Q&A: Louise Penny interviewing Author Laurie R. King
Louise Penny Biography: Louise Penny is the New York Times bestselling author of eight Chief Inspector Gamache novels, which have won the New Blood Dagger, Macavity, Nero, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Agatha, Dilys, and Anthony Awards. She lives with her husband in Québec, where she is at work on her next novel.
Q: Garment of Shadows is the twelfth book in the Mary Russell series (along with the e-short story, Beekeeping for Beginners). How has Mary evolved for you from your first novels? Has she surprised you in any ways?
A: The Beekeeper's Apprentice was intended as a coming-of-age novel, in which a brilliant young mind grows into its own under the guidance of an equally brilliant, if unlikely, tutor: one Sherlock Holmes. That book set the stage for a life (and a relationship) that has circled the globe both physically and metaphorically, and over the decade of their adventures, she has definitely evolved.
As for surprising me, I'm the kind of writer who researches closely, plots vaguely, and then dives in and follows the characters as they meet the challenges of the time and place. I positively depend on my characters surprising me.
Q: A big part of your mysteries is the globetrotting element. What has led you to set your mysteries in so many places?
A: It isn’t just that it gives me an excuse to travel. Honestly.
Sherlock Holmes is English: specifically, a Londoner. Sherlock Holmes is also solitary, accompanied only by Dr. Watson. When I started writing Holmes, I envisioned him as a supporting actor, but soon found myself exploring his character, forcing him outside his stereotypes and making demands on him that Conan Doyle never did: a Victorian in a post-WWI world; a solitary man in a serious relationship; an Englishman in foreign lands.
And I was fascinated to find how he both developed and remained true to himself. Sherlock Holmes as a travelling magician in rural India, or a Bedouin in Palestine, is both the same man and intriguingly different.
Their travel also puts Russell on a more level plane with him, since even if he’s familiar with the country, she has the advantage of youth’s natural flexibility to adapt.
Q: How do you approach the historical relevancy of the time period and place? How much of the Arab Spring has influenced Garment of Shadows?
A: Historical fiction is both a window and a mirror. My readers are people who love to learn about other times and places (and yes, I am a compulsive researcher!). Yet without the reflection of our own concerns and experiences, a historical novel has as much appeal as a stack of 3”x5” cards.
As a writer, my primary task is to entertain. But we writers are sly, and we have deeper goals. We aim to leave the reader thinking, just a little, about these different yet oddly familiar people.
While I was writing Garment of Shadows, which draws in part on the 1920s Moroccan independence movement, the crowds gathered in Tahrir Square: no doubt that awareness wove its way into the story, just as the story now will weave its way into the minds of its readers. A novel is an entertainment, but it is also a mirror giving a new perspective on the world.
Q: If you could grant Russell and Holmes one modern convenience in solving their mysteries, what would it be?
A: Holmes would leap at the Internet, gloating over all the world's information at his fingertips. Russell, on the other hand, would love cell phones—she's forever wondering what on earth Holmes is up to.
Would it be cheating to give them both smart phones?
Praise for Garment of Shadows
“As always, the relationship between Holmes and Russell is utterly understated yet traced with heat and light.”—Booklist (starred review)
“[A] taut tale . . . original and intriguing . . . This tantalizing glimpse into the life and times of a rapidly evolving Arabic society has remarkable resonance for our own uncertain times.”—Publishers Weekly
“Those new to the series are in for a treat.”—Bookreporter
The award-winning novels of Laurie R. King are . . .
“A lively adventure in the very best of intellectual company.”—The New York Times
“Erudite, fascinating . . . by all odds the most successful re-creation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted.”—Houston Chronicle
“Intricate clockworks, wheels within wheels.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Imaginative and subtle.”—The Seattle Times
“Impossible to put down.”—Romantic Times
“Remarkably beguiling.”—The Boston Globe