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Writing Crime

Origin Stories: Susan Cory
By Tessa Wegert
Posted on 10/11/2021 10:29 PM

Dark academia, a subgenre of fiction that blends mystery with suspense in an academic setting, is all the rage right now, and dark secrets that come to light at a college reunion is one of the more popular plotlines. For author Susan Cory, the idea for her first novel was sparked by a real-life reunion – her 20th at Harvard’s architecture school. “I encountered classmates as back-stabbing and competitive as I’d remembered them,” Susan confesses. “Being a mystery fan, it occurred to me that they would make excellent murderers.”

 

While nothing tragic happened at that particular reunion, Susan took it upon herself to make it happen through fiction. She decided her graduate school boyfriend would be the first to go. Meanwhile, the grad school itself provided the ideal setting. “Insecurities and egos riding a runaway train of Design Obsession—(it’s) just ripe for murder,” Susan says.

 

That’s how her first book Conundrum, about the suspicious death of a Harvard Architecture graduate student, was born.

 

While Susan now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, also an architect, and their rescue dog, she grew up in New Jersey devouring mysteries. “I loved seeing order restored by ingenious sleuths,” she explains. “But the visual arts were my medium of expression. As an Art major at Dartmouth, I imagined that designing buildings was just a larger-scaled version of creating sculpture. I soon discovered the many differences.

 

As you might have guessed, Susan works her career knowledge and architecture experience into her writing. In each of the four books in Susan’s series to date, her protagonist Iris Reid designs a different building. Architecture buffs are sure to find this fascinating, as Susan elaborates on her character’s design process within the stories themselves. “Unfortunately, that requires me to actually design each (building) in my head,” she says. “I even built an architectural model for the cover of the first book!”

 

But residential architecture isn’t all that Susan and her sleuth have in common. Both have worked from a turreted office, and both hold a brown belt rank in karate. Beyond that…well, it’s anyone’s guess. “Iris Reid just happens to be an architect in Cambridge, Massachusetts. No comment on whether any annoying clients or sexist contractors in the books come from my working life,” Susan jokes.

 

After forty years as an architect, Susan recently retired in order to focus on her mystery writing. “I’m hard at work on Book 5 in the series in which Iris Reid will continue to uncover the architecture of evil in her world.” In Death Waves, Iris Reid is designing a museum for an Elon Musk-like client, and employs an architect “who is not the meek and mild assistant he pretends to be.” Says Susan, “The previous book, Collateral Damage, about Iris’ chef boyfriend has received over 650 reviews, so the series is getting traction!”

 

From Conundrum to Facade, Doppelgänger, and Collateral Damage, all of Susan’s books to date have been an ode to her profession and “all the deviously clever practitioners within it.” And just as with her first book, which was inspired by a real-life experience, this candor and authenticity are part of Iris Reid’s vast appeal.

 

Do you like to learn something new while reading mysteries? Maybe get a peek at an industry you didn’t know much about? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Susan Cory is an award-winning residential architect in Cambridge, Ma and the author of the Iris Reid series of mysteries, which includes CONDUNDRUM, FACADE, DOPPELGÄNGER, COLLATERAL DAMAGE, and the forthcoming DEATH WAVES. Susan’s books are set in the world of architecture, with architect Iris Reid taking on a series of killer cases. Visit Susan's website at www.susancory.com.

 

Tessa Wegert is the author of the Shana Merchant series of mysteries, which includes DEATH IN THE FAMILY, THE DEAD SEASON, and DEAD WIND (2022). A former freelance journalist, Tessa’s work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. She grew up in Quebec and now lives with her husband and children in Coastal Connecticut. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sign up for her monthly newsletter.

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