Bestselling writer Fiona Davis spent many summers between Beaumont and Bellaire, where her parents, natives of England, moved more than 30 years ago.
“I live in New York City, so seeing that huge sky still wows me after all these years,” she says.
Nowadays, she visits her parents in their Pearland home, and she’ll be in Houston at Murder By the Book Saturday to talk about her latest work, The Chelsea Girls, which takes place at the famed New York Hotel.
All of Davis’s novels have an architectural component to them. She’s written about the legendary Dakota apartments in The Address, and the renovation of Grand Central Station in The Masterpiece. Her latest work finds her following writers living at the Chelsea during one of the most dramatic periods of American history.
“I knew I wanted to write about the theater world in New York City during the 1950s—the McCarthy era—and when I learned that several of the residents of the Chelsea had been investigated by the FBI during that time for their ‘pro-Communist tendencies,’ some even imprisoned, I figured it would make a good match,” she says about the setting for her new book. “As I researched, I discovered fun facts like there was a secret tunnel under the hotel, which of course I had to include in the plot.”
Readers familiar with Davis know she’s become a leading voice in historical fiction, since the publication of her first novel, The Doll House, centering around a mystery at the famous Barbizon Hotel. In fact, it’s that book that drew her to the attention to Murder by the Book.
“I read The Doll House and loved it, and so did everyone else in the store,” says McKenna Jordan, the owner of Murder by the Book. “Her publicist said she wasn’t doing a tour around the book, so I just sent her a note saying, ‘If you’re ever in Texas, we’d love to host you.’ And she responded herself.”
Davis says having Jordan reach out was a huge thing for her as a new writer.
“The staff championed my debut novel before anyone else had even heard of me, and that boost of confidence was so empowering,” she says. “This will be my fourth time back to chat with their patrons, who have been on this crazy ride with me since the beginning. McKenna, John, and the rest of the staff are the absolute best, and connect authors with readers like no one else.”
Jordan believes that Davis has latched onto a unique format, in setting her books in and around iconic buildings.
“She’s so good at capturing these different time periods,” says Jordan. “You really feel like you’re living there. And people really respond to these places. And I am just so amazed at the details Fiona finds for her stories.”
The writer says that living in New York City makes her wonder what it was like for the residents or staff or workers at these great buildings over the years.
“When I research, I always find surprises, like the fact that there was an art school in Grand Central, or a list of ghosts that haunt the Chelsea Hotel,” she says. “I love discovering characters and plot ideas and then getting them down on the page.”
In her discussion at Murder by the Book, audiences will have the chance to ask her about what other facts she uncovered and why the Chelsea has become such an important place in history. She’ll also sign books for her fans, both established and new.
And Jordan says that those who’ve never read a Fiona Davis novel are in for a treat.
“She fits into a lot of categories,” she says. “It’s literary fiction, there’s a mystery element to these books, it’s historical fiction. And she’s so character-driven. We just love her work.”
Fiona Davis will read at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet St, on August 3. More info at murderbooks.com.