Interview with Piu Eatwell, author of Black Dahlia Red Rose

Author Photo by Carsten Wilde

Today I am delighted to welcome true crime writer Piu Eatwell to my blog. Piu’s latest novel, Black Dahlia Red Rose, solves the seventy year old mystery of who murdered aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short, whose body was found dumped on waste ground in a Los Angeles suburb in January 1947 (you may read my review of the book here). Piu has provided fascinating answers to the questions I sent her for this post. I hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

 

1. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background? 

Hard to know where to start on that one! Well, I’m British but have lived in Paris, France, for over ten years now.  I’m married to an Englishman, with three children who were born in France and are growing up here.  I started off writing books about life as an English woman in France, but have moved on to crime writing as it’s where I see my true vocation as a writer. Black Dahlia, Red Rose is my fifth book: my last was a real-life Edwardian thriller and detective story, The Dead Duke

2. Can you tell us about Black Dahlia Red Rose? 

Black Dahlia, Red Rose is the true-life story of one of the most famous unsolved murders of all time: the murder of 22 year old Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Short, whose bisected body was found tossed on a pavement in Los Angeles in January 1947.  In writing the book I went back to original sources – contemporary newspaper reports and police files – to reconstruct what I believe really happened in this case. 

3. What inspired the book? 

I have been long interested in Hollywood and crime, ever since researching a film for Channel 4 television about the Manson murders a while back.  In order to make that film, I spent almost a year in Los Angeles and learned a lot about the recent history of the city.  I decided I wanted to investigate another famous crime that took place in LA, and of course, the Dahlia murder must be one of the most notorious and intriguing of them all.   

 4. Your true crime books are written as stories. How much leeway do you allow yourself when documenting the facts to ensure the storytelling remains engaging? 

This is something that gives rise to misunderstanding, because a lot of people think that – because my books are written like fiction – that I am therefore making things up.  In fact, this is not at all the case.  Everything that is between quotation marks is accurately reported dialogue, taken from contemporary sources such as police interviews or memoirs.  If I describe the weather on a particular day, it is because I looked up the historical weather reports.  As such, my books are as completely accurate as more conventional non-fiction – but because they read like a novel, a lot of people don’t realize this.  It is something that I therefore explained in the introduction to Black Dahlia, Red Rose. 

5. What is your favourite part of being a writer? 

Being totally immersed in another world – and this is the case whether I am writing fiction or non-fiction.  Also, I love the process of constructing the story or plot – again, essentially the same with fiction and non-fiction, except that with non-fiction the events have already been determined, you have to decide how you are going to present them, or put them together.   

6. And your least favourite? 

I dislike the “in-between times” – as now – when I have just finished a book, and have therefore been forced to tear myself away from that world.  Until I get my next project, I feel bereft and rather lost without the magic, inner world that always accompanies me whenever I am working on a book.   

7. Do you enjoy social media? 

I think social media is a mixed blessing in that it can be a wonderful tool to reach out to readers and also to keep up with what is going on in the world of books, but it is also a dreadful distraction that often keeps me from working!  Also, one thing I dislike about social media is the culture it has fostered by which people feel they have the right to say what they like, without any of the boundaries of politeness that govern more conventional discourse, leading to trolling, harassing, etc of writers and other public figures.  Politeness is something that should be universal and from which no forum should be exempt. 

8. Do you seek out reviews of your books? 

I am always happy to encourage honest reviews of my books because that, after all, is the point of writing: it’s a form of communication, and if a book is not being discussed, it’s no longer a living thing.  Having said that, I don’t see the value to anybody of reviews that merely trash books in a thoughtless way, or the kind of Amazon review that gives a book one star because it ‘arrived late.’  Again, as I said above, social media gives everybody enormous privileges and powers, in giving each of us a voice; but along with that voice, in my view, comes a certain amount of responsibility.  

9. What do you do when you wish to treat yourself? 

Lots of things!  A glass of champagne is my unfailing treat to myself when a manuscript is finally finished and sent off to the publisher.  I also love English pork pies, Marmite, and cheddar cheese (which are difficult to find in France!!), and reading books that are not directly connected with my research (a rare treat). 

10. What books have you read and enjoyed recently? 

A very wide range: the ghost stories of M.R. James; a wonderful book on the history of ghosts and ghost-hunting called A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke (Penguin, 2012); and a powerful recent speculative horror novel, Hex by the Dutch writer Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) – the story of a seventeeth-century witch trapped in a New England town.  

11. Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction? 

That’s a difficult one, but I suppose if I had to choose, it would be Sherlock Holmes, as I would love to figure out how his brain ticks! 

12. What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would? 

What my guilty pleasure is.  And in case you’re interested, it’s – of all things – renovating my children’s dolls’ house!  I have everything there in miniature 1/12th scale: right down to original paintings in the hall and tiny reproductions of my own books and those of my favourite authors in the library.  A psychologist could probably get quite Freudian about it – the search for a perfect miniature world, etc….. I find it incredibly calming. 

 

This post is a stop on the Black Dahlia, Red Rose Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Black Dahlia, Red Rose is published by Coronet and is available to buy now.

Book Review: Black Dahlia Red Rose

Black Dahlia Red Rose, by Piu Eatwell, is a re-examination of a brutal murder that occured seventy years ago in America which has never been officially solved. Told as a true crime story it offers a snapshot of Los Angeles, its police department and citizens, in an era that will be familiar from film. As the author writes in her preface:

“This era is commonly visualized through the movies, as the era of film noir: a time of corrupt cops and gun-toting gangsters, cynical heroes, and bottle blondes doling out deadpan one-liners. But the slick film noir repartee belied the brutal inequalities of reality. In truth, it was a tough time after a tough war in a tough world.”

This tough world was being navigated by beautiful young women with stars in their eyes who descended on Los Angeles looking for fame. What they found instead were predatory men who viewed the aspiring starlets as expendable game.

The Black Dahlia was twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, whose body was found dumped on waste ground in an LA suburb. She had been beaten, slashed, bled out and cut in two. The newspapers of the time were allowed access to evidence and potential suspects that would be unthinkable today. Often it was the journalists who moved the case forward. As evidence mounted it seemed that key figures within the police wished to stifle the investigation.

Unusually for the time, the LAPD employed a forensic psychologist, Dr Paul De River. He produced a profile of the killer and was subsequently contacted by a man who appeared a potential fit. There were other suspects but the most likely had powerful contacts who routinely paid the police for their cooperation. Corruption ran deep throughout the city and the Black Dahlia was one of many murders in a society that regarded its young women as objects whose purpose was to provide pleasure for others.

The story is structured in narrative form but is written using facts gleaned from documents produced throughout the original investigation. The LAPD continue to refuse to release key evidence, some of which has mysteriously disappeared. The book provides a detailed account of the crime and those tasked with apprehending a murderer. It is a search for the truth, suppressed on the remit of powerful individuals, now dead.

From the discovery of the body through to the case being finaly shelved, the reader is offered insights, fully cross-referenced and explained in footnotes, a bibliography and detailed endnotes. The story told is a lesson in the sham of 1950s supposed values, and in the lack of value placed on certain lives. The photographs at the end, drawn from evidence, are chilling.

The author has studied this evidence, consulted with experts, and drawn a conclusion as to the likely killer. As a lawyer she is well placed to undertake this task. She offers a cinematic retelling of the case that is evocative and compelling. An example of fact being even more shocking than fiction.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Coronet.