I'm pleased to welcome Tom Mead to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Tom writes the Joseph Spector Locked Room Mystery series. DEATH AND THE CONJUROR is the first book in the series and will be released next week.
Kathy: DEATH AND THE CONJUROR is set in 1930s London. Why did you decide to set your mystery in that particular time and place?
TM: Well, I’m obsessed with Golden Age Detective fiction (GAD). I love all the greats who rose to prominence during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. I’m thinking specifically of Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Christianna Brand, and a whole host of others. Some have remained big names into the 21st century, but some have been unjustly forgotten. So Death and the Conjuror is my tribute to the genre and the writers I love. It made sense to embrace the historical period which produced so many of my all-time heroes. And I love London- particularly theatreland- so it was an excuse for me to delve into the history and the culture of that fabulous city, too.
Kathy: Joseph Spector is a retired stage magician and part time sleuth. Have you ever attempted any sleight of hand? Do you enjoy watching magicians and illusionists?
TM: I’m fascinated with magic. And yes, I’ve tried to teach myself a few tricks. But the aspect that interests me the most is misdirection. I’ve read several books about the psychology behind successful stage illusion, and I think there are plenty of parallels between a good magic show and a good mystery novel. In both instances, the name of the game is to ensure the audience is looking in the wrong direction while the trick is being worked. So it made perfect sense to me to write a mystery dealing with the concept of illusion as its central theme. There are plenty of magicians who’ve turned their hand to writing mysteries, including Clayton Rawson who wrote the brilliant Merlini mysteries; Henning Nelms, who wrote two bona fide masterpieces in RIM OF THE PIT and THE HANGMAN'S HANDYMAN, which he published under the pseudonym Hake Talbot; all the way to Andrew Mayne, whose ANGEL KILLER is a magic-infused thriller from 2014.
Kathy: DEATH AND THE CONJUROR is described as a tribute to the golden age whodunnit novel. What do you like best about these mysteries?
TM: They have an atmosphere, a wit and a level of psychological insight that’s second to none. But most of all I love the puzzles. At the height of the golden age, writers really did set out to challenge their readers, just as a magician defies their audience to spot how the trick was done.
Kathy: Who is your favorite author from the golden age of detective fiction?
TM: There are many that I love, including the aforementioned Agatha Christie, Christianna Brand and Ellery Queen, but the one who stands head and shoulders above the rest for me is John Dickson Carr. He produced a string of dazzling, kaleidoscopic masterpieces throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s. He took the locked-room mystery to new heights.
Kathy: What first drew you to locked room mysteries?
TM: For me, it was the impact of seeing the solution fall into place. There’s something so satisfying about reaching the end of a really well-crafted locked-room mystery and seeing all the little inconsistencies explained, and an apparently impossible problem explained with logic. When it’s done right, it packs a punch like nothing else.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
TM: I’ve written a range of thriller and horror fiction outside of the mystery genre, and I’m also an active ghostwriter. To date I’ve completed nine romance novels. (Don’t go looking for them, though, they are published under a pseudonym!)
Kathy: Tell us about your book.
TM: DEATH AND THE CONJUROR is a locked-room mystery in the golden age tradition of Christie, Carr and Queen. It’s about retired music hall conjuror Joseph Spector, who is called in by Scotland Yard to assist in solving three apparently impossible crimes: two murders and a stolen painting. It’s set in 1930s London, and features a coterie of unorthodox characters- all of whom have something to hide. This is the first book in a series featuring the characters of Spector and Flint.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
TM: Spector is my series detective, and I love writing about him. Like me, he’s fascinated with magic (of course), and he has a taste for the macabre. Not to mention a somewhat dark sense of humour, which puts in an appearance from time to time. But he embodies a kind of paradox in that he thrives on illusion and impossibilities, yet he perceives everything with a sharply logical eye.
More generally speaking, I love Hercule Poirot, Dr. Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale. You’ve most likely heard of Poirot, but if you’re not familiar with the others I can tell you they’re John Dickson Carr’s two longest running series characters. Like Spector, they are amateur sleuths with a knack for untangling complex puzzles.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your book?
TM: It’s more a distillation of several inspirations. As mentioned before, the book is a conscious tribute to John Dickson Carr, as well as Christie, Queen, and the other legends of the golden age. But I had a lot of fun coming up with the other characters, and devising the tricks. Anselm Rees, one of the main characters, is modelled on Sigmund Freud, while the stolen painting which is a key focus point of the plot is based on a work by Goya. Essentially, my inspiration came from wanting to give readers the same sense of enjoyment and satisfaction that I myself got when I first read all those great classic mysteries.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
TM: Well, my journey to publication was a very unorthodox one. I’d been writing short stories for a while- some which were locked-room mysteries, and some which weren’t. And it just so happened that one which WASN’T, a noir pastiche called “Heatwave,” was selected by Lee Child for inclusion in his Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021. That was published by Mysterious Press, a company owned by Otto Penzler. Otto Penzler is a legend of the detective fiction genre, and I knew he was a fan of locked-room mysteries because I own his magnificent anthology, The Black Lizard Book of Locked-Room Mysteries. Of course, I didn’t have an agent or anything like that, so I decided to take a chance and ask if he would read my manuscript. The best I was hoping for was a bit of constructive feedback. But he responded to me via email within the week with a few comments and an offer to publish! It was incredible. From there, everything just snowballed.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
TM: I’d invite John Dickson Carr, of course. Not just because he was a great writer, though- he also had a robust sense of humour and a taste for practical jokes. I think he’d be great company. I’d invite my friend Michael Dahl, who has written hundreds of books for children and young adults, because he and I have been in touch for a long time now but we’ve never met face to face! He lives in the US while I’m in the UK, but that hasn’t stopped us from collaborating on a locked-room mystery novel for young readers! We don’t have a publisher for it just yet, but we’re hoping it may prove to be the start of another series. Next, I’d invite the late, great Christianna Brand. Like Carr, she was a fantastic mystery writer, though she didn’t produce anywhere near as much. Also like Carr, I think she would be a very lively and witty dinner companion. Lastly, I’d invite Gigi Pandian. Gigi is a great and prolific author of locked-room mysteries who has always been very encouraging and supportive of my work. I’d love to thank her face to face.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
TM: Right now I’m reading THE WIFE of Ronald Sheldon, a classic mystery by Patrick Quentin. It’s really brilliant. But recently I’ve read fantastic new locked-room mystery novels by Gigi Pandian (UNDER LOCK & SKELETON KEY), James Scott Byrnside (THE FIVE FALSE SUICIDES) and Jim Noy (THE RED DEATH MURDERS). I’m very excited to read the new entry in Anthony Horowitz’s Hawthorne series, which is coming in August, and Martin Edwards’s BLACKSTONE FELL.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
TM: I’m a huge theatre fan, which I think comes across in my writing. Most of my stories have something theatrical about them. I love it all, from the mainstream West End and Broadway shows to the more hard-hitting and experimental stuff. Not to mention the classics; I live pretty close to Stratford-upon-Avon, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and I’ve seen some amazing performances there over the years. I also wrote a short thriller play called “Persons Unknown” which was performed at London’s Canal Cafe Theatre a few years ago.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
TM: Iced coffee, iced coffee, Swiss chocolate and iced coffee.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either with Joseph Spector or a new series?
TM: Absolutely! I’ve recently finished the second Spector book for Mysterious Press, which is called THE MURDER WHEEL. And there’s also the book I’ve just completed with Michael Dahl, which features two apparently impossible crimes. It’s aimed at younger readers, but I think it’s the kind of story grown-ups will love, too!
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
TM: The best thing for me is the chance to engage with like-minded people about the genre I love. I’ve run creative writing workshops in the past, and it’s always a delight to speak with those who share your enthusiasm. Writing this book has enabled me to correspond and chat with other writers, as well as many readers. It feels like I am part of a thriving community which is growing all the time.
Death and the Conjuror
by Tom Mead
June 27 - July 24, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
A magician-turned-sleuth in pre-war London solves three impossible crimes
In 1930s London, celebrity psychiatrist Anselm Rees is discovered dead in his locked study, and there seems to be no way that a killer could have escaped unseen. There are no clues, no witnesses, and no evidence of the murder weapon. Stumped by the confounding scene, the Scotland Yard detective on the case calls on retired stage magician-turned-part-time sleuth Joseph Spector. For who better to make sense of the impossible than one who traffics in illusions?
Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable, but even he finds that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. As he and the Inspector interview the colorful cast of suspects among the psychiatrist’s patients and household, they uncover no shortage of dark secrets―or motives for murder. When the investigation dovetails into that of an apparently-impossible theft, the detectives consider the possibility that the two transgressions are related. And when a second murder occurs, this time in an impenetrable elevator, they realize that the crime wave will become even more deadly unless they can catch the culprit soon.
A tribute to the classic golden-age whodunnit, when crime fiction was a battle of wits between writer and reader, Death and the Conjuror joins its macabre atmosphere, period detail, and vividly-drawn characters with a meticulously-constructed fair play puzzle. Its baffling plot will enthrall readers of mystery icons such as Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, modern masters like Anthony Horowitz and Elly Griffiths, or anyone who appreciates a good mystery.
Praise for Death and the Conjuror:
“This debut, a tribute to John Dickson Carr and other Golden Age masters of the locked-room mystery, will appeal to nostalgia buffs and fans of the classics”
Library Journal, April 2022 (**STARRED REVIEW**, Debut of the Month)
“Set in London, Mead’s stellar debut and series launch, an homage to golden age crime fiction, in particular the works of John Dickson Carr, introduces magician Joseph Spector. […] Mead maintains suspense throughout, creating a creepy atmosphere en route to satisfying reveals. Puzzle mystery fans will eagerly await the sequel.”
Publishers Weekly, April 2022 (**STARRED REVIEW**)
“Mead’s debut novel is a valentine to the locked-room puzzles of John Dickson Carr, to whom it is dedicated […] Mead faithfully replicates all the loving artifice and teasing engagement of golden-age puzzlers in this superior pastiche.”
Kirkus Reviews, April 2022
Published by: Mysterious Press
Publication Date: July 12th 2022
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN: 1613163193 (ISBN13: 9781613163191)
Series: Joseph Spector #1
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | The Mysterious Bookshop
Read an excerpt:
Tom Mead is a UK crime fiction author specialising in locked-room mysteries. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association, International Thriller Writers, and the Society of Authors. He is a prolific author of short fiction, and recently his story "Heatwave" was included in THE BEST MYSTERY STORIES OF THE YEAR 2021, edited by Lee Child. DEATH AND THE CONJUROR is his first novel.
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