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All Signs Point Toward Your Murder

The Big Thrill Interviews Author Kristen Perrin

By Jonathan Davidson

Book Cover Image: HOW TO SOLVE YOUR OWN MURDER“All signs point toward your murder.”

Frances Adams is transfixed as the psychic lays out her fate in cryptic detail. Her friends snicker at the cliché and gaudy decor in the tent at the Castle Knoll County Fair. Afterward, they tell Frances to forget the silly fortune.

Frances believes the psychic’s every word.

She spends the next sixty years obsessively murder-proofing her life, using her vast resources to dig up dirt on family members and other residents of her quaint English town, looking for motive and opportunity—and she ruffles a lot of feathers in the process.

But fate is no respecter of vigilance. Frances is found dead in her sprawling estate, and it falls to her estranged great-niece, Annie Adams, to find the killer.

Even with Frances’s extensive files on potential suspects, sleuthing out the culprit isn’t easy. Annie discovers that Castle Knoll operates by different rules. Its colorful occupants live enmeshed in a web of long histories, bound together by secrets both petty and life-shattering. None of them wants an outsider snooping around, and they don’t think much of Frances’s bookish niece.

Yet, it’s a mistake to underestimate Annie Adams—even if she faints at the sight of blood. Fierce determination hides behind Annie’s kindness and sharp insight underneath her humor. And despite a few hilarious missteps, Annie’s background as a mystery writer gives her an edge in piercing the veil of lies.

Just as Frances went to great lengths to prevent her murder, she also orchestrated what would happen if the fortune came true. Whoever solves the murder first will be greatly rewarded, but that time crunch also incentivizes the killer to eliminate whoever gets close.

Annie races to uncover the murderer before the police or other family members figure it out while fully aware that the slightest misstep could be deadly.

Author Photo: Kristen Perrin

Kristen Perrin
© Leo Wilkinson

HOW TO SOLVE YOUR OWN MURDER is Kristen Perrin’s debut novel outside of the children’s category.

And what a debut it is. No wonder it’s selling to markets around the world and attracting movie studio attention.

Its plot feels meticulously constructed, yet its pages brim with spontaneous creativity that emerges in delightful turns of phrase and beautiful metaphors such as, “With her blond hair cutting through the dark, he watched her as if she were a falling star, a streak in the night sky you only see a few times in a lifetime” and “Like hot water teasing out its boiling point, giving off steam but not yet ready to erupt.”

The story unfolds in two time periods, sixty years apart, and features a large cast, yet the settings and characters are rendered in such vivid detail that the story is effortless to follow.

But the novel’s greatest strength is Annie Adams. Readers will long to solve future mysteries in her company. Her quick wit and dry observations consistently entertain.

Seen through Annie’s generous eyes, even suspects are human beings, full of the contradictions that make us wonderful and scary all at once. Her belief in the goodness of others, along with her many acts of thoughtfulness, leave the reader feeling lighthearted and encouraged.

And just like in any good mystery, Perrin puts the murderer right there in the details and still manages to build the story to a surprising and satisfying climax.

Do yourself a favor and sign up for Perrin’s newsletter right now because if HOW TO SOLVE YOUR OWN MURDER is a sign of things to come, we readers are fortunate, and you won’t want to miss a thing.

The Big Thrill had the pleasure of sitting down with Perrin to ask a few questions.

You wrote a book about murders, secret affairs, deep paranoia, and burning jealousy, yet this story feels delightfully lighthearted. How did you thread the needle between the dark and light fabric of this story?

I’m pleased that this balance comes across! I wanted to write a story that paid homage to some of the classic murder mystery tropes, and I’ve always felt these types of stories never take themselves too seriously. That’s not to say I was aiming for comedy, almost the opposite—and I think that might be where the darker threads fit into place. The benefit of working in dual narrative is that the modern-day timeline and voice (Annie) could bring a bit of lightness to the feel of the story. Annie is thrust into a situation she knows little about—she must crash around trying her best—and often, her inner monologue and observations recognise the absurdity of the circumstances and people around her.

Whereas Frances, in the 1965 timeline, is deep in a tangle of toxic friendships, lies, and a growing fear of a fortune she’s starting to sink into more and more. It’s in her timeline that there’s less of a bounce to the narrative, because Frances takes everything extremely seriously, especially anything that might be motive for murder. So, hopefully, it’s with Annie that we feel the “cozy” side of the murder mystery, where we’re confident things are going to be riddled out in the end. With Frances, we see the more serious treatment of how murderous intentions can warp a person—somewhat of the opposite of classic murder mysteries that treat characters as moving parts and murders simply as puzzles to be solved.

This is your debut novel outside of the children’s category. How did you go about writing for an older audience?

Writing for an older audience was rather invigorating. There was a lot of freedom to be found in putting characters on a page and not needing to do the particular type of heavy lifting that makes a convincing 12-year-old voice. That being said, Annie is 25, and Frances is 17 on the page, and I haven’t been either of those ages in a rather long time, so there was still a lot of effort made to make sure their goals and issues were reflective of where they were at in life. But you could argue that you’ve got to do that for any character—it’s a different person with different perspectives, problems, and strengths. Even though Annie and Frances were still on the younger side, writing for an adult audience meant I had the freedom to include things I never could with a middle-grade book (the hints at romance were particularly fun in this one), and the way of entertaining the reader with funny asides or twists in the plot lines was entirely different.

Every novel is somewhat autobiographical. What parts of you show up in this story? And what did you learn about yourself while writing it?

One thing I tend to do when I write is create characters who would make choices I’d never be brave enough to make, get entwined in problems or secrets I’d stay away from, and can do things I just generally can’t. It’s part of the fun of creating characters and stories, and particularly with this style of murder mystery, there’s quite a bit of reality you’ve got to suspend to let the plot sink its claws into you. That’s not to say there isn’t a necessary baseline of plausibility—the more outlandish aspects of murder mysteries only truly work when the world they take place in feels like a temporary home to the reader—and I think that’s where the little aspects of me creep into the book.

One characteristic I share with Annie is that I faint at the sight of blood and am generally pretty awful when it comes to needles and medical procedures of any kind. I liked having an amateur sleuth who’s squeamish in this way. It almost felt like insurance that I’d never write a character embracing a murder investigation with the fiendish sort of glee you sometimes see in murder mysteries (which is still interesting and entertaining, but just not the character I was setting out to write).

One aspect of the book that readers might assume is autobiographical is the fact that Annie is an aspiring murder mystery writer, but oddly, this element of her character came in later drafts. I also purposefully made her rather haphazard and naive about the writing and publishing process (something I hope I don’t share!), mostly because I wanted the murder investigation itself to teach her what she needs to know about crafting stories rather than the other way around. That way, I’d have a character who’s learning from life and having it inform her art. I tried on a lot of different dreams for Annie, and aspiring writer fit the best because, ultimately, a sleuth does need to have a mind that captures details, and looks at the people around them and doesn’t take them at face value. They stop and think, “what’s your story?”

What’s your favorite line in this book? Why?

I love the idea of thinking about what lines pop out to authors from their own work. We spend a lot of time focusing on what we have to fix, and we often forget to think about the lines that resonate with us personally. I’m going to steal this question and ask other authors about their favourite lines in the future.

For this book, it’s hard to think of a favourite that doesn’t give away too much plot or needs too much context to explain. I’ve got favourites that are lighter and more humorous, mostly from Annie, but I think the one I’ll go with is one from Frances that I feel sums up the essence of the book. After Frances gets her fortune told, her friend Emily disappears, and Frances’ journey trying to find out what happened to Emily is something of an impetus to her growing belief that her own fortune might come true. At one point she says,

So I’d find out what happened to her, even if it killed me. And I accepted that, given my fortune, it probably would.

This felt like a novel from someone who has written many mysteries and has mastered the genre. Do you read a lot of mysteries? And if so, which do you find the most influential on your story?

I do read a lot of mysteries, and something that cemented my love of the genre is that these were the first types of stories I fell in love with. As I child, I devoured any book with a mystery involved, from The Boxcar Children to Nancy Drew and The Westing Game. In the third grade, I pretended to need the bathroom so I could hide and finish reading a historical mystery set at sea called The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. These books have stuck with me so much that they inform the reading choices I make as an adult, and while I’ll read pretty much anything these days, the stories I always reach for are mysteries.

As for influence, I think my book has been influenced from a whole lot in the genre, starting with The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin), but also Crooked House by Agatha Christie, a Margaret Atwood book that uses multiple timelines brilliantly called The Robber Bride, a bit of I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) for the wonderful English historical flair, and some more modern murder mysteries like The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware, and The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager. I’m also a huge fan of the cult show Twin Peaks (I grew up very near where that was filmed, although I know my bio says Seattle. I actually grew up in Issaquah, Washington), and there are a lot of nods to that show in particular, though transposed into a quaint English setting rather than the eerie atmosphere of a Pacific Northwest logging town.

What kind of stories do you want to tell next? Will we get to enjoy the company of Annie Adams in future novels?

I’ve got so many things planned for Annie and so much more of Frances’ past to uncover! I’ll be spending as much time with these characters as I’m allowed, so absolutely stay tuned. The second book in the series is written, and I’m currently in the early stages of editing it. I’m already finding things to pull out and save for future books, which is what you want as an author. And I certainly won’t close the door on the odd standalone or additional series once I find my feet and my audience. One thing I tend to do is write constantly—I’m an idea chaser, and I find that following through on ideas really balances me out. There are always new ones to be pulled out of the ether, ready to be developed, refined, and enjoyed.


The Big Thrill Interviews Author Kristen Perrin

jonathan davidson