Please help me welcome today’s guest, Vanessa Westermann…
Please tell us a little about yourself, where are you from? Where do you live now?
I’m half-Canadian, half-German and was born in Germany. I moved to Canada two years ago and currently live in Ontario.
Why did you choose this genre?
I’ve always loved reading crime fiction, starting with Nancy Drew mysteries to Agatha Christie and Tana French. It’s not the violence of the crime, but the emotion that motivated it that intrigues me – the why, rather than the how.
I wanted to write a traditional village mystery, with its puzzles and quirky characters, but include the suspense of a thriller. In order to accomplish this, An Excuse For Murder is told from two points of view: from the perspective of Gary Fenris, a haunted former bodyguard who commits murder and then has to live with the consequences, and from the perspective of Kate Rowan, a bookstore owner who discovers the body. The characters are linked by danger and uncertain romance.
Do you have another occupation, other than writer? If so, what is it and do you like it?
Besides being a writer, I’m an English teacher and have also taught creative writing to young adults. I love teaching. Having the chance to inspire students and make a difference in their lives is wonderful. There’s never a dull moment. And I get to spend my day talking about books.
What was your first job?
My first job was in Karstadt Oberpollinger, a department store in Munich, Germany. I worked in the store’s pop-up Christmas market. Besides having to listen to two recently released pop albums being played over and over again at the MAC cosmetics counter, it was a lot of fun.
What’s your favorite book of all time and why?
My favorite book of all time would have to be The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Literary detective, Thursday Next, is on the trail of a criminal mastermind who is kidnapping characters from classic works of fiction. In this alternative version of 1985 London, people are obsessed with books – there are museums devoted to famous authors and “HyperBookworms”, i.e. Thesaurean maggots. The Eyre Affair is surreal, witty and gripping.
I was lucky enough to interview Jasper Fforde about his latest standalone, Early Riser, on my blog: https://www.vanessa-westermann.info/Fforde-interview
What’s your favorite childhood book?
My favorite childhood book is I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith and my favorite picture book is The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman.
What do you want readers to come away with after they read An Excuse For Murder?
After they read An Excuse For Murder, I would like readers to come away with a sense of hope: that Gary will lay his ghosts to rest and that he will solve another crime with Kate. I would be thrilled if my characters linger on in readers’ minds after the last page has been read, and that Kate, Gary and Marcus feel like old friends.
Would you rather have a bad review or no review?
I would have to quote Oscar Wilde on that one: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.” I would rather have a bad review than no review.
What is your favorite quote?
“The trouble with real life is that you don’t know whether you’re the hero or just some nice chap who gets bumped off in chapter five to show what a rotter the villain is without anyone minding too much.” ― Sarah Caudwell, The Sirens Sang of Murder
If you could spend time with a character from your book, whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I would love to have tea with Kate in The Old Fire-hall Café and then help her stock books in her bookstore, while discussing the mysterious behavior of the late Mr. Wendell.
What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest criticism given to me as an author was by an editor who described an early version of An Excuse For Murder as a “woman-in-danger novel”. I was horrified that I had given the impression that my female protagonist needed saving. I revised the novel, making sure that Kate showed strength and courage in every decision she made and every action she took. The best compliment I received was from Barbara Fradkin, in her praise quote for An Excuse For Murder: “Kate Rowan is the perfect heroine for our times; wit, charm, and spirit balanced by impressive skills in self-defense and lock-picking.“ Taking the tough criticism to heart, and making those changes, led to the best compliment.
How did you come up with the title?
The book was originally titled The House of Silent Words. In that earlier version of the manuscript, the focus was on Kate and the other tenants living in the fairy-tale house, owned by Kate’s great-aunt. Gary Fenris was just a shadowy figure on the sidelines. During revisions, Gary became a protagonist in his own right and the title had to reflect that change. An Excuse For Murder stems from Gary’s storyline and emphasizes the theme of revenge.
As a former bodyguard, it should be easy for Gary Fenris to kill, especially when the motive is revenge. But Gary has made two mistakes in his life. The first was letting the woman he loved die on his watch. The second was thinking vengeance could bring him peace.
Local bookstore owner and amateur lock pick Kate Rowan loves nothing more than a good mystery. Her curiosity soon leads her down a trail of blackmail, obsession and death. Despite the risk – or maybe because of it – Gary finds himself drawn to Kate. When danger strikes, Gary is forced to face the fact that he used love as an excuse for murder. And he’s got one last score to settle.
The ghost of her laughter teased across his skin, raising the hairs on his arms.
There she was, vibrant as though she was in the room with him. “Don’t tell me you don’t like it.” She gave her new dress a twirl, barefoot and beautiful, all ready for a night out but for the heels she would wait to put on to the last. Her toe-nails were painted red. The arch of her foot flexed strong and graceful with the movement. Her blonde hair shone in the light of memory. She stopped short, the soft blue fabric swinging against her legs, and grinned at him.
It went straight through him. He raised the bottle of Scotch to his lips, holding on to the vision. It wavered beneath the intensity of his gaze.
Then there was nothing on the floor but scuff marks and the shimmer of dust. His trainers, mud-caked from that morning’s eight kilometer run, took up the space where her heels should have been. He had almost forgotten the way she used to toe her shoes off, always sliding the left one off first for some inexplicable reason.
The wall was cold and hard against his back, the Scotch smooth and warm.
There was no other choice. He’d made his decision two years ago. It was time.
Tomorrow, he would commit murder.
Vanessa Westermann is a former Arthur Ellis Awards judge, and has given a talk on the evolution of women’s crime writing, at the Toronto Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Her book review column entitled “Vanessa’s Picks” was published in the monthly newsletter of a popular Toronto mystery-specialty bookstore, from 2012 to 2016. The column was developed into a blog, featuring literary reviews and author interviews.
While living in Munich, Germany, Vanessa attained an M.A. in English Literature and went on to teach creative writing.
Vanessa currently lives in Canada and is working on her next novel, while drinking copious amounts of tea.
Readers can find her blog at www.vanessa-westermann.info and follow her on Twitter @VanessasPicks.