Photo Finished is the first book in Christin Brecher’s new Snapshot of NYC Mystery series. And a delightful start it is. Main character Liv Spyers, an up and coming NYC photographer entrepreneur, has a unique eye for detail, which not only helps her photos, but also gives her an advantage when it comes to solving murders.
I first interviewed Christin Brecher three years ago when the first book in her Nantucket Candle Maker mystery series was released. Nantucket was a great place to visit, but NYC has a vibe that helps keep this series real, fresh, and edgy.
Please welcome Christin Brecher back to WWK. E. B. Davis
Hello to everyone and thank you for having me at Writers Who Kill!
You have so many insider details about NYC. Have you lived or do you live there?
I live in NYC in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood. In fact, last week we had a wonderfully cozy book launch party for Photo Finished at Corner Bookstore, which I consider the heart of the neighborhood.
Liv and her grandparents have a symbiotic relationship. How do they help each other?
Liv comes from a very tight Italian-American family on her mom’s side. She describes how growing up she would wake to a family member reeling off breakfast options and feeling like the tradeoff of a little privacy for a good meal was a fair one. As an adult now living in her grandparent’s “well-loved” West Village brownstone, I particularly like how the older and younger generations support each other in a big city. Liv has a unique opportunity early in her career to open a photography studio their ground-floor commercial space, while her grandparents have the support of a family member whenever they need it. There’s an old-fashioned family connection at work which also speaks to NYC’s history.
What is special about Arthur Avenue?
Ah! A wonderful question. Arthur Avenue is an area in the Bronx which is a haven for Italian food. You can buy the freshest pasta at a shockingly good price and eat at restaurants that rival those in Italy!
Liv dropped out of college for financial reasons. What were they?
Liv doesn’t get into details in the book, other than to underline that her academic pursuits meant a lot to her. Unfortunately, life sometimes requires tough decisions. Between the high cost of college, her dreams of pursuing a modest paying photography career that would make it hard to pay off loans, and her desire for her traditional middle-class parents to have the means of raising her little sister without the burden of helping with college tuition, she put her studies on hold.
Are there crazies in the NYC subways that riders need to be wary of?
Like any big city, you need to be aware of your surroundings when navigating streets and public transportation. Close to 4 million people ride the NYC subway each day, so there’s no doubt a ride on any line is filled with both the city’s beautiful “melting pot” of citizens and some characters to be wary of.
Would Liv agree that there are no coincidences?
Yes and no. When Liv attends the Holiday Debutante Ball and runs into the tuxedo-wearing Harry Fellowes for the second time in one day, she sees their meeting from two different angles. On the one hand, she decides she’s walked into a magical place where these kinds of coincidences happen. On the other, she’s a practical person who acknowledges that if she were to ever see him again, it would be at a gathering like this where people wore tuxedoes as comfortably as pajamas.
Why is Liv confused about whether or not someone broke into her locksmith grandparents’ store?
Liv is battling with accepting some changes in her grandfather’s cognitive health and would almost rather believe the store was broken into that anything else. Her Poppy has become quite forgetful of late, and she’s worried about how he handles his key store which her grandparents moved to the first floor of their home.
A successful commercial photographer, Regina Montague, hires Liv to help photograph a “coming out” party. Liv assumes that they are revealing alternative sexual identities, but the reality is that it’s an old-fashioned debutante ball. Do people still do that in NYC or elsewhere?
They actually do! I believe they are still held around the country.
Elizabeth Everly, event planner, often works the same parties as Regina. Is NYC really a small world?
Yes! NYC is a huge town, knit together by many smaller communities. The bubbles are distinct, but they also overlap in socio-economic, religious, ethnic, artistic, and financial ways.
When one of the deb’s fathers, a billionaire fund manager, is murdered, Liv studies the photos to find the murderer. What motivates Liv to get involved?
At first, Liv is motivated to investigate because her new boss, Regina, is quickly targeted as the main suspect and Liv does not believe she committed the crime. Regina gives Liv her first real break as a commercial photographer, and Liv is a very loyal person. She will do anything to help out Regina. As her investigation continues, she is also amazed by how her pictures reveal stories within stories about the people who attended the Holiday Debutante Ball.
What is a hedge fund?
A hedge fund is a group of high-risk financial investors, who usually invest with borrowed money, in hopes of realizing large capital gains. Murder victim, Charlie Archibald, has made billions as a hedge fund manager. His expertise is in building financial technology portfolios for investment.
Maria Ricci, Liv’s BF, keeps lending Liv clothes for the exclusive events. What does Maria do that she can afford the upper-end clothes?
For starters, Maria is just a little more interested in fashion than Liv, but she also is a paralegal which brings in a better salary than a struggling photographer, at least during these early stages of their careers.
Liv catches one “wealthy” guest taking home event leftover food. She assumes that he’s broke. But that isn’t the case. Are some of the wealthy eccentric, cheap, or did he really just love the food?
No matter the wealth, there’s always a cheapie-shmeapy out there, isn’t there? But the food was from a five-star hotel so it’s safe to assume it was delicious too!
Does everyone who lives in NYC have a favorite pizza place?
Mine is Marco Polo on 91st and Madison Avenue 😊
Art crime is a seven-billion-dollar industry?
Yup! Who knew? This is the fun of being an author. I research little known facts such as that one!
What is a CitiBike? How do they keep them from being stolen?
CitiBikes are popping up in large cities and also on college campuses. Actually, NYC’s service is sponsored by CitiBank which gives the service its perfect name. After downloading an app which shows a user where the closest bike station can be found, users may unlock and relock a bike at different locations. The docking stations ensure they will not be stolen. These days, we even have eBikes which make getting around town a breeze.
You write families well—they are real. In one family, their mutual love of their daughter keeps them together at least for a while. In another, the marriage is strong, but their rebelling twins keep them on their toes. In yet another, appearances are everything because there isn’t much money although the love is real. And in Liv’s there are old-age problems and a surprise baby, but they hang together well. Is it all in the details? How do you create families so well that they are remembered and distinct?
I loved exploring so many family dynamics in Photo Finished, and I appreciate how they resonated with you. There are many ways to approach a story based in NYC and given the micro-cosmic world in which many of Photo Finished’s suspects live, I found it fun to jump into their family lives and peek into how they all make it work. The theme is also relevant because family is important to Liv. We see the story through her eyes, and these dynamics are the sort of things she would notice.
What’s next for Liv?
Whereas Liv jumps into the world of high society in Photo Finished, she will next be thrown into the world of celebrity. Once again, NYC is a great setting for larger-than-life people to create trouble only someone with a keen eye and a strong spirit can untangle.