Please welcome Victoria Dowd, to describe debuting a mystery amidst the Corona virus:

My debut crime novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, was released on 6th May. After people say ‘Congratulations!’ the next sentence, however, is often ‘How has it been releasing a book at the moment?’

This is not an easy question to answer for someone who is a debut novelist. There’s very little I have to compare it to. There were some very obvious differences. The launch party was not a collection of friends and relatives clustered in a bookshop clutching glasses of warm white wine.

Instead, a group of very close, life-long friends appeared on my laptop screen in various fancy dress outfits which revolved throughout the evening with clothing cobbled together from childrens’ dressing up boxes and outfits left over from parties twenty years ago. It was definitely a night to remember!

There was the Facebook party organised with fellow authors from my publishers, involving (virtual) food, drinks and quizzes – with real prizes that were up for grabs that people had taken the time to make. These included miniature copies of my book, key rings and beautiful crotched book ‘merchandise.’ There have been fridge magnets of the book and cocktails created to drink alongside the book (a Fortune Teller, if you’re interested and it’s very potent!).

I have been overwhelmed by the lengths people have gone to. I can have a ‘normal’ launch for all the rest of the books and probably will do for this one as well. But I can never recapture the extraordinary efforts of those surrounding this book: the wonderful editor, Emma, who worked with me tirelessly and completely remotely, on every word and page right up to the very last minute; parties that we Zoomed, Facebooked and Skyped; the presents, cards and messages; independent bookshop owners such as Venetia Vyvyan operating her bookshop single-handedly from home, who telephoned to ensure she could obtain copies to sell; established authors such as Margaret Murphy taking the time to speak on the phone with invaluable advice for a new author.

We really did just carry on. It has been remarkable just how adaptable people have become so quickly and how incredibly generous and supportive others are in their efforts. It is no understatement to say that I have been utterly overwhelmed by the tide of goodwill.

In some ways, it was quite fitting that it should come out under such adversity. The book itself is, after all, a modern take on the crime novels of the Golden Age – a time of extraordinary upheaval and deprivation. From wars to depressions and rationing, these authors were not simply writing at a time of cocktail parties and country house weekends.

Although the books are often referred to as ‘cozy mysteries’ there is always the underlying ripple of people in dire straights, those who have lost loved ones to war and disease, or characters who will go to any lengths to obtain that longed for financial security. Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime herself, published many of her greatest works during the Second World War (And Then There Were None, Evil Under the Sun, The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger, Sparkling Cyanide – to name a few of many). The Golden Age of crime may well have had Lord Peter Wimsey whipping around in a sports car and Miss Marple solving crimes from the comfort of a drawing room, but it also had the constant undercurrent of those who will kill for inheritance, to hide past misdemeanours and avoid certain ruin – people who are desperate enough to carefully and coldly plan the taking of another human life.

In The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder I wanted to test those sort of characters to their limits. There is the familiar setting of the isolated country mansion. There are five women in a book club, again something very recognisable to many readers. And there is the narrator, a troubled young woman who, although not officially a member of the book club, tags along with her mother. Their dysfunctional, spiky relationship instantly causes an acerbic tension between them and the other members of the group.

There is also a dark humour to their interactions which I think is very much a trope of Golden Age crime. The sharp wit of authors such as Josephine Tey and Margery Allingham is very often dismissed or over-looked. I wanted to create that environment we expect from these sort of crime novels, so the unexpected can happen. I wanted the familiarity of the difficult mother and daughter relationship, a book club who don’t really read books, a group of friends where not everyone likes one another. Then they become isolated, snowed in and the murders begin.

Under this level of constant extreme pressure there is only one escape, to figure out who the killer is. And that is the glory of the Golden Age of crime. It’s not about the body, the blood or death – at least not all of it. It’s the puzzle, working out every single tiny clue before the denouement.

Can you solve it before the author gets to the final page? I hope not.

Victoria Dowd is a crime writer and her debut novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, is available to buy in paperback or ebook on Amazon, published by Joffe Books. It’s the first part of a crime series that is an updated dark, humorous take on the Golden Age of crime and the works of authors such Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey.

Victoria is also an award winning short story writer, having won the Gothic Fiction prize for short fiction awarded by Go Gothic. She was runner up in The New Writer’s Writer of the Year Award; her work has been short listed and Highly Commended by Writers’ Forum magazine. She was also long-listed for The Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition. She has had short stories published in BTS Literary and Arts Annual, Gold Dust magazine and also by Stairwell books in their literary and arts journal Dream Catcher. She lives with her husband and two children and can frequently be found in Devon swimming/floating/drinking around Burgh Island, reading Agatha Christies. Originally from Yorkshire, after studying law at Cambridge University, Victoria was a criminal law barrister for many years before becoming a full time writer.