Sunday, September 13, 2015

Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson writes the Agatha and Macavity winning Dandy Gilver detective series, set in her native Scotland in the 1920s. The latest, A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, won a third consecutive Left Coast Crime award this year. In 2013 she started a strand of darker (that’s not difficult) standalones. The first, As She Left It, won an Anthony award and The Day She Died was shortlisted for an Edgar. Her new novel is The Child Garden.

McPherson immigrated to America in 2010, and lives in northern California with a black cat and a scientist. She is proud to be the 2015 president of Sisters in Crime.

Recently I asked McPherson about what she was reading. Her reply:
I had to leave twenty unread pages of Sophie Hannah’s magnificent The Monogram Murders when I got up this morning. (Yes, I read novels in bed on Tuesday mornings. And I call it working too.) I picked it up at Bloody Scotland last September after hearing Sophie speak about the honour/pressure of writing the first book featuring one of Dame Agatha’s characters to have been sanctioned by the Christie estate. There’s much more to the book than just this but I do have to say – she nailed it. The plot is quintessentially Christie: clever, convincing despite being truly bonkers, and hugely satisfying. The tone is pure Christie too. Not the Christie of the vicarage and the library – nor even the Orient Express – but one of the slyly nasty ones like The ABC Murders or The Moving Finger.

The reason it took me so long to get to it was partly because I’d been disappointed in one or two other continuations. Silly, but isn’t everyone’s reading life like that, meandering along – one choice hooked onto the next, monkey’s paw to monkey’s tail. In any case, I think this continuation is a triumph – right up there with Jill Paton Walsh’s extensions to the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane collection. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ll now jump on The Girl In The Spider’s Web. Monkey’s tail hooking over monkey’s paw.

Before The Monogram Murders I read a book that came to me by a route markedly different from most of my choices these days. I read a lot of books to blurb, to interview, to moderate, to research and to join discussions. I also read a lot of books because they’re written, agented, edited or published by my friends. But Bailey White’s Quite A Year For Plums came to me thus: I broke my arm and, unable to feed or dress myself, couldn’t stay home alone when my husband went off to a week-long meeting of entomologists, epidemiologists and pathologists who were gathering on the Monterey peninsula to talk about tomato spotted wilt virus.

I sat in a room at the conference grounds writing long-hand in a spiral notebook – I broke my right wrist and I’m left-handed, thank God – and when the dinner bell rang I sauntered over to join the scientists (and ukulele retreat attendees, incidentally – it took about a day for the uke players to start writing songs about bugs). Among them was one Albert Culbreath from the University of Georgia who was the inspiration for a plant pathologist named Roger in the book Bailey White wanted to call Vectored By Thrips. All the scientists thought Vectored By Thrips was a better title than Quite A Year For Plums. Me. I think Quite a Year … is one of the best titles I’ve ever heard. (My lifetime favourite is Witches on the Road Tonight.)

It’s a little gem of a book, the tale of a town delivered in sideways glimpses of the characters who live there. People pass in and out, others talk about them, and by the end you – okay, I – love every last one. The cherry on top (of the plum?) was that Roger falls in love with his Della via the notes she leaves on her discarded possessions at a roadside dumpster. In my next life, I’d like to fall in love that way.
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue