Fresh Blood

Name: Katy Watson

Title of Book: The Three Dahlias

'‘The Three Dahlias’ is a truly scrumptious slice of detective heaven!'

Three rival actresses team up to solve a murder at the stately home of Lettice Davenport, the author whose sleuthing creation of the 1930s, Dahlia Lively, had made each of them famous to a new generation. Also in attendance at Aldermere: Lettice’s old mansion home are the VIP fans, the fan club president; the team behind the newest movie adaptation of Davenport's books; the Davenport family themselves; and the three actresses famous for portraying Dahlia Lively through the decades: national treasure Rosalind King, from the original movies, who's feeling sensitive that she's past her prime, TV Dahlia for thirteen seasons, Caro Hooper, who believes she really IS Dahlia Lively, and ex-child star Posy Starling, fresh out of the fame wilderness (and rehab) to take on the Dahlia mantle for the new movie - but feeling outclassed by her predecessors.

When fictional death turns into real bodies, can the three Dahlias find the answers to the murders among the fans, the film crew and the family - or even in Lettice's Dahlia books themselves?

There have been many books that harp back to the nostalgia of the Golden Age of crime, but with Watson’s debut she brings to her story a wonderfully written novel stuffed with Christie-esque wonder. Here, Watson brings us Golden Age in modern times. Watson gives all three of her main protagonists distinctive voices. I don’t know why, but I kept hearing the voice of the late Dame Diana Rigg whenever Rosalind King spoke! I thought I may have little time for the youngest of the trio, Posy, but again Watson gives her a flawed personality, but Posy recognises her faults and endeared herself to me. Caro was the image of the ‘Grande Dame’ of TV who has fallen on difficult times through being typecast as Dahlia. But it is a role she performs with relish long after the cameras have stopped rolling! All are given their part to shine throughout Watson’s story. I had thought that three detectives would be one too many, however I feel that all three are diverse but complement each other.

The story is steeped in the books of Lettice Davenport’s ‘Dahlia Lively’ novels and the setting of her old home, Aldemere simply adds to the atmosphere. There is even a boat house and a folly with a murder mystery on the estate which is reminiscient of Christie’s own, ‘Dead Man’s Folly’, which was set on her Devon summer home, Greenway. It is these touches that bring the Golden era to the fore. Don’t worry, Watson’s homage to Christie may ring bells with many crime readers, but that is where it ends. The crime and solution is all from Watson’s imagination and has a Golden Age feel with a contemporary twist. ‘The Three Dahlias’ is one of those books that steals your time as I couldn’t put it down. Watson wonderfully brings yesteryear to the present and delivers a hugely enjoyable read that Christie and co would have been proud to have written. A total joy – and there will be more from the three Dahlias to come which itself is cause for celebration. ‘The Three Dahlias’ is a truly scrumptious slice of detective heaven!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ‘The Three Dahlias’ refers to the three actresses, past and present, who have portrayed Dahlia Lively from the mysteries by Golden Age crime writer, Lettice Davenport. What was the seed that grew the idea to feature three actors who have played the same fictional character?
I think it was the idea of those classic characters – like Miss Marple, or Poirot – being played by different people over the decades. Or even a show like Doctor Who. Everyone has their Doctor – or their Poirot or Miss Marple – and it’s usually the one we first saw at an impressionable age.

I liked the idea that there could be a fellowship of sorts between people who’d played the same role. They’re an exclusive group – no one else has done that, or been that person to the world. And with them having all played Dahlia in different decades, it gave me the chance to bring three women of different ages and experiences together, which really appealed to me.

The fact that I also then got to create an entire fictional series of books and a fictional detective within the world of the novel was just an added bonus!
2) ‘The Three Dahlias’ has all the ingredients of a great Christie – a rambling mansion, eccentric guests and a series of murders. Do you love a good Golden Age murder mystery?
I really, really do! I’ve always been a big fan of classic Golden Age crime novels – in fact, my whole family is. My husband and I even had a sort of Poirot-themed art deco wedding, as a love of Agatha Christie was the one thing both families could agree on!

I think there’s something wonderfully comforting and familiar about those books. They feel enough like another world not to be entirely real, and even when bodies are falling left and right, you know that the culprit will be apprehended and the world will be returned to its proper order by the last page.

But I didn’t want to try and recreate what those golden age authors had done so well, by writing a 1930s murder mystery – although there are many authors now doing that marvellously. I liked the idea of taking everything I loved from those books and bringing it into a modern world.
3) Sections of the book are written from the viewpoint of each actress. Rosalind King, the first ‘Dahlia’, is in her sixties, Caro is known as the ‘TV series Dahlia’ and then there is Posy, in her twenties, who has only just been signed up for the role. How was it making sure you got the voice right for each woman and kept in character with their respective ages and attitudes?
It definitely took some extra care and attention to get into their heads! But that did ensure that I knew them inside and out by the time the book was done.

I loved writing all three of them, because they’re such different women, with such strong personalities. They feel like real people in my head now, not just characters I made up.

In some ways, Caro was the easiest, because she’s closest to my own age. With Posy, at least I could think back to how I felt at 28, 29, although her life experiences are so different to my own. For Rosalind, I’m fortunate to have a lot of wonderful, older women in my life – including my own mother – so I thought about all the conversations I’ve had with them, when I was getting into her head.
4) Have you ever attended a crime convention and did you get inspiration for some of the characters in your book from people attending the event?
I have – now! But when I wrote the book, during lockdown, I’d never attended a crime convention, although I had been to other book and fan conventions. None of my characters are based on real people at all, but it has been fun to hear from readers who tell me they recognise them from conventions all the same!

I think anyone who has ever been a fan of anything recognises that people express that fandom in different ways. Unfortunately, because most of my fans were suspects, I didn’t get to demonstrate how wonderful and inclusive fans can be, too! Hopefully in another book…
5) There is a teaser at the end of ‘The Three Dahlias’. Are we going to meet up again with Rosalind, Caro and Posy in your next book?
We absolutely are! I’m editing it at the moment, and hoping it’ll be out next summer. It’s so much fun to take the three Dahlias on another adventure, this time as friends from the start – and on the lookout for murder.
6) What bit of advice would you give to anyone starting out writing their debut?
My first advice is always, always to read, because by reading you get a feel for story, for character, for pacing, that makes it easier to know where your own book is missing the mark. But I would also say, write the book you’re longing to read. Firstly, because it’ll be a lot more fun for you. Secondly because, if you don’t want to read it, why should anyone else?

When I started writing The Three Dahlias, it was absolutely the book I needed during lockdown. I wanted to escape to the classic crime I loved, but with a modern edge. I wanted to read about women across the generations teaming up and taking names. And I wanted to have fun romping around a stately home looking for clues. So that’s what I wrote!
7) Having read ‘The Three Dahlias’, I feel you are a fan of classic crime fiction? Which three crime novels (past or present) would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I really am. But narrowing it down to three?! That’s hard. Um…
I think I’d have to go for:

Agatha Christie’s short stories (all of them, preferably!). I never used to be a fan of short stories, but recently I’ve been developing a new appreciation for the perfectly plotted short crime story. Not least because I’m trying to write a few myself! I think a collection I could dip in and out – between dips in the sea, of course - of would be perfect.

Gaudy Night - Dorothy L Sayers, because I love watching Lord Peter flounder in love. Also, because it’s so wonderfully English, it might help with the homesickness after I was stranded.

House of Shade - M M Kaye. This is probably the most re-read crime book on my shelves! It’s actually an anthology of three murder mysteries, set in the 40s and 50s in Zanzibar, the Andamans and Kashmir. (She also wrote another three set in Kenya, Berlin and Cyprus.) They’re very old-fashioned now, and certain views have not aged well (much like Christie). But I’ve loved the series ever since I first discovered them at my local library as a teenager. My copy of House of Shade has travelled the world with me over the years, so it would feel wrong not to take it to my desert island!