by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest Zodiac Mystery by Connie di Marco, and a fun interview with Connie. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Tail of the Dragon, along with a link to purchase the book from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Tail of the Dragon: A Zodiac Mystery By Connie di Marco
Review by Cynthia Chow
First kill all the lawyers. That seems to be the theme of the day when Julia Bonatti returns to her old law firm of Meyers, Dade & Schultz, LLP. Before she was a professional astrologist and advice column writer, Julia Bonatti was a legal secretary for litigator David Meyers. She owes a lot to the former boss who hired her after the death of her husband, so when David calls asking that she fill in for an assistant on maternity leave, Julia’s not about to say no. Her first day back is off to a rocky start when she hears the screams of a young copy clerk, who is justifiably horrified to have discovered the body of one of the attorneys. Jack Harding was never well-liked by the rest of the firm, but even cutthroat lawyers don’t generally find themselves stabbed to death by their own letter openers. Julia quickly learns that all is not business as usual in her old firm, as David had hired her with hopes that her astrological readings would help him to determine who was sending internal threatening letters to the attorneys.
When another unlikable lawyer bites the dust, Julia begins looking into what connection they had that must have led to their deaths. After studying their birth dates and astrological charts, Julia believes that transits may not only be affecting all of their lives, but that a woman could be the source of the chaos. Julia uses the charts not to predict but to guide, although she has never stopped wondering whether she could have seen the signs and prevented the death of her beloved husband. Perhaps some of that lingering guilt is what compels her to investigate despite having her house broken into, belongings destroyed, and being pushed into the road. Always looming over her is the sense that she is being watched, so the arrival of a private investigator assures her safety while also opening Julia up to the possibility of a romantic future. As events escalate towards a confrontation on Halloween, Julia struggles to decipher the clues her intuition, aligned stars, and dragon sightings are all telling her in order to stop this horrific rampage of revenge.
Although much of the action occurs amidst the litigious attorneys of a successful law firm, the author enthusiastically explores the many nuanced details of astrology charts and how they affect one’s life. The appearance of Julia’s AskZodia advice columns proves to be all too brief, as they not only reveal her thought process, they also further expand on the complexity of astrological readings. The sights and history of San Francisco also shine, fully immersing readers into the community and highlighting its many varied and quirky characters. Julia’s friends fully support and blend into her astrologically-focused life, which balances out what is her rather surprisingly practical and grounded nature. This third in the series fully incorporates the use of astrological and its complicated nuances into the mystery, one solved only as Julia finally reads the signs that placed a killer on the path of destruction.
Interview with author Connie di Marco:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Connie: I’m a bit of a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing until 2003. Yikes! I just realized that’s 15 years ago. Where does the time go? Before that urge to write a mystery happened all those years ago, I had never even thought of being a writer.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Connie: Well, my first published novel was A Spoonful of Murder (the Soup Lovers’ Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime) and that book was released in August of 2012. Before that, I had written three books in the Zodiac Mysteries, which I hadn’t had any success in getting published. The Soup Lovers’ series, set in Vermont, came about through my agent. She asked me if I would be interested in a ‘work for hire.’ Since I was woefully uneducated in the business of publishing, I had to ask what that meant. She explained that I would write a few sample chapters and submit those to the publisher, along with many other authors, for a chance to write this series. I think she thought of me because she knew I love to make soups, plus I’m from New England originally. No one was more surprised than I when the publisher offered me a contract!
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Connie: I’ve only ever been interested in crime writing—mysteries and thrillers. Nothing else has ever inspired me, I think, because it’s the most intense exploration of the human psyche. What happens to cause someone to kill? What would the hunt for that killer look like? Whether that’s a police procedural or a mystery puzzle.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character of your most recent book.
Connie: The Zodiac Mysteries are set in San Francisco, where I lived for many years, and I couldn’t imagine setting these stories anywhere else. I’m not alone in my love and appreciation for that city of many faces. Not too long ago I wrote (tried to write) a post about fictional San Francisco detectives. I was certainly not the only mystery author to set a series in that city, but when I started researching my little post, I was overwhelmed. There were so many to consider, it would have taken several volumes of books to include them all.
Tail of the Dragon is the most recent release for my protagonist, Julia Bonatti, San Francisco astrologer. (A little side note here: Julia’s last name was chosen as a tribute to Guido Bonatti, a revered and famous mathematician and astrologer of the 13th century.) I think it’s very important how we choose the names for our characters.
In this third book, Julia’s asked by her client and friend, an attorney, to fill in for his vacationing secretary for a week. She’s surprised and not quite willing to put her own clientele on hold, but she has some unexpected expenses, so she agrees. What her client has not told her is that several people at his law firm have received death threats—death threats that quickly result in the first murder. Julia believes the answers lie in an old lawsuit, the infamous Bank of San Francisco fire, but no one wants to listen. Using her skills in star signs, Julia must unmask the killer before he or she takes another life.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Connie: My goal primarily is to entertain, to write an intriguing mystery that will keep readers turning pages and feel that they’ve been along on an exciting adventure with a good friend. If the plot incorporates important social issues all the better.
The inspiration for The Madness of Mercury (Zodiac #1) was the Jim Jones years in San Francisco. I was living there at the time and I was shocked and horrified by people who would give up their autonomy and all their worldly possessions to follow a deranged, so-called man of God.
All Signs Point to Murder (Zodiac #2) was based on a real crime I happen to know about and know some of the individuals. I believed that the wrong person was convicted, so this story is my take on what could have really happened.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Connie: I’ve always found myself writing at night from about 9 p.m. on, or as long as I can stay awake. I just have to not get lazy and slide into a good book or TV show. I’ve always found that time best because the phone stops ringing, the house is quiet, the cat’s asleep, and I can really focus.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Connie: My first editor at Berkley required an outline, not a synopsis. It was the best thing that could have happened because it forced me to be very disciplined in terms of the plot, the chronology, the clues, and red herrings. It was such a valuable tool! It was also essential because I had to turn in each finished manuscript within eight months, and approaching each book this way, saved an enormous amount of time and struggle. Since then, I always start with an outline, so even when I’m tired and can’t think what needs to happen next, I have a road map. But that outline isn’t carved in stone, it can be changed and adjusted as needed.
KRL: If you had your choice, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Connie: I’d like to be one of those people who can be fresh at 5 a.m. and write for a few hours every morning. I’ve tried that too, but I’ve found that the day begins to impinge on my time. I find myself thinking about my list of things to do, the shopping and laundry and errands that need to be done, so I don’t feel I have the same concentration.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Connie: Oh yes, definitely. I think all writers must have horror stories. I found my wonderful agent with the first Zodiac Mystery. This was six years before the Soup Lovers’ series came out. When I signed the contract with my agent, I thought “Wow! I’m on my way.” Guess again. No one wanted it. I still thought it was a great idea for a series, but I think at that point, I was the only one who felt that way. I wrote more in that series. Still nothing happened. It was ten years from the time I first signed the contract for that series before my agent once again tried to shop it around. It was still difficult. One editor said the astrology was too complicated for her readers. Another said, “A religious cult takes over the city? Oh, no, we can’t have that!” (The Madness of Mercury). But now I’m thrilled that Midnight Ink is my publisher. Midnight Ink is the fiction imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide and if anyone is familiar with astrological or occult books, they’ll know of Llewellyn. I thought it was the perfect house for the Zodiac Mysteries!
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Connie: I’m laughing here. I was really astounded by how nice editors were in their rejections! I think the worst comment was an editor who said, “There’s not much of a mystery here…” But I persevered because no one said, “She’s a terrible writer!”
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Connie: I’ve always done book store appearances with other authors, which is the best way to do these things. The energy is always better with a group. And I do lots of library events, too. One particular event sticks in my mind. It was at an LA County Library (I shall not mention the name). I was with Linda O. Johnston, Mar Preston, and Sheila Lowe, friends and wonderful writers, but no one showed up! We sat and chatted with each other for a while, and then I had a bright idea. We asked the librarian to announce a panel on getting published. Suddenly we had an audience. Oh, I should mention that two women arrived, confused because they thought they were coming to a knitting class.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Connie: I hope to continue as long as I can, now that I’ve discovered how amazing it is to hold your own book in your hands and to hear from readers who’ve loved your books!
Right now, I’m working on a novella for the Zodiac Mysteries that is set before the beginning of the series. I’ve heard from lots of people who want to know more about Julia’s grandmother, how she first became involved in astrology, and more about her cat, Wizard. I’ve titled this novella “Enter a Wizard, Stage Left” because it takes place during a theater production. And I’m working hard on Zodiac #4, which at this point I’ve titled Serpent’s Doom. Once these projects are finished, I’ll be able to get back to work on a gritty LA crime story that I started a while back. Never enough time!
KRL: Writing heroes?
Connie: There are so many writers I admire, too many to name. But I have to admit I’ve fallen in love with lots of British and Scandinavian authors, and in particular the Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen. I guess you’d call that Nordic Noir. I’ve been reading more Icelandic writers, too, and trying to educate myself about their works, since I’ll be appearing at Iceland Noir in Reykjavik this November. I’m really looking forward to that event. Just have to remember to buy some boots!
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Connie: Whatever is needed. Each book, each story requires some sort of research, whether it’s about guns, poisons, local lore, or history. Occasionally, I’ve found I’ve painted myself into a corner. A Roux of Revenge (Book #3 in the Soup Lovers’ Mysteries) features a clan of Scottish Gaelic speaking travelers. I really wanted to add some texture to the story and decided that it actually needed characters speaking Scottish Gaelic. I discovered I was in big trouble because even though I found people who spoke the language, they weren’t able to actually write it. I lucked out by contacting the University of Glasgow, and found a graduate student who translated and wrote the characters’ lines.
But there’s more to the story. This series has been translated into Japanese, and the translator contacted me to ask how these words would actually sound. She needed to find a way to present this to Japanese readers. I was at a complete loss! It was Molly MacRae and her sister who came to my rescue, bless their hearts. Molly’s sister teaches Scottish Gaelic and created MP3 files which I could then send to my Japanese translator. Saved again!
KRL: What do you read?
Connie: Anything and everything, but my tastes run to darker stuff. I like to read foreign authors because it’s a glimpse into another culture that I may never have the opportunity to visit. I just finished a Denise Mina (Scottish) novel (A Slip of the Knife), and I’m currently reading Snare, by Lilja Sigurdardottir (Icelandic).
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Connie: I absolutely love all the British series: Vera, Endeavor, George Gently to name a few. For a few years, one of our local channels offered the international mysteries: Inspector Montalbano (Italian and based on the Andrea Camilleri books), a German production of the Donna Leon books with Commissario Brunetti, and different Swedish productions of Beck and Wallander. Sadly, these aren’t available on our local channel any longer and I really miss them.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Connie: Just keep writing. The more you write, the easier it becomes. It’s pretty boring typing away at a keyboard, not knowing if anyone will ever want to read what you have to say, but trust yourself. You will find your voice and someday someone will love what you’re created.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Connie: I do pay attention to astrology. It’s particularly good for timing. But that’s probably not a surprise to anyone who’s read the Zodiac Mysteries. Oh, and I hate food shopping. I love to cook but can’t stand to spend an unnecessary minute in the supermarket. I never browse, I speed shop. I keep promising myself I’ll try one of those ‘delivered to your door’ arrangements, if they’re not too expensive.
KRL: Website? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Tail of the Dragon, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “dragon,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 13, 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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