By Mary Leo
Last year, Agatha Award-winning author G. M. Malliet charmed mystery lovers, cozy fans, and Agatha Christie devotees with WICKED AUTUMN, the first mystery featuring her captivating protagonist, Max Tudor, and the small English village of Nether Monkslip.
In A FATAL WINTER, Max—Anglican priest, former MI5 agent, and village heartthrob—investigates two deaths at Chedrow Castle. But his growing attraction to Awena Owen complicates his case, as does the recent arrival at Chedrow Castle of a raucous group of long-lost, greedy relatives, any one of whom has a motive for murder. With a cozy setting, intricate puzzles, and a handsome (non-celibate) priest doing the sleuthing, the books in this series are destined to become instant classics in the mystery world.
If you love an English village mystery, G.M. Malliet delivers. Charlaine Harris praised her work on NBC’s Today Show as being “fun, not too serious…a wonderful read.”
Raised in a military family, she spent her childhood in Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, and Hawaii and has lived in places ranging from Japan to Europe, but she most enjoyed living in the U.K. She now lives with her husband in the Washington, D.C. area, but visits Europe twice a year. She writes full time every day but Sunday, and is currently writing a screenplay in addition to her mystery novels and short stories.
Max Tudor is a wonderfully complex character. Please tell us a little bit about him, his cat and his dog.
Max Tudor is a former MI5 agent who burned out on the degree of deceit involved in that profession, and on the lack of connectivity to other people his undercover work required. Since Max is fundamentally an honest, decent guy, the contradictions in his day-to-day life weighed heavily on his mind.
Then his closest comrade was murdered by one of the thugs Max was in business to shut down. The old Max would have wanted revenge. The new Max just wants out, and into a simpler way of life, although he continues to be haunted by this senseless death.
Max’s dog Thea is a rescue Gordon Setter, although as is usual in these cases, Max wonders who rescued whom. The cat Luther is the church mouser. Luther belongs to no man.
By the way, many churches and libraries I’ve visited in small English villages have such a cat, as does every pub. It’s a tradition the U.S. needs to adopt.
Is Nether Monkslip based on an actual village or did you create this charming part of the word?
Nether Monkslip owes much to St. Mary Mead and to the other villages portrayed by Agatha Christie. Also to Caroline Graham’s Badger’s Drift and all the Midsomer villages of the Barnaby T.V. series.
My Nether Monkslip is a mashup of styles, developed over centuries without the intervention of or need for a town planner. I love it there and if I ever find such an unspoilt place I will move there immediately.
How many more books have you planned for this series?
Not as many as Sue Grafton’s twenty-six books, let’s put it that way! There is a natural arc for Max Tudor’s story and it remains to be seen how it all plays out. Max surprises me as much as I hope he does those who read his story.
Is there anything extra you’d like to share with us about writing A FATAL WINTER?
This book, a joy to write, ran long, because it had two settings: Nether Monkslip and Chedrow Castle. I happened already to be booked on a Baltic cruise when I realized how long it was going to run, but you have to write the story as it is. I wrote big chunks of it on board sitting poolside, so alas I don’t remember much more about the Baltics than that. And since I email the work in progress to myself as a backup, I found it particularly frustrating that the ship always dropped its Internet connection as we approached the harbors of “certain countries.”
The upside was that I was waited on hand and foot and I didn’t have to do anything but show up for meals, so it’s not a bad way to meet a deadline.
Of course I could have asked my publisher for a deadline extension but I’d already been given one extension, and I like to think of myself as a writer who never misses a deadline. You start to imagine an email going round the publisher’s offices that says, “Who signed this woman? Couldn’t we get someone more reliable?”
What’s your writing schedule like?
It’s changed over time, but now I write all day, Monday through Saturday. I take Sundays off, not for religious reasons, but because I start to feel sorry for myself otherwise. You have to give yourself a break to replenish the well of ideas.
I am sometimes asked if I write at night. People seem to like that rather romantic, candlelit image of writers, and I did write parts of my second book that way, minus the candlelight. But now I realize it’s a job like any other and I try to be done by 5 or 6 each evening.
What type of research do you do for this series?
My favorite research is to sit in a British pub or coffee shop and eavesdrop. I travel to the U.K. as much as possible (in fact I’m on my way there now) to soak up the language and the scenery. It’s impressions I’m after more than facts, however. I don’t draw from real life in my books, other than the occasional passing mention of what the Royals are up to now. I think Fergie must be feeling rather relieved these days that Prince Harry has taken over the spotlight.
When you have some downtime, what are some of your favorite things to do?
Travel is my absolute favorite escape. When I know how much I weigh it means I’m bored and ready to be on the move. I like to walk and hike around, cities and the countryside, doing nothing in particular. Like most writers I am a big reader. I’m currently taking a class in playwriting, something I know nothing about, and I would like one day to take a course in medieval studies, ditto.
Can you give us a teaser for the next book in the series?
Anyway, I’ve just handed in this book Untitled, which should be published this time next year. In Untitled, Max is drawn ever more inextricably into an attachment with Awena Owen, who owns Goddessspell, a New Agey shop in the village. This would be fine except Awena is, for lack of a better term, a Neopagan. Max as an Anglican priest is free to follow his heart, although it would be easier all round if he fell for “a devout Anglican woman, her doctrines as lined up in conventional rows as the pearls about her neck.” But of course love never works that way.
The main mystery plot of Untitled involves a blowhard theatrical type, who returns to the village to lord his success over the peons. While Thaddeus Bottle is despicable in every way, he was also tremendous fun to write about. Sometimes it’s regrettable you have to kill off your evil characters for the sake of having a crime for your hero to solve.
For the latest on G. M. Malliet please visit her website.