No Suspicious Circumstances, published last year in hardback by Allison
and Busby, received
excellent reviews; it’s now available in paperback, together
with the hardback
of its successor, Under Suspicion.
What’s so special about them? Firstly they’re
written by identical twins Helen
and Morna Mulgray. Having retired from a teaching career, they write
crime novels jointly and have lived together all their lives. Secondly,
and Morna strike an unusual and welcome balance between a witty,
style and suspense. And thirdly, they’ve two great
redoubtable DJ Smith, who gives a whole new meaning to the old comedy
phrase ‘a shock VAT raid’ and her
‘sniffer’ assistant, Gorgonzola. Gorgonzola is
a cat, but make no mistake. This is no cosy moggy; this is a working cat.
DJ and Gorgonzola
make an efficient team. Could you describe
both them and their jobs for us?
resourceful DJ Smith is an
undercover agent for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. There’s nothing
remarkable about her
appearance – she’s not a raving beauty –
nothing to draw attention to her –
average height, short dark hair – just one of the crowd.
is a red Persian, coat of moth-eaten appearance befitting her
undercover role a
expert sniffer-out of drugs for HMRC.
She’s a cat with attitude – and a
talent for painting pictures!
Do you have a
Gorgonzola of your own or would she be too
demanding to live with?
love cats but have no cat! We are
allergic to cat hairs. They
eyes water, nose run, if we stroke them and touch our face. Long cat hairs in a room
can make us sneeze
without even touching the cat. We
laughed when reporters called to interview us, expecting to take a
our cat – as if DJ Smith was our alter ego!
I think making DJ a
VAT agent was a brilliant choice: what
attracted you to it?
was a different field from the usual
police/secret agent one. We
about HMRC undercover work, but most readers won’t either! So specialised knowledge
is not necessary to
make the plot convincing.
How long did it take
you to write No Suspicious Circumstances. Did
you wait until you retired from
the day job or had you been working on it – or some other
project – for some
we got (early!) retirement in 1993
we were about 5 years intermittently writing it, mainly on holiday. There was no sense of
urgency, no feeling we
had to set aside time every day to write, as the achievement of being
was a remote speck on the horizon.
suppose, to be honest, we hoped to be published but didn’t
really believe we
ever would be!
Did you always plan
to write crime fiction or did you
experiment in other genres?
working as teachers of English we
wrote in the holidays over a few years – a romantic novel
with humour. We
sent it off to agents but no takers.
It didn’t fit either category, I suppose,
having too much humour for romantic fiction and too much romance for
we decided crime
writing was a more interesting genre.
Suspicious Circumstances centres on a
drug-smuggling ring operating in the Edinburgh
When DJ Smith investigates shady doings at the White Heather hotel
several deaths follow. Could you
outline for us the plot of your new hardback Under
is set in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. DJ
uses Gorgonzola as the key to infiltrate
the money-laundering drug-based organisation of Ambrose Vanheusen whose
possession is a pedigree black Persian cat – a well-groomed
thug like his
owner. What DJ hadn’t foreseen was that Vanheusen would have
Gorgonzola as a most desirable mate for his cat.
A fact that increases the danger
DJ is in.
There is a
remarkable sense of location in your writing. No
Suspicious Circumstances is set in Scotland
you live. Its
successor is set in Tenerife
this correct? I don’t have the novel, only the blurb). Does
that location too
play a significant part in the plot?
Suspicion is set
in the hot south of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, mainly in the
tourist resorts of Los Cristianos and Las Americas.
In both novels the background details are
important to draw the readers into the action, the same as if they are
a film. A vivid
background enables the
readers who do not know the location to visualise the scene, feel as if
are present. For
those readers who know
the location, there’s the thrill of identifying with a known
to that extent the locations are a
significant part of the plot.
You explain on your
how your writing partnership works technically, and I’m sure
this is a familiar
question for you, so I won’t repeat it. What interests me in
whether you have individual preferences or strengths of your own or
are evenly balanced over all aspects of writing.
For instance, does one of you prefer
dialogue, the other suspense?
no, no! We write together , seated side by side on
our sofa we plot and
think as one! One
writes on the laptop,
both contribute ideas and word choice.
It’s all a blend – though just occasionally
on a reread one of us
claims a particularly fine sentence as hers!
I was fascinated by
your expertise in combining wit and
humour with suspense. Even
when DJ is in
the direst straits, you manage to keep her sparky and quirky
without the reader losing the sense of real fear and danger. Are you conscious of this
as a potential
Humour can be overdone and descend to slapstick. Or humour in the wrong
place can weaken the
have on occasion on
a reread taken an incident out as being over-humorous for the plot.
You live in Edinburgh,
to many other writers including other crime novelists. Is it something
The cold biting east wind and the haar (sea mist
especially after a hot
day in summer) keep us writers huddled in our studies – or in
our case sitting
on our sofa. What
else is there to do in
weather like that but write!
you must be working on another DJ Smith novel at
present. Can you tell us the location or nature of the case, or is that
For your eyes only! Novel
set on the island of Madeira where DJ is investigating a suspected drug
ring. Madeira is known as ‘The Floating Garden’ because of all the flowers and
flowering trees – orchids, bird of
paradise flowers, jacaranda and coral trees.
But amidst this beauty, evil lurks.
Who among the guests at the Massaroco Hotel has given
orders to kill DJ
Thank you very much
for agreeing to be interviewed, and I
hope there are many more shots to come from your writing rifles.
Suspicion is published by Allison & Busby £19.99 Hbk