By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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But on the white stairs leading to the water, there is a big bloodstain — a splash of scarlet.
Let’s make that a little smaller and subtler, can we? Aaron Elkins asked his publisher
We can, replied Thomas & Mercer of Seattle, and so the cover art for A Cruise to Die For: An Alix London Mystery, was born.
The book, by acclaimed novelists Aaron and Charlotte Elkins of Sequim, is out today and sets sail for a drop-dead gorgeous place: the Greek isle of Mykonos.
Which, of course, is surrounded by the Aegean, the “wine-dark sea” in Homer’s words.
Charlotte and Aaron are well into a series now about Alix, the young art expert who lives in Seattle and travels the world for work.
The Elkinses introduced her in 2012’s A Dangerous Talent.
That mystery novel sent London to Santa Fe, N.M.
In A Cruise to Die For, readers join Alix as she steps onto the megayacht owned by billionaire art collector Panos Papadakis.
She’s supposedly there to give a few lectures on fine art, but she’s actually been hired as an undercover agent for the FBI.
Charlotte and Aaron, in their 40 years of marriage, have gotten good at the traveling-to-write-a-thriller game.
Between them, they have 35 novels, including Charlotte’s five golf mysteries and Aaron’s 17 books starring forensic sleuth Gideon Oliver.
But this couple doesn’t go for the gritty, mean streets of the world.
No, the Elkinses’ novels are set in places like the Tuscany region of Italy, Iceland and, in the case of 1983’s The Dark Place, the Olympic Mountains.
Upon thrusting their hero or heroine into such a place, the Elkins pair devours everything they can about it: spending time on location, journaling, reading books, interviewing people.
In the Greek isles, Aaron savored the scent of saltwater mixed with sage; Charlotte recalls the view of windmills against blue waves. Both murmur over the memory of the local food.
Charlotte invented Alix London, the quintessential New Englander who came West.
Charlotte is a Westerner herself, but she and Aaron have lived on both coasts, and find the differences — and the transitions people go through as they move about the country — delicious for character development.
A Cruise to Die For also is a step inside the high-stakes art world, with its super-rich, its speculators, its snobs and con artists.
They’re not all bad, though: Readers meet people who love art for its own sake.
These include Alix, who has years of intense study as well as an ineffable “connoisseur’s eye,” the intuition that tells her when a work of art is not what it seems.
Charlotte has lived inside this world. She’s an artist as well as an author; she also holds a master’s degree in library science and once worked at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
Charlotte is the idea person and first-draft writer, Aaron said.
And, according to his mate, Aaron is “more of a disciplined . . .”
“Workaholic,” he finished.
Both writers relish the process of bringing a protagonist fully alive.
With Alix, they’ve created a woman of high morals — unlike her father, Geoff London, who did time in prison for art forgery. He’s out now and runs a small business in Seattle, but Alix always has to worry about whether he’s getting into sketchy territory again.
There’s also the possibility of romance between Alix and Ted Ellesworth, an FBI agent.
But Charlotte and Aaron emphasize that they will not let this series turn into a soap opera.
A Cruise to Die For is a father-daughter story in large part, Aaron said.
Something does happen between Alix and Ted, “but it’s not what you expect,” he added.
Alix will live to have another adventure in Charlotte and Aaron’s third book in this series.
Its working title is The Art Whisperer, and this time, she’s headed for Palm Springs, Calif.
The Elkinses are deep into Whisperer now; the manuscript is due in December.
Meantime, Aaron seizes one more opportunity to encourage a reporter, who’s just 80 pages into A Cruise to Die For, to keep on.
Twists are in the offing, he promises.
“You’re going to love the ending.”
Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.