A Wicked Welcome to Karen Odden! **plus a giveaway**

by Julie, wintering in Somerville

I am delighted to welcome Karen Odden to the blog today! I love this origin story for her latest novel.

Ripping Out Pipes

Thanks so much for having me, Wickeds! I felt honored when Julie invited me.

I love your theme this month of “Out with the old (and in with the new)”—maybe because it feels remarkably apposite at the moment, for both my life and my writing.

Back in September, a pipe burst in my son’s bathroom. Believe me when I say water is a force, and it soaks into walls fast! The mitigation company chopped holes through ten walls and installed fans to prevent mold. Next, our hot water heater broke, spewing water everywhere. Yet more holes! Then a pipe burst in our attic. Our plumber showed me the broken pieces: “This is cheap pipe, Karen. It’s going to keep happening.” We got the message: we needed to repipe our entire house. The plumbers cut yet more holes. (!!) There was dust everywhere. In a word: disruption.

It felt like an apt metaphor for my writing life because with Down a Dark River, I realized—in retrospect—I had to do the authorial version of cutting through the drywall, taking out some old pipes, and putting up with dust during a slow rebuild.

All my books are set in the world of 1870s London, a period I’ve researched extensively beginning with my dissertation at NYU. My first three novels feature different young women protagonists who become amateur detectives because someone they love has been injured or died. These books tend to be intimate, with deeply personal stakes, and follow in the vein of some old favorite books by Mary Stewart, Daphne DuMaurier, and Phyllis Whitney.

But then I came across a story that clawed at me and inspired Down a Dark River.

I found it in a contemporary article about race and the law in the US. A young Black woman in Alabama was jaywalking across a quiet street when she was hit by a car, driven by a wealthy white man who was intoxicated. She suffered terrible injuries, and when her family sued, the judge awarded her a piddly $2,000. Outraged, her father took an unusual step: he threatened the judge’s daughter. To my mind, he wanted to show the judge what it was to almost lose a child. I found myself compelled to write a book about failures of empathy and the desire for revenge.

However, if I wanted to set this mystery in 1870s London, I needed male characters. In Victorian England, the judges, the police, and barristers are all men. (Women weren’t allowed into the Met Police or onto juries until around 1920.) So I couldn’t write a book with a young woman amateur sleuth. This was a “rip out the old pipes” moment.

From the beginning, the book felt darker and more ambitious. I dug deeper into my own “foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart” for the ugly moments when I felt the sting of injustice, when I wished for revenge, when I was full of regret for mistakes I made. It was emotionally uncomfortable but creatively productive. To develop Inspector Michael Corravan, I spent hours reading male protagonists in The Bourne Identity, Faithful Place, and the Bosch novels, and Victorian police reports (all written by men, of course) out loud, to train my ear.

For Down a Dark River, and its sequel coming in November 2022, I removed some old writing pipes and put up with some disruption to find new ones. You can’t see them, but I know they’re there, and I feel the difference as I sit down to write.  

Readers: Can you recall a time when you’ve had to “reboot” or step backward in order to make progress? Or step out of your comfort zone to grow? I’d love to hear. I’ll send a signed copy of Down a Dark River to one commentor (US only).


London, 1878. One April morning, a small boat bearing a young woman’s corpse floats down the murky waters of the Thames. When the victim is identified as Rose Albert, daughter of a prominent judge, the Scotland Yard director gives the case to Michael Corravan, one of the only Senior Inspectors remaining after a corruption scandal the previous autumn left the division in ruins. Reluctantly, Corravan abandons his ongoing case, a search for the missing wife of a shipping magnate, handing it over to his young colleague, Mr. Stiles.
An Irish former bare-knuckles boxer and dockworker from London’s seedy East End, Corravan has good street sense and an inspector’s knack for digging up clues. But he’s confounded when, a week later, a second woman is found dead in a rowboat, and then a third. The dead women seem to have no connection whatsoever. Meanwhile, Mr. Stiles makes an alarming discovery: the shipping magnate’s missing wife, Mrs. Beckford, may not have fled her house because she was insane, as her husband claims, and Mr. Beckford may not be the successful man of business that he appears to be.
Slowly, it becomes clear that the river murders and the case of Mrs. Beckford may be linked through some terrible act of injustice in the past—for which someone has vowed a brutal vengeance. Now, with the newspapers once again trumpeting the Yard’s failures, Corravan must dredge up the truth—before London devolves into a state of panic and before the killer claims another innocent victim.


USA Today bestselling novelist Karen Odden earned her PhD in English at NYU. Her four novels, all set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery. Her e-newsletter publishes every 6 weeks, featuring exclusive content and essays and giveaways by guest authors. Connect with Karen at http://www.karenodden.com.

43 Thoughts

  1. Down a Dark River sounds wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Reboot? What is life without change. The pandemic caused worldwide reboot and I was not immune. I morphed from a successful career as a paralegal in SW Florida to a full-time writer in Maine. It is not without it’s challenges. But then, challenge = growth. I hope…

    1. It’s true — challenge does cause growth. I feel like change of scenery really boosts creativity. We live in AZ and spend 6 weeks up in Utah in the summer, escaping the heat, and I feel like those first few weeks after we relocate, my mind is more pliable and energized. And you moved two ways — both location and profession. I wish you luck in your writing! I hope you enjoy Down a Dark River. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  2. Congratulations on your new book, Karen. And I hope the walls of your house are all hole-free now!

  3. Just recently signed up to do deliver meals on wheels in the building I live in. Trying to get outside my comfort zone a little more.

    1. I love that you’re doing that. The world is a challenging place right now, and I feel maybe if we all looked after each other and our communities a bit more, it would be much for the better. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Congratulations, Karen! I love your books, as you know, and can’t wait to read this one.

    My current project involves three points of view, which I had never done before. It’s quite a learning curve, but it feels good.

    I’m so sorry about your house! My goodness, such disruption – and in a pandemic. Did you all have to move out for a while? I hope it’s all back to tip-top shape soon.

    1. Yes, it’s good to be on a learning curve, isn’t it, trying something new? Yes, the house is getting reassembled, slowly, as there’s a materials and labor shortage, of course. We never did have to move out, but I definitely didn’t want to invite anyone over for a while! Thanks for your kind words, Edith, and I hope you enjoy Down a Dark River 🙂

  5. Welcome, Karen! DOWN A DARK RIVER sounds wonderful. I’m in the middle of one of those “rip the pipes out” literary renovations myself right now. The manuscript is due in a couple weeks, so I hope what I’m doing is going to find favor with my editor.

    1. Thanks for the welcome, Liz! It takes some courage to do literary renovations, but generally, given that we all learn with each manuscript we write and each book we read, I think the writing arc bends toward progress, so my guess is your editor will like them 🙂

  6. Congrats on your book! I’ve rebooted many times in my life, probably one of the biggest was moving from maine to California for a new job/promotion/career opportunity. No regrets!

    1. Relocation can do wonders to reenergize us, I think. Wow, Maine to California plus a change in job is a 2-fer! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sherry! I’ve been enjoying your books for years. Recommended them to my mom who loves cozies, and she’s hooked 🙂

  7. Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Down a Dark River”. Sounds like a marvelous read and one I know I would greatly enjoy.

    We had always stayed in the same area because my parents were there. Had always thought of it as “home”. However, after both Mom and Dad went on to their heavenly home, it started to feel like we were in a rut. Home was just a place we lived. We had always loved our frequent trips to the Ozark Mountains, but I’ve never been great with change. Then one day the light bulb went off – we only go through this life but once. To the great shock and pleasant surprise to hubby, it was I that suggested that we move to where we loved to go. It took about a year to get it all worked out. We sold our home, downsized getting rid of the excess “stuff” and built our real dream home in a place that actually feels like home. Best decision EVER! Here we are five years later and extremely thankful that we made that decision to get out of the rut. Thankful because here 5 years older and with even more medical issues, if we had put it off, we probably would never have known how it felt to be “home” and love it so much. Still not a person to accept change readily, but now I’m definitely more open to explore possibilities.

    Thank you for the chance to win a signed copy of “Down a Dark River”. Shared and hoping to be the very fortunate one picked.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Wow, Kay. Thank you for sharing your story. I love hearing that you recognized an emotional truth, paid attention (not everyone does; in fact, many don’t) and acted on it — and it turned out so well for you. I have never been to the Ozarks. Grew up in upstate New York and bounced around to NYC, Milwaukee, San Diego, and now Arizona, but I would love to visit the Ozarks someday. I’ve heard there are more shades of green and blue in the Ozarks than anywhere else on earth. Is that true? 🙂

      1. We might be a bit jaded, but it is a beautiful part of the country. We have traveled from NY to AZ and from MI to GA, but it’s always a joy to come back to my home state. 🙂

  8. Welcome to the Wickeds, Karen. I’ve used a different metaphor for one of my books, “rototilling” but I certainly understand what you mean!

    1. YES! I love “rototilling.” That’s a great metaphor for this process! Bringing that new soil up. I’m going to start using that … I’ll credit you! Thank you for that, and for the welcome. 🙂

  9. I was working as the stockroom manager for a manufacturing facility. They were going to downsize and wanted to move someone who’d been there longer into my job so I had a choice to either move to the IT department or lose my job so I took the move. No one in the company wanted to go to IT because of the manager. She wanted things done her way but she was the nicest boss I ever had.

    1. This is a great story. Good for you!! Thank you for sharing. I know change = growth. Sometimes I resist. I wish my first instinct were to go with it … but I’m trying to get better about saying yes.

  10. The book sounds wonderful! I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction & look forward to reading this one. I rebooted my life when divorced with a 7 tear old & decided to go back to college in my 40’s. It wasn’t easy, but the best decision I ever made.

    1. That sounds like a huge challenge, Judith. Good for you having the courage to take those steps. Thank you for sharing.

    2. I did the same thing with a 3-year old and started college a few years later. It was tough, but loved it. Good for you for making the same hard decision.

      1. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that challenging. Huge kudos to you. If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing now? I love a success story. If you want to pm me, I’m at kmodden@gmail.com.

  11. Congrats on the book! Sorry to hear about the pipes. So frustrating! We had to deal with that last year! A pipe burst in our basement. What a mess that was for a while. Thanks for the chance!

    1. Isn’t it frustrating? The clean-up is such a multi-step process. The thing is, they just kept breaking. It was bizarre. Every time I heard a weird noise, I thought, Oh no, another pipe?? Usually it was my dog coming through her dog door or drinking from her water bowl… 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  12. When I moved into my condo, the complex was just beginning a repipping project. I can sympathize with having to rip out some walls before they got to mine (and really started the holes). Hope that is all behind you now.

    1. Ah, so you understand! 🙂 Yes, it’s mostly behind us. We just had tile laid in the bathroom that was destroyed, and soon we will have baseboards … and then we’re done. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  13. What a mess to deal with!! We had to have our laundry room floor ripped out and all new pipes put in for the sink and toilet. That was bad enough. I can’t imagine having all the walls ripped open and then all the repair work required to get the rooms back to normal.

    I rebooted my life to different degrees several times. Got married, had a baby, got divorced, moved to another part of the country, went to college as an adult, moved to another state, again, bought a business, retired, moved again, lived in another country for 3 months. But each time, the pipes got replaced, the walls repaired, and life went on in better shape than before. It sure hasn’t been boring.

    The premise of your latest book is fascinated and I look forward to adding it to my TBR pile.

    1. You seem to take change in stride. I love your perspective. Yes, the pipes get fixed, the walls repaired, and life goes on. Repiping is a first-world problem, I know. I have a nice house with a roof and heat, and I’m grateful for that. I hope you enjoy Down a Dark River, when you get to it. (We all have hefty TBRs, I know!). 🙂

  14. Hi, Congratulations on your new book, it sounds very intriguing and like a Very Good read! Thank you for sharing about it. Oh yes, especially since the pandemic started I take No One or Anything for granted, which is so easy to do. Have a great weekend and stay sage.

    1. I like your sign off … stay sage! I may adopt that one. 🙂 And I will try. Thanks for commenting and happy weekend!

  15. Congratulations on the new book! Sounds really good. The pandemic forced a sort of reboot for me as I never had someone else buy my groceries for me. I wanted to pick out my meat, my produce had to be closely scrutinized before purchase, no dented cans or crushed boxes. I check the eggs to make sure none are cracked or broken. You get the idea. I had to give up control and let total strangers do my shopping and that meant getting cuts of meat and other things in condition I would have never bought from time to time.. manor change in my lifestyle.

    1. I think the pandemic has challenged us in all sorts of ways — and also sometimes served as a mirror, showing us things about ourselves. There’s a book I’m reading right now, THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, with this epigraph: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child,” which I love. It goes on to talk about how the challenges we face inevitably result in growth and a knowledge of our own ability to change and innovate. I love that idea. Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience. 🙂 Happy weekend!

  16. Your book sounds fascinating!

    Anyway, back up or rebook? Well, I backed out of my job that was a stressful situation. I decided to rebook and take care of my well- being; both mentally and physically. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

    1. Sounds like a wise move! Thank you for sharing. And I hope if you read Down a Dark River, you enjoy it. Do you know, it was only today, after reading many stories about people rebooting that I realize that in my novel, Michael Corravan reboots. He leaves seedy Whitechapel and starts fresh in Lambeth as a uniformed policeman. I hadn’t really thought about it until today. Funny what we don’t notice that we put into our books. Happy weekend! Best, Karen

  17. I had to do a reboot after be bullied, put down & told I couldn’t do things the whole way through school through work. After all this happened, I rebooted and fortunately things turned better. Although I hated to go through all this, by doing so it made me a stronger, compassionate person.
    Congrats on book.
    Book looks like a great read. Sure would love to read & review book in print format.
    Wishing you the best

    1. I’m so very sorry you had to go through all that. I too was bullied, all through high school. But I know I lean on that experience now, finding compassion and a certain sureness about the kind of person I want to be as well as the kind of person I don’t. I wish you all the best in your journey. I hope if you do read Down a Dark River, you enjoy it. I only just realized today that the book itself is about a reboot. Inspector Corravan leaves seedy Whitechapel (where he was a thief and a bareknuckles boxer, totally illegal) for Lambeth, where he becomes a policeman. Funny how I didn’t see that until today. If you don’t win the giveaway, please do ask for it at your local library. Most libraries have a “slush fund” to buy requested books, and DADR is just beginning to filter its way into libraries. All my best, Karen

  18. I survived a fire that was in the apartment unit next door. We lost quite a bit of our belongings because the fire department used our apartment as a breaker to prevent the fire from spreading to other units. Prior to the fire, we had a large credit card debt. We ended up moving in with my Mom. We were able to go through credit counseling to pay off our debt. We lived with my Mom for a number of years.

  19. Ah, yes, that moment when I was hanging diapers and my husband was expecting our two-year-old to act like an adult!

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