I’m not sure, but I think the first detective mystery story was a country house murder… I’m tempted to say Agatha Christie – The Mysterious Affair at Styles, maybe or The Hound of the Baskervilles, but whatever it was I didn’t realise when I read it that it was a particular genre – I probably didn’t even know the word genre then as I was probably about eight. I have read dozens, if not hundreds of country house murders since then, Ngaio Marsh, P.D.James… oh so many more.
It’s never occurred to me to actually write a story set in some sort of isolated property where something mysterious happens which involves in what’s known as a closed circle of suspects. I suppose it never occurred because I have never set out to write a murder mystery, although deaths do occur in my books and there is a puzzle and eventually the culprit is revealed – mysteries I would say, which may have murder, rather than murder mysteries.
Somehow, however, a country house murder ha crept up on me with my latest Radwinter novel. In the other novels about Thomas Radwinter he lives in his own home with his family and the location of the mystery is usually irrelevant to the events. In Winterdyke, which I’m at last in the final stages of finishing, Thomas is commissioned to do the family tree of a very wealthy family and goes to stay in their home Athelmond Grange while his wife and family are on holiday.
I don’t mean that I’ve been dismissive of country house mysteries, I haven’t of course, the best are are very cunning and clever, but I did think they must be easy to write with just this ‘closed circle of suspects’… However, I must confess I have really struggled – it’s not as straightforward as it seems! Tricky to make the situation believable, difficult to make the characters original and interesting and not stereotypes, and most of all really tricky and difficult to have a solution which pleases the reader, is believable and yet unexpected… I hope I succeed!