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Thursday, August 13, 2015

TRAVELING AROUND THE WORLD WITH KAY KENDALL'S AUSTIN STARR, CIRCA 1969

Austin Starr's Hippy Suitcase from 1969
Kay Kendall writes mystery/female amateur sleuth novels set in the 1960’s. Her book titles show she’s a fan of Bob Dylan. Learn more about her and her books at her Austin Starr and Kay Kendall websites.

The Travels of Austin Starr—Amateur Sleuth

My mystery Rainy Day Women launched last month. It’s the summer of 1969, and my 23-year-old amateur sleuth, Austin Starr, has already done a fair bit of traveling in her young life. Born in a small Texas town at the leading edge of the baby boom—1946—she had always wanted to see the world, inspired by the adventures of her favorite fictional heroine, Nancy Drew.

At first she traveled around Texas with her parents to visit relatives. One set of grandparents lived in nearby Houston, and aunts and uncles lived in Dallas. Both cities offered more excitement than her birthplace of 12,000. Visits to her other grandparents in another small town 500 miles north in Kansas were pleasant, but she rued the long drive through rural Oklahoma and thought Kansas wasn’t cosmopolitan enough to hold her interest.

During college Austin grabbed at a chance to study a foreign language abroad. Here her daring really took flight. Bored with her high school Spanish lessons, she switched to Russian and spent a summer in the Soviet Union studying at a university in Moscow. In the darkest days of the Cold War, she found this exciting indeed, and upon return to college she secretly got recruited by the CIA. During her senior year in college, she underwent training from the mysterious Mr. Jones.

Like many young women of her era, however, marriage scrambled her plans for the future. When she married her college sweetheart David Starr after their graduation, she never dreamed this would bring radical change to her life. Ahead of a draft summons, David announced he would resist the Vietnam War era draft and said they were moving north, far north—to Canada.

Book one of the Austin Starr series, Desolation Row, shows what happens to Austin and David during their first year in Toronto. He is jailed for a murder he doesn’t commit, and naturally she solves the case. Living in a foreign land unsettles her, but she makes friends with her Russian history professor in graduate school and his daughter Larissa, who is half Russian and half Canadian.

This is all backstory to the second Austin Starr mystery, Rainy Day Women. Within 30 pages Austin is on a plane flying from Toronto across Canada to Vancouver, with her three-month-old infant in tow. She must respond to Larissa’s call for help. Her best friend in Canada needs support because she’s suspected of murdering an activist in a women's liberation group at the University of British Columbia, where Larissa has taken a summer job.

Soon another murder of a women’s lib member—this time in Seattle—sends Austin and her baby south to see if the two murders are linked. The action takes place right after the Manson murders in Los Angeles and during Woodstock. Travel was different back then, and 1969—well, what a year! Talk about adventure.

These days I’m sending Austin on even more travel adventures. In book three, Tombstone Blues, Austin and David will attend his academic conference in Vienna. In this middle European city that played a big part in World War II and the resulting Cold War, spies lurk on almost every street corner. Austin has kept her CIA training a secret from David, knowing full well he won’t approve. Once he finds out, both husband and wife tangle with Soviet spies, and serious trouble ensues. Needless to say, this is great fun to write. Stay tuned.

Rainy Day Women
Book 2 of the Austin Starr Mystery series

In 1969, during the week of the Manson murders and Woodstock, the intrepid amateur sleuth, infant in tow, flies across the continent to support a friend suspected of murdering women's liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Then her former CIA trainer warns that an old enemy has contracted a hit on her. Her anxious husband demands that she give up her quest and fly back to him. How much should Austin risk when tracking the killer puts her and her baby's life in danger?

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2 comments:

Angela Adams said...

Interesting time in history to use as a setting for your novels! Best wishes!!

kk said...

Hi, Angela. I'm glad you think the era is interesting. I began writing about it before MAD MEN began on TV, and back then everyone was either bored with it or simply didn't care. After MAD MEN, it is easier to get people interested in the sixties, and I'm so grateful. Of course it was a time of enormous upheaval, and that makes those years ideal for settings for murder and deviousness in my mysteries. Thanks for your interest!