Friday, January 17, 2014

Featured Author: R. Michael Phillips

R. Michael Phillips' novel, Passage of Crime, is a traditional English mystery that brings together the unlikely combination of a dowdy old Scotland Yard Inspector and Ernie Bisquets, a reformed pickpocket, in a whodunit set in contemporary London. This is Michael's third book in the Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. He's here today with a great guest post about how he gets ideas for his novels. (I love this line: “Your last statement gave me a rather unique way to murder someone.”) Don't miss the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post. And I have to say, I think Michael has the best title for a mystery author's website: Murder, Tea & Bisquets. Check it out!

About the book:

London’s East End, once known for poor boroughs and a derelict rail yard, is enjoying an optimistic resurgence. It’s becoming an affordable option for middleclass residents looking to have their pounds go further. Despite this sweeping out of old rubbish, a cautious step is still advised when passing by a few remaining dark alleys. If only Mary Walsh had listened.

Prophet Brown, a disfigured, pathetic little man, called Detective Inspector Flannel after stumbling upon the body of a young woman in one such alley. Flannel quickly realizes she is not the random victim she appears. Add to that, the crime scene is hauntingly reminiscent of an old unsolved case; a case that almost ended an otherwise brilliant career eight years ago.

For the moment, Prophet Brown is the only solid link between the two cases. He has been in the employ of a charismatic and well-connected Member of Parliament for 17 years–the very man Flannel unsuccessfully accused of the murders in the previous case.

Flannel finds himself navigating a very treacherous course. His superiors have warned him for the last time to tread cautiously around the MP, and the rising tide of the past threatens to pull him under. Reluctantly, Inspector Flannel turns to a most unlikely ally, a reformed pickpocket named Ernie Bisquets. Together they disentangle a mesh of old lies and current clues attempting to bring a ruthless murderer to justice–ignoring the dangerous notion of murder being a carefully disguised trait passed from one generation to the next.

The Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series

Guest Post by R. Michael Phillips

So, where do I start?

Starting a new mystery book is the exciting part for me. Having a mystery series affords me a small group of main characters to work with. So with each new mystery I need to establish three factors–crime, antagonist, and motive. Filling in those blanks can come from the most unexpected of places–a phase overheard on a train platform in Worchester; the headline from a centuries-old newspaper; the chance meeting of an interesting (or not so interesting) guest at a party, and so on. It seems the seeds for murder and mayhem are endless. For that reason I keep a small notepad in my pocket. It isn’t odd for me to excuse myself during a conversation to quickly jot down a few notes. The action usually prompts a somewhat confused look from the person I’m speaking with over what was so important that I had to write it down. Some leave it at that; other will go so far as to ask what I was doing. “Just a thought I don’t want to forget,” is my usual reply. I dare say it would be quite unnerving if I replied, “Your last statement gave me a rather unique way to murder someone.”

After returning home I take the note and place it in one of three small boxes I keep on my desk that it most aligns with. If you haven’t guessed, those boxes are labeled: Crime, Antagonist, and Motive. Because of Ernie Bisquets being the protagonist in all the stories, there is, at time, a deuteroganist in the stories. There is a box for that too. This is where it starts to get exciting.

When I sat down to start the most recent book in my Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series, the first thing I did was place the boxes in front of me. Having been compiling small shreds of paper in each of the boxes over the course of time I’m at odds to remember what any of the scraps had written on them. Reading the resulting scrap of paper pulled from the first box, Antagonist, rekindled the flame it raised in me when I first jotted it down. The note read thus: Older Member of Parliament. Well respected, but with a dark, hidden past. Not obviously evil. I’ll not reveal where I was when I jotted this note down, but I will admit I was terribly intrigued more with the outward appearance of the person I was talking to than to what he had to say.

To add a twist to the dark past and hints of evil in the Antagonist I felt there was a need for a Deuteroganist. From that box I pulled the following note: Pathetic wretch, valet or servant of some sort. Kind but hints of a questionable character or background. (I eventually named this character Prophet Brown.) As I remember this note derived from a combination of two people I met within minutes of each other. One seemed incredibly kind, the other not so much. Combined they created an exceptional character persona.
Next came the Crime. The notes in this box are short and to the point. Reaching in I extracted the following: Murder.

The final piece of this puzzle was Motive. There is no shortage of scraps of paper in that box. It’s sad, but people are driven to do bad things for three basic reasons–greed, jealousy, and revenge. This scrap read thus: Revenge for mistaken belief.

With all the pieces assembled I started the synopsis for Passage Of Crime, third book in the Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series released a few months ago. Not to worry though, this post is not the spoiler it may seem. I reach a point when writing the books where I break away from the synopsis and allow the characters to take over direction of the story. This usually leads to an “Aha!” moment for me. I also feel if it surprised me, it most certainly should surprise my readers. It’s that twist at the end where you thought you had everything figured out and then, without warning, the ambiguous foreshadowing comes flowing back like a flash flood. The obscure becomes the obvious and a smile of satisfaction comes over you. It’s what we writers live for.

About The Author

Michael is a classically trained artist who has been painting for over 25 years. By combining his creative talents with a passion for London he conceived the fictional world of the East London Adventurers Club, home to The Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. Three books in the series are complete and there are plans for at least five additional books following the adventurers of London’s most remarkable pickpocket. Michael is a proud member of the Crime Writer’s Association and Mystery Writers Of America.

Connect with Michael:
Website/Blog | Goodreads |

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