Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Silent Murders"

Mary Miley is the winner of the 2012 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Novel Competition. She grew up in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. After completing her masters in history, she worked at the museum and taught American history at Virginia Commonwealth University. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel, and business topics.

In 2013 Miley introduced her Roaring Twenties series with The Impersonator. She applied the Page 69 Test to Silent Murders, the second book in the series, and reported the following:
Here’s page 69:
They shot rapid-fire questions at me, alternating between them so there was no pause for me to rest or reflect. I was certain they already knew the answers, but they argued with me on nearly all of them as if everything I said was a lie. I made sure to throw in that I worked for Douglas Fairbanks. The name didn’t flicker an eyelid.

After what seemed like hours of questions about Esther, they turned to Bruno Heilmann and worked their way through the time I had spent at the party, accusing me of sleeping with Heilmann and every other man at the party, demanding to know who I’d spoken to, what I’d seen, whether I’d been upstairs, and when I had arrived and departed. I soon learned not to pause to think, or one of them would snarl, “Just answer the question, sister, don’t think up lies.” When we reached the end of the questions, they started over. Same questions. And then a third time. I figured they were trying to fluster me into giving different answers that they could twist into some semblance of guilt, but someone accustomed to repeating the same act on stage three, four, or five times a day is not going to get rattled by repetition. I got slapped several times by the standing detective—not much harder than a stage slap—and finally he said, “Okay, sister, we’ll see how smart alecky you are after a night in jail.”

They led me out of the miserable little room and there, at the door that led to the cells, stood Carl Delaney. It felt wonderful to see a friendly face, even if it was a cop. “I’ll take her in,” he said. They handed me over with no comment and left.

We stood in the hall for a few minutes, saying nothing, waiting for I didn’t know what, until Carl opened the door to the main room and looked about. “They’re gone. Come on. Can’t let you go home, but you don’t have to spend the night in the pokey. Sit here.” He pointed to a beat-up leather chair in the corner by the main door.

“Who are those guys?” I asked him.

“Tuttle and Rios. Detectives assigned to the Heilmann case.”
Open to page 69 of Silent Murders and you’ll find fairly representative slice of my story. In this, the second Roaring Twenties mystery, it is 1926, and Jessie has recovered from the injuries she sustained in The Impersonator when she took on the role of a missing heiress in a scam to inherit the girl’s fortune. She has since moved to Hollywood and taken a lowly “Girl Friday” job in the silent film studio belonging to movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Running errands for Fairbanks gets her invited to a party where a famous director is murdered. In the scene on page 69, Jessie is being questioned by some rough detectives who suspect her of being involved in the crime. Which she is.

One of the underlying premises to my series is that growing up in vaudeville has led Jessie to develop skills that help her solve crimes. This passage illustrates that premise with a small example: she is not rattled by repetition at the police station because she is accustomed to performing the same routine several times a day. The scene also serves to introduce honest cop Carl Delaney (honesty being a rare trait among Prohibition-era policemen), who becomes an important character in Silent Murders and in future books of this series, two of which I’ve already completed. I have a horror of deadlines and so stay well ahead of them!
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Impersonator.

Writers Read: Mary Miley.

--Marshal Zeringue