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Kristen Perrin: How To Solve Your Own Murder

By Katie Farr, Iona Fleming, Ayman Sabir, Jess Scaffidi Saggio and Lucy Powell

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Kristen Perrin moved to the UK to complete her Master’s and PhD studies. Her debut crime novel, How To Solve Your Own Murder, is set in the English countryside. While twenty years ago there may have been more of a divergence between UK and US crime fiction, Perrin believes that the readership is now very much intertwined. More simultaneous releases mean that American readers are discovering authors like Janice Hallett and Richard Osman, and UK readers are accessing US authors such as Ellie Cosimano and Jesse Q. Sutanto. The “quintessential British murder mystery” is something that Perrin has “always had a lot of affection for,” citing cosy, small-village shows like Jonathan Creek and Midsomer Murders, which “you don’t really see in American murder mysteries.” Perrin had originally planned to have her protagonist, Annie, be a New Yorker, but eventually settled on her being a Londoner and “had to get over” her reservations towards writing from the perspective of an English character.

The novel alternates between Frances’ timeline in 1965 and Annie’s in the present, however, this dual narrative was unplanned. After writing a first draft without Frances’ perspective, Perrin realised Frances’ character was too limited. She started again, with the same prologue and major plot points, including Frances’ perspective as a young person to reveal the character’s evolution and to “add a second heart to the book.” The dual narrative was immensely helpful to the story’s pacing “in a way that you don’t always see if you just have one particular character’s eye on the mystery.”

The inclusion of Frances’ diary entries was a “really big moment in the changing of the concept of the book” and felt “organic.” After writing the initial entries, the rest of the book “took off” without much outlining involved. The dual narrative gave Perrin an opportunity to explore the 1960s, an era with “so much going on,” with the world still “yet to change.” To depict this period, Perrin drew on inspiration, such as the film Withnail and I, which solidified the aesthetics of the 1960s countryside, away from the well-worn depictions of London.

To ensure that the pacing of clues and red herrings in How To Solve Your Own Murder built to a satisfying reveal, Perrin used grids and spreadsheets to keep track of every piece of information Annie and Frances encounter. While some larger reveals were planned, many smaller reveals happened organically through the layering process; Perrin states that while the “main vehicles of the plot” and the “larger emotional beats for the characters” happened in the first draft, “the details” were layered in from the second draft onwards. Now working on another novel, Perrin has found writing software such as Scrivener helpful for keeping track of loose ends.

Perrin describes murder mystery icon Agatha Christie as “prolific” and “accessible,” stating “it’s impossible to say I’m not influenced by Christie … the entire genre owes so much [to her].” Perrin is “absolutely happy” to be compared to Christie, though surprised to have read this comparison in the reviews of How To Solve Your Own Murder. Perrin believes that her American readers seem to be making the Christie comparison more than their British counterparts, which may be due to the “endurance” that cosy murder mystery has had in the UK. Though undoubtedly influenced by Christie, Perrin cites her largest influences as the mysteries she “devoured” as a child, such as Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children. Perrin echoes the widely held sentiment that “the things you are passionate about as a child, are the things that endure.”

Regarding the novel’s categorisation as a cosy mystery, Perrin challenges the connotations of cosy as ‘twee’, instead arguing that a cosy book simply means “you know you’re in safe hands when you pick it up.” However, the novel subverts some of the key elements of conventional cosy mysteries through Frances’s timeline, which is more “wild, unpredictable, darker” than the “modern-day cosy tropes” of Annie’s timeline, providing the story with a certain “creepy factor” - atypical for the cosy genre. This was intentional by Perrin, who wanted to “thread light and dark together.” Nevertheless, Perrin embraces the cosy mystery category, as it acts as a “safety net for the expectations of the reader.”

When asked how she felt towards being in translation, Perrin explained that it's “wonderful” there are talented translators working to bring literature across all “language barriers.” Her three middle-grade fantasy books were translated into German, Polish and Dutch. The second novel in this series was published in the Netherlands for a number of weeks without Perrin knowing, but this only made her appreciate translators even more. Perrin explained that the translation process consists of re-writing the book: the translators worked as copy editors, “catch[ing] so many details” about her novels that were previously unnoticed, which enabled Perrin to be more careful with her word and sentence choices. Although unsure whether or not her works lose any meaning through translation, she “rolls with it,” trusting that the message comes across just as well. She is extremely excited about the prospect of How To Solve Your Own Murder being translated into more languages than her previous work.



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