> Zed Book Club / Brothers Will and Ian Ferguson Kill in the Comedic Mystery, ‘I Only Read Murder’

Left to Right: Will Ferguson (Photo: Terumi Ferguson); Ian Ferguson (Photo: David Bruce Photography)

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Brothers Will and Ian Ferguson Kill in the Comedic Mystery, ‘I Only Read Murder’

The award-winning Canadian writers kick off a series with a madcap caper starring an aging, down-on-her-luck Hollywood actress / BY Kim Honey / June 22nd, 2023

I Only Read Murder began as a pandemic lockdown project for two writer brothers who wanted to “hang out” over the phone, with Will Ferguson in Calgary and Ian Ferguson in Victoria. It’s the first book in a comedic murder mystery series starring amateur sleuth Miranda Abbott, a washed-up, narcissistic Hollywood actress whose main claim to fame is a hit TV series that was cancelled 15 years ago.

“Writing the novel involved us trying to crack the other one up,” says Will, a travel writer who contributes to Zoomer magazine and the Giller Prize-winning author of 419. “We both feel that if you’re not having fun writing something, readers won’t have fun reading it.”

Miranda’s character, Pastor Fran, for example, first appeared on a TV show called “Parrot P.I.,” where the karate-chopping minister sometimes appeared in a bikini. Miranda marries the show’s writer, Edgar, who pens the spin-off, “Pastor Fran Investigates.” Long after they are estranged, Edgar sends a postcard that leads Miranda to think he wants a rapprochement, but when she arrives in Happy Rock, Ore., she discovers he wants a divorce. The novel’s title comes from the name of Edgar’s bookstore, which specializes in “murder and mayhem.”

Broke and depressed, Miranda tries out for Happy Rock’s annual play, where she expects the lead role, but gets a bit part. When an actor dies onstage, Miranda is on the case. In the following Q&A, the Fergusons reveal how TV shows inspired the book, their favourite funniest bits in the book and what happens in the next installment in the series. Don’t miss the excerpt from Chapter One that follows the Q&A.


Ian Ferguson and Will Ferguson


Kim Honey: Which came first: The idea for a comedic murder mystery or your main character, actress Miranda Abbott, the amateur sleuth?

Will Ferguson: Kudos to Ian. The main character was originally an aging male actor: Nick Abbott, former star of “Pastor Fred Investigates.” Ian worked in stage and film for years, and he thought it would be funny to place a former Hollywood star – who doesn’t know they are no longer famous – in a small-town amateur theatre production, where a murder happens onstage.  So, the character definitely came first. Later, with a flash of insight, Ian called me and said, “Let’s flip it! We’ll make the former TV star a woman, Miranda Abbott, of “Pastor Fran Investigates,” and the ex-husband the owner of a bookstore.”  After that, it really took off.

Ian Ferguson: By changing Nick Abbott to Miranda Abbott, it became a much more interesting and fun character to write. Also, it’s an unfortunate aspect of show business that male actors are allowed to age, but female actors? Not so much.

KH: The publisher says I Only Read Murder is for fans of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street and Schitt’s Creek. But Miranda’s former hit TV show, “Pastor Fran Investigates,” evokes the series Sister Boniface and Father Dowling, “Parrot P.I.” seems to be riffing off Baretta, and she karate chops like The Karate Kid.  Who, and what show, inspired Pastor Fran?

WF: This novel was indeed inspired by our abiding fondness for ’70s and ’80s TV detective shows. “Parrott P.I.!” plays off of Magnum P.I. and it comes from Ian and me asking, “What if Baretta’s cockatoo could talk AND solve crimes?”

IF: The show “Pastor Fran Investigates” was imagined as “Father Brown meets Murder, She Wrote meets Charlie’s Angels” – the ultimate mash-up with lots of karate chops and clues and scenes involving bikinis. Though, granted, there is only one angel in our version: Pastor Fran. The entire novel is layered with these TV references. It’s a love letter to the genre.

KH: Why did you set the novel in Oregon?

WF: Ian lives in Happy Rock – or, I should say, Victoria, B.C.

IF: We wanted a fictional setting that we could play in with impunity, without having to worry about lining up actual locations. So, we moved the town down the coast to a remote bay in Oregon that we figured no one would know, freeing us up from having to worry about readers matching a fictional town to a real place. But yeah, Happy Rock is, in many ways, a smaller version of Victoria, B.C.

KH: Between you, your books have won four Stephen Leacock Memorial Medals for Humour. Where did the funny bone come from in your family?

IF: Our whole family is funny, and our mother had a tremendous sense of humour and really enjoyed laughing, so her kids tried to make her laugh. Dinner around the table was kind of like a Friars Club roast growing up. And I appreciate the question about the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. We have, indeed, won four Leacock Medals between the two of us, Will having picked up three (he’s tied for the most Leacock awards ever) and me having won . . .  let me just do the math, four minus three equals . . .  right, one. We were both shortlisted for How to be a Canadian the same year Will was also shortlisted individually for Happiness™, and I made a small wager with him that he was going to win, which he did, which is a lengthy way of saying he still owes me a loonie.  Welcher.


Will and Ian Ferguson


WF: If you really want to know about our mom, our eccentric family and where the humour comes from, you should start with Ian’s Leacock-winning memoir, Village of the Small Houses, which is all about the bizarre small town we grew up in, in northern Alberta.

KH: Without giving away any spoilers, what is the funniest part in the novel for each of you?

IF: Miranda Abbott attempts to express herself via text message using emojis, however “Big Hat Monkey Toast” is indecipherable to the recipient.

WF: There is a subtle misspelling on the very last page that most people miss, which is intentional, and, I think, very funny.


Ian Ferguson


KH: I Only Read Murders is a cozy mystery, because it’s not explicit, it features an amateur sleuth and the crime is committed in a small setting. Why did you choose this genre, rather than a psychological thriller, a police procedural or, given your love of detective shows, a detective novel?

IF: Funny thrillers aren’t all that easy to pull off. Certainly Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake were able to do it, and Carl Hiaasen still does, but we really wanted to write a book that made people laugh, and a cozy seemed to lend itself to humour better than a detective novel or procedural.

KH:  The reader is introduced to a robust roster of characters after Miranda lands in Happy Rock and joins the amateur play where the murder happens.  This expands the pool of suspects and their backstories, but, at 257 pages, the book is not overly long. Did you have to kill some of your darlings in the editing process?

IF: The nice thing about writing a series is that if we couldn’t fit in a bit of story or a joke in the first book, we can certainly slip it in later in a subsequent one.

WF: Excellent! So, I can bring back my talking dog/killer cyborg character at some point?

IF: We’ll talk about that later.

KH: Name a mystery novel you have read and loved, and tell me why you liked it.

IF: It’s so hard to narrow it down to just one, but I’m going to say Briarpatch by the late, great Ross Thomas.  I re-read this annually. The characters are memorable, the action is terrific, and the plot is full of unexpected twists and unanticipated turns, all of which pay off at the end.

WF: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. If you want to delve into Japanese mysteries that are available in English, that’s where you want to start.

KH: When we meet Miranda, she is an imperious, self-absorbed narcissist, but by the end of the book, she has somewhat redeemed herself. Can you give us a clue what we can expect from her in the next instalment?

IF: Well, without giving anything away, Miranda ends up involved in another murder . . .

WF: And if you want a little bit more, imagine a cheesy movie of the week being shot in Happy Rock. Imagine a press conference to announce the movie. And imagine a guest “dropping in” unexpectedly, as in, through a skylight from four floors up . . .

KH: When will fans be able to read the second book?

IF: We’ve finished the second novel in the series and it will be available in all your better bookstores and such, in the not-too-distant future.  We have already started work on the third book. I mean, if you can call this “work.” It’s a lot of fun and I think readers are really going to enjoy them.

WF: Plus, there is a talking dog/ killer cyborg character!

IF: We’ll talk about that later.

In this abridged excerpt from Chapter One of I Only Read Murder, the reader is transported six weeks into the past to meet the “actress extraordinaire” as Miranda Abbott badgers her long-suffering agent for a comeback role.

Name the worst day in history. The Fall of Rome? The eruption of Mount Vesuvius? The ill-advised launch of New Coke? For Miranda Abbott, actress extraordinaire, star of stage and screen, the worst day began with her agent, Marty Sharpe. Of course it did. She always knew Hell would be an agent’s office.

Miranda had swept in with a fling of her scarf – green satin to set off her red hair and celebrated cheekbones – and a breathy, “Hello, darling. It is I.”

Marty had represented Miranda since before she was famous – and long after she no longer was. He seemed decidedly unthrilled at seeing his longtime client waltz in unannounced, as was her habit.

“What have I told you about making appointments, Miranda?”

“I don’t make appointments, darling, I keep them.”

She had a way of speaking in aphorisms that sounded profound but rarely made sense – except, perhaps, in the emotional realm. Miranda was all about emotional intelligence. Trivialities such as making appointments or paying bills or filing her income tax on time didn’t enter into it.

Moments later, her long-suffering assistant Andrew Nguyen appeared, trim and tailored, looking frazzled even if impeccably dressed.

“Sorry. I was putting money in the meter. They still have meters down here, can you believe it?”

They had driven here in Andrew’s Prius, Miranda’s BMW having been recently repossessed, or, as she described it, “taken into the shop.”

On LinkedIn, under “current position,” Andrew had been tempted to enter “babysitter to the stars.” But that wasn’t entirely accurate. Not the word babysitter, the word star.

Andrew took a seat next to Miranda, handed her a bottle of Aquafina.

With a single sip, she was ready. “I warn you, Marty. It’s Monday morning, and I am in a feisty mood.”

“You’re always in a feisty mood,” said Marty.

“That reality series you promised me? Where is it? Why has nothing materialized?”

“The Real Has-Beens of Beverly Hills? I pitched. They passed.”

Miranda fell back in the leatherette chair, a hurt look on her face.

“I’m not even famous enough to play a has-been?”

“Hang on a sec,” said Marty, shuffling through some papers. “I may have something for you. A commercial.”

Ah, that was more like it! Tiffany diamonds? Saks Fifth Avenue? The Céline Dion Living Legends Line?

“Metamucil,” he said, as he pulled out the script.

“Metamucil?” she said. “The fiber supplement?”

“This isn’t simply a commercial. It’s a tender and touching dramatic scene: three generations of women, a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter in summer dresses at a picnic discussing their digestive issues. I circled your lines.”

She flipped through the pages.

“The grandmother? You circled the grandmother’s part?” She was aghast at the sheer effrontery of it. “Surely, you mean the mother. Or, with the right lighting, the daughter.”

“She’s a youthful grandmother,” Marty assured her. “And she has the best lines. Life is too full to feel full. That’s gold, Miranda! Think of the layers of nuance you can add to that. Think of the residuals.”

She was livid. “May I remind you,” she said, blood and voice rising, “that I was Pastor Fran on Pastor Fran Investigates, investigating crimes as Pastor Fran, for six years, Marty! I was the lead character on a top-ten network TV show for six years!”

“Five,” said Marty. “The ratings tanked at the end, remember? The DUI and that drunken brawl at the Golden Globes?”

“I was a star, Marty!”

Abridged excerpt from I Only Read Murder by Ian Ferguson and Will Ferguson ©2023. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.




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