Today’s interview is with Kim Wright, author of the historical City of Mystery series, which is based on the international adventures of Scotland Yard’s first forensics unit. City of Darkness (4.6 stars on 74 reviews) deals with the case of Jack the Ripper and City of Light (4.6 stars on 37 reviews) follows the team to Paris, for the World’s Fair where the Eiffel Tower was debuted. The upcoming third installment, City of Silence, will find them to St. Petersburg and the fourth, City of Bells, will be set in Calcutta. Throughout the series the unit – led by Trevor Welles, one of the Yard’s few “modern men” who embraces the fledgling science of forensics – will travel the world, investigating high profile crimes at the urging of the Queen. Bloggers have declared City of Darkness “one of the best books I’ve read this year” (Lori Hedgpeth, Psychotic State), “instantly engrossing” (Mystery Traveler) and have said “I can’t wait for the next installment” (Teresa’s Reading Corner) and “I was hooked from the first pages.” (Simply Stacy).
Interview with Kim Wright
What drew you to this setting and the Victorian period? I’ve always had a passion for Victorian England but I think I first became interested in the case of Jack the Ripper when I was a teenager traveling to London with my father, who was an antiques dealer. I went on one of those “Ripper tours” where they take tourists around at night to the crime scenes and it was absolutely terrifying. And then later I saw a TV special about forensics and how if certain famous crimes had occurred today they would have likely been easily solved through forensics. So the idea began to emerge about a Scotland Yard detective who sees the potential in forensics, even if his superiors are set in their ways and basically writing him off as foolish.
Who are the main characters? When a fluke of fate puts Trevor in charge of the Ripper investigation, he hastily assembles a team. It includes Davy Mabrey, the first bobby on the scene of the grisliest of the murders, whose working class common sense proves an invaluable asset; Rayley Abrams, a cautious intellectual whose future at the Yard is marginalized due to his Jewish heritage; Tom Bainbridge, a medical student with aristocratic connections and a secret drinking problem; Tom’s wealthy and eccentric aunt Geraldine; and Emma Kelly, sister of the Ripper’s last victim who has a troubled past and a gift for linguistics. He finds an unlikely ally in the form of Queen Victoria herself, who takes an unusual level of interest in the Ripper case and secretly funds the unit. And of course each book has its own crime with its own victims and suspects.
I wanted to have numerous points of view in the story because I think Victorian society was so complicated, with so many layers. My little group of detectives includes men and women, young and old, aristocrats and working class, professionals and amateurs. They all bring their unique take on the subject at hand and their sometimes clashing perspectives also provide a lot of humor. Trust me, they don’t always agree on the best approach to a case.
Do you have a favorite character? I love writing Aunt Geraldine’s part because she’s elderly, eccentric, impulsive and such a radical – into all sorts of liberal causes like votes for women. But I also have to confess that I love writing from the point of view of the killer. As a writer, getting inside the head of the “bad guy” is the ultimate challenge because I doubt that villains ever see themselves as villainous. They probably all feel completely justified, as if there’s some sort of interior logic that allows them to calmly plan and commit the most horrible crimes.
What is the theme of the series?
The modern world in conflict with the old world order. Trevor’s superiors at Scotland Yard aren’t exactly cheering him on. In the beginning, Forensics was a pretty unconvincing science. They didn’t have fingerprinting or blood typing or much to work with at all. Instead they were doing things like photographing the retinas of dead people’s eyes on the theory that they could recapture the image of the last thing the person saw while alive. Most people dismissed it as voodoo.
So I’m enjoying exploring how the science evolved and also how the attitudes toward the science evolved. The bit about Queen Victoria sponsoring them isn’t totally fanciful. In real life, the Queen took a lively interest in crime and she wrote any number of letters to authorities about the Ripper case. And the truly surprising thing is that the letters were full of practical suggestions, proving that Victoria wasn’t quite as prudish and squeamish as one might imagine!
Why does each book take place in a different city?
I thought it would be fun to move my characters to fresh, interesting places with each book and Queen Victoria had royal relatives scattered all over the world so it’s easy to find reasons why she might send them abroad on various missions. For example, I’m presently working on City of Silence which is set in Russia. The team is accompanying the Queen’s granddaughter Alexandria on a visit to the tsaravich Nicholas. It gives me the chance to portray the young Nicholas and Alexandria as teenagers in love, far before they came to their horrible ultimate fate. And it’s great fun to go to Paris or India, or New York or Buenos Aires – all places I hope to visit before the series is over – and play out my mysteries with such exotic backgrounds, placing real-life historical figures in cameo roles.
Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable?
The first book, City of Darkness, which deals with the Ripper murders, is the one most based in fact and researching it was pretty grisly. I literally had nightmares while I was writing it.
Other than that, I must say the most challenging part of the writing is making sure that my main characters are believably Victorian in their attitudes but still appealing to modern readers. When you look at Victorian letters and diaries sometimes the sexism, racism, and attitudes toward the working classes are appalling. But I want Trevor and the others to be characters that the reader is always rooting for, genuine heroes and heroines. Walking the tightrope between making them realistic for their time yet sympathetic to modern readers is sometimes a little tricky.
What is your method for writing?
I usually just get an image and plunge in from there. I am not someone who outlines and I never know who the killer is or how it will all work out when I begin. In City of Silence I just had this vision of ballet dancers found murdered in a beautiful theater, their bodies arranged as they would lie in the final scene of the ballet Romeo and Juliet. So I started with that visual but with no idea of who they were or why someone would kill them.
Of course with this method once you do figure it out you have go back and add in your clues and details and make a hundred little changes. It requires a lot of rewriting. But I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I think I would find an outline stifling. This way, I get to be a detective too!
Did you always want to be a detective?
Oh yes. When I was a child I loved shows like The Man From Uncle and I Spy and I used to put on a black turtleneck and climb a tree and wait for trouble. This was the mid fifties in a small town in North Carolina, so I didn’t find much. While I was waiting in that tree, I also was always writing stories, so it’s funny the way that being a mystery writer actually allowed me to combine my two childhood fantasies.
Oh, and I also still wear a lot of black turtlenecks.
Twitter: @cityofmystery and @Kim_Wright_W
Facebook: City of Mystery fanpage https://www.facebook.com/#!/CityOfMystery
Amazon: City of Darkness http://www.amazon.com/City-Darkness-Mystery-ebook/dp/B007QEE6YY