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Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Rum runners during Prohibition
Award-winning author Kay Kendall writes the Austin Starr mystery series. The first two books are set in the 1960s. in Vancouver and Seattle. Austin is a young Texas bride, forced to the frontlines of societal change by her draft-resisting husband. Austin copes by turning amateur sleuth. Before Kay wrote fiction, she was an award-winning international PR exec, working in the US, Canada, the Soviet Union, and Europe. She and her Canadian husband live in Texas with three rescue rabbits and one bemused spaniel. Today she joins us to talk about the inspiration behind the plot for her latest mystery. Learn more about Kay and her books at her website and The Stiletto Gang blog.

The death that launches the suspense in After You’ve Gone is based on a real life automobile accident. The unusual and ghastly demise of my husband’s friend shocked me. No detail so as to avoid spoilers, but the man’s uncharacteristic carelessness caused an avoidable tragedy. After grieving, talking to his widow, and offering condolences, I began to think about the incident in different terms—about how easily that accident could have been a murder scene. From there my plot took shape.

I’m drawn to historical crime novels, enjoying the display of extremes in human nature aligned with bygone times. In my new book I want you to feel you live in small-town Texas in 1923.

When setting out to write about Texas in the early 20th century, I already knew a fair amount of its history. What I needed to research in more detail, however, was the time when Galveston became known as the sin city on the Gulf of Mexico. I had some dim impressions, but what I found was astonishing. The gangsters were every bit as ambitious and vicious —and greedy—as those more famous ones in Chicago. In fact, Galveston was a natural draw to gangsters from large northern cities who used its port to bring in illegal booze, mostly from the Caribbean.

The crime family I feature in After You’ve Gone still has descendants who live and work in Galveston, but these days their businesses appear to be legal. One member of this Italian-American clan has even become a billionaire who indulges a highly philanthropic bent, underwriting and naming educational facilities all around the city of Houston.

Recently, when I described my new book to a friend from Ohio, she responded in shock, saying, “For shenanigans during Prohibition, I only know about Chicago and New York City. Why would you write about Texas?” I laughed and began to tell her about the enormous fortunes made in Galveston during what is euphemistically termed “the open era,” when the citizens of Galveston looked the other way, ignoring the prostitution, rum-running and gambling that brought tourism and riches to the area. 

Why this is not better known sure beats me. In my book I have my 23-year-old protagonist Wallie MacGregor dip a toe into this criminal environment. Inspired by her readings in the Sherlock Holmes canon and dedicated to proving that a relative’s death was no accident, Wallie throws aside her prim upbringing and barges headlong into Galveston’s world of vice. Thereby hangs a tale.

After You’ve Gone
When a long-lost relative turns up on the run from his rum-running mob boss and soon dies in a freak accident in small-town Texas during Prohibition, only 23-year-old Wallie believes it was murder. Driven by her love for Sherlock Holmes tales, Wallie pursues the truth and in doing so encounters flappers and floozies, Chicago thugs sent by Al Capone, and a crime lord of the sinful port city of Galveston. Indulged by her father the judge but urged by her prim aunt to be a proper lady, Wallie plays amateur sleuth while courted by two eligible suitors. Will she stay alive long enough to figure out which one is her true love?

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