"It's really about the notion of legacy": Karen M. McManus on her new mystery The Cousins 8 months ago

"It's really about the notion of legacy": Karen M. McManus on her new mystery The Cousins

It’s been a pretty big year for Karen M. McManus. One Of Us Is Next, the author’s highly-anticipated sequel to her hit One Of Us Is Lying, hit shelves in January — and that was followed by The Cousins, a new standalone novel, less than 12 months later. 

The gripping new mystery follows the Storys, a family who are the envy of all their neighbours. They own the largest property on the island they live on on the East Coast, and they seem to have it all — rich, beautiful and a very close-knit family. But then it all falls apart, and the four Story children are disinherited by their mother, who told them you know what you did. And then they never heard from her again. 

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And then, years later, 18-year-old cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah are all summoned to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort. Each of them goes, determined to meet the woman who’s been an enigma all of their lives — and to get to the bottom of the truth of what happened between their parents and their grandmother. But while the entire family is built on secrets, some things are better left alone. 

McManus recently caught up with Her to talk about the power of legacies, The Cousins and the screen adaptation of One Of Us Is Lying. 

“I was reading an article about the Kennedy grandchildren, younger generation, teens and young adults. And they're doing some really interesting things and entertainment and politics and other areas,” she explained, as she discussed the inspiration for the novel. 

“And I just started thinking about the power of certain names, and how they open doors. And then I wondered what would happen if you had a name like that, a legacy like that, and it was taken away, and then you have the chance to get it back. So, that's where the idea for the Story family came.” 

She noted that the Story family are a “very different type of family”, adding that the idea for The Cousins sprung “from musing about legacies.” 

“It’s really just the notion of legacy, and how do you maintain it,” she continued. “And [exploring] what does it really mean to be part of a family?”  

The story of the Storys is largely told from the perspective of Milly, Aubrey and Jonah — although there are some flashback chapters told from the POV of Allison, Milly’s mum, which give the reader a bit more insight into what happened within the family — and to have “ the second generation to be represented”. 

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“Initially, I was only going to [use the point-of-views of] the three cousins. But after I’d written a few chapters, it felt incomplete. I realised that if I was going to ask readers to become invested in the family, they needed to know the older generation. Initially, I was going to have all of them take turns narrating, but that got messy — as soon as I started it, it was just too many voices,” the author explained, although she did have once character that she wish she had had the chance to write a flashback chapter for: Archer, the youngest of the second generation Storys. 

“I think his thoughts would have been very interesting. Maybe I’ll do a bonus chapter at some point from Archer’s point of view,” she added with a laugh. 

The chapters set in the past also give the reader the chance to explore the Story family dynamic a little more — something which, the author notes, was really important for the reader to get. 

“Because we're solving a very old mystery in this book, I wanted to give readers a sense of greater immediacy, and greater investment in that mystery. So I wanted them to know, the characters as they were then, I wanted them to know the people who were involved in this mystery, and I just wanted to give more depth to the Story family,” McManus explained. 

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“The cousins have very much an outsider perspective, they've never been part of this legacy — but their parents were steeped in it. So, in order to show this parallel life that the cousins could have had had they never been disinherited, it was important to show the day to day existence of their parents [as young adults].”

In other big news for her books this year, it was announced over the summer that the screen adaptation of One Of Us Is Lying had been given a full-season order at Peacock — with the co-creator of Elite, Darío Madrona, to serve as a show runner on the series. 

McManus, who serves as a consultant on the series, told Her that it was “surreal” to have the novel being adapted for the screen — and recalled her visit to the set of the pilot last fall.

“I remember going to the pilot shoot last fall. It was so nice that I got to visit, because obviously the world is different now and I don't know if I'll be able to go again. But I remember being dropped off at the scene of the shoot, which was a street in Vancouver. And the production had essentially taken over the street. There were just trucks everywhere and equipment everywhere and people and cameras and I thought wow, everybody is here at this moment in time because I wrote a book And that is just so surreal to me,” she said. 

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She explained that while she’s heard the network is currently hoping to release it towards the end of next year, there isn’t a hard date set yet — and that even that could change, depending on filming precautions and restrictions. She also explained just how involved she has been in the process. 

“I’m a consultant [on the show], and so they share a lot with me — like various drafts of the script — and they let me provide feedback, which is great. I got to see the audition tapes of the young actors and actresses playing the characters, which was really exciting to be part of,” she added. 

“But, you know, the creative vision ultimately belongs to the producers, the show runner, the director — it’s a different universe. It’s been a very collaborative project [though], and there’s a lot of really smart people working on this adaptation. And it’s exciting to see the vision and the energy that they’re bringing to it.” 

2021 will also see the publication of McManus’ next book, You’ll Be The Death Of Me — one which she describes as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets a murder mystery.” 

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“It’s about these three estranged friends, who skip school one day and get caught up in a crime,” she explained. “It was really fun to write, and it was a new challenge for me because all the action takes place in a single day. So, making sure that my characters had room for growth and discovery in less than 24 hours was a very interesting challenge.”

  • The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, published by Penguin Children, is available now.