Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wanderlust, Argentinean stars, and Oprah: Annamaria Alfieri

Do you like your crime fiction in traditional locations such as contemporary London or the big American cities, or do you prefer to read great murder mysteries set in different times and places much more exotic? If you're fond of a bit of history, or intrigued by South America or Africa, then you might want to try an author I met for the first time at Iceland Noir last year: Annamaria Alfieri.

Alfieri, who had a successful business career and wrote several popular business books under her legal name Patricia King before becoming a novelist, is a keen global traveller who is fascinated by the history and culture of the places she visits. She has used that passion and knowledge in her crime novels, starting with CITY OF SILVER, which is set in the Bolivian city of Potosi - once the coin-making capital of the Spanish empire and the richest city in the world (along with being the highest city in the world). Having visited Potosi myself back in 2007, including a trip down into the still-working silver mines (blowing up things, and making offerings to El Tio, the devil guardian for the above-ground-Catholic miners), I had a wonderful conversation with Alfieri at Iceland Noir about the magic and magnificence of South America. Her passion and enthusiasm for travel, history, and mystery writing was infectious.

After three novels set in historic periods in South America (Potosi, Paraguay, and Buenos Aires), Alfieri turned to East Africa for her latest mystery: STRANGE GODS. Described as Agatha Christie meets Out of Africa, the book delves into both the natural beauty of the continent, and the complications caused by colonisation and clashes between cultures. All in all, Annamaria Alfieri would be a terrific pick for anyone working on the 2015 Global Reading Challenge, as I've often found that South America and Africa can be the continents that are toughest to complete. In the meantime, however, Annamaria Alfieri becomes the 109th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?

I am sure I should think about this for while longer so I can make myself out to be extremely well read and erudite. I tried that, but I keep coming back to the same answer anyway: Amanda Peabody, the creation of the late, great Elizabeth Peters. The series begins at the end of the 19th century in Egypt where Amanda falls in love with an archeologist. The ensuing books are all absolutely delightful. Peters, whose real name was Barbara Mertz, had a PhD in Egyptology so she was no slouch when it came to research and knowing her subject, but the book are anything but labored. They are pure fun—with suspenseful, twisting plots and vivid pictures of the time and place. They move along at breakneck speed and are hilarious. Reading them is like watching Fred Astaire dancing—pure entertainment that looks absolutely effortless. But if it were that easy, everyone would do it. Peters is an idol and an inspiration for me.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
As a child, most of what I read came from the nearby public library, but the one book we had a home—called the Wonder Book of Knowledge as I recall—had everything to fire a child’s imagination. A huge volume, with a blue linen cover, at least five inches thick, it contained an encyclopedia, a collection of children’s stories, brain teasers and riddles, glossy pages showing the flags of all nations and birds and animals of the world. And best of all, an atlas. My brother and I would lie on the living room floor for hours on end, pouring over the maps. I especially liked ones that showed small islands off exotic coasts, remote and intriguing. I would point to a tiny pink speck in the blue ocean off a pale green coast and say, “Imagine going to a place like that.” Those maps fed the wanderlust I still carry.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Before my first novel, I had five published nonfiction books—all on business subjects, using my legal name Patricia King. The most popular was Never Work for a Jerk, which landed me on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It remained in print for over seventeen years, and was translated into Dutch and Spanish. A sequel, Monster Boss, is still available. My first published crime fiction was a short story “Baggage Claim” in the anthology Queens Noir.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Like a lot of writers, I like to cook. It’s nice to have a creative activity that begins and ends and gives pleasure all in an hour or two. Living in New York, I have a panoply of cultural possibilities at my disposal—opera, concerts, theater, cabaret, museums, galleries. These are the things I like to enjoy with my family and my friends. I serve on the board of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. I am a Bardolator, so a connection with a company that performs the plays is wonderful to me.

I am also an active member of the Mystery Writers of America/ New York Chapter—a tribe of generous and friendly writers who give one another much needed moral support and cheer one another on.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Since New York City is my home, the territory has been gone over with a fine-tooth comb. Because it is spring here, I offer the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. One enters at 105th Street and Fifth Avenue. Soon the flowering trees and the wisteria will be in bloom. It will be gorgeous; its loveliness will change as the seasons go on but will last into the fall. Not many tourists go there, but it is well worth a visit.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Yikes that’s a hard question. The one who comes to mind is the great Argentine actress Norma Aleandro. But most people will not have heard of her. She looks more like me than any other actress I can think of. Female movie stars are usually glamorous, which I am not. So yes, I think I will stick with Norma. If people want to see her, I highly recommend her movie The Official Story, which is a brilliant film and worth seeing regardless of the reason.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Another very tough choice to have to make. That is like picking a favorite child. Strange Gods is the latest, and I am attached to its characters. It is the first of a series. My others have been stand alones. Now I have characters that I will be going with through several books, and this is a new and very nice experience for me. The second in the series is with my agent. I have just finished a first draft of the third. I like the characters. They are growing and learning and deepening. I am finding them good company.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I wanted to be a novelist when I was nine years old. But I grew up in a working class neighborhood in a moribund city. We kids of that place and time did not aspire to be starving artists. So, I had a business career before I wrote a novel worthy of publication. Then it took ten years for it to find an agent, then a publisher, and come out in print. I was deliriously happy. In my 60s, I realized my childhood dream. That is pretty special! After my agent called me to tell she had sold City of Silver, every once in while over the next couple of weeks, I went to look at myself in the mirror and said, “You are going to be published novelist.” It felt unreal and HAPPY!

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
As I said, my first published fiction was a short story in an anthology. The publisher arranged an event at a big Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Queens—the borough of New York where all the stories take place. The editor and four of the storywriters were there to do readings and to sign books. There were five of us on the dais. In the audience were the spouses of the three of us, the bookstore marketing coordinator, the janitor, and a homeless person! We soldiered on and had fun teasing and joking about the situation. Since then, I have had my self-promotion ups and downs, but none has been as disappointing—and few have been as much fun. Mystery writers are such a mutually supportive group. We can get each other through some tough moments.

Thank you Annamaria. We appreciate you taking the time to chat with Crime Watch


You can read more about Annamaria Alfieri and her writing here: 

Do you enjoy historical mysteries? Crime novels set in Latin America or Africa? What have been some of your favourites? Have you read Alfieri's books - if so, what did you think? Comments welcome. 

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't disagree more strenuously with one point raised by Annamaria: She is by far one of the most glamorous people on earth. And a terrific writer, too.