I was in Grand Rapids on the weekend and met a bunch of fun readers and signed some books and a question I often get asked is “What is your favourite of the Herringford and Watts books?”
All authors know this is a tough question--- as there is a lot of me in each of the three novels and three novellas and there are reasons I love each and every one of them. But, when it comes to a personal favourite, I have to say Lesson in Love and Murder. I really enjoyed writing the book and researching it ( what is more fun than spending some time in historic Chicago?). Chicago is a city in which I have had some amazing times with friends, seen some amazing theatre ( Hamilton!) and stumbled upon amazing moments of history. As a stand in for the usual character of Toronto, it was so much fun to play with Edwardian Chicago …. A city that is probably most like Toronto.
I loved the history and weaving in historical figures like Emma Goldman and Theodore Roosevelt. Spending hours reading the transcripts of Roosevelt’s words to the convention at the Coliseum as well as learning the ins and outs of this long ago building were just so exciting to me. I loved having the idea of anarchy and submission underscore the mystery and adventure Jem, Merinda, Jasper and Ray find themselves in.
I was able to draw on a lot of my family history for this book. My dad is a chaplain with the RCMP (then, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police) and mounties—thanks to my dad – and his cousin Jonathan (Johnny) who died in the line of duty --- were a major influence on the story. As was dad’s stories from the Icelandic settlement in Riverton, spending time with his grandmother and grandpa at the farm. Tying in my Icelandic heritage was a lot of fun----
The epigraphs: I wrote all of the epigraphs and footnotes for the Herringford and Watts series and while I loved creating the guidebooks penned by fictional M C Wheaton and Flora Merriweather, etc.,. there was something about creating Benny and Jonathan’s Guide to the Canadian Wilderness which made me laugh and was a cross between Due South, an actual Mountie handbook from 1909, memoirs from a new Mountie recruit and Robert Service. I had a lot of fun penning these.
The characters: Jem, Merinda, Jasper and Ray remain some of my dearest friends even as I take a break from their world to pursue Hamish DeLuca’s story in 1930s Boston. I loved the interaction between all of them here--- and throwing Benny Citrone in the mix as the perfect counterpart to Merinda—and to keep Jasper on his toes. The main quartet is faced with trauma and uncertainty that ripples for years and years after and each deepens a little. I love the look at the early days of Jem and Ray’s marriage--- after their whirlwind courtship and their reckless idea to get married so soon. There is a lot of romance in their story and as a hopeless romantic, I love any scenes with Jem and Ray. It is the time when we see Jem’s role changing most pronouncedly: learning she is to become a mother, losing her one strand of independence as a shopgirl at Spenser’s --- she is once and for all transposed into the domestic sphere no matter how she wants to break away and run off from Merinda. At one moment, she runs off from Merinda for Ray and that was a challenging shift in their central relationship.
Jasper and Merinda also experience some friction. They quarrel and Merinda is forced to –more than before—decide what her relationship with Jasper is meant to be.
Benny Citrone—first off, I love the close brotherly relationship between Benny and Jonathan --- it is a story of sacrifice and loyalty and I really enjoyed working it out--- But then Benny and Merinda! They’re perfect for each other in one way but from two totally different worlds. You can love something and let it go…
Finally, Ray and Viola. Viola is Ray’s homeland--- the DeLuca siblings stayed so close together due to the loss they experienced re-routing their lives from Italy to Canada and Viola is very much Ray’s north star. A tragedy at the end of Lesson in Love and Murder not only shifts the relationship between the two siblings but has a long after-effect--- an effect so long cast out that it influences the generation after --- Luca Valari ( Ray’s nephew ) and Hamish (Ray and Jem’s son) still feel the brunt of this action and tragedy in their stories decades later.
There are a million and one reasons why I loved writing the Herringford and Watts series--- some of the most fun I have ever had--- but Lesson in Love is just that extra special mélange of every ingredient that I so loved about playing in this world.