PW: Your new series, beginning with No Graves as Yet, features Joseph Reavley, a biblical languages professor at Cambridge. Who was the inspiration for this character?
Anne Perry: My own maternal grandfather who was actually a minister who studied at Cambridge and was a chaplain in the trenches during World War I. He died before I was born, but all my life I have felt a great sense of kinship with him. For the story I want to tell he is in the perfect position for a central character.
PW: What decided you, as the author of two successful Victorian suspense series [one featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, the other William Monk and Hester Latterly], to shift to the era of the First World War?
AP: I just wanted to try something different. I love the Victorian era, but I want to stretch and tell another story. World War I gives me the opportunity to examine different sorts of ethical problems, where each person is alone searching for an answer. I like to write stories in which there is a real moral conflict: what is right and what is wrong, or what is wrong and what is even more wrong.
PW: Do you intend an antiwar theme to pervade the five novels in the series?
AP: Not so much an antiwar theme, but a question of is there anything that could possibly be worse than this kind of conflict? I don't think any sane person wants war. In World War I, Europe lost 10 million men not counting the wounded, the blinded, the crippled, the maimed and the shell-shocked. They were the flower of a generation. Is there anything that is worth that kind of a conflict?
PW: Your work, while fiction, is always set against the backdrop of major events in world history. How much historical research is done to prepare yourself to write a new book?
AP: For this particular book, a monumental amount. I've got more books on World War I than I have room for in the house practically, plus over 100 hours of video on the subject. I've been to the Imperial War Museum and I have a full-time researcher, who is also my brother. He is extremely helpful checking Internet sources for me. My brother is also a doctor who treated bullet injuries in the Zimbabwean war, so he is valuable to me in describing the types of wounds in any war. I've also visited the battlefields and graveyards in Flanders, where I saw the grave of Britain's youngest casualty, who was 13 years old when he died.
PW: Besides the Reavley family and the era of the Great War are there to be any other overarching themes running through all the books in the series?
AP: Each book has its own individual crime and solution tied into the ethical problems that war raises. There is one theme that begins on the first few pages of the first book that will not be resolved until the last pages of the last book, and that's more of a thriller element. One person is in a plot that spans the five books. It's not a totally wicked person, but it is someone who is corrupted by power and will use any means to achieve it.
PW: When will the second book in the series appear?
AP: I think a new book in this series will appear every autumn, alternating with a Victorian novel in the spring. The next title will be Shoulder the Sky, taken from a Housman poem. It will be set in the trenches with a war correspondent who is going to write about the first gas attack, which was absolutely horrendous.