Edwin is the Edgar- and Agatha-award nominated author of three novels in the Hester Thursby series: Little Comfort, The Missing Ones, and Watch Her. We caught up with Edwin to discuss his latest novel, a standalone thriller, The Secrets We Share, which received a starred review in last week’s First Clue
Sometimes traditional mysteries get weighed down by too much detail and plot, whereas suspense novels may provide plenty of tension, but can be too thin in content. The Secrets We Share succeeds in marrying both, providing great characters, a memorable setting, as well as plenty of adrenaline. Was this something you were working towards?
Oh, that’s really kind of you. I feel like I never quite know what I’m doing when I start a novel, and this one was no different! But there are two aspects of writing that I particularly enjoy, one is the psychology of characters and the other is the logic of the story.
With my characters, my number one goal is to land on a cast of fully rounded characters that I want to hang out with for a year. For me, that means characters that are loveable and frustrating and heroic and infuriating, sometimes in the same sentence. It also means that most of the characters have deep, deep flaws. The more I can accomplish this, the more genuine and authentic the characters feel to me.
Once I have the characters, then I start figuring out the puzzle. I love logic puzzles and, for me, writing a mystery sometimes feels as though I’m working my way through a year-long puzzle as I figure out which pieces of the story matter and which ones can be cut away. My favorite time in the creative process is when I start to see connections that were there all along but that I hadn’t noticed. Once I see them, I can go into the manuscript and tighten them up. I also clear the clutter by cutting away the clues that are dangling without going anywhere.
One of my favorite pieces of the puzzle in this novel is a hint on the very first page to one of the big reveals. It was there all along, and I only saw it myself in page proofs. And that’s all I’m saying!
Anna Karenina famously taught us that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But in The Secrets We Share, every family is unhappy because of lying. The characters never stop lying to each other! Is the book’s title meant to be ironic? A comment on the power of sharing secrets?
At the core of this novel is a relationship between two sisters, Natalie Cavanaugh, a detective with the Boston police, and Glenn Abbott, a food blogger and author. They’re both smart and tough, and they were both impacted by the bludgeoning death of their father when they were children. I wanted to look at this idea of a common secret—the murder of a parent—and how two people who experienced the event together could see it from different angles and come to different conclusions. Natalie and Glenn both believe they know the truth of what happened to their father, but it’s in revealing their shared secrets that they discover what actually happened.
I was also fascinated by this very idea of a “secret” that sits out there in the open for anyone to find. Natalie, in particular, wants to lead an anonymous life, even though the death of her father made national headlines and has since been covered in true-crime media. Glenn, on the other hand, tries to embrace her past, even though she doesn’t like everything she sees about herself in that past. And, yes, much lying ensues!
While this is a standalone, I was delighted that librarian Hester Thursby, the eponymous heroine of her own series, made several cameo appearances. Then I realized I knew Detective Angela White from the Hester Thursby series. What’s going on? Are you creating a world where you can share characters among different books?
Yes, that’s my goal! I admire authors who create a universe that allows them to return to characters: the way Tana French focuses in on different protagonists in each of the Dublin Murder Squad novels, or the way Laura Lippman circles around Tess Monaghan and her Baltimore world, even when Tess isn’t necessarily the central character in the novel.
My next novel is about improv comedy, is set in a different time period—the ‘90s—and takes place in New York and San Francisco, so Hester and the gang are taking a short break. I expect they’ll be back, though!
Any chance we will again meet the troubled, brilliant, and tough-as-nails Detective Natalie Cavanaugh? I’d follow her anywhere.
Thank you! I wound up really liking Natalie too, though it took me a while to figure out who she was.
When I started this novel, it was about a headmaster and his wife who run a prep school in New Hampshire. Then the story transitioned to be about a psychologist who spies on his clients. The psychologist had a brother, an ex-convict, and two sisters, Natalie and Glenn. Once I added Natalie to the story, though, she somehow took over the novel. The day I cut the two brothers from the novel was the moment I finally figured out what the story would be about. I wouldn’t recommend this creative process to anyone at home—it’s infuriating!—but I will say that when I put my characters through this type of ordeal, I know that the ones who survive the gauntlet are the ones I want to have stick around. So, yes, I would love to write another novel with Natalie at the core.
Finally, are you reading anything that has got you excited, and you can recommend to our readers?
There are so many great crime novels coming up. I’ll mention a few, in no particular order (except alphabetic by author):
- John Copenhaver, The Savage Kind. This is an ode to the femme fatale, set in the ‘40s and centered on two teenage sleuths.
- Tara Laskowski, The Mother Next Door. A fun, creepy novel about a group of suburban mothers—the Ivy Five—with some deep, dark secrets someone is threatening to expose.
- Hank Phillippi Ryan, Her Perfect Life. I love Ryan’s domestic thrillers, and this one, about a television reporter desperate to keep a secret, doesn’t disappoint. (Reviewed in the July 1 First Clue.)
- Joanna Schaffhausen, Gone for Good. Schaffhausen knows her serial killers! This novel is full of twists and introduces a terrific new protagonist in Annalisa Vega. (Reviewed in the June 3 First Clue.)
Anyone who has read any of my novels knows that dogs often have a role in the story, so my last recommendation is for a non-mystery by the terrific writer Jenna Blum, Woodrow on the Bench. This is a memoir that tells of the last months that Blum had with her dog, Woodrow, who died at fifteen. While the concept might sound like a bummer, it’s uplifting and life-affirming, and yes, you’ll sob like a baby when you get to the end!