Today’s interview is with mystery author Karen Abrahamson from our Sisters in Crime – Canada West Chapter. Karen is the author of the police procedural Detective Kazakov Mysteries and the amateur sleuth Phoebe Clay Mysteries, She also writes fantasy and romance novels. Her latest short fiction can be found in the anthology ‘Moonlight and Misadventure‘, and in upcoming issues of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Black Cat Mystery Magazine.’ When she isn’t writing she can be found with a camera and backpack in fabulous locations around the world.
Karen’s work has been described by national bestselling author, M.L. Buchman, as having “connection to culture and … powerful characters (that) make an incredible story.”
So, welcome to the blog Karen! And please tell us a little bit more about yourself.
I’ve been writing creatively ever since I can remember. It started with poetry as a child of seven or eight and continued with dabbling in short stories. I began to seriously pursue my writing about twenty years ago when I quit my job and ran away to Thailand for six months. No, I wasn’t lying on a beach, I was working over there, but it was as if I’d finally been released from prison—which is funny given I spent years working in corrections, policing and counselling. I’ve lived all across Canada and the US, but I now call the Sunshine Coast of Canada home. I live with two very naughty Bengal cats and enjoy photography, reading and hiking when I’m not writing. I am also addicted to travel.
Can you give us a brief description of your recent release?
In BENEATH MALABAR NETS, teacher Phoebe Clay travels to southern India on vacation with her sister Becca and niece Alice. When their tour guide turns up dead in one of southern India’s famous fishing nets, Becca becomes the police’s prime suspect. In a country of strangers Phoebe must find the real killer in order to protect her family, but conducting her investigation could cost her dearly.
Were there any surprises that came up as you wrote your story?
Actually, yes. There have been in each of the books in this series and, now that I think of it, in most of my mysteries. I wrote into the mist with this book (pantser here), and was very surprised to realize who the killer was. That happened in the first book, Through Dark Water, as well and I had the same ‘really????’ moment with the third book that is currently in copy editing. I’ve just started book four in the series and I’m hoping the writing gods will let lightning strike again, because I figure if the resolution surprises me, it will the reader as well.
Who was your favorite character to create?
I really like Alice, Phoebe’s niece. I love Phoebe, too, for all her mental health issues (she survived a school shooting and has PTSD), but Alice is a really neat teenager with a super relationship with her aunt. I like to play with their dialogue and Alice’s attitudes. She’s really a great kid.
Are you part of a writing group?
Not anymore. I was a long time ago and those people are still dear to me, but I’ve found that over time you identify people who are your writerly kindred souls. Those are the people who you might not see for years, but you KNOW if you ask them for feedback, they will give it honestly and lovingly. When you get it, I’ve found I sometimes have to think hard before NOT taking their advice. So I have a few trusted readers, with one very dear writer friend who I regularly call on and a few others that I know I can call on if needed. I need to send them all boxes of chocolates!
A writers group is a great way to develop accountability to get your writing done and to identify people whose writing you respect and admire who might become first readers for you, but a writers group can also place structures around your writing that might not be helpful. I’m at the point now where I love to get up and write, so I don’t need to be accountable to someone else.
Who was the first person you allowed to read your completed book?
My trusted first reader. She reads pretty much everything I write (sometimes twice, the poor dear!) and I really don’t know what I’d do without her. She captures things like character motivation issues and honestly tells me when she wants to throw the manuscript across the room. We’ve done this for each other for years so that I can tell by her level of snark, just what kind of day she’s been having and when she needs time off from being first reader!
Do you have a favorite author or book?
I really love the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny. What I wouldn’t do to write like her! I also loved The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova (sort of a mystery with Dracula overtones)and I find myself being drawn to anything by Wade Davis who is a fascinating author of non-fiction about nature and culture.
Are you a night owl or morning person?
I am a confirmed morning person. I’m usually awake voluntarily at 5 am. Of course, that could be because my cats trained me, but I do prefer the quiet of the morning and that’s when I write. I like to sit and watch the sunrise while I do. Nights I’m pretty much done in by 9 or 10. I’d say my party animal days are over, except getting in with a group of writers with a bottle of good wine can keep me up far past my usual bedtime.
What’s next for you as an author?
As I mentioned, I am working on book 4 of the Phoebe Clay mysteries featuring an ex-school teacher turned traveler and amateur sleuth. I also have a paranormal romance in the works and a mystery fantasy set in historic Burma that I want to write to complete a series of novellas. I’m also writing short fiction.
Here’s the back cover blurb of BENEATH MALABAR NETS:
A COURAGOUS AMATEUR SLEUTH MUST CATCH A RUTHLESS MURDERER BEFORE HER FAMILY BECOMES VICTIM OF A DEADLY PLOT.
Kochi, India: a sleepy, historic city on India’s Arabian Sea coast, famous for its spices, its harbor and for the huge, picturesque, fishing nets that dip fish from the sea. The heat, the history and the climate lure backpackers and tourists from all over the globe, as well as photographers seeking a perfect shot of the sunset behind the nets.
Still recovering from a school shooting, retired school teacher Phoebe Clay comes to Kochi with her sister, Becca, and niece, Alice. Together, they work to put Phoebe’s trauma behind them. But when their tour guide turns up dead in one of the Chinese nets and the police suspect Becca—Phoebe can’t sit idly by and hope for the best.
To clear her sister, Phoebe must brave the corrupt practices and hostility of a country she doesn’t understand to stop a black market operation the world has forgotten about.
But not knowing your enemies comes at a cost. To protect her family Phoebe may have to pay the ultimate price.
Readers who enjoy vivid setting and strong female characters will love Phoebe Clay’s adventures.
Don’t miss out on Beneath Malabar Nets, the second novel in the Phoebe Clay mystery series.
Here is the gorgeous cover of BENEATH MALABAR NETS as well as an excerpt:
This scene takes place when Phoebe knows her sister, Becca, is a key police suspect. She has gone out to retrace Becca’s footsteps to try to find witnesses who will support Becca’s innocence and has discovered a group of men camped by a parking lot near where the body was found.
“She didn’t have a choice. She sat down on the low barrier and swung her legs over, then dropped down to the ground. It was lower here than in the parking lot. She followed him to an area where the ground had been swept clean of leaves. Five benches huddled together near the base of the tree. He settled himself on one and motioned her to another, but she stopped at a stirring in the shadows at the base of the tall wall. She blinked and realized that what she’d thought was a pile of garbage blown against the wall was actually a person sleeping. No, make that three—four—no—six other people sleeping.
Or perhaps not. She felt gazes on her, but none of the people shifted from their spots along the wall. Swallowing back her disquiet, she settled on a bench across from him and then wished she hadn’t, for the parking lot loomed wide and dangerous behind her and she could not see any danger approaching.
She pushed the fear away, though she knew her hands trembled. She held on to the tops of her thighs to hide it from this man’s too seeing eyes.
“My name is Phoebe Clay. Two nights ago my sister walked this way with a man. They were arguing. In the parking lot there,” she nodded at the lot behind her. “My sister slapped him and pushed him and then turned and walked away. The next morning the man was found dead in one of the Chinese fishing nets and now the police think my sister may have killed him. Where you here that night? If so, did you see anything? Anyone else?”
The man reached into a pocket and pulled out a cigarette. He lit it with a match, but pocketed the match rather than drop it on the ground. Drawing in a long inhale, he then exhaled a cloud of tiny o’s that lifted above him to catch the breeze and then were gone.
“Why should I help you?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do? My sister is innocent. She would never kill anyone.”
He arched a brow at her. “Give someone enough reason and they can do almost anything.”
Phoebe stiffened. “Not my sister. She couldn’t. You sound like the police.”
He took another puff and released another string of o’s. “You hear that, brothers? I sound like police.”
Quiet laughter came from the not-so-slumbering figures and she knew that these men were aware of everything around them. They could be an important information source.
The smoking man eyed her. “You sound like a sister who cannot believe in reality. Your sister pushed him, not once, but twice.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. He had seen Becca and Simon. That was something, though this man could be the police’s informant. “I am trying to find people who might have seen something that night. Something beyond the argument that Becca had with Simon. Were you here?”
“My brothers and I sleep here every night.” He inhaled deeply on his cigarette.
“So, you already told the police what you saw.”
A fit of coughing took him and he released smoke in a single, formless cloud. He gasped and coughed and then caught himself.
When he looked back at her, she realized he might have been laughing.
“What’s so funny?” she demanded and stood.
The man wiped his eyes and motioned her back to her bench. “Sit down. Please. It is just that we do not speak to the police unless we are forced. We are quite skilled in avoiding them.”
“They haven’t interviewed you?”
He shook his head and seemed to assess her. “How badly do you wish to know what we saw?”
“It’s my sister—family.” She let her words hang in the air. This man had to understand family. Family relationships were the heart of everything in India.
“I saw your sister and the man. I saw her shove him and walk away so angry she dared not stay. But she came back again and followed him there.” He lifted his chin toward the water.
Phoebe’s pulse quickened. This was a man who might know what happened after Becca pushed Simon down. She could clear Becca. She pulled out her cell phone and brought up Simon’s image. “This is the man you saw?”
If he’d seen Becca push Simon twice, he must have followed them to the seawall.
“What did the man do after Becca left? Did you see him get up? Did you see anyone else?”
The man’s gaze was huge, liquid, and too-knowing. The way he puffed his cigarette, he reminded her of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.
“That is valuable information, is it not?” He eyed her up and down, his gaze coming to settle on her phone.
She shoved the phone in her pocket. “What do you want?”
He took a final puff on his cigarette and threw it on the ground, grinding it out with the heel of his plastic flip-flop. “I am a businessman. I buy and sell what is valuable. From what you say, such information is of great value to you.”
Her stomach clenched and, very much wanting to get up and walk away, she clenched her hands together.
“How much do you want?” She bit out the words.”
©KL Abrahamson 2021
Where can readers find you online?
Come visit and spend some time at www.karenlabrahamson.com. My books are there and so are some photographs and writing from some of my trips. I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/karenlabrahamson/ , and on Twitter at @kabrahamson.