I met R.J. two years ago at the SOKY Book Fest when we were on a panel together. R.J. told me about his new series with Kensington at the time so I’m delighted to welcome him to the Wickeds.
R.J.: The second novel in my cozy mystery series, PLAYING THE DEVIL, was released at the end of February, but, as it turned, out, the devil was in the details. The details being Covid-19. No, the virus does not appear in the plot of this Deep South mystery connected to the game of bridge. How prescient would that have been? Instead, most of my book tour got cancelled due to safety reasons—mine and those of the book store owners, librarians and festival directors who did not want to take any chances.
My very last event was at a federal library in Fort Knox, Kentucky, which usually drew 30 to 40 patrons; but even back then on March 11th patrons were rightly skittish about group appearances and only 3 people showed up. Such is life for an author in the era of the pandemic. Instead, I SIP (shelter in place) and write on the fourth novel in my series. Actually, authors SIP during ordinary times as well. We live in other universes and hear (pardon me Truman Capote) other voices in other rooms.
Readers have asked me how I came up with the idea of the BRIDGE TO DEATH MYSTERIES, and I tell them that I have always enjoyed the game of contract bridge as a cerebral exercise. As a lifelong fan of Agatha Christie’s work, I recall CARDS ON THE TABLE, in which a murder is committed during a game of bridge; but I do not recall a series in which every novel contains a murder related to the game in some fashion or other.
In PLAYING THE DEVIL, my amateur female sleuth and reporter, Wendy Winchester, whose previous bridge club was wiped out by a quadruple poisoning in GRAND SLAM MURDERS, forms her own new club at the Rosalie, Mississippi Country Club. There, she encounters the most obnoxious hurdle possible in the form of a toxic male contributor who is, at once, a sexist, xenophobe, homophobe and bully. Needless to say, Brent Ogle is the one who is found clubbed with a bartender’s pestle while he is soaking in inebriated fashion in a hot tub. There is no shortage of suspects, as the man was an equal-opportunity offender and former college and pro quarterback who has never withdrawn from his addiction to the roar of the crowd. Wendy has her work cut out for her, as there are too many suspects with an abundance of opportunities to have committed the murder. But with help from her police detective boyfriend and police chief father, she is able to discover the who and how in time to prevent another death.
Readers: Although you do not have to play bridge to follow the plot or solve the crime, have you played the game yourself or do you know someone who does?
AUTHOR BIO: R. J. Lee follows in his father’s footsteps, those of R. Keene Lee, who wrote detective and fighter pilot stories in New York after the War. R. J. obtained a B.A. at the University of the South (Sewanee) where he studied Creative Writing under Andrew Lytle, then the editor of the SEWANEE REVIEW. Lee has had fourteen novels published by small presses, Putnam and Kensington, and is currently under contract to Kensington-for two more BRIDGE TO DEATH MYSTERIES to be released in 2021 and 2022. He is a native of Natchez, Ms, currently living in Oxford, Ms.