Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Q&A with Maureen Johnson




Maureen Johnson is the author of the new young adult novel Nine Liars, the fifth in her Stevie Bell mystery series. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The Guardian. She lives in New York City.


Q: You say in Nine Liars’ acknowledgments that you’ve always wanted to write an English country house mystery--and now you have! What initially fascinated you about those stories, and how did you create your own version?


A: The country house seemed impossible to me. Impossibly huge and complicated. Impossible for one family to live in. Manors are full of unearned wealth and people always looking over their shoulder for the person who wants them out of the will.


Because many of them were built or refurbished over hundreds of years, they have secrets: hidden rooms, passages, things buried or concealed in walls, little nooks and holes. Even the people who live in them might not know all their secrets. So in many ways the buildings themselves can be mysteries.


Q: Your character Stevie Bell is back in this novel, along with her friends--did it feel different for you to write a story about them set outside the US?

A: Have detective, will travel! Fictional detectives are usually on the move. I’ve written several books set in England. There is always an element of tourism in the book, but there is something helpful in this—Stevie comes at the mystery as an outsider, and she’s seeing everything with fresh eyes.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “The exploration of the importance of friendship (with parallels between the Nine and Stevie’s group) adds emotional vulnerability to this book, which has a well-developed sense of place and features the series’ signature humor and layered mystery elements.” What do you think of that description?


A: Well, it’s a very nice one. I wanted the experience to be complete—I invested a lot of time in building Merryweather, and even more assembling my cast. There is a big cast in this book! And this is a book about friendship, how it works, how it changes, and how it remains.


There is the present-day group—Stevie and her friends. And then there are the Nine—a theater group of nine students from Cambridge around which the original 1995 crime is based. It’s a murder mystery—but with a lot of friendship. Murdery friendship?


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The book is about a theater group of nine people who called themselves The Nine. It also signifies the closed cast, the suspects. And they’re all faking, putting on a front in some way—they’re acting, they’re covering up secrets. They’re all lying. But why? And what about? That’s for you to find out!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I am working on a separate mystery called Death at Morning House. But I am also working on Stevie Bell mysteries six and seven!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Maureen Johnson.

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