Award-winning author Jeannette de Beauvoir writes mystery and historical fiction (or a combination thereof!) that’s been translated into 12 languages. A Booksense Book-of-the-Year finalist, she’s a member of the Authors Guild, the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the National Writers Union.
All her novels are firmly rooted in a sense of place, and her delight is to find characters true to the spaces in which they live. She herself lives and writes in a cottage in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and loves the collection of people who assemble at a place like land’s end.
The Sydney Riley Provincetown mystery series is in its fifth installment on with the release of A Fatal Folly in November 2019. The Matinée Murders will be out in June 2020.
Some events happen, and when they do, you just have to stand back and let the enormity of the situation sink in. I’m writing this, of course, while my town is effectively locked down because of the coronavirus. A lot of the population here is over fifty, and a lot of the population is immuno-compromised, so it’s a matter of Not Very Long Indeed before bad things will be happening. The deaths I write about so blithely in my mystery novels will soon become real—real struggles in real hospital wards, not bodies in locked rooms presenting intriguing intellectual puzzles.
But then there are other events that happen, and when they do, you just have to laugh. To let fate know that, yeah, okay, you got me there.
I write a mystery series that takes place in Provincetown. More specifically, the different books in the series take place during Provincetown’s myriad festivals and what we call theme weeks. The Portuguese Festival. Bear Week. Carnival. That sort of thing.
My next book, The Matinée Murders, takes place during the Provincetown International Film Festival which, while not on the same glamour level as Cannes or Sundance, is still a pretty big deal. I invented a handsome movie star coming to the festival to début a film, who then gets fatally hit over the head with the awards trophy he just received. Fun!
The only problem with this scenario, of course, is that this year, there is to be no Provincetown International Film Festival. It has been cancelled due to the coronavirus.
So I have to laugh: The question is, if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? So my question is, if a murder takes place during a film festival that doesn’t happen, is that person still dead?
I feel like the characters in Christie’s A Murder is Announced might feel if the invitation had been issued… and then nothing happened.
One really has to have a sense of humor, sometimes.
The show will go on—well, my show, anyway. The book will come out in June. We’ll do everything we can to promote it virtually—or in person, should it be safe by then to congregate again. We’ll do all the things one does to launch a book, and it will probably still do reasonably well—my protagonist, a somewhat snarky wedding planner named Sydney Riley, has a devoted following. But it still feels a little like whistling in the dark.
We’re all learning a lot of lessons in these days of the coronavirus, aren’t we? What we can control, and what we can’t. How dependent we all are on the presence and actions of others in our lives. How to love and support each other from six feet away. And, I suppose, how to write mysteries that may or may not have a timely impact!
I know I’m not the only author faced with this problem; one agency is offering a webinar on “launching your book during quarantine.” And of course we’ll all manage. We’ll do virtual launch parties and blog tours. We’ll work with social media, we’ll run contests, we’ll make appearances via Zoom. All the practical details will fall into place.
But behind all that practicality is the reminder that even those who traffic in written words are at a loss as to what to say here. We look at this plague and its impact and we try to find ways to connect it to our inner selves, to universal inner selves, via our chosen tool—words. We try to parse it, to take it apart and analyze what it means, where it leads us.
Ysabelle Cheung thinks we can only capture this time in fragments of poetry, random thoughts, unfinished sentences. I think those of us who love and care about the mystery genre will be able to do more—to continue to be the storytellers, to bring readers into worlds of made-up events and creations, if only to distract us all from the reality that is very far from our beloved Professor Plum, in the library, with a rope.