Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dead On Her Feet

Today's special guest is Lisa Fernow. Lisa grew up on the classic mysteries of Ngaio Marsh and Elizabeth Peters. Lisa has danced Argentine tango since 1996, studying with such legendary masters as Cacho Dante, Susana Miller, and Brigitta Winkler, as well as other inspiring instructors in Atlanta, Seattle, and Portland. Lisa’s short story,Death of a Tango Dancer was featured in King County Library’s Take Time to Read program. She lives in Seattle, Washington. Dead on Her Feet is the first book in a planned series set in the tango world. Read more at


I asked Lisa why she chose a dance floor and the tango as the backdrop for a murder. Here is here response:

Why I chose a dance floor and the tango as the backdrop for murder:

Do you mind if I reverse these questions? It’s just like me to do things the other way around, and it’s sort of fitting since as a tango dancer I’m usually moving backwards!

Why I set my mysteries in the tango world is simple: I dance tango and I love mysteries so I guess it was inevitable that these worlds would someday collide.

I came to the dance accidentally. When I was visiting Buenos Aires I happened to be out walking in San Telmo, one of the old neighborhoods, and came across an elderly couple dancing tango in the square. They moved with such heartbreaking beauty I returned to Atlanta determined to learn this difficult but rewarding dance. So I took lessons and went to the milongas – the dances – and was hooked.

The social dance you see is nothing like what you see in the movies. It’s far more intimate.

And therein lies the danger.

Tango is known for stirring up passions that can easily spin out of control if you don’t honor the codigos – the moral codes – of the community. You are dancing in a close embrace to some of the most romantic, sensual music ever composed. Your partner may be someone you know well, or a total stranger, but something is likely to spark between you. What happens on the dance floor is supposed to stay on the dance floor but sometimes people forget, at their peril.

Tango also has a rich history of men getting into knife fights. The earliest tango dancers were immigrants who came to Argentina hoping for new lives – these men outnumbered the available women by 5 to 1 so the odds of finding romance and (ahem) companionship were greatly against them. Competition for dance partners was fierce, and men fought over the available women. Blood was spilled. Even today, something as seemingly innocent as being bumped into on the dance floor can be enough to set off a proud Argentine.

So it seemed only natural to set my murder mystery in the tango world.

As to why I chose the actual dance floor as the backdrop for murder, I have always been a huge fan of locked room mysteries. Sherlock Holmes’ The Adventure of the Speckled Band was one of my favorites as a child. And Agatha Christie was a master of setting her mysteries in closed spaces with a clear list of suspects – remember Murder on the Orient Express? And of course, there is And Then There Were None where the murders took place on an island.

So setting the actual murder on the dance floor was a fun challenge to take on. I am happy to say that very few people figure out how the murderer did it. But if you know enough about tango, and examine the clues carefully, you can!


What happens when a dancer violates the tango code?

Tango instructor and chronic rule-breaker Antonia “Ant” Blakeley has no respect for authority. So when a much-hated member of the Atlanta tango community is stabbed in the middle of the dance floor, leaving her troubled nephew Christian first on the list of suspects, the last thing she wants to do is use her tango expertise to help the police work out how someone could have struck the fatal blow, unseen. As someone who has experienced police incompetence first hand Antonia doesn’t trust them to find the real killer. So she lies to give Christian an alibi, and the coverup begins.

Unfortunately for Ant, former marine Detective Sam Morrow is on the case and he will do whatever it takes to solve the crime. He’s not about to let Antonia hijack his case. As both Ant and Sam investigate (or in Ant’s case, interfere), the two sleuths are about to find out the more antagonistic meaning of “it takes two to tango.”


“Tango can be about many things—seduction, longing, nostalgia, intimacy, tenderness— you get the picture. Whatever the music and the moment inspires. This song isn’t one we normally dance to but I happen to think it’s a beautiful piece, especially if you understand the words. It’s called ‘Uno.’ One.” Uno, oh yeah, she thought.

“He gave away his heart to a woman who betrayed him and now he can’t love the way he used to. That’s life and death stuff.” She was pleased to see Christian nodding, solemnly. “For this exercise I want you to move with whatever emotion inspires you. No partners. Walk around the room in the line of dance, counterclockwise, everyone, remember? Don’t worry about steps, the idea is to get used to feeling the music and transmitting it through your bodies.”

Antonia started the track, savoring the instrumental opening. When Sosa finally started to sing the yearning in his voice punctured her heart as it never failed to do. The class shuffled around the room, some self-consciously, others with more abandon. One of the Emory students seemed to be channeling Martha Graham, in a good way.

Something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention: a stranger, not that much taller than she was, standing in the doorway. His military bearing, neatly trimmed mustache, and close-cropped sandy hair would have conveyed unyielding strength if it hadn’t been for the fact that his eyes were pale blue and his nose had been broken at least once. He would have been just her type if she were interested in a relationship.


Twitter:  @lisafernow

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