“I was left wanting to read more of Paul Burke…If you like a good murder mystery, enjoy good food and wine and love cycling, this is a great read!” — Jeff Hamilton, Goodreads Reviewer
About The Bastard is Dead: Ex-pro cyclist Paul Burke lives a quiet and simple life on the French Riviera blogging about sports. Assigned to cover the Tour de France, Burke finds himself mixed-up in murder when the unexpected happens. Pierre McManus, a team trainer, dies just as a stage race ends, and a second controversial death soon follows. But learning the real truth may just cost him his life.
What inspired you to write the Paul Burke mystery series?
For years when I was a journalist, I was asked by family and friends if I had a desire to write a novel. My answer was a consistent NO. That was because when I was done working on stories for either a newspaper or magazine, I was too tired to contemplate writing fiction. Then I retired from the journalism world where I’d been a reporter, editor, freelancer and educator, and for the first time, I started giving the notion some thought. However, I didn’t get serious until my wife Lynda and I were cycling the French Riviera and she started quizzing me about possible plots and characters for a mystery set on the Riviera and featuring a cycling theme. Day by day, I grew more interested.
However, the answers didn’t come easily until I remembered writers should write about what they know. I had been a crime reporter for newspapers and magazines so I understood unusual cases. I knew the French Riviera because we had cycled it a dozen times over the years as part of our annual six-week-long bike trips to Europe. I knew what to add for flavor because I’d also been a travel writer and tour guide. And I knew cycling, which provides a backdrop for the series, since I’ve been an avid cyclist my entire life. As for adding the Tour de France, it was a natural. It’s the world’s most spectacular bike race and I’ve followed it for decades.
For a main protagonist, I developed a checklist of character traits. I wanted someone who could live effortlessly in France while having a connection to North America, be bilingual in English and French, and know the cycling world. I knew exactly where the person should come from–my hometown of Montréal in Québec, Canada. It’s a major metropolitan center with a strong bilingual population and an enthusiastic connection to cycling. Enter Paul Burke, ex-pro cyclist from Montréal who’s living in a small village along the Riviera and barely making a living as a blogger and columnist. Then the Tour de France comes to town and his life changes forever.
When I began writing, I had no physical image for Paul Burke; I definitely didn’t want to model him after myself. To me, he was just an average guy struggling to pay the bills, was lazy and did whatever came easiest. He wasn’t any genius, just someone who discovers he’s got a serious case of curiosity especially when it comes to people he knows. The more I wrote, the more I started to understand Paul Burke. He was my creation, but he had a mind of his own. And so I followed where he took me. And that’s when the fun really began.
What’s your mystery writing process?
When I was in high school, I encountered the world of physics. It wasn’t a happy meeting. Too complex, too demanding. I flunked. Twice.
Writing a mystery novel is tougher.
First, mystery-novel fans can smell a plot flaw with ease. And when they do, they’re done with the book in most cases. A novel can be great for 200 pages and then one sloppy paragraph with a plot flaw ruins the experience. My mystery-novel friends and family are like that. I am, too. Pretty intimidating.
When I began writing The Bastard is Dead, I wanted to ensure no sloppy plot tricks. Everything had to feel possible, to feel real. When the ending came, it had to be surprising and believable. Not easy to do. So I routinely reevaluated my plot. I researched and researched some more. I lost a lot of sleep.
Setting is crucial to mystery novels. The best mystery novels are rich in significant, not excessive, detail about a place. It’s all about travel nuggets, offering little-known information to readers they won’t find in a guide book. I’m not from the French Riviera which is the primary setting for The Bastard is Dead, but I’ve cycled it back and forth a dozen times, spending months in its villages and cities, by its coastline and in its hills, and taking notes and talking with hundreds of locals. I feel I understand the region. So, write what you know.
Next is character development. I didn’t model a single character in The Bastard is Dead after anyone I knew. Instead, I listed traits I wanted for each character. Then I asked myself if that individual was believable. If there was something trite, I rewrote the character. Again and again.
I also discovered that characters will develop their own voices. As I wrote, I understood how my main people would think and talk. More than once, I rewrote a passage because my characters “told” me I’d gone awry with some element. And so I listened and rewrote. The characters took on life.
As for writing style, I wanted to keep it simple. The plot and setting needed to breathe without excess descriptions. Write, edit and then edit some more. The same for the characters. They had to act in reasonable ways. No super characters permitted.
Two other lessons for a mystery novelist:
- When you mention a meal in a book set in France, give details and make sure you’re correct. A remarkable number of mystery readers are foodies and they want to read descriptions that are accurate and enticing.
- This is the biggest lesson. Easily. Never discuss murdering a character while you’re in a public place. If you’re talking about how someone needs to be killed, people might get the wrong idea. I tell you this from painful experience.
How is Paul Burke unique compared to other mystery sleuths?
I don’t know of other ex-pro cyclists who get involved in mysteries. So, in that way, Burke is unique. Also, I didn’t want to make him a journalist because there are a ton of mystery novels‒good ones‒featuring reporters solving crimes and so I turned him into a blogger who focuses on one sport. Somewhat unique. As for his love of pastis, I avoided turning him into another tortured alcoholic who solves crimes.
If you were asked to compare Burke to another literary sleuth, who would that be and why?
I’ve thought about that a lot and my best answer is Travis McGee, the creation of the wonderful John D. MacDonald. Burke lacks McGee’s laconic, tough-guy attitude, but he possesses some of McGee’s intuitive abilities plus they share a desire to tackle life at a slower pace. And neither is a cop or official detective. They’re just two men searching for answers.
As a long-time travel guide who has traveled all over the world, how does that inspire you when writing the Paul Burke series?
I’ve been bicycle touring for decades and it’s given me an up-close, personal look at areas and communities that you don’t get when you’re speeding by in a car, bus or train. So when I write, I try to inject some of those intimate travel details into my work. That way, I hope readers get a better sense of the sights, sounds and even smells of a community or region. The readers might never get to the places I write about, but I want them to feel connected to the setting.
What would be your top two travel destinations and why?
I could spend hours pondering this. And it’s probable I’d change my mind several times. At this moment, though, I’m going with the region of Provence in southeastern France. Why? Its stunning natural beauty, its ancient villages and towns, its sleepy pace (excluding July and August when tourists show up in huge numbers) and its love of food. I’ve been there many times and have always enjoyed the experience. I’m going to cheat with my second pick and say it’s a tie between Catalonia in northeast Spain and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Catalonia is a mix of lovely coastline, rolling green hills, stunning stone villages and beautiful cities such as Barcelona and Girona. It’s a region with a strong independence movement and its own language which I’ve always struggled to speak, falling back to Spanish when I’ve been confused. As for the Outer Hebrides, they’re a group of gorgeous, lonely, wind-swept islands far enough from the mainland that they have their own distinctive approach to life. I’m a huge fan of islands and the Outer Hebrides are fascinating.
The Bastard is Dead features the world-famous Tour de France and the beautiful French Riviera. Why did you choose this as the backdrop to begin the series and have you ever been to a Tour de France race?
For the first Paul Burke novel, I wanted a setting that readers would know something about. The French Riviera was perfect. It’s been featured in a score of movies, it’s the home of the world-famous Cannes Film Festival and it’s been the playground for the rich and famous for generations. My challenge was to recreate that region for readers while providing them with nuggets of unusual, significant detail they wouldn’t know. As for the Tour de France, I’ve been a fan for decades and seen stages in person. One stage was the team time trial in the Riviera city of Nice with cyclists finishing by the Mediterranean Sea. Spectacular. I’ve also been in Paris to watch the final stage along with a million other spectators. An extraordinary experience, even if you’re not a cycling fan. It’s arguably the world’s foremost sporting activity when it comes to scenery, action and cost (it’s free to watch in person).
“…intriguing, and totally believable. The read was like a good ride—twists and turns, ups and downs, all bringing us to a highly satisfactory conclusion.” — Rita Peterson, Goodreads Reviewer
What would be the one piece of advice you would share with an aspiring mystery writer?
I could give a long list of suggestions, all learned the hard way. But since you’ve asked for one, it’s this: Show, don’t tell. Instead of saying a character is smart, show how that individual displays intelligence. If a character is nasty, indicate how that nastiness displays itself. By showing, you give energy to characters, settings and plot.
What’s up next for Paul Burke in the series (no spoilers)? What location is the next mystery set at?
He’s learned some lessons from his experiences in The Bastard is Dead. In A Vintage End, he’s a little older and a little smarter. He’s still blogging for his newspaper group, and once again, he finds himself caught up in unusual circumstances, this time involving a series of vintage bicycle races. The setting is the aforementioned area of Provence with visits to some of that region’s most celebrated spots. So, lots of history, scenery, food‒and danger.
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About D’Arcy Kavanagh:
After 40 years as a journalist and journalism instructor, D’Arcy decided it was time to put his writing skills to work in a fictional way. And so he’s created a mystery series featuring Paul Burke, an ex-pro cyclist from Montréal, Canada who lives on the French Riviera and is killing time while figuring out what to do next. Trouble, however, is never far away from Burke wherever he is in Europe. To ensure the authenticity of the areas (and the food, wine and beer) he writes about, D’Arcy and his wife Lynda spend six weeks each year in Europe cycling the areas featured in his next novel and discussing plot strategies. (Suggestion: Never discuss murdering someone while you’re in a public place.) When he’s not pounding on his keyboard, D’Arcy is a Celtic musician. He lives in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
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