Maureen Klovers is the creator of the Jeanne Pelletier amateur sleuth series set in Washington, DC, and the memoir In the Shadow of the Volcano: One Ex-Intelligence Official’s Journey through the Slums, Prisons, and Leper Colonies to the Heart of Latin America.
As suggested by the title of her memoir, Maureen has served as a U.S. intelligent agent; taught in the shantytowns of Quito, Ecuador; toured a notorious Bolivian prison in the company of a German narcotrafficker; and been inspired by some of the most positive, life-affirming people on the planet–residents of a facility for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (the new name for leprosy).
More recently, she has switched to writing mysteries. Her first novel, Hagar’s Last Dance, features lawyer-turned-bellydancer Jeanne Pelletier and her zany, crime-fighting urban family and delves deep into the Washington, D.C. that tourists never see. A sequel, Graveside Reunion, is set to be released in January 2018.
Maureen is also hard at work on a garden-to-table culinary mystery series starring Rita Calabrese, an Italian-American matriarch (and excellent cook!) turned small-town crime reporter.
She loves poking around forgotten corners of DC; speaking Italian, testing recipes for Italian-American classics (which will later work their way into Rita’s cookbook!), and traveling to Italy; and spending time with her incredibly supportive husband, fun (but exhausting!) toddler, and energetic black Lab.
Jann: We’re starting out 2018 with a bang! Maureen Klovers, author of the Jeanne Pelletier amateur sleuth mystery series, is going to chat with us today.
Your character, Jeanne Pelletier, that you introduced in Hagar’s Last Dance—what can you tell us about her?
Maureen: By day, Jeanne is a mousy temp attorney slaving away at a big Washington, D.C., law firm. But outside of work, she has a whole different persona—as a belly dancer named Zahira, and as a successful amateur sleuth. She’s assembled a fabulous crime-fighting “urban family” in D.C., consisting of her curmudgeonly ex-CIA agent neighbor; her ravishing sister, Vivienne; her commune-dwelling wild child best friend, Lily; her Scottish hacker boyfriend, Fergus; and a Salvadoran ex-con, Carlos—the only man other than Fergus that gets her pulse racing. She’s also got a third-legged rescued Golden Retriever named Scarlett!
Jeanne’s a strong, independent woman. She’s smart, caring, and funny—but not perfect the way most protagonists of mystery novels seem to be! She guzzles hot chocolate, struggles to get to work on time, and has a fear of commitment. Basically, she’s human—a little like a more intellectual and more wholesome American version of Bridget Jones.
Jann: How did the idea for an amateur sleuth mystery series originate?
Maureen: One blistering August day, when my mom and sister and I were holed up in the air conditioning and a little bored, the three of us decided to write a spy novel set in 1960s Italy and starring Sister Gilmary, a character very loosely based on my mom (who actually was a nun in the 1960s and did live in Italy—just not at the same time). We ended up having creative differences, so we never published the book together (although my mother did on her own!). However, this process jump-started my interest in writing crime fiction. But I am more interested in writing about amateur sleuths than spies! (Which is ironic, given that although I was never a spy per se, I did used to work for U.S. intelligence.)
Jann: Tell us about the plot for Graveside Reunion, the second book in the series, which will be published on January 19th?
Maureen: When Jeanne meets a wealthy conservative congressman at a Halloween party, neither is in a festive mood. Jeanne is cash-strapped and anxious about her upcoming high school reunion. Congressman Richardson is worried about the mental stability of his wife, a beauty queen-turned-historian who claims to be terrorized by a vindictive two-hundred-year-old ghost.
Before their dance is over, Jeanne agrees to investigate who—or what—is behind his wife’s “haunting.” But when Jeanne finds a body draped over a Confederate spy’s tomb near the Richardsons’ Georgetown mansion, she begins to suspect that the “haunting” has escalated to murder—and that her clients may be involved.
Jann: Are you working on book three?
Maureen: Not yet. But I have an idea that involves Carlos, the Salvadoran ex-con who forms one leg of the Jeanne-Fergus-Carlos love triangle, being arrested for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. It gives me lots of possibilities to explore Jeanne’s conflicting feelings and put her legal and investigative skills to work!
Jann: Do you find yourself returning to certain themes in your stories? What? Why?
Maureen: I seem to gravitate to strong, not-particularly-girly female protagonists and nuanced, not-totally-evil villains. I’m really interested in local history, so setting my story in an atmospheric, historic location is important.
Jann: What are you working on now? Can you tell us about your next project?
Maureen: I am working on the first novel in a new culinary cozy mystery series starring Rita Calabrese, an Italian-American matriarch turned crime reporter. It’s peopled with an eccentric cast of small-town characters and features mouthwatering recipes and a bucolic Hudson Valley setting.
Jann: Do you have a website, blog, twitter where fans might read more about you and your books?
Maureen: Absolutely! Please connect with me at http://www.maureenklovers.com On my blog, I discuss anything and everything that’s related (even, tangentially!) to my books. That means sharing my favorite mysteries; telling you about my upcoming books, author appearances, and conferences; sharing the joys and tribulations of writing; giving you insider’s tips to Washington, D.C. (where my Jeanne Pelletier mystery series is set); and feeding your inner Italophile (like the protagonist of my upcoming garden-to-table culinary mystery series, Rita Calabrese) through Italian and Italian-American recipes and tips and trivia on la bella lingua italiana, travel in Italy, and Italian culture and cuisine!
Jann: In your books, who is your favorite character and why?
Maureen: Jerry, Jeanne’s lovably grumpy ex-CIA agent neighbor. He is Jeanne’s sleuthing partner, sidekick, and confidant. They communicate by banging on the paper-thin wall between their apartments, and since they both suffer from insomnia, spend many a late night drinking coffee and solving crimes. Jerry is something like a cross between her older brother and the oracle of Delphi—he manages to say some pretty profound things in his own inimitable way.
Plus, Jerry’s lines seem to write themselves! That’s a real gift for an author. He’s one of those characters I can really see with my mind’s eye.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share a corner of your world with us Maureen. Wishing you a wonderful 2018!!
Jann Ryan grew up with the smell of orange blossoms in Orange County in sunny Southern California, where she has lived her entire life and dreamed up stories since she was a young girl. Never an avid reader, she was in her thirties when she picked up her first romance quite by accident. She fell in love with happily ever after and has been reading romances ever since.
Wanting to put pen to paper, Jann joined of Romance Writers of America®. Currently, she is working on a romantic suspense series set in Stellar Bay, a fictitious town along the California central coast to fulfill her publishing dream.