A 1920s murder mystery with a twist.
Last Call at the Nightingale by Katharine Schellman. Minotaur Books. pp.320. $27.99.
Konstantin Rega: Which part of Virginia did you grow up in?
Katharine Schellman: I was born in the Northern part, in Arlington. Then I went to school in Williamsburg at William & Mary and now live in Charlottesville. Really, Virginia’s been part of my entire life, my world.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I was about 6 years old that I announced to my parents that I wanted to write books. They took it well enough [she laughs]. I wrote off and on for the next two decades. A lot of bad writing happened, but it was really good practice in the end. Writing has always been something that I needed to do.
Before, I used to work as an actor and dancer in the D.C. area, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. It was incredibly fun, but the lifestyle that came with it was not something I wanted to do long term. Writing was something that appealed much more. I don’t miss being at six auditions in three days. But that life influenced my writing. I tend to think of characters very physically in how they move and talk and show emotion.
Where did the idea for Last Call at the Nightingale come from?
I decided after writing books set in Regency England, I wanted to write something taking place in America. The Jazz Age just seemed like a fun time to write crime fiction. Organized crime didn’t really exist until then. Prohibition made it almost profitable to be a criminal organization. And that seemed like it would give me so much to play with. I sort of had my characters already flesh out, so exploring them led me to the full story.
Also, the queer aspect is such an interesting part to it as well. In the 1920s, it wasn’t mainstream, but it was present in a way it hadn’t been previously. Everything was sort of naughty and racy in the nightlife, underground speakeasy world. It would have been very hard to not include that part of that world.
I wanted to have a protagonist that culturally disempowered. Vivian’s young, working class, bi-sexual, an orphan. In a lot of ways, she’s a person who is going to be overlooked by the group of people in power. And that gives the sleuth potential. Anyone who is overlooked can find out a lot of information without anyone realizing that they are snooping.
What do you want readers to get out of your novel?
First of all, I hope it’s just a fun read. Mysteries have a well-deserved reputation for being engaging and voyeuristic books. But while you’re reading, you end up absorbing information about the time period, of treatment of different classes, races, people. This isn’t something that I don’t want to hammer readers over the head, but I want all of that to be there as well, mixed in with the fun of putting the murder puzzle pieces together.
So what’s next?
Right now I’m doing edits for the second Nightingale book. It’s been very fun to dive back into that world and the characters. This one really surprised me. I wrote the first book thinking it was going to be a standalone. So thinking about how the characters are going to change and continue to change, was exciting, a struggle, but came together very well.
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