by ASHLEY MILLER
for the Sequim Gazette
Husband and wife writing pair Charlotte and Aaron Elkins’ latest book, “A Dangerous Talent,” has all of the critical ingredients of a mystery novel: forgery, deceit and murder.
The first installment of a new mystery series, “A Dangerous Talent” already has been praised as “witty, intelligent and delightful” by critics.
From the outside, up-and-coming art consultant Alix London appears to have it all: a promising career, a luxurious condo in Seattle, a gorgeous figure and a presence that exudes Ivy League breeding and old money. Unfortunately, what you see isn’t always what you get. A brilliant, once-promising art student and the daughter of a prominent New York art conservator, her world was left in ruins when her father went to prison for art forgery.
Now a Harvard dropout with an emptied bank account, London is languishing in a career that has produced little more than a lucky housesitting gig — until she meets Christine Lemay, a novice art collector with plenty of money to burn. When Lemay has a shot at acquiring a newly discovered painting by Georgia O’Keefe, she needs somebody to authenticate it and contacts London.
“A Dangerous Talent” released March 6 and sailed to the top as the No. 1 mystery on Kindle in the U.S. for about two or three days, competing with authors like James Patterson, Aaron Elkins said proudly.
The 270-page book is the couple’s sixth published writing project together.
“Writing a book together is no problem,” Aaron Elkins said. “Writing a book together and staying married is another story,” he joked.
The couple have separate writing areas and take turns working on the manuscript. Charlotte Elkins, the more imaginative of the two, usually comes up with the initial story idea and writes the first scene or two of the rough draft. Then, she passes it on to her husband, who expands the storyline, polishes the descriptions and doubles the word count. When he’s finished, he gives it back to his wife, and so forth, until it’s completed.
“We never sit down together at the kitchen table discussing the book or argue about it,” Aaron Elkins said. “This works for us.”
Their first novel, “A Wicked Slice,” was published in 1989. Since then, they have co-written four novels starring a golf-pro-turned sleuth and several short stories, one of which won the Agatha Award for Best Short Story of the Year.
The couple celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in December.
Independently, Charlotte Elkins wrote her first novel while working at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. Published under the pseudonym Emily Spenser, it was the first of her five romance novels that have sold in 20 countries.
When she realized how much fun it was to collaborate with her husband, she eagerly switched to writing mysteries instead of romances.
Conducting the research is, perhaps, her favorite part in the process of writing a book, Charlotte Elkins said.
“When I get interested in a subject I absolutely lose myself in the research,” she said. “I don’t always know what I will use (from what I learn) and sometimes it’s only about 10 percent but even if I only need 500 words on a subject I’ll read five or six books about it.”
Research, she insisted, adds texture to the story and scenes that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
While Aaron Elkins often assists his wife in the research, he prefers planning the plot, aiding in writing and polishing the words using the thesaurus.
Aaron Elkins’ novels have been published in 13 languages and made into a television series. He is the author of 16 novels featuring forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver and of three mysteries featuring art museum curator Chris Norgren. He won an Edgar Award and a Nero Wolfe Award.
The 17th and final book in the Gideon Oliver series comes out in December.
With the completion of “A Dangerous Talent,” the Elkinses are taking a break from writing for a month.
Afterward, they plan to get started on the second book in the Alix London series, for which they already have a contract. They expect it to be available about one year from now.
The setting is on a mega-yacht and has to do with art, forgery and theft.
“A Dangerous Talent” is available for sale at local book retailers and online.