Blog Tour: In Retrospect by Ellen Larson (spotlight, excerpt, guest post)

In-Retrospect-193x300In Retrospect
written by Ellen Larson
published by Five Star

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Book Depository, Goodreads

About the book: Former elite operative Merit Rafi suffered during her imprisonment at the end of a devastating war, but the ultimate torment is being forced to investigate a murder she would gladly have committed herself.

The year is 3324. In the region once known as Turkey, the Rasakans have attacked the technologically superior Oku. The war is a stalemate until the Oku commander, General Zane, abruptly surrenders.

Merit, a staunch member of the Oku resistance, fights on, but she and her comrades are soon captured. An uneasy peace ensues, but the Rasakans work secretly to gain control of the prized Oku time-travel technology. When Zane is murdered, the Rasakans exert their control over Merit, the last person on Earth capable of Forensic Retrospection.

Merit, though reinstated to her old job by the despised Rasakans, knows she is only a puppet. If she refuses to travel back in time to identify Zane’s killer, her family and colleagues will pay the price. But giving in to Rasakan coercion means giving them unimaginable power. She has only three days to make this morally wrenching choice; three days to change history.

As the preliminary investigation progresses, Merit uncovers evidence of a wider plot. How did the Rasakans defeat the technologically superior Oku? Why did the Oku surrender prematurely? How did the Rasakans discover her true identity? Merit realizes she will only find the answers by learning who killed the traitor, General Zane.

In Retrospect is a good old-fashioned whodunit set in a compelling post-apocalyptic future.


Prologue: Three Days Later

Monday, 17 April 3324, 1:10 PM

A stately room. Black-lacquered cabinets flank a massive desk. Maps and oil paintings hang on pale green walls. Burgundy woodwork. Globe, grandfather clock, and fireplace with brass andirons cast in the shape of lions, teeth bared. A room steeped in the past. Except in the sunny east bay, where a closet-sized polyhedron floats a handsbreadth above the carpet.

Three men in sage-green uniforms will stare at the Vessel. One, a sneering rat of a man, will peer through the open hatch and see the sole of a boot.

“Is she dead?” he will ask, hopping closer to get a better look.

“Back off, snitch!” The man with the sentry’s insignia on sleeve of his beefy arm will step in front of the hatch and shove him back.

The snitch will stagger against the clock, but he has seen enough. He will grin as he straightens the curved blue half-shield that covers his forehead and eyes. “I knew she’d botch it. I told her—I warned her! Skank. Who’s a heap of dung now?”

A choking sound will escape the throat of the red-head at the comm. His mouth will work as he looks pleadingly at the sentry.

The sentry will shake his head and glance at the thing on the floor of the Vessel. “She’s gone. Torrified.” He will take a deep breath, hold it, then exhale explosively through clenched teeth. “Get the Marshall. Now!”

Blinking away his tears, the red-head will remove his comm-set with shaking hands and stumble away.

“Hey!” the snitch will cry. “That’s my job! I get to tell the Marshall, not you! Hey!” He will follow the red-head through the door and down the stairs beyond.

The sentry will wait for the tap of footsteps to fade, then squeeze through the hatch.

Above the console, the mission chronometer will show all zeros. The lower panel will be mangled, as if someone has bashed it in with a heavy object. He will glance at the pilot’s chair, unclamped and upside down.

He will kneel beside what is left of the body.

Except for the black pendant on its silver chain, pillowed in the ash that had been her neck, there will be nothing there to remind him of the woman he had known. He will ease the plasma gun from her holster and note that two bolts have been fired. His brow will furrow and his gaze will dart from the canted walls to the crumpled sage uniform. Then he will grunt and replace the gun.

“Thanks, Reb,” he will whisper.

The sound of running feet will remind him he has no business being in the Vessel.

He will clap the ashes from his hands as he rises. “I guess you got your wish.”


This is the ninth stop on the virtual book tour for In Retrospect, my new sci-fi murder mystery (Five Star Dec 2013). I’ve talked about worldbuilding the future, post-apocalyptic Earth society that forms the background for the book, and about the character of my investigator, Merit, an idealistic fighter who must decide whether or not to work for her enemies to solve a murder she would happily have committed herself. I’ve written about the genre question—at least in terms of how hard to categorize In Retrospect. But I’ve never talked about the pitfalls of choosing to write science fiction in the first place.

To start with, the science fiction/fantasy genre represents only about six percent of the trade book market (left in the dust by the ever-popular romance genre and well below mystery and inspirational). Then, you have to recognize that the “fantasy” element of the team is more popular than the “science fiction.” So now we’re down to less than three percent of the market. So when people tell me they don’t read science fiction, the way they might say, I don’t eat sushi, I believe it. And finally there is the killer issue: science fiction is a male universe, a place where women are still ignored and sometimes resented.

In Retrospect was one of the books mentioned in the recent Publishers Weekly article, “Women Reach for the Stars,” a review of women in science fiction and fantasy []. That article revealed that only ten percent of science fiction writers in the top 100 are women. How’s your math?

So why am I, a woman and not a scientist, writing a book that I willingly call cross-genre science fiction? No wait, let me rephrase that: What am I, a woman and not a scientist, doing by encumbering a perfectly reasonable murder mystery (a genre that has broad appeal and welcomes women writers) with the label of cross genre science fiction?

As any writer will tell you, sometimes a story idea will take you to a strange place if you let it. The particular story idea in In Retrospect–the twisty plot that Kirkus Reviews liked–doesn’t exist without the post-apocalyptic and the time-travel elements. You can listen to received wisdom of the industry professionals such as agent, editors, reviewers, publishers, librarians, and bookstore owners who tell you to pick a good genre and stick with it—or not.

But here’s my contribution to the Great Genre Debate: As far as I’m concerned, “science fiction” and “murder mystery” are not alternative genres. “Mystery” is a genre, promising that the plot will revolve around a crime or death and highly likely involve some combination of sleuth, suspects, murderer, clues, and solution.

But what of the science fiction elements in In Retrospect? They include the fact that the story is set in the distant future in a completely different society, with a different language, a crippled Earth, with seas moved and whole continents disappeared, and most obviously, the introduction of time travel. That list seems to outweigh the mystery elements of crime, suspects, sleuth, solutions—or at least equal them. but in fact there is no overlap (no cancelling out of some science fiction element by a similar mystery element). The mystery material defines the action and the role the characters will play, whereas the science fiction material is simply the setting, in terms of both locale and the props.

For example, it is easy to summarize the psychological elements of the plot without getting close to science fiction: Merit, my protagonist, is a professional sleuth, a top graduate from an elite conservatory who works for a law enforcement organization called the Civil Protection Force. When war erupts between Merit’s city state, Okucha, and the Rasakans, she joins the militia, fighting for her beliefs and way of life. When Oku General Zane prematurely surrenders, Merit joins the resistance, fighting to the bitter end. Captured at last, she is blackmailed into resuming her old job—working for the Rasakans. Her first case centers on the murder of General Zane—a murder she would gladly have committed herself. Because they do not trust her, the Rasakans team her up with a high-level Rasakan operative who happens to be her former lover from happier days. Together they investigate, visiting the scene of the crime and meeting the suspects: The Prioress, Zane’s partner and a mystic; the Steward, Zane’s pacifist right-hand man, and Thad, ex-resistance op who was once assigned to assassinate Zane. Merit must decide whether or not she will in fact turn over the culprit to the Rasakans if she finds him or her, an act that would go against everything she believes in.

Of course, it is true that Merit does her detecting via a time machine that takes her back to the moment of the crime, a clear science-fiction device, but that fact does not play either an emotional or an intellectual role in the solution. Time travel is just the unique ability my sleuth has, much as other sleuths have special knowledge of botany or handwriting or blood spatter patterns.

So in the end, I think In Retrospect is best described as a mystery with a speculative setting. This is supported by the fact that the book found a home with a mystery publisher (the worthy Five Star, a division of Cengage). And the science fiction question? I guess in a perfect world, the book would interest both mystery and science fiction readers. Or maybe just people who like good books.

About the author: Ellen Larson’s first story appeared in Yankee Magazine in 1971. She has sold stories to AHMM (Barry Award finalist) and Big Pulp and is the author of the NJ Mysteries, The Hatch and Brood of Time and Unfold the Evil, featuring a sleuthing reporter. Her current book is In Retrospect, a dystopian mystery (Carefully crafted whodunit -PW starred). Larson lived for seventeen years in Egypt, where she developed a love of different cultures. She is editor of the Poisoned Pencil, the YA mystery imprint. These days she lives in an off-grid cabin in upstate New York, enjoying the solitude.

Find Ms. Larson here: web, blog, Twitter, Goodreads