Wednesday, October 6, 2021


It's my pleasure to welcome Clea Simon this week, as my guest. Although we enjoyed a lovely lunch together at Bouchercon, Dallas, in 2019, this photo was taken (at the bar - no surprises there!) at Bouchercon, St. Petersburg, in 2018.

As some wag famously said, “Writing about music is like bicycling about architecture.”   What that wit didn’t say is that it’s also a great opportunity for crime fiction.

The rock and roll subculture of the ‘80s and ‘90s, a world that I came up in as a critic and sometime musician, was rife with criminal opportunities, for sure. There were the sex and drugs long linked with the music, and there was money as well. Not just in the clubs and on the road, where so many transactions – at the bar or the merch table – were handled with cash, but in the industry overall, as a new trending artist could be leveraged for millions and could make or break a career, although the careers that hot young thang made weren’t necessarily hers.

That world has been blown apart, to some extent, by Spotify and other streaming services. But its grimy basements and nonstop tours serve as the setting for Hold Me Down, my new psychological suspense. Hold Me Down opens in the present day, as rocker Gal Raver comes back to Boston to play a memorial for her drummer and best friend, Aimee. At the show, Gal freezes at the sight of a face in the crowd. When that old acquaintance turns up dead and her drummer’s widower is charged, she is drawn into her own informal investigation. She and Aimee had a lot of history, and with Gal’s own memories clouded by years of drugs and drinking, she’s not sure what – or who – to trust.

Gal’s predicament, a common enough one for club rats of a certain age, is what convinced me that the rock world would be perfect for my murder mystery. Yes, it’s a world I know well, and I’m enough of a fan still to think there’s a dark glamour in those long-ago gigs. The scene also allowed me to put the characters in a pressure cooker, especially once they go on the road. There’s the constant touring, the compulsion to be “on,” to fit a certain image. And, yes, I can still relate – as Gal does – to the raw power of music to give voice to my most inchoate emotions. But more than that, the setting is perfect.

When we first meet Gal, her headlining fame may be behind her, but she’s still a star at heart – cocksure of her ability to hold the audience, seeing the “wild, wet need of their eyes.”

It was magic, in its way. Being up there, on stage,” Gal recalls. “Not just the crowd—though, yeah, to have them staring, wanting, at her mercy was a rush like no other. More than that it was the music itself. Like lava flowing through her. Relentless. Hot.”

But as my protagonist sifts through her memories trying to understand what happened, we flash back to the shy young songwriter Gal once was, and the comparison reveals that although the present-day Gal is confident – one might say overconfident – in her appeal, she’s blocked as a writer. The insecure young Gal pulled great songs out of herself, including the title tune, “Hold Me Down.” The older Gal “knows the tricks that turn a pop progression into an earworm.” But she’s not writing anything good – anything real. And, in rock with its emphasis on authenticity – a whole other topic for discussion – that’s all that matters. Which means that along with the murder is the mystery of how that insecure but talented girl transformed into this confident but blocked older woman.

The songs themselves also act as musical mirrors, reflecting memories as well as mindsets. In her review in the Sun-Sentinel, Oline Cogdill wrote, “Simon’s tour of the Boston music scene will make readers wish ‘Hold Me Down’ included a link to iTunes” – a great idea I may follow up on. But more important to me is how my characters react to these songs. What Gal meant to write – and what her friends and colleagues hear – allowed me to illustrate additional insights into both her and her crowd. If the songs evoke something readers can hear, so much the better.

Yes, Clea Simon plays bass!

Hold Me Down is crime fiction, not a music book. But the rock world gave me the opportunity to explore so many things: the tension between performing and creating (a tension familiar to many of us authors). The way in which nostalgia or love, pain or fear can warp our recollections of the past (a topic I explored in my previous music-scene mystery, World Enough). The many ways in which humans love and damage each other, how they move on – or don’t. Fame and the music industry only make everything larger. After all, even for the famous, the bright lights can cast very dark shadows.

A former journalist, Clea Simon is the Boston Globe-bestselling author of three nonfiction books and more than two dozen mysteries. While most of these (like her recent, A Cat on the Case) are cat cozies/amateur sleuth mysteries, she also writes darker crime fiction, like the rock and roll suspense novel World Enough, which was named a “must read” by the Massachusetts Book Awards. Her new psychological suspense Hold Me Down returns to the music world, focusing on sexual abuse and recovery, as well as love in all its forms. She can be reached at, on Twitter at @Clea_Simon, and Instagram as @cleasimon_author.



Brenda Chapman said...

Clea - your books sound fascinating! Thanks for sharing a glimpse into the musical inspiration for your crime fiction and all the best with your latest book.

Terry said...

The music world seems like a perfect venue for mystery! Your book sounds great.

Clea Simon said...

Thanks Brenda and Terry! I think it's one of the (very) few things I've written that I'm happy with – at least, for now! And thank you so much, Cathy and the Criminal Minds cew! Oh, that picture of me and Cathy makes me long for the days when we could gather and talk books! Soon soon soon. ...

Catriona McPherson said...

I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved the world of this book. Cx

Clea Simon said...

thank you so much, Catriona! Coming from someone who regularly transports me (often to someplace creepy), I'm honored.

Frank Zafiro said...

Clea - welcome, and I second the sentiment: your book sounds grand!

Clea Simon said...

thank you, Frank!