PW: What drew you to write about the Big Dig, a real-life urban renewal project in Boston?

Linda Barnes: I knew I was going to have to write about the Big Dig as soon as I heard about it because I drive in the city, and anyone who drives or walks in the city has to deal with it. I was fascinated by this project, by its early history, by the machinations. It required a real enmeshment between two very different groups, one of whom wanted to reunite the city and get rid of that horrible, ugly, overhead road, and one that was mainly concerned with getting the commuters to the airport. Those two groups formed an unholy alliance to get this thing through.

PW: Did you do much on-site research?

LB: Yes, and all of the construction workers I talked to were really great. I'd just go down there and hang out with a clipboard.

PW: How much of yourself did you put into your sleuth, Carlotta Carlyle?

LB: Carlotta and I both grew up in Detroit. We have the same grandmother and the same shoe size. A lot of this is very instinctive. My first character was a man called Michael Sprague. I learned a lot while writing him—that I really didn't love the third-person voice and writing about an amateur detective. Characters come to me in their voices, and Carlotta began as a very insistent voice. She came out at a time when many women's voices in crime fiction were of the tea-at-the-vicarage school. For a woman who had grown up in Detroit during the race riots that voice just did not sing. I wanted somebody who knew her way around the block, who was big enough to hold her own in physical disputes, and somebody who did not always get justice.

PW: Do you have a life plan in your head for Carlotta?

LB: I had a life plan. Unfortunately, Carlotta not only refused to do the things that her bosses in the police department expected, she refused to do the things I expected as well. So her life plan changes and she keeps me on my toes. I'm never sure who she's going to be attracted to in a book.

PW: Do the class tensions inherent in Boston attract you as a setting for fiction?

LB: Class tension is very important to the stories. It's a chicken/egg thing. Do I write about that because I live in Boston or because it has always fascinated me? It's such a feature of this city, which is a series of small enclaves that are more or less hostile to each other. One of the reasons I had Carlotta drive a cab from time to time was so that she could move from place to place, as an entrée.

PW: Did you always want to write mysteries, even as a young girl?

LB: No, I wanted to be an actress, a famous Shakespearean actress. And there's such a demand on the stage for six-foot-tall Shakespearean actresses!

PW: Who's your ideal reader?

LB: I don't have a picture of an ideal reader. I don't picture them as just female or just male, as Cambridge liberals or Dallas conservatives. I think of my readers as people who love the series book. When I pick up a series mystery, I know there's one island of safety: that they're not going to kill that major character. So I can relax to some extent. I'm not a cozy writer, but I like that small island of safety.

PW: Do you ever think of writing outside the genre?

LB: The book I'm contemplating is not a mystery, but I love the mystery genre. I think people who love mysteries are people who hate randomness, that horrible randomness of life. If I'm ever killed, I'd like it to be for who I am. I don't want to be run down by the ice cream truck!