Cynthia Riggs, the author of
seven Victoria Trumbull mystery novels, lives on Marthas
Pens Senior Sleuth Mysteries
By Valerie A. Russo for The Patriot Ledger
Marthas Vineyard is
no place to commit murder - not if you hope to get away with
it. Since 2001, seven cases have been solved by Victoria Trumbull,
a 92-year-old amateur sleuth who has traded her rocking chair
for a police deputys cap.
Theres no use waiting for the deputy to be indisposed
or deceased, Trumbull, the protagonist in the Victoria Trumbull
mystery series, will stay a spry 92 forever.
My mother, Dionis Coffin Riggs, lived to be almost
99; the series is my way of keeping her alive,
said author Cynthia Riggs, a 13th generation Islander. She
was a poet, not a sleuth, but she was a strong woman and very
active til the day she died. People who knew her say
they recognize her in the character Victoria.
Riggs, 75, has written seven Victoria Trumbull mysteries.
Six have been published by St. Martins Press; the seventh
will be out next year.
There are different categories of murder mysteries
- cozies, thrillers, police procedurals and hard-boiled,
Riggs explained. Mine are Agatha Christie-style
cozies, which are solved intellectually. You can sit in front
of the fire with a cat on your lap and read this mystery without
being scared that someone is going to jump through the window
and strangle you.
Each title in the series is a plant that grows on Marthas
Vineyard and fits with the story theme: Deadly
Nightshade, The Cranefly Orchid Murders,
The Cemetery Yew, Jack
in the Pulpit, The Paperwhite Narcissus
and Indian Pipes, which came out in
Riggs was 70 when her first Victoria Trumbull murder mystery
was published. But she isnt exactly a late bloomer.
Her writing career began in her 20s, soon after she graduated
from Antioch College with a degree in geology. While married
and raising her five children, she penned Toilet
Training Your Baby for a diaper service magazine
and went on to write for the Smithsonian, National
Geographic, the Washington Post, Petroleum Today and several
scientific journals. Research took her around the globe -
from the drilling rigs off the coast of New Jersey to the
north shore of Alaska when the pipeline was being built, to
Antarctica and the South Pole.
After her divorce in 1978, Riggs became a mariner. She lived
on a houseboat in Washington, D.C., for 12 years, captained
tour boats on the Potomac, taught at the Annapolis Sailing
School and delivered boats to Europe and in the Caribbean.
She also started a ferry service on
She had learned about boating during her many summers on
My dad was a school principal in New Jersey.
But we were here from the end of June to after Labor Day,
said Riggs. I never claimed to live in New Jersey;
the Vineyard was my soul home.
Eighteen years ago, she made Marthas Vineyard her yearround
home. She worked as a rigger and assistant dockmaster and
turned her 18th-century house into a B&B catering to artists
She never thought about writing fiction until a guest, who
happened to be a Vermont College student, recommended the
colleges Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing.
She applied, was accepted and earned her degree. During the
two-year program, she wrote four Victoria Trumbull murder
Its fun working upstairs in the study of
my great big sprawling house, said Riggs, who
attended workshops and lectures at Vermont College but did
all her writing at her West Tisbury home.
Mystery writing is much freer than nonfiction
writing, where you have to make sure everything is accurate.
I am still careful about facts, but I can also poke fun at
people, she said.
Everyone on Marthas Vineyard is fair game. Indian
Pipes featured the bikers who raced noisily past
her house during a motorcycle rally. Shooting
Star, due out next year, shows the dark side of
community theater. The Cemetery Yew
was inspired by a selectmens meeting.
The selectmen in our town are also the cemetery
commissioners, said Riggs. I found
out the superintendent has been burying people in the wrong
graves. Its the perfect start to a story.
Riggs has no plans to slow down anytime soon. She hosts a
weekly cable TV show, On Island Writing,
and reads manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press. She has finished
Murder on C-Dock, the first book in
a new series that draws on her house-boating experiences.
And she is
working on another Victoria Trumbull murder mystery, this
one lampooning the town assessors who have given her a hard
My mother wrote poetry and a newspaper column
in her 90s. She used to say it was the best age shed
ever been, said Riggs. I hope I can
be the same way. I look forward to seeing what is going to
Author provides writing tips
Cynthia Riggs gives some advice to potential writers:
- Read a lot of excellent writing and notice the techniques
the author uses to make it shine.
- Good writing is character-driven. Do not outline the plot;
let the action unfold.
- Dont finish your thought; leave something to start
the next time you write.
- Write, then rewrite. Dont edit as you write. However,
may want to start your writing session by editing the
previous days work.
- Start where the story really starts. If it starts on page
cut pages 1 through 5 and paste them at the bottom of your
file or in a separate document (in case you want to use
- Vineyard Author Pens Senior Sleuth Mysteries
is reprinted with permission from Valerie A. Russo.