It’s with great pleasure that I’m hosting and author interview with Anthony Slayton on my blog today.
I thought I met Anthony thanks to an ARC of his first book, A Most Efficient Murder, that I received from NetGalley. I mean, I did receive the ARC, and I loved the story. But imagine my surprise when I discovered I was on Anthony’s list! At first, I thought, wait, what? Then I realised his first book wasn’t my first connection with him. I had already downloaded his prequel, A Quite Deadly Affair (review coming soon!). That’s how I was on his list.
And what do you think I did?
Of course, I contacted him to tell him how much I loved his book and if he was interested in an interview for my blog.
He was so kind to accept, and we actually exchanged quite a few emails, discovering we have a lot in common, including our love for WWI and JRR Tolkien!
Please meet him in the interview below, which I thoroughly enjoy. And have a look at his (expanding) series. I promise you won’t be sorry!
Author interview with Anthony Slayton
1. First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your love of mysteries and the interwar years.
I suppose that I should start by admitting that I’m not actually from England. I’m a New Yorker born and breed, although my mother was half English. I’m only a quarter, though, and my British side seems to manifest itself largely in a love of tea, an inability to take compliments, and in my taste in murder.
I was essentially raised on a steady diet of murder mysteries. There were the usual suspects—Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes—but also less obvious choices. As a child, I was particularly fond of Cadfael and Nero Wolfe, and later for Simenon’s Maigret.
And when we weren’t reading mysteries, we were watching them. Masterpiece Mystery was communal viewing in our house, and I still get nostalgic for the original opening (not the truncated version they have now) with the complete Edward Gorey drawings, and the scream, of course, followed by the great Dame Diana Rigg introducing the mystery of the week. Given all that, it’s no surprise that I would eventually try my hand at writing a murder mystery of my own. A Most Efficient Murder was initially born out of my love for Golden Age Mysteries with their heightened vaguely aristocratic worlds, a plethora of red herrings, and often exotic and over-the-top murders, lightly sprinkled with my love for P.G. Wodehouse. Most Golden Age mysteries (and indeed PG Wodehouse) are at least partially concerned with the interwar era and the slow decline of a certain way of life. In many ways I have merely followed in their footsteps.
2. I loved how the aftermath of WWI insinuates itself inside the story and affects the life of all the characters. The 1920s in Europe were indeed mostly about coming to terms with the war. How did you go about researching this sensitive topic?
I’ve been fascinated by WWI and its aftermath for years, perhaps because it is so often ignored—lost in the shadow of WWII.
But there is something utterly captivating about the era—the Interwar Period, the Weimar Republic, the Roaring Twenties—and about a world desperately trying to come to terms with one Great War while the next looms in the distance.
I remember when I used to work in a bookstore many years ago, I would take books down and read them behind the counter. That’s how I first read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and The Proud Tower which I believe remain essential reading if you want to understand WWI.
So, when it came time to write A Most Efficient Murder, I knew that even if it wasn’t going to be the central motif, WWI would have to play a part. Certainly, I knew from the outset that because of his age Mr. Quayle would have to have fought in the War.
I’ve pitched the series as Agatha Christie meets PG Wodehouse, but there’s also a little Ford Maddox Ford—the absolute master of the Interwar novel—in the DNA. His Parade’s End tetralogy certainly informed the spirit of melancholy that lies at the heart of A Most Efficient Murder, although Ford was writing a deeply personal and psychological book and mine is a sort of wry comedy of manners interrupted by a murder mystery.
But the truth is I did very little targeted research for this book, apart from the odd detail or two, because I had already steeped myself in the era. This was, in many ways, the book I had been preparing to write for years without realizing it.
Oddly enough, I’ve actually had to do a great deal more in preparation for the second book which is set on the French Riviera. As it turns out my knowledge of 1920s France, let alone the Riviera itself, is not nearly as comprehensive as my knowledge of 1920s Britain.
3. It’s quite clear there’s a lot of history you’re not revealing (yet) about Mr. Quayle and the Unsworth family. Will that ever become prominent in future stories? (I certainly hope so!)
Oh, absolutely! Although not necessarily right away…
I know a number of readers have been quite interested in finding out exactly what happened during the War, and how Lord Unsworth’s son died. Mr. Quayle certainly knows the full story, but he would never, ever tell. He promised, you see, and Mr. Quayle always keeps his promises.
So, the question then becomes: how will the truth come out and when? And what could possibly compel Quayle to break his promise?
One day I’ll have to answer those questions.
4. I truly loved the relationship between Lord Unsworth and Mr. Quayle. These are two very interesting, very human, very imperfect men, and I loved them for that. I loved their manly relationship because we don’t see much of it in today’s stories. What is your relationship with them? Where do you hope to bring them?
I’m so glad you enjoyed their relationship, because I do believe that the two of them and their connection to each other is very much at the heart of the novel and possibly the series as a whole going forward. Other characters may be flashier, but the journey of these two men fumbling towards a kind of unspoken not-quite friendship is really the engine that drives everything.
On the surface, Lord Unsworth and Mr. Quayle have very little in common. They come from different generations and different classes—Unsworth is an Earl and Quayle is middle-class at best—but they are bound together by a shared grief. And that’s what interests me about them: the ways in which grief can act as a sort of bridge.
Lord Unsworth only hired Mr. Quayle as his secretary because of that shared grief, because Quayle knew Lord Unsworth’s lost son. And in turn, Mr. Quayle only agreed to investigate the murder and protect the family because he feels responsible for the death of Lord Unsworth’s son.
But at what point do they stop being loyal only for the sake of a dead man and start truly being loyal to each other? Especially since neither of them would ever, ever say it.
That’s the fun part, and I think it’s a slightly different sort of relationship.
5. Even if the story does have a sense of masculinity about it, the women are far from secondary. Fanny, Lord Unsworth’s niece, is a catalyst in the story, and what to say about Lady Constance, Lord Unsworth’s formidable sister? I won’t ask for anticipation about their character arcs (even if I would!), but can you tell us a little bit of what you plan for them?
It’s very interesting that you should ask that, because I hadn’t really thought about the book having a masculine character before, but, of course, it does, if only because all three POV characters are male.
Strangely enough, in an early draft Fanny was actually a POV character herself, but I fairly quickly made the decision to limit the reader’s perspective to the two competing detectives (bookended, of course, by Lord Unsworth). This had several effects. Firstly, it leant the policeman, Inspector Wintle, a prominence he wasn’t always intended to have. But secondly, and more importantly, it made Fanny somewhat opaque.
In the next book, I’m doing my best to redress the balance a bit. Fanny will be restored to her original POV status, and we will see how she is handling the fallout from recent events. Going forward, the suffragette movement is heading to a climax, judging by the timeline, and Fanny feels like exactly to sort of young woman who would get involved.
But beyond that, she’s still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants in life, because if she isn’t careful, Fanny just might end up as the next generation’s Lady Constance.
Lady Constance would consider that a compliment, of course, but she has her own difficulties to deal with. There is no power on earth or in heaven that could shake her, but as the family’s fortunes continue to wither and the world changes around her, she may have to change with it, whether she likes it or not.Writing Mysteries Like a Real Golden Age Author – An Interview with Anthony Slayton about his #CosyMystery series Mr.Quayle Mysteries, set in the 1920s #HistoricalFiction Click To Tweet
6. What are your future plans for the series? Do you plan to write different series too?
When I was first planning The Mr. Quayle Mysteries, I took out a piece of paper and scribbled out a basic sketch for three novels. They weren’t particularly specific, just a short paragraph for each—more of a proof of concept than anything—but they gave me a starting point.
A Most Efficient Murder ended up being very close to that initial paragraph, although the second book, A Rather Dastardly Death, has strayed slightly, and the third one promises to veer away almost entirely.
After I finish those initial three, though, I hope to try my hand at something else for awhile. I have quite a few other series floating around in my head all set in the same 1920s Interwar period.
There’s the intimidating Dowager Countess and her niece who travel the world and solve mysteries through genius, gumption and sheer force of will, the down-on-her-luck spiritualist who unravels a series of seemingly occult murders, and the Oxford professor with a mysterious past whose college is an unexpected bed of murder and mayhem. And those are just the ones I’ve already thought of!
But I imagine I’ll always come back to Quayle. In the long run I would like to get Mr. Quayle and the Unsworth family up through WWII, which gives me a good chunk of time to play with and a lot of room for the characters to develop. So, we’ll see what happens.
Anthony Slayton is a self-confessed Anglophile, at least when it comes to murder and death. Author of the Mr. Quayle Mysteries, he is a life-long mystery aficionado—the more bodies, the better! In his spare time, he can probably be found walking in the park or binge-watching one mystery series or another (possibly just rewatching Poirot and Midsomer Murders for the umpteenth time)