery series, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Vineyard Victims!
Ellen Crosby is back with another Wine Country Mystery! Beginning with The Merlot Murders, Lucie Montgomery returns for her eighth mystery in The Vineyard Victims (out today!), where the death of a former presidential candidate in a fiery car crash at her Virginia vineyard has ties to a 30-year-old murder, as well as to Lucie Montgomery’s own near-fatal accident ten years ago, as she searches for a killer who now may be stalking her.
Recently, Ellen took time out of her busy schedule to answer some of CrimeHQ's questions about her latest book, the transformation from economist to novelist, and what she's currently reading in this exclusive Q&A!
If you could team Lucie up with any other detective, real or fictional, who would it be and why?
If I could team Lucie up with any other detective, it would be Jessica Fletcher. Years ago, when I first showed up on the doorstep of Swedenburg Estate Vineyard in Middleburg, Virginia, to ask Juanita Swedenburg, the late owner, if she’d be willing to teach me about the business of growing grapes and making wine because I wanted to set a murder mystery at a vineyard, she said yes because she was a huge fan of the Murder, She Wrote series. I never forgot that statement and was glad that, years later, I was able to tell Donald Bain, who wrote the books (and sadly just passed away), about Jessica Fletcher’s influence on my wine country mysteries.
See also: Donald Bain: A Personal Remembrance
So the eponymous victim is a presidential candidate with a billion-dollar real estate operation. That seems pretty timely. Was that your intention, or does life just have a way of imitating art? What is your brainstorming process/how do you come up with those ideas?
A lot of celebrities own vineyards—including several in Virginia—so this seemed like a good vein to mine in my Wine Country series. When I first got the idea for The Vineyard Victims, Donald Trump hadn’t even decided to run for president—and Jamie Vaughn not only loses the election, but he dies under mysterious circumstances in Chapter 1. So art quickly stopped imitating life!
As for “brainstorming,” I’m always on the lookout for ideas; I keep a notebook with me wherever I go and am constantly jotting down my thoughts or someone’s comments or something I read or see that intrigues me. Invariably, my saved string sparks an idea, and I find I’ve got enough to germinate into a possible plot. Next, I head to the library and check out any book I can find on the subject—that usually leads to even more ideas, and it goes on from there.
What was the transition like from economist on Capitol Hill to freelance journalist to author? What draws you to crime fiction?
It was totally random and completely unplanned. I quit my job as an economist on the Hill when my journalist husband was transferred to Geneva, Switzerland, many years ago. Suddenly, I had a lot of free time on my hands and a one-year-old at home. To keep out of trouble—when I wasn’t working on learning French—I thought I’d try writing a novel. How hard could it be, right? It took 16 years and a segue into journalism before my first book was published in 2001 in London, and another five years before my next book was published in the US.
As to what draws me to crime fiction: in this day and age, when there is so much uncertainty and unease and people are anxious about what’s happening around them, I like writing about a world where there are justice and goodness, and people are punished for their wrongdoings.
What is the significance of setting your novels in Virginia?
Though I was born in Boston, I have lived in Virginia long enough to call it home. It’s a beautiful and history-rich state, and I can’t imagine setting my series anywhere else.
What's your favorite line from The Vineyard Victims and why?
“My mother warned me to stay away from bad boys even before I started dating, but she’d married one herself—my father—and, as they say, apples don’t fall too far from the tree.”
It’s the first line of the book; I’ve always believed you’ve got to have a dynamite opening line because that’s what everyone reads first—hopefully, it’s what hooks them and makes them decide they have to continue reading.
What do you want readers to think or feel after finishing this book?
I want them to be extremely tired and grumpy because they stayed up all night reading my book, which they simply couldn’t put down.
What would be your murder weapon of choice?
What else? Poisoned wine!
What are you currently reading?
The Planets by Dava Sobel and The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (the latter recommended by Barbara Peters of The Poisoned Pen, when I was at the bookstore last year for The Champagne Conspiracy).
I just blurbed a new book that will be out from Minotaur next year called Murder at the Mill by M. B. Shaw, which I loved. And when I was in Toronto for the Bouchercon mystery conference a few weeks ago, I picked up several new books from the Sleuth of Baker Street, including Swiss Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn (whom I met in Toronto as well). Since I used to live in Switzerland near where the book is set, it’s right up my alley.
Are there any TV shows you're currently watching?
The Good Doctor, a new show on ABC, which is, interestingly, based on a South Korean television series. The main character, Dr. Shaun Murphy, is an American surgical resident who happens to be autistic and also has savant syndrome. My youngest son is autistic and works at a medical research laboratory—like Shaun Murphy, he has an amazing memory for certain things and remembers facts and events my husband and I have long forgotten.
Freddie Highmore, who plays the main character, is actually British and lives in the same part of north London where my family and I lived for 5 years. He’s only 25, and he’s also one of the show’s producers.
Describe The Vineyard Victims in five words or less.
Ex-presidential candidate dies, trouble follows.
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Ellen Crosby is the author of the Virginia wine country mystery series, which began with The Merlot Murders. She has also written a mystery series featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina, and Moscow Nights, a standalone. Previously she was a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, Moscow correspondent for ABC News Radio, and an economist at the U.S. Senate.