Who is Vera Kelly? Your Next Favorite Spy: An Interview with Rosalie Knecht

It’s not an uncommon occurrence for Parnassus booksellers to have customers ask us to recommend their next favorite mystery series. They’re looking for something with suspense and intrigue, twists and turns, and a complex protagonist they can root for. If that’s your jam, please allow us to introduce you to Vera Kelly. This series manages to feel both like a classic noir and a wholly original take on the spy novel. The third book in Vera’s story, Vera Kelly: Lost and Found, was just released last month, so it’s a great time to jump into this fascinating series. Musing editor Sarah Arnold chatted with the author, Rosalie Knecht, about her writing process, how Vera came to be, and more!

Rosalie Knecht | Credit: Seze Devres

Sarah Arnold: First off, congratulations on the third book in the Vera Kelly series! For those who aren’t familiar, would you tell us a bit about the titular character and what inspired you to tell her story?

Rosalie Knecht: Vera Kelly is a former juvenile delinquent and current private investigator, making her way around 60-70s Brooklyn and trying to create a stable life with her girlfriend, Max. I was inspired to write the first book in the series by my maternal grandfather’s ultimately disastrous McCarthy-era stint in the CIA.

SA: Vera isn’t your typical spy novel protagonist. Most spy novels are centered around straight, male leads, and Vera is a young, queer woman living in a world that isn’t very willing to accept her. What has your experience publishing queer, female-driven stories been like? Has it been difficult to widen the scope of what readers consider to be a “classic” spy novel?

RK: Honestly, it has not been difficult, which I credit to my publisher, Tin House. They absolutely got behind these books with everything they had and immediately understood what I was trying to do. I think readers often deserve more credit than they get when it comes to newness. And Vera Kelly isn’t entirely new anyway—not the first gay spy, P.I., or noir protagonist.

SA: Was your writing process any different for Vera Kelly Lost & Found than for the first two installments? Did you find Vera an easier character to write after spending two books with her?

RK: It has definitely gotten easier! Often a finished book has a shadow-self of hundreds of pages of work that get thrown away or rewritten into oblivion. Over the course of the series, the shadow book has gotten smaller and smaller. I know Vera’s character and motivations, so I spend less time feeling things out and getting stuck in dead ends. There’s less wasted time.

SA: The series must have involved quite a bit of research on a number of different topics: U.S. foreign policy, queer culture in the 60s, and the Falkland Islands, just to name a few. Was there a particular subject you especially enjoyed exploring for any of the three books? Did you come across any surprising bits of history you didn’t know about before?

RK: There was tons of fascinating stuff—the intersections of gay subcultures with other illicit economies (the mob’s involvement with gay bars, the recurring grift of the police), the wild stuff the CIA was getting up to in the 60s over and above the typical subversions of democracy (*barrels of LSD*), the real life hijacking of a commercial flight and forced rerouting to the Falklands in 1966 by a group of Buenos Aires students (the Falklands had no airport or runway at the time, and yet somehow, miraculously, no one was hurt). I could go on! Buy me a drink sometime and I will go on!

SA: We always like to finish with this question: What is your favorite thing about independent bookstores?

RK: Get a group of booksellers together and you will have the best happy hour of your life.

Who Is Vera Kelly? (A Vera Kelly Story #1) By Rosalie Knecht Cover Image Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery (A Vera Kelly Story #2) By Rosalie Knecht Cover Image Vera Kelly: Lost and Found By Rosalie Knecht Cover Image

The third installment in the Vera Kelly series, Vera Kelly: Lost and Found, is out now.