Polish author Szymiczkowa (the pen name of Jacek Dehnel and Piotr Tarczynski) makes her English-language debut with Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing (Mariner, Mar.), the first Zofia Turbotyn´ska mystery.
How did the series originate?
PT: I came up with the character of a bored, middle-aged professor’s wife—stingy, snoopy, but also gifted with sharp intelligence and wit—who starts solving mysteries. I thought it would be fun if someone wrote a story about her, but didn’t intend it to be us; it was initially just a pitch for a friend. Then the editor we pitched asked us if we’d like to write it ourselves, and we decided to give it a try.
Where does the series fit in the marketplace?
PT: We call it “Wes Anderson meets Agatha Christie.” There’s a certain Central European quality we try to evoke, found in the novels of Joseph Roth or Stefan Zweig, as well as in Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, an homage to the Zweig novel.
JD: Our protagonist resembles Miss Marple to some extent. We also share Christie’s narrative structure, for example a closing scene where the detective gathers the suspects, reveals all their secrets, and eventually names the culprit. There are no serial killers or gruesome murders of the kind epitomized by the whole Nordic noir trend. We went in the cozy direction, which we knew from Christie’s novels and personally enjoy.
How does Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing, which is set in 1893 Cracow, resonate for contemporary readers?
JD: Zofia is a woman in a male world. Her social position is bound to her husband’s, whose career she’s boosted a lot thanks to her wit and shenanigans. But her own opportunities in life are strictly limited because of her gender. No matter how talented she is, she could never become a policewoman, for example. Sadly, these injustices are not just dreary Victorian fables; they echo what we know about the world we live in today.
What inspired the Zofia Turbotyn´ska character, and how has she evolved?
JD: We modeled her on some older ladies we have known—aunts, grandmas, neighbors. While they all had some quirks or flaws, they were much nicer than the original Mrs. Turbotyn´ska. Piotr first imagined her as much more unpleasant.
PT: We realized it would be rather difficult to write even one book about someone whom we don’t like at all, not to mention challenging for readers. One-dimensional characters are also quite boring, I think. With every new novel we want Zofia to change a little bit, to learn something about the world around her. But she’ll always remain a haughty social climber that sometimes drives a reader crazy.