Last year I went to the fabulous Murder and Mayhem in Chicago conference and while I was there I met the equally fabulous Erica Ruth Neubauer! And I’ve been anxiously awaiting Murder at the Mena House since then. Here’s a bit about the book:
Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel—an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers wait in the shadows . . .
Egypt, 1926. Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won’t be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie’s best efforts at meddling with her love life, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane’s plans to remain cool and indifferent become ancient history in the company of Mr. Redvers, a roguish banker she can’t quite figure out . . .
While the Mena House has its share of charming guests, Anna Stainton isn’t one of them. The beautiful socialite makes it clear that she won’t share the spotlight with anyone—especially Jane. But Jane soon becomes the center of attention when she’s the one standing over her unintentional rival’s dead body.
Now, with her innocence at stake in a foreign country, Jane must determine who can be trusted, and who had motive to commit a brutal murder. Between Aunt Millie’s unusual new acquaintances, a smarmy playboy with an off-putting smile, and the enigmatic Mr. Redvers, someone has too many secrets. Can Jane excavate the horrible truth before her future falls to ruin in Cairo . . . and the body count rises like the desert heat?
A question that no one has asked me yet, but that I’m dying to answer is: Why set your series in the 1920’s? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The Roaring Twenties has a certain cache, doesn’t it? It immediately brings to mind flappers dancing the night away in short beaded dresses with a flask on their hip. Red lipstick, hot jazz and characters like Zelda Fitzgerald with their bobbed hair and fast-talking slang.
That really sets a scene, doesn’t it? And it was certainly fun to bring elements of all that into the story, although my protagonist Jane Wunderly isn’t a flapper herself—I wanted to make her a little older, a little more world weary—but she comes up against those Bright Young Things, whether she wants to or not. In fact, it’s one of those young flappers whose death gets Jane in the pickle she finds herself in—suspected of murder in a foreign country.
But another reason that I wanted to write about the 1920’s was because it was a time when women were starting to push against formal social conventions—they won the vote early in the decade, and more and more were joining the workforce. Their hemlines were high and their hair was short, and they weren’t afraid to have a good time. And while traditional roles were still the norm, it was a time when there was a burgeoning sense of freedom and change. And Jane is definitely a woman taking advantage of that—reclaiming her maiden name and pushing back against all her aunt’s schemes to see her married off again.
And who can forget Tutmania? The 1920’s saw an incredible interest in all things Egyptian, and this was reflected in clothes and jewelry throughout the decade. Starting from a young age, I was also interested in ancient Egypt and all the discoveries that had been made in those long-hidden tombs. I devoured books about the ancient pharaohs and the archeological exploits of men like Howard Carter. So, combining my interest in the decade with my interest in Egypt itself seemed like an excellent plan. And so, MURDER AT THE MENA HOUSE was born.
READERS: What time period do you especially like to read about or imagine yourself living in?
Erica Ruth Neubauer spent eleven years in the military, nearly two as a Maryland police officer and one as a high school English teacher before finding her way as a writer. She has been a reviewer of mysteries and crime fiction for publications such as Publishers Weekly and Mystery Scene Magazine for several years, and she’s a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Erica Ruth lives in Milwaukee, WI.
Congratulations, Erica! This book sounds fabulous. Question for you: Many ex-pats living in Cairo in that era would have held highly racist and classist attitudes about the Egyptians serving them and working in the city. How did you deal with that?
It’s true, they did. There aren’t many ex-pats in my story, since it centers mainly around the hotel, but I do address the issue of guests overlooking the locals and staff at the hotel and their treatment.
Thanks so much! And you’re right–a lot of the ex-pats were racist and classist. I didn’t have any ex-pats in the novel per say, but I do address the treatment of the native workers at the hotel.
Congratulations, Erica! The 20s and Tut-mania make for a great combination.
Thanks so much Liz! I really love the combination too. 🙂
Welcome, Erica! I’m not one to want to live in a different time period but I love reading about the time period you are writing about!
Thanks so much Sherry! I think I wouldn’t have done well in another time period either, but I sure like escaping to them in books.
Thanks so much for having me today!!
Thanks so much for having me Sherry!
And I agree. I wouldn’t have done well living in another time period, but I sure like escaping to them.
I’d love to be back in the era of the Founders, when my hero John Adams was publishing and everyone, even women, were thinking right out loud in public.
So interesting Heidi! I’d never thought of that, but what a fascinating time it would have been to be alive.
What an interesting time, Heidi! I love time periods when women were voicing their opinions.
Congratulations, Erica! I learned more about your debut novel during last week’s on-line MMC. Looking forward to reading about Jane’s adventures.
When I started reading mysteries, I loved reading books from the Golden Age of Christie, Allingham, Sayers, Tey and Marsh, so the 1920s-1940s period is my favourite to read. Also the British dramas on PBS I remember watching on TV were also set during this period.
Mine too Grace! I love reading about things set from the ’20’s through the ’40’s. And I also read a lot of books by those Golden Age writers.
Thanks so much Grace! I love reading things set in the ’20’s through the ’40’s as well. And I also love reading those Golden Age authors–I read a lot of Agatha Christie growing up.
Your book sounds delightful! I love the original concept. I like to jump around time periods in my reading.
Thanks so much Abigail! I love to jump around too. 🙂
I enjoy reading about all time periods, but especially the latter part of the 1800’s to the mid 1900’s mainly because I personally know relatives that lived in that time frame. It would be neat to experience a time that they lived through first hand.
Oh, that’s so interesting Kay! And how wonderful to know people first hand who lived then!
Welcome, Erica! I love to read about the 1920s and I love to read about exotic places, so Murder at the Mena House sounds right up my alley! Best of luck with the book.
Thanks so much Barbara! 🙂
Congrats on your debut! It sounds wonderful. As for time periods, they don’t really matter to me as long as the story is good.
For me, it’s character. I’ll forgive a lot if the characters are good.
I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book, and it’s a lot of fun. Be sure to get it.
Oh, and after finishing it last weekend, I had an uncontrollable urge to watch 1999’s The Mummy.
Thanks so much Mark! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
And ha! I forgot about that movie….I might need to queue that one up!
Congratulations, and welcome to the blog! This sounds perfect to me. I’m a huge Egyptology fan, and do love reading about the 20s. Downloading it now!
Yay! Thanks so much Julie!!
This book sounds fascinating. I love reading about all time periods (I really get INTO a book), but my favorite is the Victorian Age in England. Wouldn’t want to have lived there then, but it is a very interesting time.
I’m a big fan of the Victorian period as well. So interesting to read about, although I agree. I wouldn’t have wanted to live then.
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