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Books Hold The Key To 'The Postscript Murders'

Mar 10, 2021
Originally published on March 11, 2021 12:49 am

Ready for a good mystery to distract you from the news cycle? Us too!

Enter The Postscript Murders, which opens with a 90-year-old woman — with a heart condition — found dead.

Sad for her friends and loved ones, but hardly newsworthy. Except that it turns out her bookshelves were stuffed with a remarkable number of crime novels, each of which includes a postscript, "PS: For PS." (The dead woman's name was Peggy.)

Then, the authors of those novels start dying too. And author Elly Griffiths says the mysterious postscripts point Peggy's connection to those authors: They hired her to think up murders. "I slightly got the inspiration from my own aunt," Griffiths says. "She would ring me up and say, 'Oh Ello, love, I've thought of another good murder for you,' and I started to think, what if there was such a thing as a murder consultant?"


Interview Highlights

On her aunt's best murder

In this book, the answer to the puzzle lies in books, it lies in golden age mysteries, it lies in readers and in writers. - Elly Griffiths

She came up with a very good plot twist for one of my Dr. Ruth Galloway books that involved a stair-lift. And I do remember the book was reviewed in the Financial Times in a really nice review, but they also said "it contains one of the nastiest uses of a stair-lift that I've ever heard of." And I cut that little article aunt for my aunt, and she was so happy that she framed it, she was so proud of her stair-lift murder.

On the appeal of a murder mystery

It is a strange thing, isn't it? It is a strange thing that lots of people — and me absolutely included — do find reading about these murders quite comforting, really. And of course, there's absolutely nothing cozy about murder, but I think we do like that sort of puzzle, and unlocking the puzzle. And in this book, the answer to the puzzle lies in books, it lies in golden age mysteries, it lies in readers and in writers. So I hope that will make it, sort of, I don't know, a comforting and intriguing book to read.

On our detectives — official and unofficial — taking a road trip to Aberdeen, and whether there's something about Scotland's climate and scenery that lends itself to crime fiction

I think there might well be — you think of those wonderful Scottish crime writers like Ian Rankin and Val McDermid and Denise Mina — and also, you know, Scandinavian noir. So I think there might be something about the cold, about the light. But Aberdeen is a wonderful city, actually, because it's known as the Granite City, but it's also called the Silver City, and you can see both sides of it. You know, it's granite, it's hard, it's tough, it's uncompromising, but in a certain light it's silvery and beautiful and the coast is just lovely. And the characters do find themselves in a very unsafe safe house on the coast there.

On how her aunt feels about having inspired a character who gets murdered

I think she's okay about it. And I think she likes the whole idea of a murder consultant ... Peggy might have been dispatched in the early stages, but she does kind of loom over all the book, and they talk about her a lot. And I think I did draw upon not only my Aunt Marge, but also my mum as well, those characters that seem to know everything. People in the book ask themselves, "How did Peggy know that, how could she have known that, she didn't travel to those places," but she knew it all through reading. Both of them were great readers and seemed to acquire all this knowledge through reading, so I think it's also a book about reading, really, and the power it gives you.

This story was edited for radio by Justine Kenin, produced by Mia Venkat and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ready for a good mystery to distract you from the news cycle? Yeah, me too. Well, enter "The Postscript Murders," which opens with a 90-year-old woman with a heart condition who is found dead, which is sad for her friends and loved ones, of course, but hardly newsworthy - except, turns out her bookshelves were stuffed with a remarkable number of crime novels, each of which includes a postscript, PS: For PS. Then, the authors of these novels - they start turning up dead. Elly Griffiths is the author of "The Postscript Murders" and joins us from Brighton, England.

Welcome.

ELLY GRIFFITHS: Thank you, lovely to be here.

KELLY: Lovely to have you with us, and alive and well at that.

GRIFFITHS: (Laughter).

KELLY: So start with Peggy. She is the 90-year-old woman who dies in the very first pages, but she hangs over the whole book. And I want you to set the stage and tell us why.

GRIFFITHS: Well, one day, Peggy is found dead. And, of course, it's very sad but not seen as terribly suspicious. But then her carer, Natalka, starts to find these crime novels in Peggy's flat when she's clearing it out - and, of course, very suspicious to have all those crime novels at all. But then she finds out that a lot of them are dedicated to Peggy, and a lot of them say, PS, thanks for the murders. And it turns out that Peggy was employed by crime writers to think up murders for them, and, in fact, she was a murder consultant. The carer finds this rather strange business card with the words murder consultant written on it.

And I have to say that I slightly got the inspiration from my own aunt, who lives in a seaside apartment on the south coast. And when she moved there a few years ago - I don't know what it was about the new location - I don't know, maybe it was the sea air. But my aunt suddenly started coming up with these amazing murder plots for me. And she would ring me up and say, oh, hello, love. I thought of another good murder for you. And I started to think, well, what if there was such a thing as a murder consultant? And what if that murder consultant was, like my aunt, who I haste to say is alive and well - what if that murder consultant was an ultra-respectable lady living on the south coast of England? So that's really where Peggy Smith started from.

KELLY: Well, I have to stay with that. What is the craziest plot twist that your Aunt Marge came up with?

GRIFFITHS: She came up with a very good murder for one of my Dr. Ruth Galloway books that involved a stair lift. And I do remember the book was reviewed in the Financial Times in a really nice review. But they also said, it contains one of the nastiest uses of a stair lift that I've ever heard of. And I cut that little article out for my aunt, and she was so happy that she framed it. She was so proud of her stair lift murder.

KELLY: It's - you know, I'm catching myself not wanting to laugh out loud because murder is, of course, anything but funny. But I am thinking you have managed to hit on a solution for what is an enduring problem for writers of crime fiction, which is how to come up with an original, interesting, not too far-fetched, not too gruesome way to bump off a character and to do it in book after book after book.

GRIFFITHS: It is a strange thing, isn't it? It is a strange thing that lots of people - and me absolutely included - do find reading about these murders quite comforting, really. And, of course, there's absolutely nothing cozy about murder. But I think we do like that sort of puzzle and sort of unlocking a puzzle. And in this book, the answer to the puzzle lies in books. It lies in Golden Age mysteries. It lies in readers and writers. So I hope that will make it sort of - I don't know - a comforting and intriguing book to read.

KELLY: Well, without giving away too many plot twists, let's talk about the Peggy character, who is based on your Aunt Marge, and the plot that she sets in motion, starting with that beginning scene where she is found dead and her business card is found in her apartment. Just set out for us the cast of characters who you assemble here.

GRIFFITHS: So the murder consultant card is found by Peggy's carer, who is a woman called Natalka, who is originally from Ukraine. And she's intrigued by this job description of murder consultant. And she goes to the police station and speaks to Detective Harbinder Kaur. And then together with two sort of associates - Benedict, who is an ex-monk who runs the local cafe on the seafront, and Edwin, who's Peggy's 80-year-old neighbor - Natalka must try and sort of work out this murder mystery, which becomes even more sort of convoluted when another crime writer and one of Peggy's clients is found dead. So there's a bit of conflict between the unofficial detectives, Natalka and Benedict and Edwin, and the official Detective Harbinder. But they end up all working together. And in the course of the book, they go on a road trip to Aberdeen to a crime-writing festival.

KELLY: Yes, this is Aberdeen, Scotland.

GRIFFITHS: Aberdeen in Scotland, yes.

KELLY: I thought this was where the story really took off, when they hit the road and head north. Without giving too much away, there is another murder there. There's all kinds of plot twists. There is a romance that takes off. I found myself thinking about the streets of Aberdeen and the low light and the gray and the icy streets, and I wondered, is there something about Scotland, about very northern climes in general, that lends itself to crime fiction, do you think?

GRIFFITHS: I think there might well be, actually. You think of, you know, those wonderful Scottish crime writers like Ian Rankin and Val McDermid and Denise Mina, and also, you know, Scandinavian noir. So I think...

KELLY: Exactly.

GRIFFITHS: There might be something about the cold and about the light. But Aberdeen is a wonderful city, actually, because it's known as the Granite City, but it's also called the Silver City. And you can see both sides of it. You know, it's granite. It's hard. It's tough. It's uncompromising. But in a certain light, it's silvery and beautiful, and the coast is just lovely. And the characters do find themselves in a very unsafe safe house on the coast there, on the Aberdeenshire coast.

KELLY: Well, I have to ask, does your Aunt Marge approve of the way that you tied things up?

GRIFFITHS: She does. She does. She's always got a few improvements she might have made, but, no, she really does. And she's been a great, really, help and support with all my books. So she really is very supportive, I have to say. And I think she really loves Peggy.

KELLY: Yes. Well, Peggy, again, the fictional character who you dispensed with and was...

GRIFFITHS: I know.

KELLY: ...Inspired by Aunt Marge. How does Marge feel about that?

GRIFFITHS: I think she's OK about it, and I think she likes the whole idea of, you know, the murder consultant. And as you said earlier on, Peggy might have been dispatched in the early stages, but she does kind of loom over all the book, and they talk about her a lot. And I think I did draw upon not only my Aunt Marge but also my mum as well, those characters who seem to know everything. And people in the book keep asking themselves, how did Peggy know that? How could she have known that? She didn't travel to those places. But she knew it all through reading, and both of them were sort of great readers and seemed to sort of acquire all this knowledge through reading. So I think it's also a book about reading, really, and the power that gives you. So I think Marge is pleased with that. As an ex-teacher, I think she was pleased with that.

KELLY: Can you give us her second-best idea for bumping off characters so we can all steal it for our next crime novels?

(LAUGHTER)

GRIFFITHS: She did ring me up one day, and she said, oh, hello, love. I've just seen a vicar walking past, and I was thinking maybe poisoned incense.

KELLY: There you go.

GRIFFITHS: If you see a vicar sort of swinging incense in one of my books, you'll know to look out.

KELLY: Well, Elly Griffiths, this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much, and please give our regards to Aunt Marge.

GRIFFITHS: I certainly will. It's been a great pleasure for me, too. Thank you.

KELLY: That is Elly Griffiths talking about her newest mystery, "The Postscript Murders."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.