by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review & giveaway of Bye, Bye, Love, a Cat DeLuca mystery by the three sisters who make up K.J. Larsen-Julianne, Kari, Kristen. We also have a fun interview with the sisters. At the end of this post are details on how to enter to win a copy of Bye, Bye Love and a link to purchase the book from Mysterious Galaxy where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Bye, Bye Love: A Cat DeLuca Mystery By K.J. Larsen
Review by Cynthia Chow
Cat DeLuca was raised in a family of cops, so catching her husband cheating on her led her to create a detective agency specializing in catching philanderers with their pants down. Cat is proud of Pants on Fire Detective Agency, but she gets little respect from the Chicago Police Department, who regard her as the local “hootchie stalker.” So when Cat stumbles across a faceless body that disappears before the police find it, it’s not too surprising that Captain Bob disbelieves her claims and writes it off as a bad prank.
Before it went AWOL, Cat was able to discover that, even without a face, the body did have an ID, one that unfortunately led back to her Uncle Joey, as does an envelope full of cash, something that does not bode well for the Ferrari-driving Chicago police officer. Even after Cat is proved right about there having been a murder, Captain Bob’s disrespect immediately incites her into going rogue and conducting her own investigation. Aided by her beagle partner, Inga, and her human assistant, Cleo Jones, Cat stalks a mobster, adopts a dead man’s dog, and raids the home of a fake Department of Land and Natural Resources agent.
While the murder investigation plots of these mysteries are always intricate and surprising, it is the chaotic lives of the DeLuca family that make these novels so enjoyable. After 35 years of marriage, Mama DeLuca has decided that her Bridgeport Cook County Courthouse ceremony didn’t actually count, so she has basically hustled Cat’s father into an extravagant second wedding and an exotic honeymoon. If she can make it a double wedding with Cat stuffed into her grandmother’s bridal dress, all the better. Even more terrifying is the impending dinner with the parents of Cat’s FBI agent boyfriend, Chance Savino, since the anti-gun, hippie, vegetarian Savinos are the polar opposites of the right-wing, meat-scarfing DeLucas. A train wreck would be an optimistic outcome.
I can’t emphasize enough the hilarity and fun that comes out of reading this fourth in the Cat DeLuca series, which is written by three sisters. Raised amidst a family of male cops, Cat is quick to react when she feels dismissed or slighted; the results may not be rational, but they are always hysterical. Despite the agita her family may bring on, Cat is loyal to a fault and loves them unconditionally. The Chicago setting, rife with mobsters, cops, and criminals, only adds to the humor, as they seem to be contemporaries as much as rivals. Humor, action, and a swift-moving plot all ensure an enjoyable ride for readers of this series, that continues to grow stronger with every entry.
Interview with the 3 sisters that make up KJ Larsen:
KRL: You are three sisters writing under one name. So, when you disagree, how do you settle the argument over a plot or character? Who wins the most?
Kristen: Well, first you should know that we have arguments that aren’t resolved yet. For example, the Cat, Chance, Max thing. We go round over whether Cat should hook up with Max or stay with Chance.
Kari: There has been bloodshed.
Kristen: It’s really the characters that we argue about because all three of us write in their voices, so we have to be on the same page regarding what they’d say, do or what they’re capable of. The arguments come in when my picture of Cat, let’s say, isn’t exactly like Kari’s picture or Juli’s.
Juli: We don’t really disagree about the plot development much. We get together and we spin out ideas and the three of us keep adding to it and whatever makes us laugh the hardest is the way we go. It’s a fun process.
Kristen: You asked who wins the most. Definitely Kari.
Kari: I’d say Julianne wins most. She has good instincts. And she’s the youngest of six girls.
Juli: I gotta go with Kari on this one.
Kristen: It’s true. Juli’s got a mean look that made her look like Yurtle the Turtle when she was a kid. Now it just scares us. When she looks at you like that, you shudder and fold.
KRL: Cat DeLuca’s family plays a vital role in her adventures. Are any of the characters from your own family?
Kristen: If we told you, we’d have to kill you. No, the truth is if we told you, our family would kill us.
Kari: You’re hilarious. Actually, people often ask us if we draw our dysfunctional characters from our own outrageous family. I used to say, no. And then one day I realized that Cat’s Uncle Joey has some similarities to our own shady Uncle Bart. And we’ve come to see some connection between Mama DeLuca and our own mom. Both are strong, amazing women. Like Mama DeLuca, our mom keeps everyone in check – including our dad. But where Mama DeLuca controls her pack with enormous portions of pasta and Catholic guilt, our mom uses a stern look that only Julianne mastered. And she dishes out generous portions of dark Lutheran guilt.
Juli: There are differences to. Our mom was content to let us find our own way while Cat’s mama obsesses with her daughter’s biological clock. She expects Cat to pop out grandkids and she’s always scheming to get Cat married. Mama has Father Timothy on speed dial.
KRL: How, and why, did you decide to make Pants on Fire a detective agency that focused on catching cheating spouses?
Kari: It was a moment of insanity that just happened. About seven years ago, we sisters were vacationing together on Puget Sound. I remember one evening we had supper overlooking the beach. We ordered buckets of clams and drank wine and rehashed our Nancy Drew adventures while growing up in Chicago. We had been goofy kids with wild imaginations. For some reason, we were convinced that a rather odd neighbor held kidnapped children captive in his basement. And we alone could save them. Later, we returned to our cabin and talked long into the night. We drank an insane amount of wine, and drudged up stories of past lovers. The faithful guys and the cheating dogs. And then, in the greatest moment of madness, someone said that we should write a book about a woman PI who catches cheaters. We’re avid readers but we’d never considered writing a book together. It was the craziest idea of all. Before we knew it, we were laughing and scrawling notes. When morning came, every last drop of wine was gone and each sister had a slight hangover. But we had the Pants On Fire Detective Agency. And we’d written our first chapter.
KRL: Cat was raised in a family of men, and yet you are a group of sisters. Do you have brothers, or is this wish fulfillment?
Kristen: We come from a family of six girls, no boys. I don’t recall wanting a brother while growing up. But I remember people feeling sorry for our dad. “Oh, you poor man,” they’d say. “Keep trying. Maybe the next one will be a boy.”
Juli: I would’ve liked a brother. You know, someone who didn’t borrow my clothes and steal my mascara.
Kari: I suspect we gave Cat the kind of brother we would’ve wanted. She and Rocco have an amazing relationship. He’s her best friend. And Rocco’s the first person Cat calls when she’s in trouble.
Kristen: Which is a lot.
KRL: Chicago has a long – and often outrageous – history of crime. Do you take inspiration from real life events?
Kristen: Absolutely! Chicago has it all; graft, corruption, machine politics and great food. There’s nothing we could write that would be too farfetched. God, we love this city.
Juli: What she said.
KRL: Your books are all delightfully hilarious. Who taught you your sense of humor? Is that what keeps you from killing one another when writing?
Kristen: I’m honestly stumped. Is a sense of humor taught? I know we laughed a lot growing up and we knew a lot of funny people. So some of that must have rubbed off. It’s definitely true that our sense of humor helps us working together.
Kari: I think we got our sense of humor from our parents. We didn’t have much money growing up but there was lots of love and laughter. A sense of humor helps when we work together. And it helps that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Juli: What really saves us from killing one another is that we Skype each other almost every day. It’s hard to twist your hands around a computer monitor. I know. I’ve tried.
KRL: Do any of you write on your own? If not, what would you want to write?
Kristen: I’m writing all the time with my work. Writing these books with my sisters is exactly what I want to write at this point. It’s pure escapism, it’s play, it’s fabulous stress relief.
Juli: We sisters are just completing our first children’s book and are excited about it. We’re also working on a new mystery series that takes place in Seattle. My passion is animals. If I wrote something on my own, it might be about energy healing techniques for horses or dogs.
Kari: I’d write something magical. Maybe recreate mythological characters in contemporary times.
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Sisters: We began writing Liar Liar the fall of 2007.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Sisters: Cat DeLuca’s first excellent adventure, Liar, Liar, was released in September 2010. The story introduces PI Caterina DeLuca and her Pants On Fire Detective Agency. Cat is a woman burned by her run-around ex, Johnnie Rizzo. Now she’s a second-story woman, armed with a camera, ready to snag the 8X10 glossies for her scorned clients. Liar, Liar was awarded a Library Journal Best Mystery 2010.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Sisters: Juli mentioned we’re experimenting with a children’s picture book. Kari writes poetry and we’ve written some articles for a local paper. And we’ve had some fun writing plays for church and community events.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Sisters: Wine. Lots of wine. Actually, we chose Chicago because the culture is rich and the energy dazzles. Cat lives in the close-knit, blue-collar neighborhood of Bridgeport, not far from her family home. Mama and Papa’s five kids found homes in Bridgeport. Mama would have it no other way. Cat says, “Chicago is two hundred thirty-four square miles of nesting possibilities but Mama sucks us in like the Bermuda Triangle.”
We chose a large, interfering family for our protagonist because we knew (through personal experience) that the potential for hilarity and dysfunction would be “ginormous.”
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take
from your work?
Sisters: Laughter is healing. It’s good for the soul. And it’s cheaper than therapy.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can? And how does that work with there being three of you?
Sisters: We sisters meet on Skype most mornings, wearing pyjamas and armed with a cup of hot coffee. Every day we ask, “What does Cat do today?” On our better days we already know what she’s up to and each sister has a scene she’s working on. But some mornings we’re just stuck and struggling to figure out what happens next. A typical bleary-eyed conversation goes something like this. “OK, sissies. Cat is in the warehouse. A bomb will explode in twenty-three seconds. A man with a very big gun is blocking the only exit. How the hell can we get her out alive?”
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on?
Sisters: We want to outline. We’re just not very good at it. Kari keeps track of the story sequence and the planned scenes and who’s writing what. It’s an imperfect system that inevitably leads to some measure of panic and confusion at the end when we piece the story together. But it works for us.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Sisters: Mornings. We all agree.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Sisters: The difficulty was finding a publisher to read an unpublished writers’ manuscript. We didn’t have an agent. But we had angels. We were very fortunate. Barbara Peters, Editor Extraordinaire at Poisoned Pen Press, was the first publisher to read Liar Liar and she accepted the book.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Sisters: We’d like to write a comedy screen play. It’s on the bucket list.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Sisters: We like to spend time in Bridgeport to get a feel for the community and some local resident’s voices in our heads.
We also read as many books as possible and frequently study the lists of newly published books. It’s important to stay current on what readers want and what publishers are buying.
KRL: What do you read?
Sisters: We read all the time. Right now Kristen is reading Ken Follett’s Century series. We’re all huge fans of Laurie R. King and Jacqueline Winspear, both of whom have mystery series with strong female heroines. Julianne is reading Olen Steinhauer and Kari is rereading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Sisters: Grantchester, Madame Secretary, Battle Creek, Downton Abbey, Blackish, The Artful Detective, Lord of the Rings, Some Like It Hot, Young Frankenstein, Singing in the Rain.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Juli: Believe you are magical. It’ll help you write something better than you are.
*Love your muse. Bribe her with chocolate.
Kari: When you write, write for yourself. Amuse yourself. Amaze yourself. Make yourself laugh. Startle yourself. Scare the crap out of yourself. If you’re not getting goose-bumps, your reader won’t either.
Kristen: You will wrestle with many demons along the way. A couple of mine are Ms. Pride, she’s always worried about my reputation and her beady little eyes scan the pages, critiquing what it might possibly say about me. And then there’s Mr. Internal Editor, he bullies his way into the room with his red pencil, dithering about spelling, grammar, a better way to write that paragraph. He just goes on and on. I have tried and failed to completely exorcize these demons. So we’ve made friends and the deal is they have to stay out of the room until they’re invited.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Kari: I’m for anything that gets people to read. Personally, I’m a book junkie. I like the touch of a hard copy book. I rarely go anywhere without one under my arm. My family jokes that if they can’t find me, they call the library or bookstore.
KRL: Do you read e-books yourself?
Kristen: Not yet. I like the tactile experience of holding a book in my hand while I’m reading.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Kristen: When I meet people who’ve read our books, they’re surprised that I’m fairly normal. People are like, “Say something funny.”
Juli: Animals are my passion. I volunteer at an animal rescue farm and I’m in love with a potbellied pig named Lily and a rooster named Hagar.
Kari: The names I use in our books are often names of readers and friends who say they’d like a character named after them. I always ask if they want their character to be good or bad. Almost everyone wants to be bad. It makes me laugh.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Sisters: Like this. Thanks, Lorie and Kings River Life Fans! This was great fun!
To enter to win a copy of Bye, Bye, Love, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Love,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 11, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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