Interviews

Chicago’s Radio Days Return in ‘Homicide for the Holidays’

Cheryl Honigford on her new 1930s Chicago-set mystery.

9781492628644_e73d1Suburban Chicago author Cheryl Honigford launched the Viv and Charlie Mystery Series last year with The Darkness Knows. This month brings us the latest addition to the series, Homicide for the Holidays. Published by Sourcebooks, an independent press located just west of Chicago in Naperville, the books are set in the 1930s and follow the adventures of rising radio actress Vivian Witchell as she runs into all kinds of off-the-air drama—including murder. Charlie Haverman is the “handsome and maddeningly practical private detective” hired to protect Vivian but soon finds himself at her side to help solve crimes both present and past.

I recently talked to Honigford about her inspiration for the series and her research into Chicago history.

Lori Rader-Day

How did you decide to write about Chicago in the 1930s? What were the historical touchstones you wanted to include from Chicago?

Cheryl Honigford

A1JCg1HMEYL._UX250_The heyday of old time radio was during WWII and throughout the 1940s, so I wanted to move the beginning of the series back a bit and get Vivian into the business before it really hit the big time. That way she had somewhere to go in the industry as an actress. There was so much going on in the 1930s in Chicago, the United States, the world…but I wanted to include aspects of the Depression, radio (of course), the rise of Hitler and the build up to WWII. And Al Capone features in Homicide for the Holidays, even though by December 1939 he had long since been convicted of tax evasion and was sitting in Alcatraz.

Lori Rader-Day

How do you go about researching your stories? Are the 1930s a particularly difficult era to research or have you found some bounty you can tell us about?

Cheryl Honigford

There are a lot of pop culture resources for the 1930s—movies, radio, newspapers, magazines. Some specific things about Chicago have been challenging to find, like how things looked in 1938, what buildings were and weren’t in The Loop. I had to draw my own map of The Loop on graph paper. Whenever possible, I try to seek out primary sources describing what life was like in the 1930s. I found the autobiography of a radio actor that gave me details of performing and producing live radio programs. Speaking of Radio by Chuck Schaeden was immensely helpful with that as well. That book is a collection of interviews done with the radio actors and actresses of the ’30s and ’40s. I also found an entire set of Radio Guide magazines from 1938 on ebay. I read each one cover to cover. [Honigford shares further research tidbits and her favorite old time radio episodes at her website.]

Lori Rader-Day

Tell us about Vivian Witchell.

Cheryl Honigford

In The Darkness Knows, Vivian is a rising star at WCHI in Chicago on a detective serial called “The Darkness Knows.” She stumbles upon the dead body of her radio station’s star actress and then receives a threatening letter that implies that she is the killer’s next target. The police aren’t getting anywhere in the official investigation, so Vivian enlists the help of private detective, Charlie Haverman, to investigate for herself. In Homicide for the Holidays, Vivian finds something in her dead father’s office that leads her believe he was keeping secrets from the family. Vivian is curious and hard-headed. She does what she wants. Each mystery in the Viv and Charlie series is woven directly into the fabric of what’s happening in Vivian’s life (and her relationship with Charlie).

Lori Rader-Day

Vivian and Charlie come up against some mob history in Homicide for the Holidays. Did you learn anything new about Capone when you wrote him into the story?

Cheryl Honigford

I learned so much, but the most interesting research tidbit is tangential to Capone and inspired the character of Vivian’s father. Eddie O’Hare was a crooked lawyer, and business partner of Capone, who decided to inform on the outfit to the FBI in order to get his beloved son into the Naval Academy. The son, Butch O’Hare, did go to the Naval Academy. He became a hero fighter pilot who was shot down over the Pacific in WWII. O’Hare Airport was named in his honor. Eddie O’Hare didn’t live to see any of that. He was gunned down while driving his car down Ogden Avenue in 1939. His murder remains unsolved, but it’s assumed the outfit finally caught up with him over his double-crossing. When I learned this, it got the whole plot for Homicide for the Holidays rolling.

Lori Rader-Day

Homicide for the Holidays is set in Chicago in the holiday season. How did you get yourself in the holly jolly mood to write it? 

Cheryl Honigford

I wrote most of the story during the sweltering summer months, so it took some doing to get in the mood. I found some old 1930s Christmas music and played that while I wrote. Then I cranked the AC and used my imagination.

Lori Rader-Day

Will we be seeing Viv and Charlie again?

Cheryl Honigford

The third book in the series, Dig Deep My Grave, comes out in August 2018. Vivian takes Charlie up to her family’s cottage on Lake Geneva to meet her extended family. An old flame of Vivian’s turns up dead, and Charlie is suspected of his murder. It’s up to Vivian to find the real killer and clear Charlie’s name. Hopefully, there will be more books in the series. Stay tuned!

FICTION – MYSTERY
Homicide for the Holidays by Cheryl Honigford
Sourcebooks Landmark
Published October 10, 2017
ISBN
9781492628644

Cheryl Honigford is the author of the Viv and Charlie Mystery series. The second in the series was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest and the overall winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in ystery/Suspense (Unpublished Category). She lives and writes in Chicago.

Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

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