NEW! Interview with Bevan Atkinson on KKUP radio, November 16, 2019 about her just released book, The Hierophant Card, her newest book in The Tarot Mysteries series. Listen below!
Bevan Atkinson author interview on KKUP, March 23rd, 2019 on Afrikahn Jahmal Dayvs’ show.
Bevan Atkinson discusses her next book,
The Emperor Card, July 15th 2017
Bevan Atkinson author interview on KKUP, May 24, 2016 on Afrikahn Jahmal Dayvs’ show.
"Paying Homage to Sue Grafton with Bevan Atkinson"Interview on It's a Mystery Podcast with Alexandra Amor
The Hierophant Card by Bevan Atkinson
Did Thalia Thalassos try to kill her cheating husband, despite her denials? Why is nurse Bryce Gilbertson giving a false name to visitors as he roams hospital hallways with a deadly syringe in his pocket? In this sixth Tarot Mystery, Xana Bard must use her tarot-trained intuition to unravel the truth from its nest of lies. A delightful cozy mystery full of wit and charm.
“It’s just … everything is a mess, and none of it is my fault.”
Truth to tell — I was about to embark on my first cozy mystery. You know, that subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated lightly, and the crime occurs in a small, intimate community. The detectives are almost always amateurs and are frequently women.
Bevan Atkinson’s The Hierophant Card (Electra Enterprises of San Francisco) checks off all the boxes for that definition — and a few more. It won me over with a fast-paced plot, an intriguing Tarot card-reading protagonist/narrator, and some lovely use of language reminding us that style counts as much as form when considering the pleasures of the written word.
This is the sixth book in Atkinson’s The Tarot Mysteries series. The card-reading angle is a fun device: it nicely brands her series and also gets us into the story.
SKEPTICAL TAROT CLIENT
Xana Bard, like our author, is a Tarot card reader, which she does as a hobby rather than a vocation because she is financially secure. In that people typically seek out readings to gain insight or comfort for a personal problem or life crisis, so it is that Thalia Thalassos, skeptical of the Tarot process, contacts our heroine hoping to seek clarity about her cheating husband Don, whom authorities suspect Thalia might have killed.
Thalia’s “everything is a mess” line explains her reasons for seeking out Xana — on the recommendation of a work colleague, Yolanda. The “none of it is my fault” part certainly provides clarity if you want to believe Thalia’s initial claim, but let’s reserve judgment for now.
Yolanda has told Thalia that Xana likes to get her fingers into “everybody else’s personal business, the messier the better.” Xana doesn’t deny. In fact, she acknowledges that many potential readees “stop short because reading someone’s cards means, to some extent, I’m invading their life.” It’s why she never pushes anyone into a session.
SO WHAT IS A HIEROPHANT?
And what of the book’s title, the dominant card drawn by Thalia — the Hierophant, or the Pope, which also happens to be drawn in reverse (as opposed to right-side up)?
“When the Hierophant is reversed,” Xana explains, “what I get from the card is a need for social approval — looking to others for guidance, rather than having confidence in your own strength of character … This card is all about listening to our own inner voice, our own conscience or higher power … The Hierophant reversed can mean you’re not listening to your inner voice that tells you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it.”
The doubting Thalia responds in kind: “Bullshit.”
But off we go as Xana immerses into Thalia’s dilemma far beyond reading Tarot cards. Almost out of her own curiosity, and perhaps a little coincidence, she finds herself traveling to the dangerous cliff where Thalia’s husband took a life-threatening fall (was it an accident?) during a 24-hour horse race; to a photographer who might have captured the moment; to the investigating police district offices; to the hospital where he was treated; and more in between.
At the hospital, prior to Xana’s arrival, we get into the head of night-shift nurse Bryce Gilbertson, who raises suspicions from the moment he is introduced making rounds. Those suspicions are heightened when he tells Jenny — with whom Don is having his affair — that his name is Bruce, which, as she can see from his hospital badge, it is not. File this as a future matter of concern.
CLEVER WRITING STYLE
While the plot keeps readers turning the pages, Atkinson’s nifty, witty writing has the opposite effect, causing readers to stop, admire and read again.
For example, says Xana, “Strangers who come to me for a reading are often frightened, and fear can convert all of us into self-centered, fight-or-flight-stricken impalas watching the cheetah coil itself for an eruption into a high-speed hunt.”
Or, “In spite of Thalia’s rage, I’ve learned that when someone asks you to listen to them, unless they’re at that sloppy drunk stage where a ‘how-NASA-staged-the-moon-landing’ theory is about to be unleashed, it’s a sensible idea to give them a couple of seconds.”
From Xana’s razor-sharp insights: “I love how women talk to each other when they’re pissed off. One of my wounded-bird ex-boyfriends was dumbfounded by my description of a work disagreement with a female colleague, a disagreement peppered with ‘I feel thisses’ and ‘Well I feel that’s.’ He told me that a man in my situation would have said, ‘Fuck you’ and walked away.”
The Hierophant Card is a fun, fast read with outrageously believable characters showing their own unique assets and quirks. In Atkinson’s Xana, if readers are reminded of Jessica Fletcher, mystery writer and amateur sleuth extraordinaire from the cozy crime series Murder, She Wrote, no need to apologize.
Atkinson is a talented writer worthy of your attention. Whether you start your Tarot Mysteries journey with this title or The Fool Card, The Magician Card, The High Priestess Card, The Empress Card or The Emperor Card, enjoy the hand you are dealt.
Author Interview Q&A
What was the trigger idea for the series?
I had been to an old friend’s funeral in Santa Barbara, and as I started the drive back to San Francisco I thought of Sue Grafton and her series, which is set in fictional Santa Theresa, based on Santa Barbara. At that point she had written her alphabet series through the letter S or so, and I thought, “She’s going to finish the alphabet. That’s an amazing accomplishment. But then what’s she going to do?” And I thought of Janet Evanovich, who would never run out of numbers, and how well her Stephanie Plum series did. And just as I passed the Earl Warren Showgrounds it hit me that I read the tarot, and there are 78 cards in the tarot deck, and I would run out of time on earth before I could write 78 books. So on the seven-hour drive home I decided to tackle the 22 Major Arcana and see how that went. I tipped my hat to Ms. Grafton by naming one of Xana’s dogs Kinsey, after Sue Grafton’s detective. And the first book is dedicated to the friend whose funeral I attended in Santa Barbara.
What inspired the characters?
I read a lot of mysteries, and the genre has certain character and plot conventions. I admit to some comparable traits with Xana, but basically I decided she had to be an amateur, and that the tarot would be her way of entering into each story. I love Spenser and Elvis Cole and Myron Bolitar, so Thorne became the thug sidekick a la Hawk and Joe Pike and Windsor Lockwood.
Is there any common theme that runs through the books, or ties them together?
The tarot is the underlying theme of all the books. I start each book by researching the title card, using my own source books as well as internet information, and the plot emerges from that research. The underlying meanings of the card have to be illuminated by the story for me to feel like I’ve done my job correctly.
What do you want readers to get out of your books?
Enjoyment. If they learn something useful to themselves about the tarot meanings that’s a plus, but really I just hope people have a good time reading the story, and don’t throw the book down and stamp on it in a huff over the waste of their time and money.
How does an individual tarot card factor into the story you write?
Each card’s unique attributes affect the plot and the way Xana responds to her experience. Basically the meaning of the card undergirds the plot and the outcome. Just to amuse myself I include things that readers don’t have to know; for instance, in The Fool Card Thorne wears a lot of yellow, wears buff suede boots, and has blond hair, because the color associated with The Fool is yellow. In The Magician Card I made Rolf’s ATM PIN number be Hitler’s birthday. A design element throughout the series is the use of the Hebrew alphabet associated with a specific Major Arcana card. The Hebrew letter shows up in the page headers and in the colophon used to separate chapter sections. On the paperback books the Hebrew letter associated (from the Kabbalah) with the Major Arcana card in the book’s title appears on the book’s spine in the color linked to that card.
What drew you into reading the tarot?
When I was 20-some years old a friend invited me to go to an occult supply store where he was scheduled to have a tarot reading, and when he encouraged me to have a reading too I went ahead and did it, a little intimidated but game nonetheless. Mala, the reader’s name was, and when she laid out the cards she looked at me and said, “You’re going to read the tarot.” I don’t remember anything else about that reading. I went back to my apartment and told my roommate, and she said, “I have a deck, and a book on how to read them. Do you want it? I never use it.” Off I went, and since then every deck I’ve used has been given to me by someone else. The one deck I bought for myself wound up thrown across my bed by burglars and barfed on by my cats. I decided cat barf was a hint and threw that deck out.
Why do so many people think of the tarot as something dangerous or evil or frightening?
I wish I knew. It’s just a bunch of pictures, folks, that can help you pay attention to your inborn intuition, if you allow it to do that for you. But I’ve heard many stories from people who say they used to read the cards for fun and then at some point they got scared and put them away. So I don’t think the cards are a frivolous pursuit, nor should they be treated cavalierly. There is a tremendous amount of information available in the cards about all aspects of human knowledge and development. For me, the tarot served as a way to feel connected to something greater than myself, and that built my confidence in my judgment and allowed me to open a door to Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It. My take on it is that there are a zillion doors to that place, one especially for each of us to open or decline to open, but it’s the same room once you open that door. So my simple answer is that the tarot is one of many tools that act as a gateway to our own spiritual truth. There’s so much dogma about what constitutes acceptable spiritual truth that the techniques that don’t accord with accepted dogma, and generate money by corralling people into accepting and contributing monetarily to support the propagation of that dogma, are labeled as dangerous or perverse or evil. But that’s just my opinion.