Bluette Matthey is a Huntersville writer whose niche– “travel mystery” – has led to three published detective novels, all set in Europe: “Abruzzo Intrigue,” “Black Forest Reckoning” and “Corsican Justice” (www.bluettematthey.com). “Dalmatian Traffick,” which concerns smuggling in the Balkans, is in the works.
Hardy Durkin may be the hero in all of them, but Matthey’s detailed descriptions, things like what a cafe’s interior looks like, what’s on a character’s plate, how it tastes and how much it costs, often steal the show.
In an interview this spring, she offered her insights on pairing wanderlust and whodunits.
How this started
“Three summers ago, I went to visit my youngest son, who was working in London as an intern. I love to walk and get off the beaten path. I enlisted in a lot of London walks visiting specific areas. One went to the London residence of (famed fictional detective) Hercule Poirot, and that sparked something in me. I said that when I got back to America, I was going to write travel mysteries and was going to write my way through the alphabet.
“I’m doing that now, but the ‘C’ book – ‘Corsican Justice’ – came out first. Corsica is special to me: I’d been to Corsica several times and a friend there showed me the island behind the scenes – the underbelly of Corsica. He’s a horticultural scientist, among other things, in Ajaccio, the capital and largest town on the island.
“I drew upon my travel notes and did a tremendous amount of research. The French Foreign Legion figures heavily into the book. So does food: Corsica’s terroir (food-climate interaction) is wonderful and important. Corsica has tremendous history, beaches, snow fields and the GR 20 hiking trail that takes you through rugged mountain areas. It’s a French island that used to be Italian and was invaded by the Moors and who knows who else. And it has a very old vendetta culture.”
How writing changed her traveling
“I see travel as writing trips, not vacations, since I got the writing bug. Now I visit a place because I have a book in mind. Each trip is, on average, about 3 1/2 weeks. It takes five to six months to write a book.
“For my second book, I had the idea first and got my research taken care of. Then I went to visit – and found a treasure trove, a place I never heard of. In my books, I don’t want to do places like London, Frankfurt or Paris. I want to feature places that are lesser-known.”
Juggling places and plots
“I’ll have a kernel of an idea for a novel when I go someplace, but will absorb data, sounds and senses when I go.
“I decided to spend several days in Rome on my last trip. One day I wandered around a little neighborhood called Trastevere and got the feel of it. There are all these old buildings, many from the Middle Ages, and little plaques or images embedded in building walls. The images were all of ‘Madonna and child,’ and no two were alike. Was this a way of blessing a building? I really got into taking pictures of facades and plaques. At some point, I want to run that down and see if there’s an idea in this.”
How she takes notes
“I like little tablets of paper – it might be a pad I picked up in a hotel. When I’m out and about, I wear a vest with 10 or 12 pockets that the notes fit into, along with money, passport, credit cards, etc. It has some outside pockets that are cleverly hidden; the rest of the pockets are inside. Wearing it, I feel pretty safe from pickpockets.”
The role of photos
“I always have a camera with me. If I find some detail I might want to put in a book, I’ll snap a photo; I can look at it later and have better recall.
“I take hundreds of photos on a trip.”
Trying not to seem obvious
“The only time I worried about getting caught standing out like a writer was outside Podgorica, in Montenegro, at a relocation camp where Roma (gypsies) are treated as non-citizens and can’t work; they’re given substandard places to live.
“I didn’t want to seem like I was gawking at their misery, but wanted to get a feel for how they live – it figures into the book. I tried to be delicate about it. I didn’t want to take too many pictures and draw attention to myself. We could have gotten a rock thrown at my car.”
At the end of the day
“When I get back to the B&B or hotel, I’ll write things down about that day that impressed me – while it’s all still fresh in my mind. I pull out my notes. I’ll flick back through my photos. This is pretty comprehensive and is a great way to help remember things vividly.”
When she gets back
“I’m very organized when I travel, but paperwork has always been a thing with me: I tend to let it accumulate on my desk. I have stacks of notepaper, notepads and receipts. When I’m working on a book and need to revisit a place, I rummage through it. I also take notes on my laptop.”