Saralyn Richard was already an award-winning children’s book author when she started her first police procedural. She hadn’t set out to write a series, but when she began crafting the story of an elegant birthday party gone wrong, Detective Oliver Parrott emerged as a character she wanted to explore more deeply. Smart, professional, and determined, Parrott was someone readers could root for. It wasn’t long before they started clamoring, “More Parrott, please,” and Richard was happy to oblige.
Asked what she enjoys about the genre, she says, “I’ve always loved mysteries, mostly for the intellectual and emotional puzzles they offer. In no other genre are authors and readers so tightly bound together in the thinking process. I also love the endless variety of plot structures and writing strategies that keep mysteries fresh and creative.”
Richard’s series gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the privileged and powerful in America’s Brandywine Valley. In the first book, Murder in the One Percent, someone comes to an elaborate birthday party “with murder in his heart and poison in his pocket.” The second, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, involves a theft in Brandywine’s prestigious art community.
Of the differences between the two books, Richard says, “A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER has the same beautiful, peaceful setting, Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania. The people who live there, whether horse or art enthusiasts, live privileged lives when it comes to material possessions, but they also have challenges to handle, and they are not immune to crime. Both books involve people and situations in New York City, where life is more sophisticated, but no less complicated. The main difference, though, is PALETTE’s emphasis on character.”
This book is especially meaningful to Richard because one of the main characters is inspired by a lifelong friend. “He passed away suddenly this year,” she says. “Fortunately, he lived long enough to know that the book would be dedicated to him.”
The language in A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER is evocative and often poetic. One character is described as “inward to the point of awkwardness, like a flower blooming in reverse.” Asked what inspired the description, Richard says, “Elle is such a complex character. I wanted to show her nature in a pithy visual figure of speech.”
Richard takes time here to answer a few questions about her latest release for The Big Thrill.
Let’s start with your detective, Oliver Parrott. How did you bring him to life? What makes him unique among detectives?
In my work as a teacher and school administrator, I came to know many young African-American males like Parrott. Like several of them, Parrott was a college football hero, humble, ambitious, and armed with a strong moral compass.
Not without his struggles, Parrott strives to make a difference in the lives of the people he serves. He’s smart and well-organized, but he’s not afraid to show his emotions or to buck the establishment to do the right thing. His ability to connect with other characters, regardless of age, gender, race, or social class, makes him a sympathetic hero.
What made you decide to write from a male perspective? How did you ensure you would get it right?
I don’t remember making a decision to write about a male detective. Parrott just “came to me” as a male, and I never thought twice about it. Some of my favorite detectives are male, but, in truth, I think a main character’s gender matters less than what is in his or her heart. Getting the story right from a male perspective was no more problematic than getting it right from a detective’s perspective, since I am neither. That said, I have a number of young males and a few detectives upon whom I can and do call, if I need authenticating information.
What inspired A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER?
Outside of Philadelphia lies the lush, rustic Brandywine Valley, where Parrott confronts the wealthy and powerful landowners in Murder in the One Percent. These were the horse crowd. The Brandywine community is equally known for its colony of artists, many of whom are represented at the Brandywine River Museum. It was only logical that Parrott’s next case would involve artists. There are other elements of local interest as well, including references to the Don Guanella seminarians (where one of my dear friends was ordained), the Mummers, Longwood Gardens, Community College of Philadelphia, Kennett Square, and quite a few restaurants. I was originally taken with this community as a setting, because it seemed the last place on earth one would expect a murder to take place. After setting two novels there, I’ve come to view it as a second home.
A reviewer of your previous mystery called you a “master of research.” What kind of research did you do for this book?
What a compliment! Whether or not I qualify for such high praise, I do enjoy the research involved in writing a book. Since I don’t live in Brandywine Valley, and I’m not a member of the one percent, I’ve had to rely on printed materials and live interviews to authenticate various scenes in the book. The Hunt magazine is a continuing source of local information, and the staff there is so supportive. Several times I’ve spoken with representatives of the West Brandywine Police Department, the Terry Funeral Home, the architectural firm of Archer & Buchanan, and the Brandywine River Museum. I’m also grateful for dear friends in the criminal justice system, the art community, the military, and the world of banking.
In this book, Oliver is adjusting to a new marriage and a wife with PTSD. How does this subplot enhance the main plot?
PTSD is a recurring theme in the book and a pervasive problem in society. It affects people regardless of age, gender, race, or economic/social class, and its symptoms can be severe and long-lasting. PTSD challenges Detective Parrott in his personal life, but gives him insights into solving his case.
Your mysteries explore the lives and minds of the “one percent.” What is it about that demographic that appeals to you, and what do you hope to show readers about it?
I’ve always been fascinated by the role money plays in people’s lives, especially seeing how the wealthiest people I know are not always the happiest. I enjoy pulling back the curtain on the privileged one percent, if only to show that we can’t paint any group with a broad brush. There are saints and scoundrels in every social class, and money can’t protect people from heartache and tragedy.