Where did you get the idea for this book? How did you know that was the book you wanted to write?
I wanted to create a protagonist with an unusual occupation and astrology seemed to fit. I also lived in San Francisco for many years and loved it, and felt it was a perfect city in which to set a mystery. Julia, my protagonist, never thought that murder would be part of her practice, but the universe has other ideas and her clients and their problems are constantly leading her into danger.
What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your novels?
It’s been an amazing experience, mostly because I never set out to be a “writer.” My goal was to write one mystery and hopefully be published. I knew absolutely nothing about the business of writing or the business of publishing. The most wonderful part of all this is realizing that I do have some good stories to tell and readers have really enjoyed my books. That, and making lots of friends in the mystery community.
I just finished re-reading Faithful Place. I had read it first a few years ago and was completely awed by it. The author, Tana French, won an Edgar award for that book, and it was certainly well-deserved. Everything about the story, the setting, the culture, the time period, her protagonist’s voice was compelling. The story just kept drawing me in deeper and the final reveal was both elegantly simple and chilling. It took my breath away.
Yes, I think I would definitely be friends with Julia. We’d probably be in agreement in a lot of areas. Besides, even though she tries her best to live a peaceful life, it doesn’t seem to work out. Her life is certainly a lot more exciting and dangerous than mine, it would be a big adventure for me.
The Zodiac Mysteries are traditional mysteries, but this story, The Madness of Mercury, was really inspired by the Jim Jones years in San Francisco. I was living there at the time and frankly, a Southern preacher with a church on Fillmore Street called the People’s Temple just wasn’t on my radar -- until the shootings and poisonings in Guyana that shocked the world. In Madness a similar type of preacher comes to town with the same sort of promises, but his true intent is just as dark and deadly. I wanted to refresh my memory of Jones’s history in the city and I found myself shocked all over again. I never realized how much power he had achieved in such a short time. Politicians and society people were conned, including Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, both of course later shooting victims themselves. His believers turned over their life savings and property to him, and followed him blindly even as he descended into madness. I’ve always been baffled by the whole phenomenon of people who need to be led, who would abdicate their autonomy to anyone, much less a man who claims to be of God. Cults and the people who create them are extremely disturbing and frightening. When Julia realizes that she has become a target of the preacher, her life is turned upside down, and at her lowest point, she determines to rescue one elderly victim of the mad preacher. Julia’s efforts expose the cult’s true intent and upset the whole balance of power. That’s not the end of the story though because Julia discovers finds another sort of evil that hits even closer to home.
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