Murderous Inspiration: Murder Most Cold by Victoria Dowd

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Murder Most Cold

By Victoria Dowd

Crime writer Victoria Dowd on how a trip to the Arctic Circle in the north of Finland provided the inspiration for her latest book in her Smart Woman’s Mystery Series, Murder Most Cold.

Way back in December 2018, if you look very carefully at the BBC News website you may catch a glimpse of a beleaguered family attempting to fly out of a Gatwick plagued by drones. It wasn’t my finest moment. Hot, stressed and dragging cases, our photograph was seen all over the world in what seems now a rather bizarre episode. We did eventually manage to duck the drones and fly out to Finland. What we were met with at the other end was just as unusual and became the inspiration for the fifth book in the Smart Woman’s Mystery Series – Murder Most Cold.

Stepping out of Roveniemi Airport was like surfacing in another world. Of course it was cold but it was a cold I’d never experienced before. The air was still and dry. Any moisture instantly crystallized, even on my eyelashes and contact lenses. The trees were cathedral high and solidified. Out there, they have whole forests known as silent forests because nothing moves. There are no leaves. No wind. We walked across the sea, frozen solid into waves with ships stuck fast until the thaw. We visited a cemetery on Christmas Eve when they light the graves with hundreds of candles. This was a dark, beguiling land that was perfect for a murder mystery. I could use the environment itself to play with people’s perceptions. The shifting light levels that never really illuminate very much create shadows and shapes that easily disappear beneath the ice mists. Fear is not difficult to conjure in that strange, illusive atmosphere. And that was perfect for this book.

Murder Most Cold follows the Smart Women as they journey to the Arctic Circle for a small, intimate wedding at an isolated mÖkki. These are cottages that have only basic amenities usually and are a way for the Finnish people to go back to a more stripped back, off grid style of living as they lived in the past. It was a perfect place to abandon my lead characters – the Smart Women.

Victoria Dowd

The Smart Women are Ursula Smart, the rather unreliable narrator; Pandora, her mother; Aunt Charlotte; and Bridget with her strange menagerie of pets. They’re a fairly dysfunctional family with a lot of big characters. I’m from Yorkshire originally and come from a family of very strong females! I hasten to add none of the people in the book are based on anyone in particular. What I wanted to capture is the reality of a family who have gone through a lot of experiences – good and bad. Families say things to each other that they would never dream of saying to anyone else. What goes on behind closed doors might look and sound awful in another context but there’s a raw honesty to it. Because it’s a series, it has allowed me to take those over-arching relationships and develop them in deep and often difficult ways. Sometimes this can however lead to a lot of the dark comedy in the books. Like many crime writers I use this as a tool to hide the clues. While the reader is, hopefully, laughing at their antics, I am seeding the one small plot point that leads to the solution.

Grief is also a running theme with the characters in these books, particularly Ursula’s. I’m a huge fan of Golden Age Detective novels. However, to update these murder mysteries for a more modern audience, I didn’t want there to just be a body in the library with people almost stepping over it whilst sipping their cocktails and analysing the puzzle. I wanted them to have a very real response to death, not just the gore of it either. I wanted them to feel the grief and the reader sense how it can overpower a person and suffocate them. Ursula carries the deep scar of her father’s death and that often colours her ability to see and think clearly. At times she even believes a physical manifestation of him is with her – a guiding dark angel, if you please.

I was very inspired by Agatha Christie in this regard. She often introduces a supernatural element to her books. Real or imagined it forms another tool to distract the reader. While you are scared and anxious you are less likely to think logically and work out whodunnit.

Part of my books is not simply whodunnit though. It is often a question of how. I love locked room mysteries, particularly those by writers such as John Dickson Carr, Hake Talbot and Anthony Wynne. These are a huge inspiration when I’m writing the books. Again, I wanted to take those tropes of the past and bring them into a more modern setting. With each book I attempt to find a different variation of the locked room. In this book, for instance it is more a locked lake mystery. A body is found under the ice which has been forming for weeks but that person has just travelled out there with the party. There are no holes or entry points in the ice. It could not possibly be there. But it is.

Often, the trick at the very heart of the book is where I begin and then I work out from that. In the one I’m working on at the moment, I was inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the moment they first broke through. Howard Carter is asked, ‘Can you see anything?’ and he responded, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’ I wanted to take that to a new dig and at the moment the tomb is opened instead of wonderful things, the archaeologist replies, ‘Yes, terrible things,’ since what he sees is a recently dead body inside a tomb that hasn’t been opened for three thousand years. That is the starting point. How can it possibly be in there? I then begin working out from that problem.

It’s essentially all a conjuring trick. Look over there while I tell the real story beneath the action.

(c) Victoria Dowd

About Murder Most Cold:
Murder Most Cold

A winter wedding.
A mysterious disappearance.
A body under the ice.

Handsome Spear proposes marriage and Ursula Smart suddenly has a glimpse of the sort of happy life she had never imagined for herself. Beginning with a small winter wedding, on the edge of a secluded, frozen lake, away from it all.

But trouble is never far from the Smart women, especially when the atmosphere is already so frosty.

Tensions start rising as soon as they arrive and it’s not just Ursula’s mother Pandora getting cabin fever.

Poisoning. Stabbing. A mysterious disappearance. Who’s targeting the wedding party?

Then on a midnight jaunt, Ursula sees a face trapped under the ice, eyes staring in frozen horror. And her happy future begins to fall apart.

Weddings should be joyous occasions. But there’s a murderer at this one.

A GOLDEN AGE MURDER MYSTERY BROUGHT BANG UP TO DATE.

Funny and shocking in equal turn, Victoria Dowd’s brilliant whodunnit is perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz, Liane Moriarty, Faith Martin, Frances Lloyd and Stuart Turton.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

After graduating from Cambridge, Victoria was a criminal law barrister on the London circuit for many years, where many of her cases were much stranger than fiction.Victoria is now an award winning writer, having won the Go Gothic Short Story Award for 2019. She has had short fiction published in places such as Aesthetica: A Review of Contemporary Artists and was chosen as the runner up in The New Writer’s writer of the year award. Her work was Highly Commended by The Writers’ Forum and long-listed for The Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition. She has had short stories published in the BTS Literary and Arts Annual, Dream Catcher arts journal and Gold Dust Literary Magazine.Victoria lives with her husband and two children. She writes full time, splitting her time between London and Devon, where she can indulge her passion for all things Agatha Christie.

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