Behind the Book… Death Notes

death-notes-sarah-rayneDeath Notes is the first book in Sarah Rayne’s new series of chilling mysteries, which introduces professional researcher Phineas Fox.

Phin has mixed feelings when he’s asked to research the infamous, nineteenth-century violinist Roman Volf for a TV documentary. Volf was a notorious criminal and womaniser hanged for his part in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. On uncovering evidence suggesting Volf could not have been involved in the Tsar’s murder, Phin’s investigations lead him to the west coast of Ireland – and a series of intriguing, interlocking mysteries reaching from 1881 to the present day. Was Volf executed for something he didn’t do? And what is his connection with the reclusive Maxim Volf now living in County Galway?

While writing Death Notes, I was initially delighted to discover the existence of the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Odessa. It had burned down at the end of the nineteenth century, which I thought would fit beautifully into a plot involving flashbacks to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The infamous, nineteenth-century violinist, Roman Volf, specially created for the plot, could wander through the theatre’s blackened ruins, possibly in company with a suitably alluring lady. Over a century later, the present-day music researcher, Phineas Fox, could visit the rebuilt theatre, in quest of the truth about the scandalous Roman and his part in the Tsar’s murder.

I wrote several chapters, making use of this theatre, then I discovered it had burned down eight years too soon for the plot. So, since the dates of assassinations can’t be shifted, any more than the burning of illustrious theatres can be put forward, I set about creating a fictional theatre. Then I hit the problem of what to call it.

I rummaged bookshelves, scoured encyclopediae and trawled the internet. Chapter 11 lay incomplete on the hard drive. Chapter 12 was still scrappy notes in Word, and Chapter 13 was a mere hope somewhere on the horizon, with no Word or, indeed, words to its name. The chapters with the inaccurate references to the Odessa Theatre, patiently awaited amendment. My agent and my editor patiently awaited a manuscript.

Then I discovered the Russian legend of the skomorokhi. The skomorokhi were nineth or tenth-century East Slavic harlequins – they could sing, dance, act and play musical instruments. Traces of their legend are sprinkled over the centuries and several authorities suggest that their name is linked to the Italian Scaramouch – the clown of commedia dell’arte. Harlequin and Columbine are known to most people, but that third character, Scaramouch, is perhaps not quite as familiar.

And yet Scaramouch is still around. In the 1906 fantasy play, Love in a Dutch Garden, a character says, ‘Scaramel, I am tempted…’ Scaramel’s reply is, ‘Always yield to temptation.’

And in Freddie Mercury’s mind-blowing Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen ask, ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango…?

So even though I couldn’t pronounce it, there was the theatre’s name. And best of all, it could burn down in the right year for the plot of Death Notes.

Sarah Rayne is the author of many novels of psychological and supernatural suspense, including the Michael Flint and Nell West series. She lives in Staffordshire. Sarah’s most recent novels, available from Severn House, are The Whispering, Deadlight Hall and The Bell Tower . Please visit our website here for further information on Sarah Rayne and her work.

Praise for Sarah Rayne:

“A real corker, perfect for fans of horror novels that blend past and present and have an element of mystery to them” Booklist Starred Review of The Bell Tower

“Skilfully structured and packed with suspense” Kirkus Reviews on Deadlight Hall

“The horror is more of the M R James than the Stephen King variety (atmospheric creepiness rather than boogeymen), but that doesn’t reduce the sense of palpable danger”
Publishers Weekly on The Whispering

“Simmering suspense and chilling surprises” Kirkus Reviews on The Silence





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