An Interview with Annamaria Alfieri

Today I’m honored to welcome Annamaria Alfieri, author of BLOOD TANGO (Minotaur Books, June 25, 2013), a fabulous new mystery that I loved and absolutely recommend!

Annamaria Alfieri

Annamaria Alfieri is the author of Blood Tango, which takes place in Buenos Aires in 1945 and imagines the murder of an Evita Perón lookalike.  Kirkus Reviews said of her Invisible Country, “Alfieri has written an anti-war mystery that compares with the notable novels of Charles Todd.” Deadly Pleasures Magazine called her City of Silver one of the best first novels of the year.  The Washington Post said, “As both history and mystery, City of Silver glitters.” A world traveler, Annamaria takes a keen interest in the history of the places she visits.  She lives in New York City.

13F Blood Tango Cover

Buenos Aires 1945: It is the most dramatic and tumultuous period in Argentine history. Colonel Juan Perón, who had been the most powerful and the most hated man in the country, has been forced out of power. Many people fear that his mistress, radio actress Evita Duarte, will use her skill at swaying the masses to restore him to office. When an obscure young woman is brutally murdered, police detective Roberto Leary concludes that the murderer mistook the girl for Evita, the intended target of someone out to eliminate the popular star from the political scene. The search for the killer soon involves the girl’s employer, who is Evita’s dressmaker, her journalist lover, and Pilar, a seamstress in the dress shop and a tango dancer. The suspects include a leftist union leader who considers Perón a fascist and a young Lieutenant who feels Perón has dishonored the Army. Their stories collide in this thrilling and sensuous historical mystery.

Annamaria and I share an editor at Minotaur Books and a love of mystery novels, and after last weekend’s Historical Novel Society Conference in Florida (where we spoke together on a panel about writing historical mysteries) I’m delighted to also call her a personal friend. I devoured BLOOD TANGO before I even made it home from the conference, and anyone with a love of mysteries or an interest in Juan and Eva Perón will love this book as much as I did.

For all of those reasons, I’m delighted to have Annamaria here today–on the launch date for BLOOD TANGO!

And so, with no further ado, on with the questions!

Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?

I grew up in Paterson, New Jersey in a working-class neighborhood at time when that now difficult inner city was a pretty benign place.  Our house was a two-family with my family downstairs and my maternal grandparents, Italian immigrants, upstairs.  My grandfather was an opera buff.  Each Saturday afternoon he listened to the Texaco broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera on the tall Philco radio in his living room.  Noise in the house was prohibited during those hours, but starting at age four, I was allowed to sit with him in the platform rocker.  He had a glass of wine and a DiNobile cigar and a Hershey bar in his pocket.  I got to sit on his lap and wear the cigar band on my finger.  If I got squirmy, he took out the chocolate and gave me a piece.  He would tell me the stories of the operas as we listened to music.  I am pretty sure I got my very strong romantic from a whole lot of Verdi and Puccini at a very young age..

What inspired you to start writing?

I wanted to be a novelist from age nine.  I just love stories.  In the course of my life I have found out that my father and two of my three brothers also wrote/write stories.  For all I know it’s genetic.  What I am sure of is that once I learned to get words on paper, I started writing stories, and I never stopped.

Your new novel, BLOOD TANGO, is a fast-paced historical mystery set in Buenos Aires, 1945, involving the murder of a young woman whose killer may have mistaken her for Evita Duarte, the mistress of Argentine leader Colonel Juan Perón. What inspired you to set a mystery against the turbulent political (and romantic) backdrop of Argentina at the time of the Peróns?

My first two novels—both also stand alone mysteries—also take place against fascinating points in South American history.  I love to travel and having visited Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina, I wanted to learn more about their history.  Most North Americans don’t know much about the history of the intriguing continent to our south.  Many mystery readers like to learn something new as well as find out whodunit.  It just seemed natural to me to write mysteries that would reveal the unknown history.  I pick times and places that make me say, “OH, wow.”  If the facts capture my imagination, I figure I have half a chance of making them interesting to others.

If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?

You don’t have to know the end to make a good beginning.  Just get started.

Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?

I have so many that I love.  Shakespeare, Austen—to see/read over and over and still get new enjoyments.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I have read every word of his.  Love in the Time of Cholera is a marvel of great novel writing.

John McPhee’s non-fiction is brilliant and lucid.  He makes it look easy.  Reading his work is like watching Fred Astair dance.  It seems so natural you think you could do it.  Until you try.

I read a lot of mysteries.  I am very active in Mystery Writers of America’s New York chapter, serving as its president this year. I have a lot of friends who write mysteries, and I enjoy reading their books

Many people know about Colonel Juan Perón and Evita Duarte because of the famous musical, Evita. What did you find most challenging—and most fun—about putting your personal twist on this era and setting?

Actually that musical presented my greatest challenge because so many people know only that viewpoint.  It is based on a polemic view of the history, which characterizes Evita and Perón in ways that are antithetical to what I found in the thirty or so books I read about them and their times.  I found myself wrestling with having to show a different view and make it believable to people who think they know what happened.

The most fun was learning about the tango.  The dance and the music.  I loved writing the tango scenes.  A close second was the atmosphere of Buenos Aires in that era.  What a place!

Do you have a favorite scene or section from BLOOD TANGO? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?

When the reader meets Roberto Leary, the police detective, he is in the house of wealthy family to inquire into an unsolvable murder.  In drafting the story, when Leary started to think and talk, he came to me with his own voice and he has such insights into the place and times.  He goes from that villa where he first shows up to the murder scene.  I won’t spoil what happens to him next.

What is the last book you read, and why did you choose to read it?

Death in her Face by Sheila York, which I bought at Sheila’s launch party.  Her books are right up my street.  Historical mysteries against a background I find intriguing—in her case Hollywood just after WWII, with unusual but fully believable characters, good plots and snappy dialogue.

A Cuckoo in Kenya by  W. Robert Foran, published in London in 1932, about his experiences as a policeman in British East Africa 1905-1909.  I am researching for a new series that takes place in BEA beginning in 1911.  I feel as if Foran, with his keen observant eye, wrote that book just for me.

How did you push yourself to get past difficult moments in writing and editing BLOOD TANGO? Do you have a favorite place to write or to edit your work?

The way I push past all my many difficult moments in writing.  I tell myself that it doesn’t have to be right to begin with, just get better and better until it is as good as I can make it.

I have the enormous privilege of being writer in residence at the New York Public Library’s gorgeous marble palace of free knowledge—the Schwarzman Building.  I write in the Allen Room there.  It is heaven.

Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?


We are planning a gala launch week:

JUNE 25TH 6-8 PM MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP: 58 Warren St – New York, NY 10007

JUNE 26TH – 5 PM TANGO FLASH MOB! Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 42ND Street and Second Avenue, NEW YORK

JUNE 28TH – 8 PM until …… TANGO LESSON—BOOK SIGNING—MILONGA DanceSport, 22 W 34th St  New York, NY 10001

Saturday, June 29th, 2-4 pm Desmond-Fish Library, 472 Route 403, near the intersection with Route 9D, Garrison, New York

Friday, July 5th, 5 pm: Canio’s Books, 290 Main St,  Sag Harbor, NY 11963

July 10 – 13, 2013: ThrillerFest VIII, Grand Hyatt New York

Sept. 19-22: BOUCHER CON 2013: Albany, NY

And now, the speed round:

Plotter or pantser?

Both.  I think I have the plot straight until is start writing and the characters take over.

Coffee, tea, or bourbon?

Coffee, unless good white wine is on offer

Socks or no socks?

Socks in winter.  No socks in summer

Cats, dogs, or reptiles?


Thank you, Annamaria, for joining me here today! I’m delighted you allowed me to share your launch day for BLOOD TANGO!

BLOOD TANGO is available NOW in hardback and eBook format through all major retailers and independent bookstores, as well as online from the Apple store and all of the “usual suspects.” You can read a sample chapter of BLOOD TANGO here!

You can find out more about Annamaria and her books at her website or at the crime fiction blogs The Crime Writers’ Chronicle and Murder is Everywhere, where Annamaria is a regular contributor.