Lise McClendon. Lise McClendon is the author of 11 mysteries and thrillers, and also writes as Rory Tate. The Girl in the Empty Dress is now available in print and e-book, at all major retailers.
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Lise McClendon: That Old French Feeling
You may have been to France. Probably to Paris or the Côte d’Azur. But there is another France far from beaches or art museums or fashion runways -- that’s where I chose to set my suspense novels, Blackbird Fly and The Girl in the Empty Dress.
Does setting matter? Yes, very much to me as reader and writer. Although both books feature five American sisters, the novels rely as much on their setting as almost anything else. My “other” France, the Dordogne region of southwest France, originally called the Perigord, is a fertile region known for its foie gras, duck confit, and black truffles. Its back roads wind through deep canyons, with villages clinging to cliffs. Here the Hundred Years War was fought and Nazis laid waste to the land. Remnants of war and violence remain.
Much of Blackbird Fly is centered around small village life. In the second book, out this month, the Bennett sisters, all five lawyers, take on a walking tour of the Dordogne. Merle Bennett, the middle sister, is turning fifty. In Blackbird Fly she goes to the Dordogne to fix up the house she inherits. She needs to sell it but she is strangely drawn to the little town and hasn’t sold out yet. The sisters use the house as home base for their walking tour in the second book. The “girl” in the title of the sequel, The Girl in the Empty Dress, is a law colleague of one sister. Secretive, demanding, and a bit rude, she hasn’t made many friends among the Bennett girls as the story starts. Her secrets become the key to unraveling several mysteries.
History really comes alive in these old places where the village walls are still solid after 800 years. But the delicacies of this area are the real delights. Black Perigord truffles are famous around the world. They’re a fungus, like mushrooms, that grow underground in the roots of oak, hazel, and cherry trees. Difficult to harvest, they are becoming more scarce as climate change alters their natural habitat in these sunny hills and valleys.
To harvest truffles originally pigs were used. Unfortunately pigs liked to eat them on the spot. Now dogs are more often trained to follow the scent of the truffle. You can imagine that a highly-trained truffle dog would be essential to any truffle hunter, and worth its weight in gold. In The Girl in the Empty Dress the women come across an injured dog in the ditch. This dog, they soon find out, is famous for its truffling exploits. How it got to be injured and out on its own sets off the mystery.
I went on a French walking tour myself, in Burgundy a couple years ago. Six women, a love of wine and cheese, and winding trails through the vineyards made for a fabulous time. Afterward I saw a ‘Sixty Minutes’ story on truffles. One man, a dog owner who had his prized truffle dog stolen, really got to me. He searched for years for his dog, never to find her. I decided to write about a stolen truffle dog. I couldn’t figure out how to come at the story, then the walking tour came back to me. The dynamics of a small group are always interesting. The sixth wheel, the woman who is secretive and annoying, sets up the conflict. As a writer once you come up with the central conflict you’re off to the races. Plus a luscious setting of course. I’m taking suggestions for wine pairings. Mysteries and a crisp Sancerre anyone?
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