From Publishers' Weekly, July 2, 2001:
"An all-star lineup of 13 women mystery authors has produced one madcap, murderous tale in the same serial fashion as Naked Came the Manatee (1996). To some extent, position determines each contributor's role, but each author has ample opportunity to display her unique talents. Nevada Barr, who leads off, deserves credit for introducing heroine Caroline Blessing; her surprising mother, Hilda Finch; and several more of the zany inhabitants of Phoenix Spa, snuggled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. J.D. Robb, in the number two spot, wastes no time shifting the plot into gear with the murder of the spa's flamboyant owner, Claudia de Vries. Those who follow (Nancy Pickard, Lisa Scottoline, Perri O'Shaughnessy, J.A. Jance, Faye Kellerman, Mary Jane Clark, Marcia Talley, Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon and Val McDermid) each get a crack at muddying the waters or putting a new spin on an already dizzy character--or in some cases, adding a new victim to the growing pile. Lucky 13 Laurie King dazzles by weaving a prettily finished quilt from the motley patches created by her comrades. Readers will relish the resulting comic soap-opera murder mystery, taking especial pleasure in watching these pros deftly recast a scene, a clue or a character to keep the story rollicking along. (Aug. 13)
"Forecast: Together these women command a huge fan base, and if enough of them are willing to promote, this collaborative effort could rack up strong sales."
PW Talks with Marcia Talley
PW: Naked Came the Manatee, a serial novel featuring 13 mystery writers with Florida roots, came out in 1996. Any connection with your new collaboration, Naked Came the Phoenix, besides the obvious one of title?
MT: No, the "naked came" is really from that 1969 book, Naked Came the Stranger, which was supposedly written by a Connecticut housewife named Penelope Ashe but was in reality written by 24 Newsday journalists. What I had in mind was The Floating Admiral, which came out in the '30s from the Detection Club and included Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and other mystery giants of that era.
PW: Whose idea was it?
MT: My agent called me one day and said he had just heard about a serial novel on golf. He asked if I'd ever considered writing a serial novel. I said no, but could think of an idea for one. I wrote a proposal, which included the spa setting and the cast of characters.
PW: How did you go about assembling your crew of 13 contributors?
MT: I knew Val [McDermid] and Laurie IKing], so I talked to them right away. And I had met a couple of others at mystery conventions,and so I looked them up in the Mystery Writers Directory or the Sisters in Crime directory. I had an initial list of about 30 people. It took about a year to get everybody to come on board. Everybody who said yes was really enthusiastic about the project.
PW: How did you determine the order and work out a schedule?
MT: I just made a list. Nevada [Barr] said she wanted to do the first chapter. And I was absolutely astonished when Laurie said she would only do it if she could do the final chapter. I thought I was going to have to beg someone to do the last chapter. I gave everybody a month to write her chapter. Then I just wrote September through September on a chart and asked everybody to mark the chart with their choices --1-2-3 -- and when I got them back it was a miracle. Only one person didn't get her first choice. And I kept the month nobody else wanted.
PW: Barr did a great setup job and King's conclusion is as clever as one would expect--did either get help because of her role?
MT: I was delighted when I got the first chapter back from Nevada and these cardboard characters that I had just made up off the top of my head had come to life. And Laurie--you realize she even figured out the significance of the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka-dot bikini? Her chapter's longer than everyone else's, but it's just such a pleasure to read. And I think everyone will appreciate how she meticulously tied up every loose end. I have to say that Laurie did put her head together with Val when it was Val's turn, with the result that Val actually put some things in motion for Laurie to hang hooks on later.
PW: Did any of the chapters surprise you?
MT: You know, all of them did. I had read most of the authors, but not all of them. I was really surprised in some cases because I didn't expect them to be so funny. When I got the chapter from Nora Roberts [writing as J.D. Robb], I fell out of bed laughing. Every chapter had a little twist or a surprise in it that just tickled me to death.
PW: What about marketing the book?
MT: St. Martin's called me the other day to say that the response from all of the major market areas--the independents, the chains and the mystery bookstores -- had been 50% over what they had expected. I think they said they had an initial printing of 44,000, which is wonderful. Almost all of us contributors have books that will be coming out this summer or all, and we're all promoting it on our Web sites. --R0RERT C. HAHN