You don’t have to be a genealogist to get tied in knots over the web of deceit and family secrets spun by master story-teller Steve Robinson in his newest Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery, Kindred. But it’s a good idea to clear your schedule, because Kindred’s first pages will grab you and refuse to let go.
I was laid up with the flu when Steve kindly sent a preview copy as a “get well” diversion, and it’s a good thing I had an excuse to ignore life and just read for a few days. Kindred is one of those novels that begs a break just to let you catch your breath and think deeply about the characters and themes you’ve encountered. Wartime Germany is a tough subject; add characters who are elite leaders within the “other side” and you have a complicated and fascinating story line.
Jefferson Tayte is an American genealogist with a knack for getting into difficult situations. In previous novels, Tayte’s typical client research has led him from Washington DC to England in search of other people’s missing ancestors. Finally in Kindred, Tayte takes time for some personal research and travels to Germany in search of his own biological parents. Assisted by a few clues and research partner Professor Jean Sumner, J.T. soon discovers that his adoption may have been a safe-harbor from secrets he could never have imagined.
Exclusive Interview with Author Steve Robinson
Steve and I talked about this new release, especially the challenges of writing a genealogical mystery set on location in a foreign country.
Why Wartime Germany?
Q: Congratulations on Kindred, Steve. I thought this book was a real page-turner from the very first page. What was your inspiration for a genealogical mystery rooted in wartime Germany?
A: The idea first came to me when I was considering Jefferson Tayte’s family history. At the time, I had about as much to go on as he did, which wasn’t much—just a photograph of his birth mother, who he had been told had a British accent, and the knowledge that she had given him up for his own protection. It was that which drove the need to find a sufficient threat to his life, even as a baby, and after considering several options, wartime Germany seemed a fitting period in our recent world history in which to cultivate such a threat. Why was JT given away for his own protection as a baby? That’s the question I set out to answer, and from it the story of Kindred began to unfold. I also felt it had to be a big story for JT’s own family history, and again wartime Germany ticked all the boxes for me.
Q: You do a great job weaving the German language with the story. But do you speak fluent German? How did you learn what you needed for the book?
A: I soon found that settling on the time period and setting for the historical elements of the book was the easy part. Things became far more complicated after that because I don’t speak German at all. I had set myself a huge challenge, and I have to say that this was the hardest book I’ve written to date. The language barrier made my research difficult and often very intense. I had to learn so much about the German military of the time and about researching family history in Germany. I relied on Google’s translation services among other resources, and by the time I’d written the first draft, the German content was in pretty good shape I think because my copyeditor this time around did speak fluent German (she was chosen for that treason) and she didn’t have to correct much. There isn’t actually a lot of German language in the book, but as you say, it’s interspersed in such a way that readers who don’t speak German will understand it. I wanted to use the language for authenticity in places, but without overdoing it to the detriment of the book.
Why Family History?
Q: Your website mentions your own personal family history mysteries. How much does that affect your choice of story line and characters?
A: I think the intrigue I have about my own family history helps me to create scenarios for my books in general, but apart from my second book, To the Grave, I don’t think it continues to directly influence my story lines. I do seem to be drawn to the wartime eras of the last century though. I think that has a lot to do with my grandparents and great aunts and uncles, who all served either at home or on the front lines. I grew up hearing many stories about the Second World War and I will always be in awe of the courage of those who lived through it, and of the hardships they faced.
What’s in the Future for You and J.T.?
Q: It’s good to see your sleuth, Jefferson Tayte, “getting a life” outside research. Now he has his own partner with Professor Summer, and he’s finally spending time researching his personal family history. What’s next for JT?
A: Getting a life outside of his research isn’t coming easy to him, but he’s definitely trying. What’s next? Well, I don’t like to give too much away, but I will say that in book six, JT finds himself much closer to home.
A: Yes, I first published independently through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform about a year after the Kindle was launched. I published the first three books that way, and because of their success I was noticed and offered a four book publishing deal with Thomas & Mercer. We worked on re-editing the existing three books, new covers were designed, and the fourth book in the series was released soon after. I’ve since signed up for a further two books, Kindred and the one I’m writing now, and it’s been a great experience. It’s particularly good to see my books published in other languages, too, and to hear the audiobook editions recorded by Simon Vance, who has narrated them beautifully.
Q: This is your fifth genealogical mystery in the Jefferson Tayte series. Can you share your plans for the series and future publications.
A: I’m writing the sixth book in the series at the moment, which should be out early next year. After that I plan to keep writing them all the while the story ideas keep coming, which I hope will be for a long time. I think I’m fortunate to have created a series that can be set in the present, anywhere in the world, and in the past, not only anywhere in the world, but in just about any time period that can be reached via records. It gives me great flexibility as a writer, and I’m sure it helps to keep the series fresh for the reader, too, as we don’t know where JT’s next assignment will take him.
Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series (In Order)
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