Cold Case is Linda Barnes' seventh novel featuring Boston-
based private investigator Carlotta Carlyle.
RH: You'd written another mystery series featuring Michael
Spraggue before beginning the Carlotta Caryle series. How did you
come to create Carlotta?
LB: I started out as a playwright, and quickly realized that I
would starve. I thought I'd write a novel. I knew it would be a
mystery, but I had no idea it would be a series. My plan was to write
a mystery with a male detective, and then say to my publisher, "I
have a great idea. I want to write about this woman detective." And
they told me that I didn't want to do that, that it would never sell.
"You want to do another Michael Spraggue book." I said OK, but I
really wanted to do Carlotta for many reasons.
First of all, I had made an unfortunate choice. I had made Michael an
amateur sleuth, and I don't think amateur sleuths work in the United
States. People want to know why a character's interested in solving a
murder, what's going on there. How many deaths can you
accidentally stumble upon before it becomes unbelievable? In order
to get Michael involved in cases, I had to keep killing off people who
were very near and dear to him. He's the depressed detective, and he
becomes more depressed in every book. After the second Michael
Spraggue book, I wrote a short story auditioning Carlotta. I thought
that if I could get the short story published, maybe they would let
me write a novel with her.
My agent at the time sold the story ("Lucky Penny") to three
different magazines, all of which immediately folded. It became the
short story that killed magazines, and I never got paid because it
never got published. When I switched agents, I sent my new agent
the Carlotta story and told her, "If you have any magazines you
really hate, you can send this to them and they'll fold." She sent it to
the New Black Mask, which lasted only five issues, but "Lucky
Penny" was in #3. It was nominated for every major mystery award,
and won the Anthony award.
My editor told me the woman character might be a good idea after
all, and I think I wrote the first Carlotta book overnight. I was so
happy to have a professional detective and a woman's voice. I had
fun with Spraggue; I learned a lot from him. But I love Carlotta
RH: Tell me a little bit about Cold Case.
LB: When I started Cold Case, I thought of it as my
"family secrets" book. Family secrets resonate with me. I have a
family, we have secrets. Some of the secrets are foolish, not worth
keeping, but they became invested with a certain power over the
years. And when I read a tiny little item in the Boston Globe
about a missing writer, I said to myself, "That's what this book is
about. Family secrets and a missing writer."
But the more I wrote, the more I became involved with memory.
Memory is fascinating to me because I have a sister who's only a few
years older than me, and we remember the exact same incidents in
totally different ways. My brother is eight years younger than I am,
and he'll call me up and say, "Do you remember when Dad came
home and said this and this and it changed my life?" and I'll say, "No,
I don't remember that." It seems to me that all our memories are
very independent, and each one of them is a truth, but not
necessarily the truth. I know that memory can be influenced
by chemicals, by injuries...so I began to study different theories
about repressed memories.
It seems to me that there must be experiences terrible enough that
you would repress them if they happened to you, and that they could
later be accessed by a resemblance of another situation to that
original situation. I asked around -- I have friends who are
psychiatrists and forensic psychiatrists who testify at trials -- to see
if it could actually happen. Plausibility is important to me.
RH: The family secrets in this book seem very plausible. And it
seems to me that many of the great private detective novels involve
cases where the detective is thrust into the role of family therapist,
in that he or she must find the source of the trauma.
LB: That's certainly the Ross MacDonald model, where the sins
of the father are visited on the children, and I love those novels.
Family traumas resonate because all of us have lived in some sort of
family environment, and all of us have wondered at times what it
would have been like if we hadn't grown up in that particular
I've given Carlotta a family dynamic, even though none of the people
in her 'family' are related to her, and there's always a family drama
going on around the perimeters of a given book's main case. These
characters were created deliberately, to defy convention, because the
traditional private investigator walks down these mean streets
alone. Carlotta doesn't. She can't go to the abandoned
warehouse at midnight. People care about her, she's responsible for
RH: You've discussed in other interviews how you and Carlotta
influence each other in different ways.
LB: What scares me the most right now is how I'm getting
more like Carlotta, but she's not getting more like Linda. And this is
causing Linda to do some really stupid things. Recently, I was at a
baseball game at Fenway with my kid, and there were a bunch of
guys sitting nearby, smoking and swearing... you know, behaving like
guys at a ballgame. Much to my chagrin, and to my husband's
mortification, I found myself turning around and telling these guys,
"Can you clean up your act? I got my kid here." I would never have
done that...that was Carlotta talking. So now I'm worried I'm going to
start walking down dark streets I have no business walking down.
When I start carrying a weapon, then they should lock me up.
I really think of her as a person that I know. When I'm having one of
those good days writing, I feel like I can hear her voice. It's not my
voice; it's a different voice, and I recognize it, and I'm grateful that
she's talking to me. Then there are days when she shuts up and I
have to work by myself. But I'm always happy to hear from her.