Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Skipping Woodstock, But Finding Women’s Lib—and Murder

By Kay Kendall

 In my Austin Starr mystery series I try not just to entertain but also to portray what an historical era is like. My first two books are set in the tumultuous 1960s: Desolation Row and Rainy Day Women. Due out next February is a prequel, After You’ve Gone. It features Austin Starr’s grandmother as a young woman in small town Texas during Prohibition. Although the historical setting is different (bootleg gin, flappers, gangsters), many of the issues the two women face are similar. What place should women have in society? What do women owe to their family, their husbands—and to themselves? What the grandmother grapples with in 1923 is related—almost distressingly so—to choices her granddaughter will face in 1969. To prepare you to read the prequel, here is a rundown on my previous mystery.
Rainy Day Women takes place in August 1969. Headlines across the continent shriek about the sensational murders in Los Angeles of a pregnant starlet and her friends—though Charles Manson and gang haven’t been caught yet. Apollo 12 astronauts Armstrong (he walked on the moon), Aldrin, and Collins have just arrived back on Earth. Rock music fans look forward to a big outdoor concert—posters call it the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
But my amateur sleuth Austin Starr scarcely knows any of this. With a three-month-old baby, she is sleep-deprived and still adjusting to her new life’s heavy demands. Then a phone call sends her (and baby Wyatt) flying across North America to help find a killer. Why? Because her dear friend Larissa is suspected of murdering women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Then Austin’s former CIA trainer warns that someone has contracted a hit on her. Her anxious husband demands that she give up her quest and fly back to him. Austin must decide how much to risk when she realizes that tracking the killer puts her and her baby's lives in danger. 

I set my mystery against the backdrop of women’s liberation almost fifty years ago because second-wave feminism (as it’s now called) changed lives, and yet the rightful place of women in society still remains a point of contention. My character Austin Starr discovers the movement when she questions members of the dead women’s groups and is fascinated with the new ideas she hears.

 Even though Austin’s young husband is an anti-war activist, she herself is not a radical. I wanted her story to be accessible to anyone today, of whatever political persuasion, and so I explore what life was like for a typical young woman—not a headline maker, not a Hanoi Jane or Angela Davis, but a moderate who nonetheless gets swept up by history's tides during the turbulent sixties. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.

I don’t think this is a true spoiler when I divulge that the very day Austin discovers the murderer is the same day it rained hardest at the Woodstock festival. Later she decides she has no regrets at missing the famous event, saying, “I never liked mud very much anyway.” In the coming prequel we see how much of her intrepid spirit she inherited from her grandmother—she who faced off against a thug sent to Texas by none other than Al Capone. Set among true-to-life details like that, I've composed another young woman's tale about finding her balance in a world ruled by men.
Meet the author
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff.  In 2015 Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville. Visit Kay at her website>   or on Facebook 



  1. Yes! I can hardly wait for this exploration of an earlier era's strong women. Mom and Aunt Paula taught me "bee's knees" and other flapper dance moves. <3

    1. Hi, Mary! I posted a reply from my cell phone over the Thanksgiving holiday, but now I see it did not post. So sorry. Your comment is interesting because I never put the saying " bee's knees" together with that knee-touching gesture that the Jazz Age dance moves included. That is really cool to know! Thank you.