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Death on the River Walk
A Death on Demand Mystery
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A Cozy Crime Spree: An Interview with Carolyn Hart
by Charles L. P. Silet

Carolyn Hart photoThe popular and prolific Carolyn Hart has three new books to ease the summer doldrums of her devoted fans. First is Yankee Doodle Dead, the tenth in the Death on Demand series, featuring mystery bookstore owner, Annie Laurance, and her lawyer-turned-sleuth husband, Max Darling, who live in the resort community of Broward's Rock Island, located off the South Carolina coast. Then comes Death on the River Walk, the fifth in Hart's second series starring Henry O, her globe-trotting, retired newspaperwoman. The latest Death on Demand book, White Elephant Dead, will be published in September. In the following conversation Hart talks about her two series, the complications of keeping them fresh, and lets her readers have a glimpse of her latest project.

MysteryNet: Yankee Doodle Dead is the tenth and latest in your Death on Demand series. It's about a couple of wars, patriotism, and the Fourth of July. How does all of this come together?
Hart: Annie Laurance Darling is looking forward to a grand Fourth. The Friends of the Library envision a tribute to women who have made a difference in South Carolina history until a bossy retired general turns their celebration upside down with an emphasis on military heroes. The book explores different perceptions of patriotism and the sad result of revenge.

MysteryNet: Your Death on Demand series has been running for a dozen years now. How do you keep it fresh?
Hart: I hope I manage to do that. I always try to do something new and different in each book. My hope is that if I am interested, readers will be interested. So far, I've always plunged into each story with enthusiasm.

MysteryNet: Let's talk about your latest book, White Elephant Dead, which comes out early in September. Tell me about the title?
Hart: White Elephant Dead deals with a rummage sale (white elephants, of course) to raise money for the Broward's Rock Women's Club.

MysteryNet: Without giving anything away, briefly tell me the story.
Hart: A volunteer sets out to pick up discards on a stormy afternoon. When the van doesn't return, Henny Brawley goes in search. Before leaving the Women's Club, Henny calls Death on Demand to say she will drop by soon for a book order. When Henny doesn't come, bookstore owner Annie Laurance Darling is worried. Annie calls on her husband for help and they drive into the storm after Henny. White Elephant Dead deals with the open secrets so common in a small town and how an unscrupulous woman takes advantage of those secrets.

MysteryNet: The fifth and latest in your Henry O series is Death on the River Walk. Tell me a little bit about it.
Hart: In Death on the River Walk , Henrie O (retired newspaperwoman Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins) travels to San Antonio in search of a friend's missing granddaughter, Iris Chavez. Iris was working at Tesoros, an elegant gallery on San Antonio's famed River Walk. The gallery, which specializes in Mexican folk art, is a family business begun many years ago by Maria Elena Garza. Iris has fallen in love with Maria Elena's grandson, Rick Reyes. When Henrie O arrives seeking Iris, Rick insists the girl has run off to Padre Island with another guy. A mysterious and threatening blond man is also looking for Iris. Two murders at Tesoros make it clear that someone in the Garza family will do anything to find Iris before Henrie O does.

MysteryNet: All of the Henry O books are set in fascinating locales which become integral to their plots. What attracts you to a locale? What attracted you to River Walk in San Antonio, Texas?
Hart: I'm not promising exciting locales with every book. Actually, the selection of locale is usually determined by the needs of the story. Death in Paradise is set on Kauai because I wanted it to be clear that the murderer perforce had to be someone intimate with Belle Ericcson's family. I chose San Antonio for Death on the River Walk because I have always loved Mexican folk art and because I believe the importance and influence of Hispanic culture is increasing every moment in the United States. Creating an elegant gallery on San Antonio's lovely River walk made it possible for me to celebrate wonderful art as well as the family values so dear to Mexican Americans.

MysteryNet: Death on the River Walk also involves stolen treasure from the National Museum in Mexico City. Where did that idea come from and what did it allow you to do?
Hart: Is there anything a mystery lover can enjoy more than missing gold? In any event, this mystery lover was simply enchanted by the idea of dealing with stolen treasure and I enjoyed every vicarious moment. And, if you are going to plan a heist, why not a super heist? Why not some of the most famous gold in the world? I've been fascinated by the fate of Aztec gold ever since reading The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Death on the River Walk explores the effects of greed which haven't changed much since Cortes plundered Mexico.

MysteryNet: Finally, what are you working on now?
Hart: I've just completed the 11th Death on Demand mystery, Sugar Plum Dead, which will be published by Avon in Fall 2000. Annie and Max Darling are looking forward to a tinsel-bright, divinity-sweet Low Country Christmas when their holiday in complicated by the arrival of Annie's father whom she hasn't seen in 25 years, a teenage girl who wants Annie to be her big sister, an ex-stepmother Annie's never met, a fast talking spiritualist who is leading Max's mother down a Golden Path to an uncertain destination, conversations with ghosts, a vulnerable aging actress, and a very unexpected murder.

Charles L.P. Silet teaches courses in film and contemporary literature at Iowa State University and writes extensively on the mystery field. His collection Talking Murder: Interviews with 20 Mystery Writers will be published in October, 1999.

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