Writing as Allison Montclair, defense attorney, librettist, and novelist Gordon provides another murder for the proprietors of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau to solve in The Unkempt Woman (Minotaur, July).
Your previous mystery series featured medieval jesters in 13th-century Europe. How did this one, set in post-WWII London, originate?
I got a call from my editor, Keith Kahla, out of the blue; he’d been the editor on my first series and wanted to have lunch. About halfway through, he said, “I ran across a book about an actual marriage bureau that was set up by women in London, and I thought it would be a good milieu for a mystery series, and I thought of you.” The idea immediately took hold. By the time I got home, it became a process of just developing the characters and writing down what they’re saying to me.
Were your leads, Gwendolyn Bainbridge and Iris Sparks, there from the beginning?
They came almost immediately. Having Bainbridge as someone who’d been institutionalized came fairly quickly, because I was thinking, there were a lot of widows who were going through their own trauma. I wanted to up the ante for her, and so I came up with having her son in her in-laws’ custody because she’d been institutionalized. Sparks was a little easier, having her with a background in intelligence.
How did the series change from your editor’s initial idea?
That bureau was in prewar London. I didn’t want to have a series where it changed in the middle to a wartime experience. So I thought the series should deal with the country’s postwar recovery, and with women who’d been traumatized by the war. You see a lot of stories about men who’ve been dealing with their various wartime traumas, but very few about the women. So I thought that would be an interesting approach.
Do you feel there’s a connection between your work as a trial lawyer and your novel writing?
Definitely. Ultimately, what trials are is storytelling. It’s rare that you’ll have video of an incident, because if you had a video, it’s not likely you’re going to be going to trial. So the jurors have to hear a story and decide whether or not the story is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. When I wrote the Fools series, I studied Commedia Dell’arte, troops of clowns, comedians, and actors who would improvise off of a bare-bone structure. And I found that very useful in presenting a trial, because you have to go in with very much of a game plan, but your game plan often needs to be changed on the fly.