Today I pleased to welcome to the blog Anna Jaquiery, author of The Lying Down Room and Death in the Rainy Season, both featuring French detective Serge Morel. Death in the Rainy Season was published on 9 April 2015 by Mantle. Keep a look out next week for my review.
1. Tell us a little about Death in the Rainy Season.
The novel is set in present-day Cambodia. My French-Cambodian detective, Commandant Serge Morel, is holidaying there, visiting the temples in Siem Reap, when a Frenchman is found dead in a hotel room in Phnom Penh. Morel’s boss tells him he must get involved in the investigation because the victim was the nephew of a senior French politician, who doesn’t trust the Cambodians to investigate properly.
2. Is there a sense of freedom to write a series? By this I mean does the story arc flow more freely when you know how your characters will act or can they inversely inhibit the story?
I don’t know that there is a sense of freedom, or if there is, it comes later, when you have more books in a series. But there is, at least, a sense of growing familiarity. Now I’m writing the third Morel book, I do feel closer to him and to other characters. To me, Morel has a complex personality, and I like the challenge he presents as I try to figure out how he’ll think, feel and react in situations.
3. The first Morel Book, The Lying Down Room, tackles a tragic aspect of recent history, one that has almost vanished from the public consciousness. Where did the idea for Morel and this storyline emerge from?
When I was 22, studying in Paris, I decided to return to Russia where I had lived for three years as a high school student, to try my luck as a freelance journalist. I settled for a while in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s third largest city. This book’s storyline emerged in part from my reporting experiences in Russia. I didn’t visit an orphanage like the one I describe, but I did meet with aid workers who had. I also interviewed Mormons, evangelists and others who had been sent to post-Soviet Russia to proselytise. This was a subject I always felt I wanted to explore further.
4. In Death in the Rainy Season you set the book in Cambodia. Your family originate from South East Asia. Did you feel any pressure to ensure the country was portrayed in a certain light?
My father originates from Malaysia and my mother from France, so there is no direct link with Cambodia. But I did spend the first ten years of my childhood in Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia. My familiarity with the region certainly made the story easier to write. The setting is familiar.
As an adult, I’ve visited Phnom Penh a few times. I went there two years ago specifically to research Death in the Rainy Season. When I was writing the book, I really wanted to bring to life some of the things I’d felt in Phnom Penh, about the people and the landscape. And yes, there is a social and political dimension to the book. First and foremost, though, this is a crime novel and a work of fiction.
5. Death in the Rainy Season sees Morel ‘on his own’ without the team we came to know in The Lying Down Room. Was this intentionally done so that the reader could discover more about Morel and was there a danger of breaking the reader’s bond with the team that was so eloquently created in the previous book?
A number of people had told me after reading The Lying-Down Room that they looked forward to reading more about Morel and his team. I knew some readers would be disappointed to find him working on a case without his colleagues, in a different country. I didn’t plan it that way. When I was halfway through The Lying-Down Room, I started thinking about another Morel book and something came to me that I felt I really wanted to write. The premise – the death of an aid worker in Phnom Penh – was very vivid in my mind. I knew that I would be bringing Morel’s Parisian team back in the third book, which I’m writing now. Meanwhile, Death in the Rainy Season does reveal more about Morel.
6. On a lighter note, who do you turn to for reading pleasure? Are there any particular genres or authors you always rely on to entertain you?
My taste is eclectic and I turn to different genres for reading pleasure. Some of my favourite authors are not crime writers. I’m thinking of authors like Ian McEwan, Colm Toíbin, and David Mitchell, whose new releases I always look forward to. I also read lots of crime novels and psychological thrillers. I’m a big fan of Denise Mina’s books. She is perhaps my favourite crime writer. Belinda Bauer is another author whose books I always enjoy. I can spend hours with a good psychological thriller and recently did just that with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
7. Authors writing routines are always fascinating. It is sometimes easy to forget that a book isn’t created overnight. What has been the biggest eye-opener for you now you have seen the book process through from creation to publication?
The biggest eye-opener for me was the realisation that a published book truly is a team effort. So many people are involved in turning a manuscript into a publishable book. I’ve learned that there are few things more precious to a writer than a good editor. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with a group of people who are so very experienced, and passionate about what they do. I know authors say these sorts of things all the time, but in my case it’s certainly true.
8. You must have answered a few of these Q&As. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I guess I’d like to be asked what advice I’d give to writers who still haven’t published their first story or novel. Not because I am in any way an expert on these things. But I know what it means to be passionate about what you do and to put a great deal of effort into the thing you love, over long periods of time. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and have learned a few things along the way. One is that if this is what you love to do, then spend time on it every day. And persevere. Perseverance is everything.
About the book:
“Far from home secrets can be deadly . . .
Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.
Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?
Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .
A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.”