The ancient Minoan Palace at Knossos on the island of Crete inspired Raytown resident M.A. Monnin's first mystery novel. Photo by Robert Monnin

Raytown novelist’s first mystery series gains recognition

Monnin describes her target audience as fans of Agatha Christie, armchair travelers and people who like archaeology. 

By Jill Draper

The characters in M.A. Monnin’s new mystery series move easily among monied circles, attending high-dollar art show openings, dressing in fashionable clothes and vacationing at luxury hotels in exotic locales. But their humbler beginnings can be traced to Raytown. There, at a desk in the bedroom of a 1980s suburban home, their lives are plotted with a black Bic pen and sticky notes on a trifold board between the hours of 2-8 pm.

“That’s when I work best,” says Mary Monnin, who lived in Europe for much of her life before she and her husband moved to Missouri in 1995.

Monnin tried to write a book in her 20s and 30s, but publishers rejected it. Twice. Not until her late 50s, after quitting her job at Heartland Nursery and Garden Center to babysit a niece, did she find the time and determination to make it happen. 

Now she’s the author of a three-book series. “Death in the Aegean” was published in May 2022, “Death on the Grand Canal” comes out in May 2023, and “Death in Bermuda” is underway. 

“Death in the Aegean” was recently nominated for the Best First Novel Agatha Award, which is given by the Malice Domestic mystery convention.

All three books follow Stefanie, a former private banker, as she travels to foreign sites and becomes entangled with priceless, long-lost historic jewelry and artifacts (imaginary, but inspired by real pieces) amid an ongoing romance with a charming German man, Thomas, who warns: Where greed leads, murder follows.

Monnin describes the paperbacks as traditional mysteries rather than cozies or thrillers, and describes herself as “a child of the Cold War, writer, traveler and seeker of knowledge.” Although she graduated from Junction City High in Kansas, she spent much of her childhood in Germany, where her father worked for the military. 

She joined the military, too, meeting her husband while working in the Air Force. The places they lived—Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and England—boosted a lifelong interest in exploring old castles, churches and villages. When she returned to the U.S. (a bit of a culture shock, she admits), she joined the KC Archaeological Society where she now serves as a trustee.

The society hosts various speakers and occasionally organizes local archaeological digs at places like the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, Longview Lake and Lone Jack.

Monnin also is on the board of the Mystery Writers of America’s Midwest Chapter (their motto: “Crime doesn’t pay—enough”). The 13-state chapter holds monthly online meetings about the craft of writing and mystery-related subjects like human trafficking, homicide investigations, crime scene journalists, and poisonous bugs and plants. 

While Monnin’s book is labeled as a mystery, it’s also a romance, and last summer she promoted it at the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Romance GenreCon. She hopes to do the same this year. In addition to her paperback series, she’s published short stories in anthologies like “All That Weird Jazz” and “Hook, Line and Sinker” and e-magazines like Black Cat Weekly. 

One tale, “Siren Song,” takes place in a downtown jazz club similar to The Majestic Restaurant. She sums up the main character, Hawk Hathaway, as a troubleshooter in need of redemption. “I’m planning a whole series of short stories with this character set in Kansas City,” Monnin says. And she’s working on a longer project, a gothic novel set in the Missouri wine country.

When Monnin is not writing, she enjoys gardening, traveling and walking her two Siberian huskies in nearby parks. And books, of course. Right now she’s reading “Dead Men Don’t Decorate,” a cozy by her friend Cordy Abbott, and “Dead Drop,” a gritty thriller by James L’Etoile.

Last spring she and her family celebrated the release of her first mystery novel, which takes place in Crete and Santorini, with dinner at Tasso’s Greek Restaurant in Waldo. This spring they’ll choose an Italian restaurant to toast the release of her second book, set in Milan and Venice.

She describes her target audience as fans of Agatha Christie, armchair travelers and people who like archaeology. 

Death in the Aegean” can be ordered from any local bookstore, or find it at The Raven Book Store in Lawrence and various public libraries.  

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