by Cynthia Chow
& VM Burns
This week we have a review of Travellin’ Shoes by VM Burns, along with a fun guest post by her about writing what you know. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of Travellin’ Shoes along with a link to purchase the book from Amazon. And check out our review and giveaway of another one of VM’s mysteries-In the Dog House, over on KRL News & Reviews.
Travellin’ Shoes: An RJ Franklin Mystery by V.M. Burns
Review by Cynthia Chow
Robert James Franklin may have mostly recovered from a car accident caused by a texting teenager, but the St. Joseph, Indiana Police Detective is still haunted by the crash fatalities that prevent him from sleeping. It is a late night/early morning run that alerts RJ to the scene of a house fire in his neighborhood, where he learns that his church choir director Thomas Warrendale has led his last chorale. Fire wasn’t the cause of death, though, and with the police department under-staffed and RJ’s partner very green, their police chief begs RJ to return to work early and take over the murder investigation. Knowing that gossip would be overflowing at the First Baptist Church, RJ uncharacteristically attends the early morning sermon to get all of the information on the reformed church leader with an admitted eye for the ladies.
RJ soon learns that Warrendale was leading another life, and the puzzle becomes whether it was his past crimes or his present exploits that may have led to his murder. While interviewing an assortment of the victim’s coworkers, clients, and lady friends, RJ happens to meet beauty salon owner Paris Williams, whom he finds as intriguing as she is intelligent. Her being seen having a very loud argument with the deceased choir director is problematic, but RJ’s godmother Mama B’s instincts are rarely wrong, and she would never set up RJ with a murderer, right?
The author of the charming Mystery Bookshop and Dog Club Mystery series, V.M. Burns takes a change of pace by crafting a far more traditional detective mystery series. RJ definitely investigates using standard police procedures of interviewing witnesses and relying on forensic investigators, but he also has no problem sitting down with Mama B and listening to often reliable church gossip. What is outstanding in this novel is how much the community comes alive in the descriptions of the neighborhood gathering places, which include jazz bars, church services, and funerals.
RJ himself is appealing as he works unexpectedly well with his young, white, socially-upscale partner, but RJ’s true character comes out in his interactions with the delightful Mama B. The faithful churchgoer is sharp, a fantastic cook, and so loving that the neighborhood street thugs ensure that her home is the protected Switzerland of St. Joseph. Also refreshing is how the church, while it may be filled with flawed humans, is led by a minister whose only goals are to counsel, heal, and unite the community. I thoroughly enjoyed this very atmospheric novel that introduces an outstanding, engaging detective into the mystery world. RJ won me over from the first page, and who can resist a man with humor, strong belief in justice, protects those he loves, and cringes at the word “irregardless?”
Fiction With a Bit of Reality
by VM Burns
As a fiction writer, most of what I write is the result of an overactive imagination, which considering I write murder mysteries is probably a good thing. Nevertheless, there are often parts of my books which are rooted in reality. Character and setting are two important elements of any book, and these are parts of my books, which although fiction, have a basis in real life.
I’ve blogged before about how the advice to “write what you know” led me to set my RJ Franklin Mystery series in the fictional town of St. Joseph, Indiana. Individuals from northwestern Indiana will undoubtedly recognize the description of St. Joseph as my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. Readers may have noticed that Mary and Joseph Catholic University (MAC-U) sounds a lot like my alma mater, The University of Notre Dame. My family and friends have even noticed that First Baptist Church shares a number of similarities with the Baptist church I attended as a child and where I sang in the choir.
Basing the RJ Franklin Mystery series in South Bend provides a pool of information to draw from when describing events. For example, in the beginning of Travellin’ Shoes, RJ Franklin is out for a run in the park. The park is near a hospital. I can write that park well since it’s based on a real location. I know the park follows a river. In the book it’s the St. Thomas River. In reality, Howard Park is next to the St. Joseph River. It’s easy to write about the cobblestoned streets and Georgian Manor where hair stylist Paris Williams lives because I’ve seen similar homes in South Bend’s Historic District. Even Mama B’s house on an alley across from a recreation center is based on a real location. I can write about sitting on Mama B’s porch watching basketball games played at the Recreation Center because it’s familiar. I’ve been there and done that.
Normally, I don’t use real people for characters in my books, well, not really. It’s true that people, who make me angry, may find they share a number of characteristics to one of the murdered victims in my books. However, by and large, characters are not real. When developing characters, I use a conglomeration of things to create each person. I take bits and pieces of people that I know and meld them together to create a new character. I might take one person’s laugh and combine it with someone else’s unique speech pattern and throw in a third person’s personality quirks to create one unique character. I call it “Frankensteining.”
So, if you’re wondering if RJ Franklin was based on a real character, the answer is no. He’s based on a lot of people. The exception to this rule is the character of Mama B. Mama B, Mrs. Ella Bethany, was a real person. She was my godmother. She died many years ago, but when I was looking for a character to help RJ solve murders, I looked to someone familiar. I’ve had to make a few alterations for the sake of the mystery, but I hope I’ve captured the essence and the heart of a truly kind and generous woman. My goal was to honor the memory of someone I loved. I hope those who knew her will feel that I did.
To enter to win an ebook copy of Travellin’ Shoes, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “shoes,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 22, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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