The recap of Hilary Davidson’s Phoenix-area appearances is split between two events, a Feb. 21 event at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and the Authors @ The Teague event on Wed. Feb. 22. Hilary appeared both places on her book tour for The Next One to Fall, the second book to feature travel writer Lily Moore.
Before even starting the program at the Poisoned Pen, though, Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, introduced another author in the audience, Rhys Bowen. Rhys’ next book in her Molly Murphy series, Hush Now, Don’t You Cry, is due out next month. (Rhys will be appearing at the Velma Teague Library on March 12, along with Cara Black and Libby Hellmann.) The book is set in Newport in the early 20th century, amid all the fabulous estates. Molly and Daniel went there on their honeymoon, but, even though Molly promised him she wouldn’t work after they were married, she can’t resist getting involved in another investigation.
To introduce Hilary, Barbara showed the Jan/Feb issue of Crimespree Magazine with Hilary’s picture on the cover. Ruth Jordan and Jen Forbus interviewed Hilary for the cover article.
Hilary’s first mystery, The Damage Done, came out in 2010, and went on to win the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Hilary said that’s why her second book was a little delayed. Her publisher released The Damage Done in paperback in January, so release date for The Next One to Fall was pushed back. The new book takes travel writer Lily Moore to Peru.
Together Barbara Peters and Hilary Davidson provided a fascinating glimpse at Peru, using slides and their accounts of their travels to the country. Barbara warned us. Travelers always know not to drink the water in Peru, but they forget that they shouldn’t drink anything with ice in it. And, she said the altitude is so high, you must wear a hat. She didn’t heed either warning on her first trip to Peru in 1975, and she became sick. In January 2010, she and her husband, Rob, went on a cruise that ended in Lima. They planned to go to Machu Picchu, and they flew to Cuzco. It’s a shock to the system to go from sea level to 11,500 feet. She and Rob planned to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but they were evacuated before they could go. That was the year of the flood and mud slides and people died. There were 15,000 people there with no way to evacuate them except by helicopter. The helicopters could only take thirty people at a time, and the ruins were weakened by the helicopters having to land there.
So, Barbara and Rob spent a week in Cuzco. Rob loved it because it’s an eater’s paradise.
Hilary and Barbara discussed the statue of the black Christ in Cuzco. It’s called the Lord of the Tremblers. Inca structures were built with no mortar and they have stood the test of time. But, in the mid-sixteenth century, there was a huge earthquake. The church brought the black Christ out, and the earthquake stopped. So, the natives decided that was a powerful God, and many converted. When Barbara was there, they brought the statue out for the first time in years. There was a Mass in the square; they prayed for the rains to stop, and they walked the statue around the square.
While we viewed slides of the markets, Hilary told us there are 800 kinds of potatoes in Peru. According to an article in Smithsonian, before the Europeans took potatoes back, there had never been enough food in Europe. The population boomed because potatoes became a vital food staple.
They also mentioned coca tea, which is in urns in all the hotel lobbies. People are encouraged to drink the coca tea, and are told it will help them adjust to the altitude. Coca comes from the same plant as cocaine. People chew the leaves. There's coca candy. Coca Cola was called that because cocaine was an ingredient in it at one time.
Hilary mentioned that she has a gluten-free website because she has Celiac Disease. She didn’t know what she could eat in Peru, but it’s gluten-free paradise with potatoes, corn and quinoa. The Incas farmed for self-sufficiency, and the terraced hills at Machu Picchu were designed so the community would be self-sustaining. Asked how people made a living there, Davidson told us there is a theory that Machu Picchu was a royal retreat. It may have been a summer home, and the nobles built houses around it.
She and Barbara both mentioned there is a medication to help people breathe at the high altitude. You need to start it 48 hours ahead of time. If not, you can end up breathing so shallowly that you’ll wake yourself up at night, thinking you’re suffocating. That scene when Lily has that problem in the book is realistic.
Davidson also told us about the Cuzco School of Art. Artists came from Spain to work with the native artists. However, the native artists put their own interpretation on the religious art. For instance, there’s a painting of the Last Supper in a cathedral. Jesus and his apostles are eating guinea pig. And, the native artists did not think it was respectful to portray Jesus in a loin cloth. Instead, they painted him in the linen skirt of the Inca nobility.
They both discussed the train in to Machu Picchu. There’s no road. And, if there’s an accident, people have to be airlifted out. People do fall and die at that remote location.
Hilary made her trip to Peru at the start of the rainy season at the end of October. She stayed for three weeks, and she was hard hit by altitude sickness because she tried to go without the medication. She was still doing travel writing at the time, and her trip to Peru convinced her to set up the Gluten-Free Guidebook, an online resource. She learned a lot in three weeks.
On Wednesday, Hilary introduced her character Lily Moore to the audience at the Velma Teague Library. Lily first appeared in the Anthony Award-winning mystery, The Damage Done. She was a travel writer living in Spain, who was called back to New York because her sister had died. But, when she arrived, she found the body was another woman who had stolen her sister’s identity, and was living in her apartment. This is a dark book, and Lily spends the rest of the book looking for her sister. By the end, she discovered she had been betrayed by lots of people who were close to her.
The Next One to Fall starts three months later. Lily still trusts her best friend, Jesse. He’s a travel photographer who asks her to accompany him to Peru. He wants to spend time with her, for one thing. And, he’s been to Peru before, and finds it beautiful, just breathtaking. He thinks a trip there will get her out of her dark mood. But, they hear a couple arguing, followed by a scream, and then they find a woman at the bottom of a stone staircase. Before Jesse runs for help, Lily glimpsed a man running away from the scene. With Jesse gone, the woman reveals information about the man, and then dies.
Lily knew the dead woman was traveling with a man, but he doesn’t come forward. And, the police dismiss it as a woman on drugs who had an accident. Lily hunts for him, and finds he’s the son of a very wealthy man, and there are a number of dead and missing women in his past. His first wife died in an accident. His second disappeared in Peru. Now, this woman died. Lily feels he must be stopped, and she wants justice for the women.
Once Hilary introduced her books, we showed a slide show about Machu Picchu that she has on her website. Machu Picchu is the Lost City of the Incas, although it was not lost to the Incas. The Spaniards never found it. 2011 was the 100th anniversary of the rediscovery of the city. It’s remarkable because, although it’s in an earthquake zone, it was not damaged by earthquakes. All the damage there is man-made.
She told us Cuzco, the Inca capital, became a Spanish city. They knocked down the Inca temples and used the stone for their churches.
Davidson told the audience that her three week trip there in 2007 inspired this story. She was there during the rainy season. When the fog burned off, she said, “This would be a perfect place to kill someone.” Her husband, who was with her, said he didn’t think he wanted to travel with her again.
She also mentioned the breathing problems people have at the high altitude in Cuzco. They become sleep-deprived, and can’t fall asleep. Lily was in that state at the beginning of The Next One to Fall, and she had trouble trusting her own perceptions.
When questions were asked about tourism and crime, Hilary said tourist sites are reluctant to publish information about deaths at the sites. The Natalie Holloway case is a good example. No one wanted to deal with her disappearance, but the suspect was arrested later for murdering a woman in Peru. He’s in prison now. It’s easier for people to get away with committing crimes in foreign locations.
Asked about rules for tourism at Machu Picchu, Davidson answered there are now new rules since so much of the damage there is man-made. They’re trying to limit the number of tourists. The site has been loved to death. At its peak, there were 3500 visitors a day. The site wasn’t built to handle that many people. Now, the maximum number allowed per day is 2500. And, a permit is required to go to Machu Picchu. It costs $150 per person per day. In the last ten years, Peru has tried to preserve its history. Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered Machu Picchu took many of the artifacts back to Yale. Yale has told the Peruvian government they will return them once Peru is able to be caregivers for them. Until now, they have not been able to do that.
Hilary told us she’s fascinated by the Incas. The character of Jesse reflects that interest. He describes many of the Inca traditions in the book. For instance, the stones in their buildings fitted together without mortar. And, they couldn’t use llamas to transport much of the stone because llamas can’t carry heavy weight. And, this was a society that never discovered the wheel. There’s no description as to how they transported all the stones. They didn’t really have a writing system. Their method of tying knots to communicate is described in the book. And, they had symbols imprinted on silver and gold to communicate. Some of those symbols explained their theory of the cosmos. But, that silver and gold was shipped back to Spain and melted down. Everything they represented in silver and gold has been lost. They were astronomers. And, the Temple of the Sun has a series of windows through which constellations could sometimes be seen. But, no one knows how they utilized that knowledge.
Peru attracts some bizarre tourists. There are drug tourists because there are drugs that are legal to use in Peru. Marijuana is legal there. There’s also a natural LSD that is legal, and it’s traditional for tribes to take it together and have group visions.
Then there are the people who go to Peru to find UFOs. There was a pre-Inca civilization who carved designs in the earth. They’re called Nazca Lines, and many of them depict animals. But, the designs can’t be seen from the ground, only from the air. So, there’s a culture of UFO hunters in Peru. They’re part of the book, but not at the core of the story.
Hilary Davidson concluded the presentation by discussing her third book. She always had three books in mind, although she initially had a two-book contract. She has another two-book deal. The third Lily Moore story is the first of those two books. It’s set shortly after the end of The Next One to Fall. It starts in Acapulco, which has been luring travel writers. Lily goes there with another journalist, and the other woman vanishes. It’s then she learns the property where she is has been bought by her former boyfriend’s company.
Hilary Davidson takes readers into Lily Moore’s world, and the world of Peru in her latest book, The Next One to Fall.
Hilary Davidson's website is www.hilarydavidson.com