Julie Mulhern prepares to launch the sixteenth book in her KC-based mystery series Country Club Murders

Julie Mulhern's Fire Rain Layers

Julie Mulhern’s book Fire and Rain: A Country Club Murder will be released April 25. // Courtesy photo

Julie Mulhern is gearing up to release Fire and Rain, the sixteenth book in her USA Today bestselling series, Country Club Murders.

This Kansas City-based story has garnered hundreds of fans since the first one was released in 2014. 

Set in the 1970s, the series focuses on Ellison, a painter with a knack for stumbling across dead bodies. Fire and Rain’s May 2 release will bring back Ellison and her gang to solve yet another inexplicable murder, but this one hits closer to home than ever before.

We caught up with Mulhern before her book release to talk about her experience writing the series.

The Pitch: Where did the inspiration for the Country Club Murders series come from?

Julie Mulhern: You know, the kind of mysteries I like tend to have some humor in them and are set in insular communities like the apartment building in Only Murders in the Building. So you have a contained number of characters and suspects. I love those kinds of murder mysteries. So I knew if I was gonna write a mystery, I wanted something that was a little bit insular, and I haven’t seen anybody do a country club. Then, I am—just as a human being—fascinated by decades where we see changes for women, and the 1970s is certainly one of those decades. 

Why was it important for you to focus on strong female characters in this series?

I was fortunate to grow up in a family with my mother who was a very strong woman and her mother who was a very strong woman. I went to an all-girls high school, and sexism and the idea that women couldn’t succeed equally to men never really crossed my mind until I got to college. I grew up with the idea that women could be as strong if not stronger than men.

What do you think makes the 1970s setting so unique and appealing to readers?

I think part of it is nostalgia and it was, in many ways, a simpler time. There wasn’t even a hint of a cell phone or the Internet. I was a kid in the 1970s, and I had a childhood running around and just being a kid and not worrying about anything that kids today have to worry about. Everything just seemed simpler back then, and I think people really love the idea of a simpler time.

Also, I think that people read the first book and they sort of fall in love with Ellison, Francis, and the whole gang and feel like they know them and want to hang out with them. 

What do you like about writing about Ellison?

Ellison gets to say—even if it’s just commentary in the back of her mind—things that I wouldn’t get to say out loud sometimes. That is really fun. But, at this point, Ellison is like an old friend and I love sitting down and getting to write another one of her stories.

How has the series helped you grow as a writer?

I’m probably better now at conveying emotion and structuring a story, but it just comes with the more books you write. Hopefully you’re moving forward and not backward again. But, you know, I’ve also learned more about the business side of releasing. I went from, “Oh my gosh, I just released my first book, and it’s gonna sell 100,000 copies too,” to just really loving this book, and I hope everybody—all my readers—love it too. But the fate of the world doesn’t hang on it.

Are you working on more of the series now, or are you taking a break?

I will write a Country Club Murder, and then I’ll write something else. I have an idea for a standalone mystery thriller that I’ve been tossing around about a bunch of couples who go on vacation in Mexico, and things are not gonna go well. I think writing other things helps keep Ellison fresh. If I wrote nothing but Ellison, I might get a little stale. 

What is something in the sixteenth book that you’re excited for readers to enjoy?

It’s very much in Ellison’s neighborhood. Her nosy next-door neighbor—who is very much Mrs. Kravitz—her house burns down, and there’s a body found in it. The person who’s dead in the house doesn’t actually live there… so, what was he doing there? I think it turned out to be a pretty good story. So, I’m excited about that.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

It’s been a blessing for me to be able to write Ellison, have her find a readership, and hopefully have people far away reconsider Kansas City. I’ve actually had people who come in from out of town and try to do an Ellison tour. Then they’ll email me about it and send me the pictures of them at Winstead’s or “Here we are on the plaza.” They want to come to the city to see where Ellison has been, which I think is really fun. I absolutely love Kansas City. So I hope I can get a few more people to fall in love with it.

Categories: Culture