November 24, 2017

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Celebrating the “Cozy Crime” Genre

Andrew CartmelAndrew Cartmel’s Vinyl Detective series combines the author’s eclectic love of mystery, treasure hunting, crime, humor, cats, and vintage vinyl records. Readers are about to get more of him, as on May 10, Titan Books will publish The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax, the first in Cartmel’s new three-part crime novel series. We spoke with the author and former TV script editor in his London home.

You’ve written in several other genres. What prompted you to start writing murder mysteries?
All my life—ever since I could read books—I’ve wanted to write books. So I thought that while writing my novels, an easy way to earn a living would be as a television writer [laughs]. The reason I’m chuckling, of course, is that anyone who understands the process knows that making it as a TV writer is much harder than doing it through novels. However, I ended up working as a script editor for a TV show called Doctor Who, where I recruited a brilliant writer, Ben Aaronovitch.

After Ben and I lost our purchase in television, I helped him with the Rivers of London series of novels, which became bestsellers. I thought I wanted some of that action, and Ben said, “the trick is, Andrew, write about what you really love.” Well, I love jazz, and record collecting, and looking through thrift shops for old LPs, and I love crime novels. That’s how Vinyl Detective was born.

The first installment is titled Written in Dead Wax. What’s that about?
It’s a term among record collectors for the smooth space between the last track and the record label. Record companies would often stamp cryptic numbers and letters there to indicate things like where the record was pressed. I’ve made it an element of the story. That’s where the clues are found; they’re written in the dead wax.

It sounds like a treasure hunt.
Yes. I’ve always loved treasure hunts and quests, and not just in crime novels. It’s a theme throughout all fiction, isn’t it? It renders this particular novel as a bit of a puzzle mystery. Each record contains a clue to what’s next.

It also sounds like you’re quite passionate about vinyl records in general.
I’ve always been a music lover, and like everybody else, I stopped listening to my records when CDs came out, but as you’ve probably heard, there’s a quality about vinyl that you just don’t get in a digital recording. However, the terrible thing about vinyl is that it’s so easily destroyed. I’m always buying old records, but a terrifying number of them turn out to be faulty in some way.

But this is exactly the world of the Vinyl Detective. He ekes out a living buying and selling old records. In the first book he’s employed in the capacity to track down a rare record. At the start, a beautiful mysterious woman of the Raymond Chandler variety shows up at his office with a strange and complex case.

It sounds like a lot of fun. Are there more serious overtones?
I’m not sure writers are always aware of their themes while they’re writing. There are some deliberate criticisms here, however. For instance, in this one, there’s definitely a criticism about the exploitation of musicians, particularly African-American jazz musicians, by the recording industry. In the early days of jazz, for example, musicians like Count Basie and Duke Ellington were notoriously exploited in their contracts.

In the book, is there any justice meted out in this regard?
Some people get killed because of it [laughs]. It’s an author’s favorite tool.

How would you describe your particular genre of crime or mystery novel?
I’m writing for what I call readers of cozy crime. One of the difficulties in selling this book has been the demand for sagas of “Danish disembowelment,” if you will. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of book. I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it’s not the only genre of crime.

With my book, people kept saying it’s funny, so fortunately we found an editor who thought that to be a feature, not a bug. There is desperate hazard and violent death and risk, but it’s also funny. It’s cozy in the sense that at the center of all these fearsome and desperate events, there is a warm, still center, with recurring characters that are going to survive. The guy’s got a couple of cats who are not up for getting killed in the story. There’s a sense of domestic safety at the eye of the storm in the book, which I think is going to be appealing.

It’s reminiscent of an older thread of murder mystery, isn’t it?
I take the “whodunit” aspect very seriously. I build the mystery first, and then I write the book. I love the greats of crime fiction. In my books, I love to pay homage to writers like Cornell Woolrich of Rear Window fame—which also gives me an excuse to re-read them.


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