Tag Archives: susan breen

Susan Breen on “The Countess of Warsaw”

Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove series (Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency is available now from Penguin/Random House) as well as The Fiction Class, which received the Washington Irving Award. Here she talks about the genesis and plot of her story “The Countess of Warsaw” from the July/August 2017 issue.

What happens to assassins when they get old? This was the question that was the genesis of my story, “The Countess of Warsaw.”

To give a little background: I was visiting an acquaintance in a nursing home. She was a nice lady, but somewhat droopy, for obvious reasons. During the course of our conversation she happened to mention that she’d been a cheerleader in her youth. I was flummoxed. When I think of cheerleaders I think of bubbly, cheerful people, and this woman was nothing of the kind, and yet. Those qualities had to reside somewhere deep inside her. It made me think about how mysterious the elderly are. So often we look at them (and I should say I’m creeping up there myself) and see their exterior, but forget about all the history that lives inside them.

When I stepped into the nursing home hallway after our conversation, I looked at all the people sitting around and thought, I wonder what stories they could tell? I wonder who they really are? And then, because this is how my mind works, I thought: I wonder if any of them were assassins.

At the time, I had just started work on my Maggie Dove mystery series. Maggie Dove is a Sunday School teacher turned private detective. Because there’s not a lot of blood or gore (yet), my series is considered a cozy. But I didn’t want to be pushed into a cute cozy category. I wanted Maggie to grapple with serious antagonists, even if her story is taking place in a quiet little village. One of the things I’ve always loved about Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is how ruthless she is. She’s not afraid to find evil in the most unlikely of places.

So when I began working on “The Countess of Warsaw” all of these things were going through my mind, but I had one big problem. And that was, for an assassin to wind up in a nursing home, it would have to be a successful assassin. After all, Lee Harvey Oswald was captured. So was Sirhan Sirhan and Mark Chapman. Most of the assassins in the twentieth century were executed or jailed. Unless. They were successful. Then people would assume that the assassinated person’s death was natural. No one would know otherwise. The assassin would go about his or her life, living and aging and perhaps winding up in a nursing home.

So what prominent figures died in the twentieth century?

I spent months going over the death of every major figure, trying to figure out whose death might not have been as it seemed. Who did I wind up choosing?

You have the read the story to find out!

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Scorcher! (July/August 2017)

The torrid days of summer are the perfect time to kick back and read, and our July/August issue is full of hot new fiction. From flaring tempers to the spiciest of chicken wings to a world baked by global warming, the characters in this issue brave it all.

A food-truck owner with the hottest wings in town and his off-duty security guard–customer deal with some unwanted heat in Robert Mangeot’s “Let It Burn.” Jay Carey returns with another distopian procedural set in a future Florida ravaged by global warming in “We Frequent the Moon Bar.” The heat of an office romance drives characters to make poor decisions in Cathryn Grant’s “Serious Damage.” And in our cover story, some minor league ball players are filling their off-hours by making an amateur movie when they learn of the drowning of a teammate in Chris Muessig’s “The Making of Velveteen Dream.”

Meanwhile, a rural gathering of southeast Asian drug warlords proves difficult navigating for a city-bred teen in R. T. Lawton’s “Merit Making.” A pit stop at a lonely diner puts small-town Mississippi sheriff Ray Douglas and mystery writer Jenny Parker conveniently close to the scene of a murder in John M. Floyd’s whodunit “Trail’s End.” O’Neil De Noux returns in noirish form with a new story about the 1940s New Orleans PI Lucien Kaye, “The Magnolia Murders.” Joseph D’Agnese offers an unusual Sherlockian tale, with Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson facing off in “A Respectable Lady.” And a former fur trapper struggles with settled life—and a murder—in Eric Rutter’s “Blood Debt.”

We warmly welcome two authors new to our pages this issue. Bev Vincent offers a tale of an unlikely superhero in “Pain-Man.” And Susan Breen introduces novice PI Maggie Dove as she tackles her first big case in “The Countess of Warsaw.”

Finally, Steve Liskow scores his second Black Orchid Novella Award with “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma,” which once again visits the Detroit music scene for a new mystery involving the members of that hot new band, Promise.

So find a convenient pool, a cool beverage, and some shades because this issue’s stories are hot, hot, hot.

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