Art & Murder Interview with Rachel McMillan

Art is an important part of life whether you think you’re an artsy person or not. We all have creativity in us on some level. I have enjoyed the art in many mystery novels as it has introduced depths beyond the straight narrative. Whether it’s our Alexia Gordon with her fascinating points of music with her Gethsemane Brown Mysteries (Murder in G Major, Killing in C Sharp, Death in D Minor…) or our Paula Munier and her heroine who loves Shakespeare and the intriguing art in the woods in her debut novel, A Borrowing of Bones.

Rachel McMillan

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing an author whom I have loved to get to know as a friend, and her novels are an absolute joy with art woven into the tapestry of her characters and her storylines. Rachel McMillan.

Rachel, please take a moment to introduce yourself.

My name is Rachel and I live in Toronto, Canada. I love to read and to travel and to gush about books on social media.  I read all genres but especially love mysteries because it means I can spend a series with characters and fall deeply in love.

What kind of books do you write and why are you drawn to that genre(s)?

I write historical mysteries and contemporary Viennese-set romances. I am currently completed my first ever work of non-fiction which is described as a romantic’s guide to independent travel and releases in May 2020. 

Within your writing, is art an integral aspect for you? Is it how you’re wired or is it a writing device that just works? Feel free to include photos of ideas / art that you’re discussing. 

I am someone who is fused by art. It is such a part of my psyche, I think, because it just happens and in many ways unintentionally it acts as a canvas but also a character as hopefully well-developed as my human characters. 

Do you have multiple levels of symbolism within your mystery and your art? Or is the art more of a backdrop, giving ambiance? (Give examples) 

 I always try to find a way to ensure that the humans in my novels are not my only characters. Meaning, I want to embroider scenes and sequences and attention to artistic detail that help paint the world in the reader’s eye.  As a life-long bibliophile, books have inspired my travel and have acted as the catalyst for my appreciation of art and architecture.  I am someone who is very much a literary traveler: meaning my desire to see things and places and experience music and movements is often determined by the fiction I have read—especially in my formative years. 

I also think that writers should always suffuse their work with their passion. We are like pieces of Velcro and—intentionally or not— my passion for art somehow finds its way in.

Do you have a favorite scene or moment involving art that is near and dear to you? And why?

Old North Church

I love architecture—especially church architecture —and I was able to incorporate Hugo’s homage to Notre Dame in a unique way in my Van Buren and DeLuca series.  Hamish DeLuca suffers from a panic and anxiety disorder in the late 1930s when mental health was heavily stigmatized and often treated with shock treatment and mercury pills.  To alleviate his symptoms as well as find a mental solace, he turns to his security blanket book The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Quasimodo is not only protected by the gargoyles and saints rimming his fortress of a bell tower, but the clanging and suffocating sound of the bells is—to my hero—a way of personifying some of the effects of a panic attack. For me, it allowed me express some of these symptoms to the reader. Hamish also sees his world through the lens of his favourite book. The series is largely set in the North End of Boston  —so researching and writing the Old North Church as well as the vibrant community and the immigrant experience mirrors some of the action of Notre Dame: namely Clopin and the Romany people, the Court of Miracles, etc.   It is interesting to note that the same bell-ringing structure in Notre Dame cathedral (bell-ringing) is utilized in the Old North Church in Boston. 

Musikverein, Vienna

I also love music. In my contemporary romance Rose in Three Quarter Time my hero is a famous young maestro of a premiere Baroque quartet out of the Musikverein in Vienna. But the role of conductor was not his first choice. The day he was appointed first cellist of the London symphony, he was in an accident that resulted in the loss of most of his left arm. Even as he has fit into the role of conductor and forged a new life, he refuses to conduct Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallisby Ralph Vaughan Williams –because it so reminds him of that horrible day. But by the end of the story, finding love and renewal, he takes the baton for the visiting London Symphony and coaxes that mournful piece into something as wistful and gorgeous as the interior of the Goldener Saal of the Musikverein. I loved writing it along with playing the Williams piece over and over again. 

Rose in Three Quarter Time

Besides the art of writing, how else are you involved in art?

I try the best I can to support theatre and opera.  I am a classically trained vocalist who actually began her university degree in voice performance so I am always attuned to music.  I try hard to engage with history and architecture on social media and, of course, in my new non-fiction project it becomes a catalyst for inspiring women to grab their gear and go. To not wait for a husband or boyfriend or companion to live their dream of seeing art –whether visual, theatrical, musical or architectural in real life. 

I also love to travel for the sake of art as well as research. For example, I was on an intensive research trip in London in the fall but ensured I built around my studying there some West End shows and a trip to some of my favorite Wren-designed buildings. 

It’s a lot like choosing your favorite child, but do you have one or two favorite pieces of art that you’d like to tell people about within or outside of your own work?

Winter Garden

My home, Toronto, houses the only functioning double-decker theatre left in the world. Double-decker theatres became popular in the vaudeville era. The Elgin and Winter Garden theatres on Yonge Street were developed to show two different shows at once. For the city people who couldn’t escape our northern winters, the beautifully designed Winter Garden allowed them to escape into an idyllic atmosphere still largely preserved while they took in a show or a silent picture.  The grand and gilded Elgin auditorium has acoustics worthy of magnificent concerts and operas. In my Herringford and Watts series, I use this theatre often: as a romantic destination, as the setting for my closed-door murder mystery (an entire novella in four acts framed by the theatre walls after a vaudeville review called Conductor of Light) and as an emblem of the cultural progress of my city in the years preceding the First World War.

Check out Rachel’s Herringford and Watts series here:

What is your current book that’s out and what do you have planned next? Where can you be found over the next several months?         

My newest Van Buren and DeLuca mystery —Murder in the City of Liberty– released on May 28 and finds my reluctant sleuth Hamish DeLuca and his girl Friday, ex-debutante Reggie Van Buren –investigating two seemingly unrelated crimes: pranks befalling a Black base stealer Errol Parker and a smuggling ring by Boston Harbour. Both lead to murder which may or may not be linked to Hamish’s suave and adored but ultimately shady cousin Luca Valari. It was an interesting way to explore the years preceding the Second World War and growing prejudice and anti-Semitism. To add, I was able to work in the unveiling of Cyrus Dallin’s famed statue of Paul Revere in the Prado—now known as the Paul Revere Mall-behind the Old North Church.

Check it out here:

Thank you so much for joining us, Rachel! I LOVED your heart-felt responses and your profound love of art and life. You are such a joy!

For today’s BIG SUMMER BOOK GIVEAWAY… We have Paula Munier’s debut novel A Borrowing of Bones and Michele Dorsey’s A Permanent Sunset and No Virgin Island!

“A one-sit read!” Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author.


“A divine locale and a quick thinking sleuth make this a great bet for vacation reading.” –BOOKLIST

Just COMMENT BELOW and that enters you to win! Tell us a little about how art affects you! Do you have a piece of art that is meaningful to you? Do you have a favorite play, movie or concert that keeps coming back to mind because you love it so much? Thanks for connecting and GOOD LUCK TO YOU ALL!



  1. I’m so intrigued by Hamish DeLuca and had no idea there was any point of contact between Boston’s Old North Church and Notre Dame. Sounds like a fascinating series. Thanks so much for joining us!

  2. Such a great Giveaway! Great authors and great books! A movie that I love and always comes back to me is You’ve Got Mail. I love the actors and the storyline.

  3. Thank you for joining us, Rachel! You have me intrigued by a double-decker theater; it’s now on my list of things to see the next time I’m up in your neck of the woods.

  4. My daughters are both artistic, and I love all the drawings and paintings they’ve done for me.

  5. To be honest my favorite art is things my children made for me when they were growing up. I have a stash of things I just can’t part with. Now that they are all adults I love to browse through my treasures and remember the sweet children who made them for me.

  6. Would love to read this book. Art is important to me. My favorite artist is Georgia O’Keffe with Jonathan Green running a close second.

    1. LOVE it! If you like art, definitely check out Rachel’s books. She has some simply lovely aspects of art in everything she writes. Both Paula’s and Alexia’s have wonderfully artful points, too, just like I wrote in the giveaway part of the blog. My books, The Art Deco Mystery Series, have a piece of art in the background of each novel that comes alongside a character and helps them navigate the mystery and life. It’s so fun for me to weave that in, because it’s so important to me, too. And in the Thirties there was incredible art happening in spite of the Depression which makes is that much more special, you know? Thanks so much for connecting!!

    1. I love old buildings. Once I popped up out of the subway in the Grand Central area by way of a different exit than usual because of construction. I found myself walking through a main corridor of a building I’d never been in, but the Art Deco was SO like the Chrysler Building which I adore. Turned out to be the Chanin Building and I just loved finding that treasure all by happenstance. Such a gorgeous building.

    2. I also love old buildings! My next series (the first releases in August 2020 ) is about the reconstruction of the bombed Christopher Wren designed churches in London during the start of the Cold War. I love visiting and admiring architecture 🙂

  7. I love the movie Dr. Zhivago and also Love Story. The books sound amazing! Thanks so much for this post, I enjoyed reading it and learning a lot of things. God Bless you. Thank you for the chance.

  8. I will ALWAYS love the movie “Love Story”. I still cry just thinking about it. Thanks for the chance!

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