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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

MYSTERY AUTHOR HEATHER HAVEN ON WRITING A FEMALE PI IN 1940S MANHATTAN

Heather Haven is a multi-award winning mystery author. Her work includes the Silicon Valley based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, the NYC trail-blazing WWII lady shamus of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, a stand-alone mystery noir, and an anthology of stories. Her latest endeavor is Christmas Trifle, Book One of the Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Series. Learn more about Heather and her books at her website.

It’s uncanny how a set of circumstances can give birth to a series. The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries came about after years of research for my stand-alone circus noir mystery, Murder under the Big Top. I didn't want all of the knowledge I'd gleaned of the nineteen-forties, particularly in New York City, to go to waste. Plus, I’d been challenged to write a mystery with a protagonist who wasn't an ideal beauty, i.e. young, svelte, and beautiful.

So I came up with Persephone (Percy) Cole, a character living and working in New York City during the early nineteen-forties, and one of Manhattan’s first female private investigators. Percy is thirty-five years old, considered middle-aged at the time, five-foot eleven, and a full-figured gal who loves her pistachio nuts. 

I discovered because I created a character larger and stronger than many men of seventy plus years ago, I was free to have a typical shamus of the time, only female. But this detective uses her brains as well as her brawn. Percy Cole is one smart cookie. She fits into a man’s world at a time when few women did.

My redhead gumshoe has the same hard-boiled, take-no-prisoners attitude as Sam Spade, Lew Archer, and Phillip Marlowe, with the addition of a wicked sense of humor. I wanted to give the character some softness, too, show another side of this tough lady sleuth. So enter her eight-year-old son Oliver, a child who gives her life meaning. 

As the author, these character attributes give me tremendous latitude. All of it makes perfect sense to me now, but it was one step in front of the other during the creative process. Frankly, that’s a writer for you. We often don’t know what we’re writing until we’ve written it. 

Pounding the streets of Manhattan with one of its first female detectives keeps me on my toes. Sometimes what I find out about the time period is surprising. For instance, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has taken place every year since nineteen twenty-four. The only exception was nineteen forty-two, the year the United States entered the war. The parade was cancelled out of respect for the gravity of the situation. 

Somehow, I overlooked that fact and had a sentence in the first book where Percy mentions attending the parade. A reader emailed me of the error – bless you - and I corrected it. Ever since then I try even harder to get the details accurate. It’s not a hardship, because I love learning the history of the time. And readers seem to be enjoying the Percy Cole series. I love that even more.

So far, I’ve penned three books in the Persephone Cole Vintage series, The Dagger Before MeIced Diamonds, and the latest, The Chocolate Kiss-Off.

On a personal note, I only wish I had Percy Cole’s self-assuredness. She never asks permission to do what she does. Like Davy Crockett, her philosophy is “First be sure you’re right—then go ahead.” What a woman!

Iced Diamonds
A Persephone Cole Vintage Mystery, Book 2

In late December 1942, Persephone (Percy) Cole, one of Manhattan’s first female PIs, has been hired to find out who killed a Santa Land elf and left his body in the storefront window of a swank 5th Avenue jewelry store. Was it the spoiled heiress whose big buck handbag was found on the scene? Or was it the rat who broke out of the big house to settle a score? Shortly after, the corpse of the Christmas Angel is discovered stuffed in Mrs. Santa’s workshop. Will Santa Claus be next? 

With a penchant for Marlene Dietrich suits, pistachio nuts, and fedora hats, this working mother finds diamonds to the left of her, diamonds to the right, and skullduggery aplenty. Armed with her noodle and a WWI German Mauser, Percy is determined to solve these crimes or it just might be the “kiss off” for Christmas.

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3 comments:

Heather Haven said...

Thank you so much, Lois, for hosting me during this holiday season. Much appreciated!

ANASTASIA POLLACK said...

Always a pleasure to have you join us, Heather! Happy holidays!

Cynthia Sample said...

One of my favorite series. Love Persephone.