After thirty-five years writing nonfiction books and magazine articles, most on history, travel, and business topics, I decided to step across the aisle into the world of fiction. It had to be historical fiction, because as a historian, I find the past pulls me far more than the present or the future. And the mystery genre has long been my favorite to read. So I wrote a mystery, got an agent, and . . . it didn't sell. So I wrote another, learned that agents can fire authors (she didn't care for my second attempt), got another agent, submitted the manuscript to the national Mystery Writers of America contest for Best First Crime Novel, and won. Winning meant St. Martin's Minotaur would publish THE IMPERSONATOR--a thrill for me because, in my opinion, St. Martin's is the nation's premiere mystery publishing house. They liked my series proposal and contracted for the second book, SILENT MURDERS, which comes out in September. I'm putting the finishing touches on the third and am nearly finished with the fourth--there's a long pipeline in publishing, and I hate crowding up against deadlines.
Having spent most of my teaching and writing career in the colonial period, I was delighted to break into the Roaring Twenties, easily the most fascinating decade in American history. I love digging into the details, doing the research that will make the reader feel as if he or she truly has stepped back into those times. No other decade offers a mystery writer such an array of violence, mayhem, and truly weird characters--remember, this is the start of organized crime and the height of the Ku Klux Klan. Prohibition defined the era, turning most Americans into lawbreakers. Women's lives changed more during the Twenties than any other time. Young women, known as flappers, shocked the male establishment when they cast off their corsets, flattened their chests, raised their hems, bobbed their hair, put on makeup, and went unchaperoned to illegal speakeasies where they could slurp bathtub gin, smoke cigarettes, and dance the Charleston to that shocking new music called jazz. It was also the height of vaudeville--the setting for THE IMPERSONATOR--and the height of silent movies--the setting for SILENT MURDERS.
One feature that pulled me into the Twenties was the vaudeville culture. This was a virulently racist and sexist time, when discrimination against Jews, Catholics, gays, African-Americans, Irish, Asians, women, and all immigrants was taken for granted. Because vaudeville was disproportionately made up of those groups, it was perhaps the only place in America where people were generally judged on their abilities. Giving Jessie, my main character, a vaudeville background was a way to make her realistically unprejudiced and independent.
THE IMPERSONATOR is the story of a young vaudeville performer who occasionally finds herself on the wrong side of the law. One night after the show, a stranger makes her a proposition, and not the sort she was expecting. But desperation drives her to accept his offer: a major role in his inheritance scam, impersonating a long- lost heiress for a cut of the fortune. The charade convinces everyone容xcept the one person who knows what really happened to the heiress and now must kill the impostor. With help from a handsome bootlegger, a mysterious Chinese herbalist, and a Small Time comedian, Jessie deduces the identity of the murderer. But it's a stand-off exposure of either destroys them both.