Martin, J(ulia) Wallis
MARTIN, J(ulia) Wallis
PERSONAL: Daughter of Walter (a farmer) and Josephine Martin; married first husband, Chris (a banker; divorced); married second husband, Russell (a screenwriter); children: James.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Minotaur, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Writer; editor for a South African publishing company.
AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award nominee, Mystery Writiers of America, for A Likeness in Stone.
A Likeness in Stone, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The Bird Yard, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 1999.
Dancing with the Uninvited Guest, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2002, Thorndike Press (Waterville, ME), 2003.
Also author of The Long Close Call, a biography, Gonda Betrix: Jumping to Success, and a novella, Mary Hibbert.
ADAPTATIONS: A Likeness in Stone was adapted for the BBC. The Long Close Call was optioned for television.
SIDELIGHTS: English crime writer J. Wallis Martin's childhood, adolescence, and first marriage have provided ample material for her psychological thrillers. Her mother, Josephine, a manic depressive, was already married when she ran off with Walter Martin, the married man who fathered the author. Julia lived quietly enough with Josephine's parents until, at age eleven, her mother took her to live in an apartment in Warrington, England. "I ended up living in a very dreadful council flat on a very dreadful estate in the northwest of England with a suicidal, manic-depressive mother," recalled Martin in an interview with John Connolly for the Irish Times. Life continued to be dreadful; one day she came home from school to the sight of an ambulance preparing to take her mother to the hospital after she overdosed on Lithium. "It got to the stage where she couldn't walk, couldn't talk, couldn't function normally, and I found myself trying to cope with this woman at a time when a kid needs all the help she can get just to keep it together," Martin told Connolly.
When Martin was seventeen, her mother died of breast cancer at the age of forty-nine, and though the council gave the now-homeless teenager a small apartment, Martin soon left it behind. As she said in the Irish Times interview, "I remember looking out of the window and thinking: I have to walk away. What was I going to do, stay in Warrington for the rest of my life because someone had given me a place to live? I just had visions of myself in forty years still living in that building." Moving to Oxford, Martin found work as a waitress; she also wrote and submitted short stories, though only one was published during a five-year period.
When she was twenty-seven, Martin married her first husband, Chris, a banker who was fifteen years her senior. They moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, for what was to have been a six-month stay that stretched to seven years. She worked as a commissioning editor at a publishing company and wrote and published two books: Gonda Betrix, Jumping to Success, the biography of a South African showjumper, and Mary Hibbert, a novella. Martin hated the lawlessness and danger of the country and continually urged her husband to leave, but he brushed off her fears. Her son James was born while they were there. A six-week spate of violence, during which the family was the target of two attempted armed robberies on their home, was robbed at gunpoint in a restaurant, and had their car hijacked by armed men at a roadblock, culminated in a shootout in their house between gunmen attempting to enter during a dinner party and four armed Afrikanner guests. Two of the bandits were killed while the baby slept upstairs. Martin took little James and boarded a plane out of the country the next day.
Back in Oxford, her marriage over, Martin settled into a cheap apartment and started writing to support herself and her son. Though turned down several times, her first novel, A Likeness in Stone, was published in 1998. It delves into the relationships between a group of former college friends after the body of a young woman is discovered inside a house sunk beneath a reservoir. According to John Connolly in his Irish Times interview, it "marked the arrival of a spectacularly accomplished crime author."
The Bird Yard was Martin's next novel. Marilyn Stasio commented in the New York Times Book Review on the stifling atmosphere detailed so effectively in both of Martin's books: "[There are] claustrophobic images that Julia Wallis Martin likes to play with first in her debut novel . . . and now in the equally disturbing thriller The Bird Yard."A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Bird Yard "grim and intense." Detective Superintendent Parker searches for a killer after twelve-year-old Gary Maudsley's disappearance mirrors that of Joseph Coyne, who vanished five years earlier. Joseph's skeleton, dismembered as though in a ritualistic killing, is found in some remote woods, and Parker enlists criminal psychologist profiler Murray Hanson to help him find Gary. They discover that both boys, neglected by their parents, had worked for a pet shop owner and had connections with two other suspects: Douglas Byrne, a convicted pedophile, and Roly Barnes, a reclusive man who has created an aviary of exotic finches—the bird yard—in an abandoned house that attracts young boys. Parker and Hanson strain to discover Joseph's murderer, find Gary, and prevent the killing of a third boy, Brogan Healey, who seems to be straying down the same path that put the first two boys in the killer's clutches. Parker is spurred on in his quest because he has two young sons of his own and he fears for their safety.
"Like the bright little birds that beat against their cages, Brogan is a dear child caught in an 'atmosphere of rot and desolation' that Martin describes in all its horror," wrote Stasio. Booklist reviewers Jenny McLarin and Emily Melton, too, noted Martin's atmospheric detailing: "Particularly compelling are Martin's descriptions of the tiny, fragile, helpless birds and the young boys who so resemble them." Marianne Fitzgerald, writing in the Library Journal, compared Martin to Minette Walters, "writing about disturbing subject matter in intelligent and interesting prose. Lots of suspense and a surprising conclusion make The Bird Yard a good read."
Martin explained in the Irish Times interview that her inspiration for The Bird Yard came from a childhood experience: "When we lived on the council estate, my bedroom window looked out on a row of derelict houses. Someone had moved into one of those houses. He had attached mesh from the garden fence to the top of the house, opened all of the windows and he had filled the garden and the house with exotic finches, so the house was an extension of the aviary. Of course, the local kids were absolutely fascinated. He was a pedophile under twenty-four-hour surveillance, which we didn't know at the time."
The Long Close Call, Martin's third novel, takes a different tone than her first two books. A policeman whose father is in prison kills an armed man during a bank robbery and is stalked by the dead man's family. Martin found the idea for this story from her past, too. It is based on a meeting with an old boyfriend, now a policeman, whose father was in jail.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1999, Jenny McLarin and Emily Melton, review of The Bird Yard, p. 2035.
Library Journal, August, 1999, Marianne Fitzgerald, review of The Bird Yard, p. 146.
New York Times Book Review, December 12, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Bird Yard, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 1999, review of The Bird Yard, p. 66; November 1, 1999, review of The Bird Yard, p. 48.
Crescent Blues Book Views,http://www.crescentblues.com/ (February 8, 2002), review of The Bird Yard.
Irish Times Web site,http://www.deadlypleasures.com/ (June, 2001), John Connolly, "Interview of Julia Wallis Martin."
St. Martin's Minotaur Books,http://www.minotaurbooks.com/ (February 8, 2002), profile of Julia Wallis Martin.*