Kris Calvin is the author of the mystery novel One Murder More, which is now available in paperback. She also contributed to the anthology Tinsel and Temptation. A former local elected official, she is based in the Sacramento area.
Q: You’ve worked in politics. Why did you decide to write a mystery novel set in the political world as opposed to some other sort of book about politics?
A: I read two to three novels a week, all types. It’s my entertainment and escape. But it never occurred to me to write a book of my own until a few years ago when I picked up Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, a complex, challenging mystery that tells several distinct stories and then brings them together in the end to solve a puzzle.
Having worked in politics for years, I realized a similar structure might work to explore the many motives for murder and mayhem that exist in politics.
Q: How did you come up with your main character, Maren?
A: Most people think of lobbyists as little better than untrustworthy hired guns. I wanted to go against type by writing a thriller/mystery featuring an ethical lobbyist. That idea sparked the creation of Maren Kane, a principled lobbyist who finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: When I started writing I had an idea for a motive for a murder and a twist that might keep readers guessing, that was it! I don't outline, so everything else, including the ending, developed along the way. The murderer even changed between the second and third draft.
Q: The book takes place in Sacramento. Do you think it could take place in another state capital, or is this a story that could only happen in that particular city?
A: Certainly, other state capitals have been witness to political scenarios as outrageous as the fiction in my novel. A former Chicago governor was convicted of trying to sell an appointment to a state senate seat.
But the particular diverse set of suspects and sidekicks and trajectory of the plot in One Murder More may be best suited for California.
There’s a gorgeous young public defender, half African-American, half Latina, who is the spitting image of a well-known (imaginary) movie starlet, an openly gay dedicated junior homicide detective, and a governor who plays jazz piano and left office to establish nonprofit schools in impoverished areas in Africa.
Q: Which mystery novels do you particularly like?
A: I like series best. There are so many good ones. John Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy legal thrillers. Catriona McPherson’s amateur sleuth Dandy Gilvers in 1920s Scotland. Kirk Russell's John Marquez California-based ecothrillers, and Mark Wheaton’s new crime fiction/thriller series about a former gang member turned priest in L.A. who solves crimes.
And I consider some literary fiction to be at its heart a mystery—To Kill A Mockingbird may be the greatest “whodunit.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The second book in the Maren Kane series, working title "A Timely Mystery." It’s in the first stages of development, where anything seems possible, There’s arson, kidnapping and a lost treasure. Some will need to fall out in rewrites, but for now it’s pleasant chaos.
Q: How have readers responded to the first book?
A: I feel so fortunate that readers have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic in their response to One Murder More in online reviews and in real life when I get a chance to meet them at book clubs or conferences!
Many seem to connect with Maren, who despite being smart and well-meaning still gets things wrong a lot of the time!
The most common suggestion for improvement has been that some of my characters' names can be hard to follow and are not necessarily gender-specific, so I'm paying attention to that in Book 2.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Camper, the real life inspiration for Maren Kane's canine companion in the series, passed away peacefully recently at age 16. As a new author, it has been a revelation to me how comforting it has been to have Camper live on in my books!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous version of this Q&A, please click here.