PW: When you wrote your first Death on Demand novel, why did you have your amateur sleuth, Annie Darling, own a mystery bookstore?
Carolyn Hart: That goes back to the whole heart of what happened to me as a writer. When Death on Demand came out [in 1987], it was my 15th published book and I was really invisible as a writer. I'd sell a mystery here and there, and it would be published and immediately disappear into the black holes of publishing. I think New York at that time felt that mysteries were the province of the dead English ladies and hard-boiled American private eyes. So I got to the point that I thought, This is really stupid. I am going to write one more book, and this time I am not going to give any thought to the market. I'm not going to care about the fact that nobody seems to like mysteries. By setting it in a mystery bookstore, I can, through my protagonist, celebrate the mysteries I love, both present and past.
PW: Every Death on Demand book, including the latest, Murder Walks the Plank, has a picture contest. The reader has to identify a mystery novel from a painting on display at Death on Demand showing a scene from the novel in question. How do you go about creating those?
CH: That is so much fun. For years, I just went along and picked out books that I enjoy and tried to tie them together with some sort of theme. For example, one time I chose books that I personally thought were very funny. I just go through and find a passage I think particularly striking.
PW: Annie and her husband Max are a very popular duo. How do you view their relationship?
CH: I did that deliberately. I created a young couple who truly fall in love and treat each other with great respect. And the reason I did that is because at the time that I wrote Death on Demand, in so many of the American mysteries with women protagonists, the women had either failed relationships or very dysfunctional relationships with the men in their lives. I thought, You know, it really doesn't have to be this way.
PW: How do you reconcile the fun one finds in the Death on Demand series with the serious subject of murder?
CH: Often people who don't read mysteries are appalled at the idea of writing about murder. And the truth of the matter is that murder in a mystery is simply an exaggeration of the kind of conflicts that people have in their everyday lives. This is especially true in the traditional mystery. When the detective sets out to discover who committed the crime, what the detective is really discovering is what fractured these relationships. So you're dealing with attitudes and mores and personal conflicts that are exemplified by the murder, but murder is not the point of the book. Murder is never funny, but people are very funny.
PW: In your last book, Letter from Home, you combine mystery with the reflections of life in a small town during WWII. Can we expect to see more of Gretchen Gilman in the future?
CH: I don't know. That's my book about home. I really enjoyed writing it. The war had a huge impact on every level of society, including children. It has a mystery element, but once again the crime is not the point of the book. The point is how that crime affects the lives of everyone involved.
PW: In our increasingly complex world, do you see a continued place for the traditional mystery?
CH: I think so. People will seek that kind of book for they know that if they buy the traditional mystery, the cozy mystery, they're going to enter a world where justice will prevail, where goodness is celebrated, where decency is admired, and that's not true in the world that they face outside the book. That reality will continue to make the traditional mystery extremely appealing.