Witty and stylish in the classic Dashiell Hammett tradition: in Michael Murphy’s latest high-flying Jake & Laura Mystery, their Hawaiian honeymoon is interrupted when their friend Amelia Earhart is accused of murder.
Hawaii, 1935. Mystery novelist Jake Donovan and actress Laura Wilson are in gorgeous sun-soaked Hawaii, but their best laid plans for canoodling on the beach are interrupted by a summons from famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart. It seems a local businessman has been gunned down next to her plane. In just days, the famous pilot intends to fly from Honolulu to Los Angeles, making aviation history over the Pacific. But now, without Jake and Laura’s help, Earhart’s flight might never take off. Trailing a killer, the newlyweds’ sleuthing leads to a jealous pilot, a cigar-chomping female officer of the “Royalist Militia” and a notoriously disagreeable lieutenant colonel named Patton. With a sinister killer lurking in the shadows, it’s safe to say the honeymoon is over . . . and the danger has just begun.
Wings in the Dark, the third novel in the Jake & Laura series, hits bookshelves next Tuesday.
Q & A
MP: What do you enjoy most about writing mysteries?
MM: I love mystery novels. I’ve been a huge fan of the genre most of my life–from the Golden Age of Mysteries with brilliant writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, to contemporary mysteries. My favorite modern authors are Nelson DeMille (love how he mixes humor and suspense) and Dennis Lehane, for the complexities of his plots and his brilliant characterizations. Each of these writers have influenced me to a certain degree, but with my Jake and Laura series, I hope I’ve achieved my own voice.
MP: Did you have any particular people in mind when you created Jake and Laura?
MM: Jake and Laura were created one afternoon while I watched a Thin Man marathon on Turner Classic Movies. It wasn’t so much Hammett’s Nick and Nora, but the actors in the movies, William Powell and Myrna Loy. They were fabulous and made fourteen films together. Laura however, was patterned after a friend of mine, Jane Johnson, a successful model and actress. She always had a certain sophistication and grace about her, like Laura. Thanks, Jane.
MP: Why did you choose the 1930s for your setting? What are some interesting facts that you have learned about this specific time period that you did not know prior to writing the Jake and Laura novels?
MM: In the midst of worldwide economic collapse, the 1930’s also saw great individual achievements in sports, theater, film, architecture and literature. It’s in this world that we find Jake, a successful mystery writer, and Laura, a Broadway actress making the leap to Hollywood stardom. In this world they encounter some of the decade’s most notable characters including Cole Porter, Babe Ruth, Dashiell Hammett, William Powell and Amelia Earhart to name a few.
The historical details I learned the most about from my research was the pre-code Hollywood era where sex, adult themes and nudity occurred in films. If you haven’t seen Maureen O’Sullivan’s nude swim with Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan and his Mate, you’ve got to take a peek. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Bc7KDyLV80
MP: What is your research process? There are so many historical details to remember – do you have a system for keeping track of them?
MM: Readers of historical fiction expect, and rightfully so, historical accuracy. Starting with The Yankee Club, in 1933, the Jake and Laura series unfolds over almost two years with All That Glitters and Wings in the Dark. One of the helpful tools I’ve created is a historical timeline in politics, sports and film, and in the geographical settings of the three novels; New York City 1933, Hollywood 1933 and Hawaii 1935. It sounds time consuming, but without these timelines to refer to, I’d be spending a great deal of time correcting mistakes.
MP: Do you develop your basic plot first and then work in relevant historical details, or do you start with a real event from the past and mold your mystery around it?
MM: The genesis of each novel sprang from real historical events, and I wove mysteries around them. A little known historical event, a 1933 plot to replace Roosevelt with a Nazi regime, triggered The Yankee Club. Hollywood’s naughtiest and bawdiest era, the pre-code (Hays code) era is the setting for a murder mystery in All That Glitters. Wings in the Dark weaves political intrigue and murder around Amelia Earhart’s transpacific flight from Hawaii to California.
MP: A lot of writers have little rituals they perform or totems they use while writing. Is there anything special you do before sitting down to write a novel?
MM: My method of novel writing has evolved over the years from a seat of the pants technique to something a little more rigid. Before starting I make sure I create detailed biographical summaries of all the major characters, and I construct chapter outlines. I allow room for growth in plot and characterization but it’s helpful to be able to create a character when one knows their background and upbringing.
MP: What writing obstacles have you encountered while working on the Jake and Laura novels?
MM: One of the challenges I faced was to see if I could transfer my often risqué sense of humor to the 1930’s. Much to my delight I soon discovered sexual innuendo wasn’t invented in my lifetime. For example, Mae West once said, “Good sex is like good bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.”
MP: Book four in the series is set to be released in 2016. Are there any teasers you can give us about Jake and Laura’s next adventure?
MM: In book four, Jake and Laura are living the good life, but Jake finds his writing taking a backseat to Laura’s successful acting career. What better way to revive his mystery writing than to get involved in a ten year old case he was never able to solve?
MP: When reading about Jake and Laura’s escapades, it’s easy to imagine the action playing out like footage from an old black and white detective film. Were you a fan of these films growing up and did they influence your writing style for the Jake and Laura novels?
MM: As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of all the Thin Man movies. While the plots became tame with each succeeding film, the humor and the chemistry between the two lead characters never waned. It’s the humor, attraction and interaction I strive for with Jake and Laura.
MP: What is the best mystery you have ever read and why was it memorable?
MM: It’s so difficult to pick just one, but my favorite has to be Nelson DeMille’s Plum Island. DeMille’s story involves murder, buried treasure and biological warfare. DeMille brilliantly weaves humor, sexual tension and suspense with his captivating and roguish hero, John Corey.
MP: What mystery writers have you been reading lately?
MM: When I’m taking a break from writing, I read anything by DeMille and Dennis Lehane, but I’m also a big fan of up and coming mystery writers Susan Union, Betsy Ashton and Cathi Stoler.
Discover more about Michael Murphy and his novels: