Hello, we are so glad to have you here at Epen! Guests, please say hello to author C. A. Larmer. Is that a gift? For me? I love it!
CA: Isn’t it wonderful? That’s the beautiful old steamship that I based my second Agatha Christie Book Club adventure around, the one that’s on sale now: Murder on the Orient (SS). It’s a real ship that sailed between London and Sydney via the Suez Canal back in the early 1900s—and I could just imagine Agatha Christie on that exact cruise. It had a Grand Salon and Persian carpets and velvet-clad cabins, and while it’s no longer with us that didn’t stop me! I reproduced it in my novel as a ‘replica’ steamship and then invited my book club aboard where, lo and behold, several perplexing mysteries land in their laps!
CA: That’s a great question because I had to leave a book club to start my Agatha Christie Book Club series! It’s explained in the first chapter of my first book, but yes, I was a member of a literary book club. Lovely people but the books were a little dull for me! No mystery or murder! I handed in my notice so I could create my own club in a new crime series. The lovely group keep asking me to return but I’m having too much fun with my fictional friends!
(Pouring tea) Of course, no book club meeting is complete without tea and cookies. How do you like your tea? I personally like mine with a good amount of soy vanilla creamer.
CA: Thank you, that’d be lovely. I’m a Twinning English Breakfast girl. Just milk, no sugar. Maybe a little chocolate brownie on the side.
What inspired this series? Other than the Queen of Mysteries herself?
CA: See the earlier comment. It’s true, a real book club got me thinking about this fictional one and, really, who better to solve baffling crimes than crime readers? I often think real detectives should utilize true mystery lovers more in their work! We can spot a red herring a mile off!
What made you decide to delve into the mystery genre?
CA: I tried writing a novel at the age of thirteen and, as I was at boarding school, was encouraged by the other girls to write a romance but I was quickly bored and it didn’t take long before I’d killed the hero and planted it on the unsuspecting heroine. I did lose a few readers but I gained a lifelong passion!
What made you choose a book club as the framework for your story?
CA: It’s the perfect cozy setting: an ensemble cast of regular characters you could get to know and love, all super smart—they’re readers, after all—with a passion for puzzles. It’s a no-brainer really.
For those “die hard” Agatha Christie fans, what will they find in your series that is similar? What is different?
CA: My books are very modern mysteries set in Sydney, so quite different in that regard, but they pay regular homage to Christie. So several characters are loosely based on some of hers (Missie, my seemingly ditzy librarian has hints of Miss Marple about her: underestimate her at your own peril!) They’re perfect for anyone who is a true Christie trainspotter and if you know her books you have a real chance of solving the crimes.
Why did you choose to set your series in modern-day Australia as opposed to, say, 19th century England?
CA: I wanted it to pay homage to the Queen of Crime, not try to copy her. They had to be obviously different or I would stand accused of that and I wouldn’t dare! She’s just too brilliant. I also prefer to write what I know and I was living in Sydney when I started the series so it seemed perfect.
How does Agatha influence your work?
CA: I love contemporary crime but many are just too gritty or gory and there’s no elegance or style—which is something I love about her books. The characters and setting are so fabulous and you feel like you’re swept away in a different world. I wanted to emulate that in this series. I’m not that keen on dingy alleyways and creepy serial killers. Agatha basically invented the cozy crime and I wanted to do a modern version of it.
Apologies about my dog wanting some of those cookies. Just shoo him away.
CA: Hilarious! He’s welcome to a little nibble… My book club has a gorgeous, slightly naughty Labrador called Max, named after Agatha’s second husband. He’s a bit of food thief as well.
What advice would you give to other Cozy authors?
CA: Just because it’s ‘cozy’ doesn’t mean you want to make readers fall asleep! Some in this genre are too safe and predictable. Your plot can still be very complex and creative, as Christie’s are. Also: Swear less! (laughs) I have another series which has been coined cozy—my Ghostwriter Mysteries—but they’re slightly grittier and as they’re set in Australia, they do have a bit of swearing which upsets cozy readers, understandably! If I had my time again, I’d tone them down, but they have such a good following I wouldn’t dare mess with them now. But I do put a warning in the front!
Who was the inspiration for Alicia? Does she resemble any one Agatha Christie character?
CA: Alicia is very much her own character, as is her sister, Lynette, while the others in the book club are the ones who have echoes of Miss Marple (Missy) or Hercule Poirot (Perry). I wanted my main protagonists to be ‘everyday’ people, people my readers could relate to. They’re devoted sisters but quite different to each other. Alicia is probably more like me—she has an unsettling ability to see danger and mayhem everywhere. I do that! No walk down the street is complete without me wondering what would happen if the car idling beside me suddenly swerved and took me out, or the man in front of me just turned, stuck a dagger in my stomach and kept walking. It doesn’t bother me, honestly it doesn’t, I just have an insanely overactive imagination!
What’s next for Alicia and the book club? Any clues or leads as to Alicia’s next adventure?
CA: Let’s just say it’s based on another of Christie’s favourite books and will introduce four new book club members. It will be a modern story, of course, with echoes from the past, and my most most complex yet!
Of course, we all want to know, which Agatha Christie book is your favorite?
CA: Evil Under the Sun without doubt. Agatha Christie’s classic is the supreme cozy mystery with a fabulous ensemble cast, stunning island setting, and the cheekiest plot twist ever. I also love Murder on the Orient Express (that ending is superb!) and that’s why they’re the two I’ve based my own mysteries on. My next favourite is And Then There Were None… and if that’s not a hint, I don’t know what is!
It’s not every day we get to meet the mastermind behind such a sleuth. Alicia is certainly a strong character. Now, I must ask- knowing you get your inspiration from Agatha Christie, if she were alive today, what would you want to say to her?
CA: Wow, I wouldn’t say anything, I’d listen! I’d lap up all her advice and just follow her around like a pathetic puppy. Eventually, when she ran out of steam, I’d thank her for her work and for being such an amazing influence, and for showing us all the way. Without her, I’m not sure my passion for crime would have become so evolved. She really took the whodunnit to the next level while also providing such glamorous settings and fabulous frocks! It’s that balance of brilliance and beauty that I love so much.
Thank you so much for your insight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some sleuthing to do myself. I seem to have misplaced the rest of my cookies. If you see the batch of vegan snowball cookies, please let me know. And here’s a napkin for some mysterious powdery stuff on your chin.
Author of the Amazon best-selling Agatha Christie Book Club series, Christina (C.A.) Larmer is also a journalist, editor, teacher and murder mystery buff. She grew up in the tropics, forged her career in Sydney, London, Los Angeles and New York, and now lives in Northern NSW, Australia, with her musician husband, two sons, a cheeky cattle dog and countless koalas and snakes. Christina is passionate about crime fiction and has written twelve murder mysteries including the popular Ghostwriter Mystery series and the Posthumous Mysteries, as well as a non-fiction book about Papua New Guinea. When she’s not creating chaos with her keyboard, Christina can be found immersed in a classic Agatha Christie (who else?).
Sail on over to Christina’s pages and say ahoy!