Saturday, January 7, 2017

"Twice Told Tail"

Ali Brandon is the New York Times bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series, from Berkley Prime Crime. This popular cozy mystery series features Hamlet the cat and his transplanted-Texan caretaker, Darla Pettistone. Together, the pair work and sleuth out of Darla’s Brooklyn-based independent bookstore.

Writing as Diane A.S. Stuckart, she is the author of the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. The limited series which debuted in hard cover received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, with the second novel winning a Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Twice Told Tail, Book 6 in the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series, and reported the following:
I’m particularly happy to apply the Page 69 Test to Twice Told Tail. The reason – because it’s on this exact page that my series protagonist, Darla Pettistone, tells her police detective friend that a beloved character has died.

First, the setup. Darla has discovered the deceased in a chair clutching a vintage pillow embroidered with the phrase, Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. She recognizes the words from a poem she learned in high school, and recalls the rest of the poem. And so, Page 69 begins:
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Shivering a little at that last word, [Darla] put the phone to her ear. “Reese” she managed, “I’ve got some awful news.”

In a halting voice, she relayed what had just happened. When she’d finished, she heard him sigh.

“Sorry, Red. He was a nice old guy. Don’t worry, I’ll make all the calls. How’s Mary Ann holding up?”

“Mary Ann!” Darla gasped, her heart sinking even further, if that were possible. “How could I forget? Reese, she’s not here. She had to meet a customer about a consignment. What should I do? I can’t tell her this over the phone.”

“I’ll take care of that when I get there…”
Of course, Darla has no idea that she’s stumbled across a murder. She assumes our victim died of natural causes. But, soon enough, she learns the frightening truth and determines to help solve the mystery.

Having the dead body in Twice Told Tail show up precisely on page 69 is coincidence. Or is it? I’ve mentioned in other blog postings how I’ve never subscribed to the notion that, in a cozy mystery, the murder victim should be sprawled right there on page one. I never want Darla to shrug her shoulders and view the latest homicide as simply another puzzle to solve. Murder is a serious subject, and I believe it should be treated accordingly, even in light fiction. I want both Darla and the reader to get to know our victim before the hammer (or whatever the weapon of choice is in that particular book) comes down.

Plotting this way actually does take me until about page 69 or so in each of my novels before I’ve killed off that book’s victim. And if you think about it, I have, in a way, satisfied the supposed requirement of presenting the dead body right up front. The reader who applies the Page 69 principle to my books will immediately know the “who” and the “where” and the (presumably) “how” of the murder. He or she can now go back to the start to find out what led up to the death, and learn why he or she should care about learning the killer’s identity. Mission accomplished!
Learn more about the book and author at the official Ali Brandon--AKA Diane A.S. Stuckart--website.

Coffee with a Canine: Diane Stuckart & Ranger, Delta, Oliver and Paprika.

--Marshal Zeringue