KJ Howe: Rick Bleiweiss is truly a Renaissance Man—he has been a musician, a record company executive handling HUGE acts like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears among others, a publishing professional at Blackstone—and now he is debuting his cozy mystery featuring a most unique and charismatic protagonist. Welcome to Rogue Women Writers, Rick!
How Pignon Scorbion & the Barbershop Detectives Came to Be
I have been an avid reader and fan of both Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot my whole life (as well as many other detectives and crime solvers in literature) so when I set out to write a mystery story I decided to recreate the style of writing that worked so successfully for Christie and Doyle. In the numerous endorsements and reviews that the advance copies of my book Pignon Scorbion & the Barbershop Detectives have received, many have mentioned it being similar to Poirot and Holmes books, but unique in its own right, and that gratifies me immensely.
But I went further than just emulating styles, the book postulates that Scorbion lives in a reality in which Holmes, Poirot and Dr. John Watson exist as well. In effect, I have created a “universe’ in which all of them actually lived – in the book Scorbion talks about his having met Watson and them befriending each other, and also his planning to travel to meet Poirot. To create that “universe” I set the book in England in 1910 when the eccentric Scorbion becomes the new Chief of Police for the countryside town of Haxford.
While Scorbion is very much cut out of the deductive and observational mold of Poirot and Holmes, he solves his cases in a unique environment and manner – he holds his interrogations in a barbershop where he is assisted by a colorful group of amateur sleuths including the three barbers, the shoeshine man, a young reporter, and a female bookshop owner.
Those amateur sleuths serve as Scorbion’s foils and assistants and lend color, humor and interest to the book. They help him solve cases, and together become an ensemble that I hope readers enjoy meeting and knowing. The female bookshop owner serves not only in that role, but also as a love interest for Scorbion. She is beautiful and brilliant, a match for Scorbion, and provides a voice for the modern woman of 1910 as she engages in the women’s suffragette movement and other causes. The young reporter serves as Scorbion’s chronicler, somewhat in the way that Watson was for Homes, but also contributes a different, more youthful, perspective at times for Scorbion to consider.
Scorbion himself is a complex character whose heritage is Egyptian and Haitian – while he was born in Paris and raised in England. He is an immaculate dresser who wears custom-made clothes and shoes that are not worn by any others of the time, holds opinions and attitudes quite advanced for the era (yet totally fitting to the time period), and he is a figure who has foibles, yet is himself aware of them.
How did I start writing it? Truth be told, I started writing Scorbion as a short story. I, and the writing group that I was a member of back in 2016, so fell in love with him and his associates, that I wrote a second short story. Then, I just kept writing and writing until I expanded the stories to become the full novel.
Being a mystery, the book and its stories are complex. During the writing, I had to continually go back and remind myself what had happened previously, so that I made certain to have the entire book be consistent. I also regularly returned to the earlier parts of the book and added more red-herrings and plot points to make the story work to its fullest.
That said, I didn’t know exactly where the book was going at any specific time. I did not outline the book. I am fortunate in that the characters/story played out in my head almost as though I was watching a movie and my job was to write down what I was seeing in my mind and make sure I described it in a way that the reader would see what I saw and meet the people I met.
But that wasn’t enough. Since I wanted the book to feel ‘real,’ I had to make sure it was accurate to the time period and the place. I did massive research which enabled me to incorporate real-life people and events that were taking place in both England and in the world at that time. Unfortunately, I had no idea how much research I’d actually have to do, but I knew it was the ‘small things’ that would make it feel credible or not. And then after it was written, I had a few Brits, Native Americans, and French speakers read the manuscript to make sure it was accurate and correct. They all made the book better.
Hopefully the book will make people smile and be entertained. As a case in point, Nancy Pickard, one of mystery writing’s most decorated authors, talks about how much she laughed out loud while reading the book. To be clear though, the book is not a comedy, it’s a full-on mystery with humorous elements. It’s really a combination of historical fiction, a good old-fashioned whodunit and a cozy mystery.
I am proud of the result.