Interview with Daniella Bernett, author of Old Sins Never Die
Today it gives the Indie Crime Scene great pleasure to interview Daniella Bernett, author of Old Sins Never Die.
Tell us a little about Old Sins Never Die. which was released on September 19. This is your sixth book in the series featuring crime-fighting duo Emmeline Kirby and Gregory Longdon. When you started the series, did you envisage that there would be six books, or have the stories emerged over time?
I’ve laced Old Sins Never Die with layers of lies and betrayal. After all, whose interest isn’t piqued by a whisper of scandal and intrigue?
While on a sightseeing trip on Lake Windermere in England’s enchanting Lake District, Emmeline and Gregory overhear a man attempting to hire an international assassin. They rush back to London to warn the authorities. But there’s one tiny problem. It’s rather difficult to prevent a killing, if the target is unknown. Meanwhile, London is a simmering cauldron of danger. As Emmeline pursues a story about shipping magnate Noel Rallis, who is on trial for murder, she discovers that he is blackmailing Lord Desmond Starrett. Desperate to keep his dark past buried, Starrett reluctantly partners with Rallis in a sinister scheme called Poseidon. Prima ballerina Anastasia Tarasova, Rallis’s spurned lover, dangles promises of an exclusive glimpse into a world of treason and greed. However, she’s silenced before she can utter a word. The hunt for the truth draws Emmeline and Gregory up to Scotland, where they learn that the truth has lethal consequences.
To answer your question, I always intended to write a series because I wanted time to develop my characters. I never had a set number of books as a goal. However, I did have the idea for the first few novels in my head when I started writing Lead Me Into Danger because I like to drop a little surprise in each book and develop the thread a bit more in the next one. After all, a whisper of innuendo can set readers’ imaginations afire with questions, whetting their appetites for the next book.
For readers new to your work, talk about Emmeline and Gregory. We first meet them in Lead Me Into Danger, your first novel. How have they developed?
In Lead Me Into Danger, Emmeline and Gregory are former lovers, who haven’t seen each other in two years. She literally runs into him in Venice after witnessing two men try to murder her friend Charles, a fellow journalist. Emmeline and Gregory then become ensnared in a hunt for a Russian spy in the British Foreign Office.
When readers first meet Emmeline, she distrusts Gregory because he vanished in the dead of night. That was when she discovered that he was a jewel thief. However, his unexpected resurfacing has sent the blood thrumming through her veins in an old familiar way. But she’s wary of being hurt again. Gregory, on the other hand, is the devastatingly handsome charmer he always was. He’s determined to get Emmeline back. But the labyrinth of secrets in his past poses a challenge.
As their relationship evolves in the subsequent books, Emmeline eventually decides to give him a second chance. But since my mind has devious tendencies, secrets and lies are a constant threat.
Your first book is described as a murder mystery. Do you see the novels as crime or thrillers – or both?
Oh, they are indubitably a combination of crime fiction and thriller. I always aim to solve a murder (or two), which is inextricably linked to an illicit plot. I also have a penchant for the espionage game, which raises so many juicy possibilities to confound Emmeline and Gregory, as well as use their talents.
One of the protagonists, Gregory Longdon, is described as a jewel thief/insurance-investigator. He is clearly a rogue – how does his partnership with Emmeline work?
In the eyes of the law, Gregory is a criminal. However, I don’t think my readers feel that way about him. As for their partnership, I’m certain some would find it odd at first glance. Why don’t we examine it more closely? A journalist is inherently curious about many subjects. His or her job is to ask questions to uncover the truth and ensure transparency. A whiff of crime, especially murder, would naturally arouse a journalist’s instincts. The determination to find answers and see that justice is served are all important.
Now, how does a jewel thief fit into the model of a sleuth? Aren’t lying and evading the law a thief’s modus operandi? Isn’t this in stark contrast to a journalist’s reverence for the truth and justice? Most definitely. That’s exactly the point. A portrait in contrasts. Who better than someone on the wrong side of the law to discern the convoluted workings of a fellow criminal’s mind? A thief immediately recognizes things that the honest person would never even contemplate. In Gregory’s case, he has a certain code of honor. Murder is an offensive transgression, a line that should never be crossed. Thus, I have two diametrically opposed sleuths who are of one mind when it comes to the taking of a human life: the culprit must pay for the crime; otherwise chaos would reign in the world.
What about Emmeline herself? How does she deal with fighting crime when her partner/love interest is a jewel thief?
For Emmeline, the search for the truth is the core fabric of her being. But she’s come to realize that the truth can be a double-edged sword of bitter betrayal. When she and Gregory became engaged, she gave him an ultimatum: Either he finds a legitimate form of employment or she wouldn’t marry him. Everyone was stunned in A Checkered Past, when Gregory was hired as the chief investigator at the insurance firm Symington’s. Could he truly be reformed? Or was it a case of tossing the cat among the pigeons? As readers saw in When Blood Runs Cold, life had become so tame (if one overlooks the occasional murder) when compared to his exploits as a jewel thief. I’m certain that readers were not surprised when the Blue Angel, a flawless 12-carat blue diamond, caught his eye in that book. Alas, can a jewel thief really give up a métier he was born to? It would be a shame to let his skills atrophy. Therefore, a dashing thief must use his aplomb to achieve a delicate balance between the law and the exhilaration of the chase. Shh, we won’t tell Emmeline. With her temper, there would be hell to pay.
What made you choose an English setting for the novels and what challenges does it pose when doing research?
Since I was little, I’ve been an Anglophile. I devoured any book that was set in England and I’m a devoted Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery fan. I’ve visited London and other parts of the United Kingdom several times. Therefore when I started writing my own books, my characters had to be British. For me, setting is an important character all its own. One that helps to establish the tone and propels my stories. My books take place in areas I’ve visited and that have made an impression on me. I like to give readers a taste of the sights and sounds of the cities to make them feel as if they’re walking in my shadow.
It used to be thought that the end of the Cold War would put an end to the spy novel, but it is thriving as before. Who are the new baddies, and do they have any redeeming features?
In my opinion, the Cold War is not over. It was merely in hibernation and when it emerged again, it adopted a slightly altered guise. But beneath this mask, it remains as ruthless as ever. The crème de la crème of baddies is Putin. It is well documented that he views defectors and those who oppose him as traitors. Therefore, what is a poor, tormented tyrant compelled to do? Why dispatch the offending individual so that he can cement his iron rule. Poison is among Putin’s favorite methods of assassination. I explored this in When Blood Runs Cold. Spying and its inevitable treachery are themes that I like weaving into my novels. There’s always a new angle to investigate.
As a writer of crime and mystery fiction, what do you like to read?
I am, and have always been, a voracious reader. Mysteries, spy thrillers, the classics, history, biographies, anything (except science fiction and horror). My parents instilled in my sister and me a love of reading when we were very young. Thus, I developed an appreciation for language, and how it can be used to convey ideas and spin delectable tales that captivate the imagination.
What sparked your interest in writing crime novels and how did you begin?
My mother got my sister and me hooked on mysteries and spy thrillers. These books are terribly appealing, like a siren call to my soul. It seemed only natural that I when gathered up the courage to write my first novel, it would be a mystery (with a sprinkling of romance to add a smidgen of spice).
For me, it’s always been about the puzzle. I don’t need to know about how much blood and guts have been spilled. I want to know why the crime was committed. The author dangles the answer before the reader’s eyes. The clues are like pearls that are strategically dropped here and there. It is the reader’s job to collect and arrange all of them so that they form a necklace. And voilà, the solution miraculously materializes.
I love plotting a story and adding twists to keep readers turning pages.
What books and writers have influenced you?
Agatha Christie has had the greatest influence on me. There are so many things I admire about the grande dame of mystery. She was truly a master at her craft. What I love the most is that Christie conceived such deliciously wicked and ingenious plots that appeal to the reader’s intellect. Jealousy, love, and greed are the primary motives for murder. Christie took these motives threw them into a pot, swirled them about, and in each book devised a new way to dissect these emotions. Her stories endure to this day because of her astute insight into human nature and all its foibles.
Meanwhile, I would have to say Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is one of my absolute favorite books. Du Maurier deftly ratchets up the suspense by writing the story in first-person. As with all such narratives, the reader is only exposed to one viewpoint. But in this case, the narrator is unnamed which only enhances the mystery. All along, the reader suspects that something is wrong and is compelled to keep flipping pages in a race to find the truth. The novel left me breathless. I hope one day readers will say the same thing about my books.
Do women writers have a distinctive perspective on crime writing?
I think women, by nature, tend to listen. This makes them more sensitive to nuances. Listening is a tremendously important skill that can provide a great deal of insight into the human psyche. When one sits back and listens, one notices the minute details. An author, particularly one who writes crime fiction, must be observant to be able to leave a trail of clues mingled with a healthy smattering of red herrings to heighten the web of deception in the story.
What are your plans for the series – and other series?
Viper’s Nest of Lies, Book 7, will be published in fall 2021. I’m currently working on Book 8. There’s no rest for the wicked. Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure. As for the series, I don’t know how many books there will be. I’ll continue with it, until I can’t embroil Emmeline and Gregory in any more trouble. When that day arrives, I will embark on a new series. Ah, the joys of writing.
About Daniella Bernett:
Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter and the International Thriller Writers. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave, A Checkered Past and When Blood Runs Cold are the books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett.