Carol E. Slider
Preface to The Percy and Rachel Novels
Preface to The Percy and Rachel Novels
The Percy and Rachel novels feature two young college professors Percy and Rachel Morestead who solve mysteries while working in academia. Percy is a history instructor; Rachel is a pianist and a music theory instructor.
I wrote a draft of the first Percy and Rachel novel, Songs in the Night, during my second year at Southern Illinois University (1989-90) and the final draft the next year. I completed my last Percy and Rachel novel in 1999 and have spent most of my free writing time since then on The Kentucky Chronicles.
COMPLETED PERCY AND RACHEL NOVELS
Songs in the Night tells the very odd story of a fifty-year-old mystery that Percy and Rachel solve as graduate students at the fictional Camfort University. They meet and fall in love as they work together on this mystery. Though Songs in the Night is by far the best-edited and most extensive of these novels, it is also the most far-fetched.
In Retrospect, Percy and Rachel are married and have just accepted teaching jobs at a small college in Georgia. There they encounter a twenty-year-old mystery which is my homage to Agatha Christie. It has all the hallmarks of a Hercule Poirot puzzle: two murders, 15 suspects (all with motive and opportunity) and red herrings galore. Percy gets to play Poirot at the end and dramatically reveal the truth to the assembled suspects.
Where’er You Walk is completely unlike Retrospect, or any other book in the series. It is not at all a typical mystery. During a summer music festival, Rachel reads the diary of a long-dead literature professor, and the diary reveals many heretofore unknown facts about the professor and the people that he knew. It’s a story of how one man was redeemed, but at very great cost to his friends. Of all the stories I have written, this is probably the one I like the best though it is not the strongest mystery of the series.
February Mist was inspired by Eden Springs, the decaying amusement park of the House of David in Benton Harbor, Michigan. When I lived in Michigan, I visited this park several times and took pictures of all the old buildings. Percy and Rachel accidentally encounter a similar complex in February Mist, but it is surrounded by a high wall. When they climb the wall, they are kidnaped by the last remnants of the dying cult, who believe that they are the embodiment of a young couple who mysteriously disappeared in the early part of the century. In order to win their freedom, Percy and Rachel must discover what really happened to the young couple who vanished on that long-ago night in February.
The Broken String is about a murder in an orchestra. At the time I wrote it, I thought it was pretty good and accurate, but that was before I started working for the Fort Worth Symphony. Now I know that many of my assumptions about what goes on in a professional orchestra were incorrect. I would definitely have to revise this work extensively before I let anyone read it again. (NOTE: This is the work which I read to the “Writer’s Cramp” group when we were meeting regularly.)
Fiat Lux is frankly my least favorite of all the Percy and Rachel novels. It is an attempt (and not a very good one) to allow Percy and Rachel to find out some more information about the Songs in the Night story, and thus make it more believable.
The Maples was inspired by something I heard about when I was at Andrews University. I heard or read that someone had moved a piece of furniture in one building and discovered a letter that had been lost since the fifties. This idea really worked on my imagination, and eventually developed into a story. In The Maples, some college teachers find a letter behind an old mail cabinet, and it is addressed to a certain history professor. But no one by that name ever taught at the college, and the town on the postmark of the letter never existed. Percy and Rachel get involved, and ultimately find themselves in very grave danger in this story with lots of unusual twists and turns.
Cause for Regret is about a music department conflict that ends in murder. It took a while for me to think of a good, logical, original solution for this particular mystery. Sometimes the most obvious idea is not the best, nor is the second most obvious, nor the third. In this case, I had to go through several “layers” before I finally found the solution that worked and that allowed Percy and Rachel to save an innocent man from the death penalty.
Absolute Truth is the latest in the Percy and Rachel series, and probably the best structurally. There is virtually nothing I can say about this story that wouldn’t give something away. Let’s just say . . . it’s my homage to Y2K.
INCOMPLETE PERCY AND RACHEL NOVELS
I have thought of ideas for many more Percy and Rachel novels. Some of them died at once, some developed for a while and then died, some of them almost came to fruition. Here are the ones that almost made it:
The Silence of the Shrine is so close to being completed, I sometimes include it on the list of the completed Percy and Rachel novels. It lacks only about two or three chapters. It’s a story about an artist who is a modern-day “Pictor Ignotus” (see Robert Browning), obsessed by the idea of the impermanence of art. Why didn’t I finish this novel? Primarily because the only logical solution to the mystery is one I didn’t like. I’ve always thought (for six or seven years now) that there must be a better solution than the one I arrived at.
I made it to about page 60 or 65 on The Weight of Hours, a story involving two brothers separated at birth and a painting they both remember. For some reason I can’t define or explain, this is a very heavy and gloomy work; and since I wasn’t that interested in any of the characters, I got tired of it.
Retribution is a mystery involving Percy’s grandfather, who died when Percy was very young. I quit writing when I realized that many of the characters and situations sounded like things I had written about several times before.
Forgive and Forget was conceived as a sequel to Cause for Regret. There was a lot of good material here for a story, though perhaps too much-too many characters, too many divergent plot lines, etc. Also, it was difficult to see how I was going to work Percy and Rachel into it at all. I wrote about 50 or 60 pages on it, and Percy and Rachel had yet to appear.
The Tangled Web is a story I have tried to write, in one form or another, for many years. I had a friend in grade school who not only made up fantastic stories . . . she also told everyone that they were true and even believed them. The abortive Percy and Rachel novel of this title was also inspired by a large, mysterious and decaying building which I once glimpsed through the trees while driving through rural Arkansas. (NOTE: Very old abandoned buildings recur throughout my novels, especially in February Mist, The Maples and Forgive and Forget.)
If you would like to read part or all of one of the above stories, please let me know.