Mary Miley on The Silent Murders
Mary Miley’s second Roaring Twenties mystery, Silent Murders, is set in the dizzying, dazzling heart of jazz-age Hollywood. Mary joins us to chat about the latest installment of her twisty and unique series.
What led you to write a mystery series about the film industry in the Roaring Twenties?
For a series set in the Roaring Twenties, silent film makes a perfect backdrop. Silent film reached its height, artistically and in popularity, in the 1920s, when the population of 115 million Americans bought 100 million movie tickets per week! These early actors were hugely talented, versatile people. Most came out of vaudeville and many moved on to talkies, radio, and television. I find them so intriguing that I try to work these real-life characters into my story wherever appropriate.
In Silent Murders, heroine Jessie leaves the vaudeville life for the silent film industry. What about silent films in particular appealed to you as a setting for a mystery?
I think what appealed to me most is what I didn’t know. For example, things like: movies were largely filmed outdoors (even the indoors scenes) because electric lighting wasn’t strong enough to work adequately indoors. Or how silent movies were anything but silent–the noise during filming (from the director yelling directions through his megaphone, to the machine-gun cranking of the Mitchell cameras, to the musicians “playing the mood” in the corner, to the hammering on the set next door) could be deafening. Or how actors’s faces were made up with “whiteface” so they would show up on the film–that’s why some actors look kinda pasty. Everything back then was new, everything was being invented–for instance, sword fights on the stairs or swinging from a chandelier seem ho-hum today, but these were stunts pioneered by silent movie’s first action hero, Douglas Fairbanks, who plays an important role in my books.
Your first Jessie Beckett mystery, The Impersonators, won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best First Mystery. That seems like a dream come true. Can you tell us about that experience?
Let me tell you, that was one huge surprise, especially for a girl who had never won so much as a door prize in her entire life. I’d entered the competition and promptly forgotten all about it, so nine months later, when I got a telephone call saying I’d won, I nearly hung up on the caller, figuring it for one of those “you’ve won a timeshare in Florida” scams. Fortunately, the editor convinced me she was for real! St. Martin’s Press flew me and my husband to New York for the awards.
What is your favorite place to read?
Propped up in bed at night.
What books are currently sitting on your nightstand?
Wait a minute while I run upstairs and look . . . okay, I’m half way through with Kate Morton’s House at Riverton. After that comes Louis Bayard’s Pale Blue Eye. Almost all the books I read for pleasure are historical fiction, mostly historical mysteries.
What can we expect next from you (and Jessie)?
I’ve finished the third in the series and the fourth is being vetted by my capable writing critique group. I’m starting to plot #5. There’s a long pipeline in publishing! Jessie and several other characters continue, and the action moves to the Midwest and the South as Jessie returns to vaudeville to pursue a murder investigation. I’ve given Jessie another admirer, an honest cop–a rare thing during those corrupt years. And my agent is shopping a stand-alone gothic novel I’ve set in France in 1928. I guess I can’t get away from the 1920s–it is, I think, the most intriguing decade in American history.
Mary is an Army brat who has lived in Virginia most of her adult life. She received her BA and MA in history from the College of William and Mary and taught American history and museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University for thirteen years. She is the author of almost 200 magazine articles, most on history, travel, and business topics, and of nine nonfiction books.
Learn more and order your copy of Silent Murders here.
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