Today Leslie Nagel is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about The Codebook Murders, her latest novel in the Oakwood Book Club mystery series.
Welcome, Leslie. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
LN: The Oakwood Book Club Mystery Series follows the adventures of amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter, a young vintage clothing shop owner. She’s a lifelong resident of Oakwood, a wealthy insular suburb of Dayton, Ohio. Since things can get a bit dull, she and a group of friends formed a book club in which they read nothing but murder mysteries by female authors.
Charley’s semi-obsession with crime detection drew her into her first case, when someone close to her was killed. Not only that, but with the second murder in the case dubbed THE BOOK CLUB MURDERS, she realized that someone was using scenes from her book club’s reading list to stage the crime scenes. When she took proof to the police, she reconnected with a high school crush, Detective Marcus Trenault. He also helps her to solve cases—without becoming the next victim.
THE CODEBOOK MURDERS begins with a tornado that drives Charley into a creepy tunnel under the football stadium. She discovers a long-lost coded journal belonging to a high school girl murdered forty years before. The boyfriend was convicted of the crime, but he never stopped protesting his innocence. When Charley and her gang start investigating and a nosy reporter is killed, it’s clear this case is far from cold.
The ladies of The Oakwood Mystery Club draw inspiration from classic mysteries to solve baffling crimes. With each case, Charley’s skills and reputation as a sleuth—and her relationship with Marcus—continue to flourish.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about? Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
LN: Oakwood, Ohio is a very real place. In fact, I’ve lived here all my life! While suburbia may seem dull to an outsider, there is plenty of intrigue happening just below the surface. Because I stage many scenes from each book in real places around town, bringing life to my settings is never difficult. Oakwood itself is almost another character in each story. It’s a beautiful little town, quiet and welcoming.
I got the idea for the first book when I was on the jogging trail that follows along an abandoned railroad track near my home. “What a perfect place to hide a dead body” just . . . jumped into my head. Once I stopped feeling creeped out, I ran home and started outlining. WHO would be killed, and WHY? WHY led to WHO did the killing? After that, I needed someone to solve the case.
I knew I wanted to have an amateur sleuth at the heart of my mysteries, and that it would be a young woman. The idea of using a book club as an engine for solving crimes came from a chance remark by a friend. We were in a book club and not enjoying the reading list very much. “Why can’t we read something fun, like murder mysteries?” she asked. Why, indeed?
THE CODEBOOK MURDERS was inspired by another very real landmark here in Oakwood. During an interview for our local rag, the Oakwood Register, the editor commented that he’d just been granted a peek at the long-forgotten tunnel that runs from the football stadium to the high school furnace room, built in the twenties for utility access. It was dark, damp and spooky, and he casually suggested that “it would make a marvellous place to hide a body.”
I get that a lot, actually.
The tunnel definitely seemed like a super place to start a new mystery, but I didn’t think a dead body would realistically go undiscovered for very long. But if not a body, then what else might lie hidden down there, perhaps for decades? And how could a lost object lead to an unsolved crime?
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
LN: Aside from the obvious goal of catching a killer, all of my stories revolve around the themes of family and community. Charley loves her father, who is wheelchair bound and requires a lot of support. Her growing relationship with Marcus adds another dimension to her personal life, one that creates potential conflict as she sorts out where her duty lies.
Protecting the ones she loves, as well as innocent bystanders who get drawn into the mystery, is a huge motivator for Charley. This personality trait is one that she and I have in common. Nothing is more important to me than family.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
LN: Charley and her best friend Frankie are closer than sisters. Their hilarious banter and take-no-prisoners approach to any situation is a pretty good reflection of the dynamic between me and my oldest girlfriend from junior high and high school. Frankie drags Charley into joining a book club, then prods her into investigating their first case.
Marcus Trenault has been tougher to figure out. In the first two books, he’s actually kind of a jerk. It takes a combination of traumatic events and his growing feelings for Charley to get his head on straight. I had to try—then discard—several backstories for those two, before I found something that rang true to the Oakwood experience, a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Suburban living can result in some uncomfortable encounters. Some of us need more time than others to grow up and get over it.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
LN: I am not a former police officer, forensic scientist, coroner or attorney, so I turn to friends and family for critical details. And what did any writer do before the Internet?
I am currently writing the fifth book in the series, about a poison garden and a woman who is murdered in front of sixty witnesses. Researching poisons has been an interesting journey. I have a friend who’s an ER nurse; she has provided me with some pretty gruesome details that may—or may not!—make their way into the final mystery.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
LN: I grew up reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. My favorite stories always involved solving a puzzle, following hidden clues, or cracking a code. THE CODEBOOK MURDERS will thrill any reader who loves those things, too.
In fact, I’ve got a little code breaking game on my website for fans who want to try their hand at sleuthing. Crack the code, send me the solution, and I will send you free bonus content, a secret prologue to the novel that didn’t make the final revision. It gives a glimpse into events that happened several years before Charley and Frankie became the sleuths they are today!
Thanks for answering my questions, Leslie, and good luck with The Codebook Murders, the latest book in the Oakwood Book Club mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Leslie Nagel: Leslie is a writer and teacher of writing at a local community college. Her debut novel, “The Book Club Murders”, is the first in the Oakwood Mystery Series. Leslie lives in the all too real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where murders are rare but great stories lie thick on the ground. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son, and daughter, hiking, tennis and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.