The Sixties—Bringing It All Back Home, Again
Kay Kendall’s Rainy Day Women is the second book in her Austin Starr Mystery series. In 1969, during the week of the Manson murders and Woodstock, the intrepid amateur sleuth, infant in tow, flies across the continent to support a friend suspected of murdering women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Kay fills us in on the lure of the 60s.
For a long time the tumultuous decade of the 1960s had a bad rep. After all, it was such a divisive time, and people grew tired of it. The vibrant economy of the 1980s turned the page decisively on “radical chic,” and even some 60s activists turned to making money, big time.
Then the advent of Mad Men on television witnessed—or helped cause—the return of the 60s to the popular consciousness. In fashion magazines and stores these days I’m astonished by the retro-hippie clothes and accessories I see. I’ve even taken the opportunity to buy a suede handbag and long vest, each decked out with fringe. I also bought a long macramé skirt.
Yet it’s not just 60s fashion that lures me in. I also confess I am a fan in general of that benighted decade. Even before Mad Men hit TV in 2007, I had changed course, leaving my public relations career behind, and turned to writing mysteries set in the 60s. I decided to follow that old maxim, “Write what you know.” As a child of the 60s I had stories to tell.
And that’s not all. I firmly believe that an author should write what she loves—and my favorite books are historical mysteries. When I was selecting the time period I wanted to examine, I was guided by the many authors who locate their sleuths and spymasters during the wars of the 20th century. The two world wars and the Cold War are overrun with novels about them. The only large wars of last century not “taken,” not overrun with mysteries, occurred in Korea and Vietnam. The latter is a comparatively empty niche that I thought needed filling with more mysteries. I wanted to show the life of a young woman—not the type who made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises—a moderate who gets swept along by the tides of history. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.
The time is August 1969, in the days between the Charles Manson murders in Los Angeles and the big rock festival in Woodstock, one she had hoped to attend. Instead, Austin flies to the West Coast, where she discovers a knack for solving mysteries, built on her CIA training and inspired by the countless Nancy Drew books she read as a child. Of course, after placing herself in danger, Austin lives to fight another day—in her coming adventure. Called Tombstone Blues, the mystery I’m writing now is set in Vienna and features plenty of Cold War spies.
Second-wave feminism is a subject I have wanted to explore for a long time, and I tried hard to balance the entertaining mystery aspects in Rainy Day Women with the historical details of the setting. Though that time may be long gone, I bring it all back home again—the endless searching for a much-needed payphone, the need to solve a crime without using CSI-style techniques, and the casual sexist attitude of too many men.
NOTE: Bringing It All Back Home is the title of a Bob Dylan album released in 1965. Composed during his most astonishing period of white-hot creativity, the album contains such masterpieces as “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Mr.Tambourine Man,” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Some literary critics in the U.S. and the U.K. have compared Dylan to Shakespeare. While I would not go quite that far, I am indeed a staunch fan, which is why I name my mysteries after his song titles. His work is vast in scope, and believe me, there are enough Dylan song titles to cover every eventuality in fiction that I could dream up.
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the 60s. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too. New York Times bestselling author Miranda James says, “Austin Starr is back, and that’s great news for mystery fans. Suspenseful and entertaining, this is a worthy follow-up to Kendall’s excellent debut, Desolation Row.” Learn more and order your copy of Rainy Day Women here.
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