The Making Of A Mystery…

Author Oscar de Muriel has had numerous murder mysteries published and is now working on his latest book, a spy thriller based on the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo

Living in the heart of the Ribble Valley countryside, author Oscar De Muriel is originally from Mexico City, where he started writing as a young scholar.

Now a successful published author, translator, violinist and chemical engineer, when he left school he studied at university in Mexico: “Chemical engineering turned out to be great training for murder mysteries. I knew all the poisons that were untraceable!”

When he finished his PhD at the University of Manchester Oscar got a job offer in Mexico City, but as he recalls, it was at the beginning of the hard-hitting, 2008 global credit crunch: “The offer was rescinded so I decided to take on a ‘temporary’ job in the UK.”

He went on to get a post as a chemical engineer specialising in water treatment, working part time, which enabled him to make a start on his first published novel, The Strings of Murder, part of a seven-book, murder mystery series.

“As I was only working three days a week, I had a lot of time on my hands but not enough money to go out! I had the plot in the back of my head and wanted to write a detective series.

“I have always loved this genre – I really enjoy it. I love Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes – the Hound of the Baskervilles is one of my favourites! When I was a child my mum had all those books on her shelves so I just helped myself.

“At the time I thought a Victorian-style X Files series would be a good concept, so I created two detective characters, Frey and McGray, who only take on cases that appear to be related to the supernatural. One of the detectives is English, the other Scottish and for most of the series they truly hate each other! All seven books feature the same two characters – one of whom has a tragic past.”

When he starts every novel, Oscar does a tremendous amount of research: “It was surprisingly easy to find facts and even detailed street maps from Victorian times for the book,” he says.

The Strings of Murder is described as ‘a spellbinding concoction of crime, history and horror’.

Set in Edinburgh, Oscar’s favourite city, in 1888, the plot revolves around a virtuoso violinist, who is brutally killed in his home. The suspects in the case all talk of a cursed violin once played by the devil himself.

Oscar explains: “There are some spooky legends around the Devil’s Trill Sonata and I always wanted to weave it into one of my plots. It is said to put a curse on people who play it. The finger positions are acutely uncomfortable, and musicians have been known to damage their hands playing it. The curse is central to the locked practice room in The Strings of Murder.”

Once the script was complete, Oscar set about finding an agent in a bid to get the book published: “It took a long time. I got an agent in 2012 and didn’t get an offer until 2014,” recalls Oscar, who was then working in Skipton and living in a rented property in Chaigley: “At the time I was thinking I needed to get a cheaper car so I could start saving up to get a mortgage.

“To be honest I had given up hope of ever getting published and then I got a call out of the blue from my agent’s PA to say Penguin was interested! I remember the day vividly – it was February and the weather was awful but the news that I had a publisher made me so happy!”

The script for The Strings of Murder went through a rigorous editing process during which the publishers suggested minor changes to the opening chapters and increasing suspense nearing the end: “I agreed with all their suggestions as it made the book better,” says Oscar.

The script then went through a copy edit before being finally proofed: “On the day it was published my agent gave me a bottle of champagne. I said I would only open it once the first thousand copies sold – we did that by the first weekend! So, I said I would open it when we got to 10,000 which we did in the following few months, so it did quite well.”

A review in the New York Times describes the book as, ‘A hugely entertaining Victorian mystery’, while leading novelist Ian Rankin’s review reads, ‘I enjoyed this – properly creepy and Gothic.’

“I always get nervous about reviews, but luckily, I’ve had very few bad ones. I get more nervous submitting my first drafts to my editor!”

On the back of The Strings of Murder, Oscar wrote six more Frey and McGray novels including The Darker Arts, The Sign of the Devil and The Dance of the Serpents.

Described as ‘one to watch’, Oscar has since written a trilogy, The Cloister Murders based in the 17th century, which was launched at Kings College, London.

His latest book, Death on the Polar Express, was published by Lausch Medien in three languages as an audio book, e-book and a limited-edition print run, just before Christmas.

Oscar met the German publishers last year at a book fair in Frankfurt: “I told them I had written this book really for fun. They said, ‘We love it! Just don’t give it to anyone else!’”

Looking to the future Oscar is currently writing his first spy thriller, which blends fact and fiction. Based on the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the book is set in wartime Paris and New York: “It’s set between 1938 and 1940, and even though it is a thriller, it is turning borderline non-fiction – most of the twists are real and that’s why my agent is really excited about it. The book will even include some real pages from The New York Times that show tantalising hints of high-level espionage just at the brink of the war. At the moment I am really enjoying doing the research,” says Oscar, who has contacted the director of the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico in order to authenticate certain facts for his novel.

“There are six official Frida Kahlo experts worldwide and she is one of them. She has been so helpful and given me scans of original letters from Frida Kahlo written at the time the book is set, which are fascinating.

“Doing the research for my books has resulted in me making some wonderful friends and meeting some incredibly interesting people.”



Tedd Walmsley

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