In the Summer 2016 issue of Mystery Readers Journal, Camilla Crespi wrote an article called “The Trouble with New York City.”
From the first page of my first mystery — The Trouble with a Small Raise:
“It’s a very jagged city,” Fred said quietly.
“Very different from your soft Roman skyline.” He turned toward me, the stern look beginning to melt in the sunlight. “Are you sure you want to live here?”
“Yes,” I answered.
I was speaking for my character, Simona Griffo, but I was also speaking for myself. New York was my new adventure and my escape from a life in Rome that no longer made me happy. As the song says, I wanted to make a brand new start of it.
I have lived in many different cities and countries while growing up, thanks to my Italian diplomat father. Sense of place has always been very important to me. It grounds me. It took a few years for me to acclimatize to New York. I wandered the city, observing the diversity of the people, how the neighborhoods could change from wealthy to poor in a matter of a few blocks, how masses of people rushed out of the subways like ants running from danger, how thick with shoppers and foreigners Fifth Avenue was. How kind everyone was when I looked lost. Slowly the go-for-it, you-can-do-it , anything-is-possible spirit that is at the heart of the city sank in. When it did, it gave me the courage to start writing.
My boss in the advertising agency where I worked as an art buyer wouldn’t give me a raise, so I decided to take my revenge by killing him off in print. It gave me a chance to show my readers the backstabbing, the jealousies, and also the fun found in a successful New York advertising agency, predating Mad Men by quite a few years. Always I tried to give my readers a solid sense of place.
I followed The Trouble with a Small Raise with six more in the series. The second one, The Trouble with Moonlighting, ventured out in the streets of the city, starting at Lincoln Center, where Simona moonlights as dialogue coach for an Italian film crew, to Central Park West, Greenwich Village, Spanish Harlem, the Polish enclave of Greenpoint, and back to the advertising agency.
New York’s garment industry was an essential part of The Trouble with a Bad Fit. I spent countless hours at the Fashion Institute of Technology, reading up on the history of American fashion, on how garments are made. I spent two weeks in a showroom to see how dresses were sold. I had fun and at the end of the mystery I added fashion footnotes to show my readers what I had gleaned with my research.
I confess that I wasn’t always a faithful to my new city. Simona flew off to a Club Med for an advertising shoot in one novel. She flew home to Rome in another and took a vacation in East Hampton, which many New Yorkers consider just another city neighborhood.
I stopped writing the Simona series and began working hard on another New York story inspired by a scene I saw in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, a park made famous by Henry James. On a bench, a mother and two-year-old daughter were gazing at each other with palpable love. My mystery-loving mind looked at them and wondered “what if the child… ”.
The Price of Silence was published under my real name, Trinchieri, as it was a darker, more intense mystery. This time my protagonists move from a New York courthouse where Emma, the
main character is on trial for murder, to the Lower East Side where she teaches English as a second language to Columbia University and Morningside Heights where she lives.
I went back to a lighter, food-filled mystery with The Breakfast Club Murder, which was published last year. This time I added an
imaginary small town in Connecticut as my base, but Lori, the newly-divorced protagonist, happily comes to Little Italy to shop for the party she’s catering, and, with a possible new beau, goes to Greenwich Village to eat goat cheese ravioli in pancetta and shallot sauce at the three-star restaurant, Gotham Bar and Grill.
New York will always be part of my writing even if the setting is somewhere else. It will reside between the lines. New York is in my blood now. The city is a constant inspiration.
When I can’t come up with a idea for a new story, when no matter how hard I try to wake up my brain cells, my mind stays blank, I walk out into the city. I look, listen and learn. I think of New York City as an encyclopedia. I can open it to any street, and there’s a wealth of information waiting for me. It’s a city where anything can happen.
Camilla Trinchieri Crespi lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and her computer. Besides writing she loves cooking, painting and knitting. Her twelfth novel is Seeking Alice (June 2016), written under the name Trinchieri.