We’ve all met lots of grim, gritty and damaged mystery novel detectives. In her Mike Malone mysteries, set in England’s Lincolnshire county, Milly Reynolds has turned that trope on its head.
In the introduction I share the motivation behind It’s A Mystery Podcast, including my love of talking to artists about their art. I come from a family of voracious readers, and we are always looking for our next favorite mystery. I am also an independent author and I began to notice that many amazing books are being shared with the world but they sometimes have trouble finding an audience in the increasingly competitive book market. I’ve taken these two elements of my life and married them. Think of the It’s a Mystery Podcast as a matchmaker between great books and eager fans of mystery novels.
Each Monday I will post a new episode featuring an interview with a mystery author you may not have heard of. And most authors will have a book available for free (or for a very low price) so that you can give them a try with little or no risk. For example, my guest in this episode, Milly Reynolds, has quite a few of her books available for $0.99.
Milly Reynolds is the author of the Mike Malone mystery series. After a short career in banking and teaching, Milly decided to try her hand at writing her own crime series. She has always loved the mystery detective genre. While she would never dare to try to emulate some of her heroes, she did want to try and create a series that was quirky, didn’t take itself too seriously and contained some humor. And so, Mike Malone was created.
You can listen above, read the notes and links below or watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview with Milly Reynolds
Alexandra: Hello, everyone and welcome to It’s a Mystery podcast. I’m your host, Alexandra Amor and I’m here today with Milly Reynolds. Hi, Milly.
Milly: Hi Alexandra, how are you?
Alexandra: Very well, how are you?
Milly: Doing fine, thanks. It’s dark and gloomy here in the UK.
Alexandra: Is it? Yeah, the sun it just coming up here in Vancouver. By way of introduction, I’ll just tell people about you. After a short career in banking and teaching, Milly decided to try her hand at writing her own crime series. She has always loved the mystery detective genre. While she would never dare to try to emulate some of her heroes, she did want to try and create a series that was quirky, didn’t take itself too seriously and contained some humor. And so, Mike Malone was created.
The main character in your “Mike Malone” series is Detective Inspector, Mike Malone. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about him?
Milly: Well, he’s based on somebody that I used to work with. You see a lot of detectives who have lots of bad baggage behind them. They are troubled characters. Mike isn’t. Yeah, he’s got a bit of a back story, but on the whole, he’s a lovable chap. He’s non-threatening. He’s safe. He’s trustworthy. He’s somebody you can go to. This is the chap that used to work with. I describ him as the teddy bear at the end of the bed. Someone you felt secure with and this is how I portray Mike. Mike is somebody you can trust. He gets himself into scrapes sometimes, but on the whole, he is somebody you can trust and he always solves his crimes in the end.
Alexandra: Of course, as a good detective does.
I noticed in your descriptions that you say that you want to make readers chuckle rather than scream.
Milly: Oh, yes!
Alexandra: So, that’s something that runs through the series, is a sort of a light sense of humor, yeah?
Milly: Oh, yeah. I certainly don’t take myself seriously. You’ve got writers like Jo Nesbo and their writing is brilliant. I’d never want to be like them because they are so detailed. I don’t go in for the detail. I go for the quirky. One of my reviewers described it as an office whimsy land, which I thought was lovely!
Alexandra: That is lovely.
Milly: That’s a lovely way of describing it because it’s based loosely where I live. So, people, local will recognize, “Oh yeah, I know that place.” But, they are not together, and I have characters coming in and out. It’s not you meet Mike, you meet his detective inspector, you meet his family, and you also meet other people in the town who pop in and out of the novels in various different guises. Sometimes they are part of the story. Sometimes they are just a bystander. You meet everybody in the town, as well as Mike. So, it’s like a little community.
Alexandra: Oh, lovely. Okay, great. Now, I’ll come back to Lincolnshire as part of the setting because I know you have mentioned that in a couple different places that I’ve read. With the writing whimsically; I remember that expression that actors often say that drama is easy and comedy is hard.
Alexandra: And I know you have written other books.
Do you find it more of a challenge to write in a witty way?
Milly: No, I just think of scrapes that Mike would get into. He has now got a little baby around and I had him changing nappy for the very first time. We’ve all done it, changing nappies. We know what a mess we can get into. So, I had Mike get into a real mess with his hands everywhere and covered in all sorts and it’s just putting him in situations that are quite amusing.
That’s where some of the comedy comes into, the comedy element. It’s the scrapes that Mike gets into. I think in the fourth book he literally had to tackle somebody in the end and he got covered in slime across a farmyard and stuff like that. That’s where the humor comes in. It’s what happens to Mike.
Alexandra: It comes from his situations. That’s brilliant.
Getting back to the subject of setting because setting is a big deal for me, too. I set my books in very Canadian settings. Tell us a little about Lincolnshire. You were born and raised there, right?
Alexandra: But Mike is an implant.
Milly: He’s an implant yes, but he’s grown to love Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire is famous for its wide open spaces. It’s very flat. The flatland is very flat and we have these amazing skies this time of year with the sunsets and the sunrises. I try to describe some of those sometimes in the novels. Mike has fallen in love with the solitude and the space of Lincolnshire.
Alexandra: Oh, lovely. The people, too?
Milly: Yes, yes! All the people in the town are all very friendly, very nice. Apart from those that are doing the murders, of course.
Alexandra: Yeah, other than that.
Have you created a fictional town where all of this happens?
Milly: It’s based loosely around where I’m at. I’ve never actually named the town. I’ve named the places around it, but I’ve never actually named the town.
Alexandra: Oh, interesting.
Milly: I don’t know why I haven’t done that. I just haven’t. The villages around me get named, so people will realize that I’ve never actually said where Mike is from. I’ve never named it.
Alexandra: Oh, interesting. Wow, okay. But if readers notice the towns around, they can certainly place where he is.
Milly: Yeah, they’ll know the place where he is, yeah.
Alexandra: Got it, okay.
You’ve described him as the teddy bear at the end of the bed and then I saw another description of him being a bit offbeat. How was he offbeat?
Milly: Well, Mike…this is why I don’t take myself seriously. If I feel like putting it into a book, I will do it. So, I don’t go through police procedurals. I don’t follow that. Mike will…a nursery rhyme will come to him and that will help him solve his crime.
Every crime that I have done is linked to a nursery rhyme. There is a nursery rhyme link that runs throughout the series, yeah. So, there’s “Ba Ba Black sheep.” All the nursery rhymes will appear in the books. And, also he has this thing where he will pick up a pen, closes his eyes and doodle. So psychic drawing and the doodles will help him solve the crime as well. So he’s quirky in that way.
Alexandra: That’s very cool.
Milly: You have to realize, this is why I don’t take it seriously. It’s quirky, but people seem to like him. What, it’s 13 now?
Alexandra: I was going to ask. I saw 12 on Amazon. So is there going to be another one coming out soon?
Milly: I think I’ve just done the 13th. I might’ve lost count. I think I’ve just done the 13th.
Alexandra: Has he changed much throughout the course of that?
Milly: No, he’s found peace in his own life. He’s now happily settled and he’s exactly where he wants to be.
Alexandra: Oh, wow. Okay.
Milly: I keep getting told that…well, my husband says, “You can’t kill her off.”
Alexandra: Yeah, no.
Milly: I’m being told who I can’t kill.
Alexandra: I love the title “Strawberries and Sheep.” I saw that today when I was doing some research. Great title.
Milly: I don’t know about you. My titles always come afterwards. I can’t think of a title and then do the book. I’ll think of the title after I’ve done it. The title will come to me after I’ve finished.
Alexandra: I’ve heard that before from lots of authors. I tend to have a title in mind pretty early. I’ll be interested to see if that changes or not.
Milly: Because I have strawberries and sheep so I thought, strawberries and cream, strawberries and sheep!
You’ve written a couple other mystery novels. I notice you have D.I. Jack Sallt, is it?
Milly: Sallt, yeah. He’s a bit grittier. He’s a northern…he’s from Norfolk. There’s more of an edge to him. He’s an alcoholic. He’s a bit of a lady’s man. I haven’t written so many with him. He’s not got the following that Mike has. They seem to like the teddy bear rather than the rough diamond. I haven’t had the success with Jack that I’ve had with Mike.
Alexandra: Oh, interesting.
So you’ve noticed a difference and you’ve focused on the books that the readers like.
Milly: Yes. One of the characters in Jack Salt’s books left and I put her in as a standalone as a D.I., as well as a private investigator. So, I had a little experiment with a female.
Alexandra: How did that go?
Milly: I’ve barely written the one. Whether I’ll come back to her or not, I’ve not decided yet. I like Mike. He’s my comfy slippers that I can put on at the end of a day. I like him.
Alexandra: Yes, right. Oh, lovely.
Any plans to expand out in any other directions, writing wise?
Milly: I did do a standalone romantic novel, which some people liked it and some people didn’t, but I don’t think so at the moment. I think I’m going to stick to the crime. I just love crime. I do. I watch all the detectives on TV. I read all the books. I’m just a real crime addict.
Alexandra: Yeah, me too.
Milly: But, I can do it in my way.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah.
Who are your favorite authors? You mentioned…
Milly: Jo Nesbo. I like the Swedish ones. I’ve read most of the Swedish ones.
Alexandra: Oh, okay. Those are a bit dark, aren’t they?
Milly: Yes! But my favorite ever book if someone ever said to me, “What is your favorite book?” and it’s not crime at all, it’s “Frankenstein.”
Alexandra: Oh, really?
Milly: That is the book that I would go right to the top of the list. I adore “Frankenstein.” It’s a book I can read again and again and again.
Alexandra: Wow, oh I’ve never read it. I’ll have to give it a try.
Milly: I’d always steered away from it because you see all the Boris Karloff films and you think it’s…and that’s the reason I didn’t read it because I’ve seen all the Hollywood versions of “Frankenstein.” I had to do it for my university course and I thought, “Oh, I’m not going to enjoy this.” And, I did. I absolutely loved it. I was in tears. It’s my go-to book. I absolutely adore it.
Alexandra: Any other British mystery novelists that you really like?
Milly: Agatha Christie, I like the traditional Agatha Christie, the Sherlock and the Conan Doyles. I like that sort of stuff, just the older ones as well. Jack Caffery, I just started reading some of his books.
Alexandra: Oh, I haven’t heard of him.
Milly: J.K. Rowling, she’s got into the detectives now.
Alexandra: Yes, I love those too.
Milly: I’ve read her first two and I quite liked her “Cormoran Strike,” yeah I quite liked it. So I’ve not got the third one yet but that’s on my Christmas list.
Alexandra: Mine too! Snuggle up by the fire and read that. I’m looking forward to it.
Milly: Definitely. But Jo Nesbo is one of my big favorites. I like his “Harry Hole” series immensely.
Alexandra: One question that I want to ask all authors that I interview is why do you think mystery is such a prevalent story in our culture? So you mentioned watching all the mystery TV shows and reading the books. I’m the same, so many people are.
Why do you think it is that mystery is so captivating as a story form for humans?
Milly: I think we all like to solve puzzles. I don’t watch it for the gore or the gruesome bits. I like to try and work out who it is. I think it’s solving the mystery. We all like to solve a mystery. We always like to be the detective, “I got it! I got it before you did.”
Alexandra: Okay, interesting.
I noticed one of your reviewers said that your books were something a little different from your average crime novel, so I thought that was really a nice thing to say.
Milly: Yes, they don’t take themselves seriously. They’re quirky. Somebody said her husband…she saw she was laughing at and her husband said, “I thought you were reading a mystery book, murder book. Why are you laughing?” Because that was the nappy bit that she was reading. She said she was laughing out loud and her husband must have commented. Some of the reviews are quite nice. I do like reading the reviews, even the bad ones. I don’t bother…if they like them, they do if they don’t, they don’t. I don’t get upset about bad reviews.
Alexandra: Exactly, yeah that is a good approach to take. You can’t take it personally and everyone is…beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
Milly: One of the ones I had was, somebody commented, “The same person is in every book.” And, you think, “Yes, it’s a series.”
Alexandra: That’s right.
Milly: It’s a Mike Malone series. Mike Malone is going to be in every book, you know? He didn’t like it because he was the same in every book.
Alexandra: All right, well, we’re wrapping up now. Why don’t you tell everybody where they can find your books?
Milly: They’re on Amazon Kindle. You can get them on Kobo and Barnes and Noble as well. It’s mainly Amazon Kindle that you can get them on. I’ve not branched into paperbacks yet. Maybe one day.
Alexandra: And your website is?
Alexandra: Oh, okay. Perfect. And you’re on Facebook too, right?
Milly: Yeah, Milly Reynolds on Facebook. My blog, all sorts of things on my blog. Sometimes some of my baking disasters go on my blog. I used to put up books I’ve read on my blog as well. As a teacher, I used to read a lot of young adult books as well, which is quite interesting sometimes.
Alexandra: Yes, oh yeah, I bet. Great, well thank you so much for being here with me here today. Take care.
Milly: Yes, thank you for inviting me.
Alexandra: You’re very welcome. Bye bye.
Milly: Bye bye.