Murder Beyond the Milky Way - Eric B. Ruark
I grew up on Murder Mysteries. Agatha Christie and Lilian Jackson Braun were my two favorites growing up. So naturally, I was highly excited to read Murder Beyond the Milky Way by Eric B. Ruark.
Combining my all time favorite whodunit mystery genre with a science fiction backdrop on an isolated station made it this plot all the more exciting, interesting, and it definitely held me captivated until the final page.
Ruark's writing style is easy to read and flows smoothly through the progression of the plot, giving the reader just enough to keep them guessing as to the ending while not giving away enough to spoil the whodunit component.
Overall an excellent read. If you love murder mysteries and want to see one with a unique science fiction twist, then I highly recommend this one. I loved every second of it.
Some Bio Information
I love a good mystery... books... TV... movies... real-life... which is why when I sit down at my keyboard, I have the tendency to write mystery stories. I was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, but even at an early age, my parents encouraged me to travel, and although I'm a New England Preppie, I've been to schools in France and Switzerland and was the guest of Jose Greco, the famed Flamenco artist in Spain... all before I was 18 years old.
In college, I majored in English and Drama. I rowed on the varsity crew. After college, I took up acting. In Japan, you would have seen me as Babe Ruth in their popular show THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF JAPANESE BASEBALL. (That should give you a good idea of what I look like. I was Off-Off Broadway in BACKSTAGE BITCHES which had a limited run at the Cabaret Duplex in New York City. I was also in one of the road shows of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
Over the years I've had a love/hate relationship with writing. I've published a romance, RIVER OF RAIN for MacFadden under a pen name, and a mystery, THE CAMPUS KILLINGS under my own name. Both books are now out of print in the United States, although I hear that KILLINGS has recently been translated into Italian, but I no longer own the rights to that book.
When I turned 40, I took up bicycling and cycled across the country and down to Key West, Florida where I won the Hemingway Storytelling Contest several years in a row in the early 90s.
In 2004 Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine published ANTEBELLUM, a mystery set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and in May 2013, AHMM published SEEING DOUBLE, a modern mystery set in Maryland.
Currently, my wife and I live on a sailboat at a marina just off the Chesapeake Bay.
1) What inspired you to write MURDER BEYOND THE MILKY WAY? & 2) Can you tell us about your writing process.
MURDER BEYOND THE MILKY WAS is the product of several divergent ideas that merged into one. The first one was simple. I’m a mystery writer and I wanted to write a mystery. But what kind of mystery. I thought a murder mystery would be nice... a simple, straight forward someone lying in a pool of blood kind of mystery.
Okay step one: if’ I was going to write a murder mystery, I needed a victim and not just any victim. I had to kill someone whom the people in the story would care enough about to do something about it and thereby bring the reader along on their quest for answers.
To me, in its basic form, a murder mystery is a “QUEST” story, like the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail in a murder mystery is to not only find the killer but also to understand why the killer took that particular life in the first place. So, I needed a knight, a hero... someone who cared enough about the situation of the murder to put out the effort to find the answer.
You see, if no one cared about the murdered man or what the murdered man stood for, or why he was killed then no one would be motivated enough to find the answers to the unsolved questions. It’s not just the murderer who needs a motive. The protagonist also needs a motive to motivate him to solve the crime.
In the classic MALTESE FALCON, Sam Spade doesn’t care for his partner who is killed in the beginning of the book. But Archer was his partner and whether he liked him or not, Spade was honor bound to do something about it. Spade was a private detective. It would be bad for business if he let the killer get away with the crime. Spade cared about how he would be perceived by other people. He was motivated by self-interest rather than a sense of justice.
Step two: I am a great fan of General Hospital. I got hooked on it back in the early 1990s when I was in the hospital with a ruptured pancreas. (Another story for another time.) During the months I spent flat on my back, the only thing I could do was watch TV. This was in the days before cable and the hospital only had four stations: the hospital station and the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. The TV was mounted on the wall and set to the ABC channel and I was too doped up to change it so I became addicted to the ABC soaps. The Sonny/Jason dynamic has always intrigued me. So when it came time to construct MURDER, I wondered what Jason would have done if Sonny had been killed? (For you non GH fans, Sonny is a Godfather-like character and Jason is his chief enforcer.)
That gave me my first plot point: Steve Summerset is killed and Matt Quincey is angry enough to do something about it. (The why is a spoiler, I don’t want to reveal here.)
As Sherlock Holmes said, “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot...” But where were their feet going to tread? Which brings me to the third idea that was floating around in my head: Communism. Marx got it wrong... well, sort of. He took a Biblical idea and missed the point in creating an economic system centered on the worker.
In the Bible in Acts 2:44-46 it is written And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart... and then in Acts 4:34-35 it is written: Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need...
In these two examples, the first experiment in Communism was not centered on the worker, but on the workers’ devotion to God. In the next chapter, Ananias and Sapphira bring a portion of the what they sold their property for and GOD killed them for claiming that they had brought it all. Their eyes were obviously not on the prize. Marx took religion out of the equation and made the state God. Big mistake. The state is merely a human construct that people may or may not develop devotion to. A state can be over thrown, God cannot.
Therefore, if a community is going to function communistically, the individuals in that community must have their eyes set on something higher than the concept of a “State” or they have to be so personally invested in whatever they have they eyes set on that to over throw it is to over throw themselves.
Since no place like that can exist on the Earth, I created Magnum-4, a planet in an isolated portion of space. The planet is made up of the most sought after commodity in the known universe, red ore. The people on Magnum-4 are there for one reason and one reason only: they intend to mine the planet to extinction and leave with more wealth than a human could hope to spend in several lifetimes (which is good since Youth Treatments have extended the normal human span out to close to a millennia if anyone had the money to pay for it.) The inhabitants of Magnum-4 have the money and more. Greed is their god and self-interest is the motivator. To go against the system is in every respect to go against themselves. Very few people will go out of the way to shoot themselves in the foot. It hurts and most people will do anything to avoid pain.
So... by necessity, in order to have fun with my idea of communism, I had to take my players into the realm of space opera. I consider MURDER BEYOND THE MILKY WAY more a space opera than a science fiction piece. A reader may disagree. One of my beta-readers has suggested that my Quincey character owes more to Kurosawa than to General Hospital since with Steve’s death, Quincey acts very much like the Ronin in YOJIMBO. I won’t deny it. I’ve seen Kurosawa’s films dozens of times and could easily have absorbed some of his ideas. In MURDER, Quincey is so angry that the Vigilance Committee, itself a star chamber with the power of life and death over everyone on Magnum-4, literally does not want to get in his way. They know that when he catches the killer, his justice will be as swift as theirs. It suits their purpose to give him carte blanche and back off. (Why is another spoiler.)
Okay. So I have a murder taking place on the edge of explored space. Who or what controls “explored” space? And here, I owe a lot to William Harrison’s ROLLERBALL. Corporations run things in the future, just as they do now, only there is no need to hide behind pseudo-governments. The corporations have divided the arm of the galaxy between themselves. They missed Magnum-4 because it was literally off their radar and by the time they realized it was there, the miners were already in place and producing. Think of the Kimberly diamond mines and you’ll pretty much have my prototype for the operation out in space and the effect that they would have should they flood the market with their product.
I have the crime. I have the place. Now all I needed to do was populate my fictional world with a planet load of fictional characters. (Who said that writing isn’t fun.) I had two problems, here, I had to overcome. The first, there were going to be no persons of color in the story. There didn’t need to be since by this time in man’s future, the human race had become homogenized. Periodically, you have recessive genes re-emerging giving people like Alyson Lehman her striking black hair and almond shaped eyes. The second problem dealt with aliens, or the lack thereof.
Way back in college, I read a book by a mathematician called THE BLIND WATCHMAKER. In it he postulated that it would take an infinite universe with an infinite number galaxies with an infinite number of planets just to reduce the probability of life occurring on one of them to zero. In other words, there are no aliens. We are alone. Using his theory, I can send anyone anywhere and not worry about stepping one someone’s squiggly toes.
I also chose to avoid the metric system measurements. By definition a meter is one-ten-millionth the distance from the equator to the pole measured on a meridian on Earth (my italics). To me that meant that unless the non-earth planet were the exact same size as Earth itself, a meter on one planet would be different than a meter on another planet. However, an inch on Earth is an inch on Mars and so on.
Once I had the who and the where, I had to create a timeline into which I had to weave the what, when and why of the story.
While Lydia is at a meeting with the planet’s mine owners, Steve is murdered. A blade-like shard of sharp silicon rock is shoved into his chest. I know by whom and why they did it. I know it, but Quincey doesn’t; neither does Lydia, Steve’s lover and member of the all-powerful Directorate that controls their particular parsec of space; nor Jane, Steve’s daughter; nor Harry Salem, the poor son-of-a-bitch who has been sent to the farthest reaches known to man to convince Lydia to return to Earth Prime and resume her duties as part of the Directorate. This allowed me to make Harry the unwilling Watson to Quincey’s Holmes.
Harry is literally dragged kicking and screaming into a mystery abut which he could care less. However, over the course of the novel he comes to care about it and the people who are affected by it. Add to this core of central characters a list of subsidiary ones who populate, live on and work on Magnum-4 and who frequently get in each other’s way and there you have it.
3.) What kinds of readers would most enjoy your work?
Hopefully all mystery and scifi readers say sixteen and older.
4.) What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
A new understanding of the problems that currently beset mankind.
5.) Who is your favorite fictional character?
Ahab from MOBY DICK.
6.) How would you describe your writing style?
Conversational. I like to write as if I am physically telling someone the story.
7.) What's your ultimate writing goal?
To tell a story that people will remember.