CROOK TALES FOR TWO by Ellen Byerrum, feature
CROOK TALES FOR TWO by Ellen Byerrum, feature
Print Friendly, PDF & Email


The Big Thrill Discusses CROOK TALES FOR TWO with Ellen Byerrum

Book Cover: CROOK TALES FOR TWOIt’s 1934. Prohibition is over, corks are popping and guns are blazing. When Broadway’s hot new playwright crosses paths with a handsome PI, there will be drama (and comedy too). Comedy, mystery, and romance intertwine in a frothy mix in CROOK TALES FOR TWO, a caper set in New York City in 1934 with an Art Deco verve. Mere days before her first Broadway opening, playwright Esmé de LaForet discovers what happens when good deeds go awry: murder, mobsters, reporters, dangerous dames from high and low society, and nerve-wracking opening nights.

“It occurred to me that if I hadn’t tried to do a good deed and return the gold watch Mr. Scavullo left at the lunch counter, a strange man wouldn’t be holding me at gunpoint.

That was the problem with good deeds. Unintended consequences.”

Author Photo: Ellen Byerrum

Ellen Byerrum

Ellen Byerrum recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest historical thriller, CROOK TALES FOR TWO.

Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?

Same old, same old: A dream in the middle of the night in the middle of the pandemic woke me up with the first chapter of CROOK TALES FOR TWO, complete and intact. There I was:

…hiding from gunshots in a utility closet in a closed elementary school, along with a cat. I was fine until a too-close gunshot made the cat jump and upset everything in the closet, from mops and pails to Christmas decorations, making a huge racket. My heart was pounding as the door banged open followed by a man with a gun. The cat escaped — I was stuck at gunpoint.

There was more, including back story, and a date, 1934. But you can read the book and find out.

I wrote down the dream. And night after night, I awoke and wrote more of the story. For background I started reading vintage magazines from the 1930s, and everywhere I turned it seemed I kept stumbling over things that happened in 1934. For instance, it was a bad year for gangsters. Bonnie and Clyde met their demise. John Dillinger was shot. And Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson were killed. My story and my research kept me engaged and interested and writing, even while I was finishing up another book, The Brief Luminous Flight of the Firefly.

A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?

This book was so much fun. The process was actually quite different than my other books. With my series, it often feels like I have to pull the story straight out of my guts. With CROOK TALES FOR TWO, I was constantly engaged with the characters and action. The research was compelling and threatened to steal a lot of my time, and I found The New York Times archives to be invaluable. I could follow every day in 1934 where I set the story.

When I finished the book, I found I had at least 40 extra pages, more new characters, and an idea where the next book begins.

Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?

I played a lot of contemporary songs from the 1930s. It seems there’s a playlist for everything on YouTube. The jazz and thirties show tunes added rhythm to my writing.

When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?

There is always room for intelligent and alluring female characters. And playwrights, not that there are many of them these days. And the character came to me, so why turn down such a gift?

In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Curiosity about the times and how they resonate today. And there have always been independent ambitious woman.

What can you share about what you’re working on next?

I might be writing another book in my Crime of Fashion mysteries, and I might just be working on another Art Deco screwball noir mystery to follow CROOK TALES FOR TWO.


In addition to mysteries, thrillers, short stories, and children’s books, Ellen Byerrum writes plays (as Eliot Byerrum) which are both published and widely produced. She is also a former Washington DC reporter and she held a private investigator’s registration from Virginia. She is the author of the popular “screwball noir” Crime of Fashion Mysteries. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “as smooth as fine-grade cashmere on an autumn day in the Federal City.”

To learn more about the author, please visit her website.