One of Auntie M’s favorite novels last year was Jeannette DeBeauvoir’s debut Asylum, a chilling and often terrifying mystery that introduced Martine LeDuc, the engaging protagonist who is publicity director for the city of Montreal.
Auntie M recently had the opportunity to ask the author a few questions about her work:
Auntie M: You have developed a backdoor to these crime investigations for your protagonist, PR director Martine LeDuc. What made you choose her position and that approach?
Jeannette de Beauvoir: I was looking for someone whose work would, first of all, allow access to a range of different situations, and secondly, be flexible in terms of how the protagonist spent her time. Public relations could arguably have its hand in a lot of different problems, and the person at the top of the department can come and go with staff to cover day-to-day operations if she needs to be elsewhere.
AM: Everyone’s family has a story, and Martine’s home life is grounding, yet it feels very realistic. How important do you feel it is for readers to see that there are other forces pulling at her that require her attention?
JDB: It’s truly about making her a whole person. We’re all made up of mosaics, aren’t we—no one is *only* their job, or *only* their family life, or *only* anything… so it is always important to me to give characters a backstory and a personal life. Doing that offers so many opportunities, especially for a series such as this one, for the character to grow and change, to make mistakes and learn from them… in other words, to develop fully as a human being. The Martine of Deadly Jewels is different from the Martine of Asylum, and will be different from the Martine of the next book should there be one. If the books were *just* about the mysteries, I think they’d be a lot less interesting.
AM: After growing up in Angers, France, you now divide your time between Montreal and Cape Cod. Do you see a difference between the Canadian mind and the American mind when it comes to readers of crime novels and their questions for you? Between the French and the American?
JDB: I’m half-French and half-American, and I often think that if I were a city, I’d be Montréal… with part of me reflecting each culture. But we’re really talking about three different cultures, and three different ways of approaching literature. Readers from the U.S. tend to want to be plunged directly into the story, whereas French readers are looking for more depth—more philosophy, if that makes sense. Neither book has been translated (yet) so it would be interesting to see people’s reactions to them.
AM: A consistent thread is Martine’s love of Montreal, and a highlight for me as a reader is exploring the city through her eyes. The research you’ve done for both Asylum, a first-rate novel, and Deadly Jewels, another winner, adds so many layers to the books. Have you found it easy to obtain access to what might otherwise be off-limits areas for these projects? I’ve found assuring a contact’s name will appear in the Acknowledgments is often a great enticement. Have you had a similar response to your requests?
JDB: I have found people to be amazingly generous with their time and expertise in every project I’ve undertaken. I’ve asked difficult questions and I have never had anyone refuse to help. And people really are the best resource. One of the classes I teach online is writing historical fiction, and I tell students two things: do your research before you talk to people (so that you are suitably immersed in the subject and you don’t ask the questions whose answers you could have Googled), but then find the experts and ask them. Someone who has lived through an era can give so much more information than just reading secondary sources about it. And the same goes for mystery writing: find the experts, be respectful of their time, and you will be astonished at the results.
AM: Your background includes poetry and plays. What made you decide to write a crime series?
JDB: Ah, the poetry and plays are pretty much accidents: I’m really a novelist. I wrote historical fiction for quite a while but realized at some point that what I love to read most is mystery fiction, and I wasn’t writing it—there was a disconnect there. So I co-authored my first mystery novel (mostly because I didn’t think I was terribly good at plots!), got braver and wrote one on my own, then finally discovered what works for me: combining mystery and historical fiction. Not in the same way that an Ellis Peters does, with a character in the past solving a crime from the past—but rather with someone in the present-day finding that the past doesn’t in fact really go away. I think it makes for good storytelling and has the added advantage of teaching a little history as well.
AM: When you have precious down time, whose books would readers find waiting to be read on your nightstand?
Phil Rickman: he’s a brilliant writer, his stories are intricately plotted, his characters are haunting, and he’s just spooky enough to keep your heart rate up. He writes a series about a female Anglican priest who’s also an exorcist, but also has wonderful standalone books that borrow characters from the series, so that you can follow them from book to book. He is one of the authors I admire most for making the *geography* as much a character as the people: he writes about the border between England and Wales and makes the liminality of such a place intrinsic to the plot.
AM: Thank you for that recommendation. I’ve just ordered his first in the series to try. Now on to the review of DEADLY JEWELS:
De Beauvoir’s sequel brings Martine LeDub back for another adventure that has the same chilling suspense as her first, yet manages to be a different book entirely. It still pivots on moral questions, and she shows her love for the city in its exploration by the main characters as they try to stop what amounts to a cult operation from decades ago that has reached fingers into present day Montreal.
Martine has a mutual dislike relationship with the Mayor who serves as her boss. But this time when she’s called to his office, it’s not to be rebuked, but to be introduced to an graduate student who just may have pulled off a PR coup: she’s found proof that long-held rumors are true and that proof has been found during underground excavations taking place under the city. The British crown jewels were once housed there in Montreal during WWII and then returned to London.
It promises to be a grand revelation for all, until Martine accompanies Patricia Mason to the excavation site. Sure, they do find several diamonds, left behind from the original cache. But they also find the skeleton of man shot execution-style decided ago. It appears he swallowed these remaining jewels.
Now it’s a job of containment, as Martine and her colleagues in several places determine how to handle the scandal. And this won’t be great PR for Montreal or for her job.
But then Mason is shot, and she turns to her detective friend from the first book, Julian Fletcher, to help her out with the cold case. And just as things heat up, her stepchildren arrive for a visit and her husband disappears that same weekend to have a meeting with his ex-wife.
There will be several twists and turns along the way as the case unravels, with surprising results. Along the way, Martine will be introduced to and interview Nazi survivors and their families, and those trying to resurrect that regime in a startling way.
As the action heats up, it’s not just Martine who will find herself in jeopardy.
One of the things that set this apart from the usual series is the way De Beauvoir skillfully weaves the modern with the historical. Flashbacks to two key characters explain the historic journey of the jewels and the men involved with them and add substance and key clues to the action.
The author bio for De Beauvoir states in part: “. . . She finds that the past always has some hold on the present and writes mysteries and historical fiction that reflect that resonance.”
You’ll understand the meaning of that line once you read this fine mystery that evaluates many sides of a situation. Highly recommended.