Locked-room thriller. That’s a new phrase I learned during this interview, and I have to say that it is one of my favorite categories of books. Described as “locked-room mystery,” locked-room can mean “A crime has been committed in a room or other location that’s been sealed from the inside, with no way out (CrimeReads).” That’s exactly what author Elle Marr’s newest psychological thriller, The Family Bones is.
Psychology student Olivia Eriksen’s family is notorious among true-crime buffs. Faced with a legacy of psychopathy that spans generations, Olivia has spent much of her academic life trying to answer one chilling question: Nature or nurture? Although she’s kept a safe distance from her blood relatives for years, Olivia agrees to attend a weekend reunion. After all, her fiancé is eager to meet his future in-laws, and the gathering may give her a chance to interview her elusive grandfather about the family traits. But nothing is ever peaceful among the Eriksens for long. Olivia’s favorite cousin is found dead in a nearby lake. Then another family member disappears. As a violent storm isolates the group further, Olivia’s fears rise faster than the river. And an uninvited guest is about to join the party. True-crime podcaster Birdie Tan has uncovered a disturbing mystery in her latest investigation—and she’s following it right to the Eriksens’ mountain resort. There’s a deadly twist in the family plot that even Olivia doesn’t see coming.
The Family Bones gripped me from the very beginning, and I can’t wait to read more of Elle’s work (at the time of typing this out, I have already devoured her debut novel, The Missing Sister). To celebrate the release of The Family Bones, I chatted with Elle via phone about researching for the story, the importance of diversity, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: I loved The Family Bones so much. It is the first book of yours that I’ve read and it will not be the last.
Elle Marr: That’s so great! Thank you.
PopHorror: Of course, I’m super excited to speak with you.
Elle Marr: That’s so great, thank you.
PopHorror: What inspired The Family Bones? How did the story come about?
Elle Marr: It was a combination of factors, honestly, the last several years of research for my previous books. One little tidbit from that research, of realizing that we don’t actually know where psychopathy comes from. We have several theories around it, and certainly in families where it appears and there’s a greater prevalence and likelihood that psychopathy could show up as a trait later on down the line, but we don’t actually know. There’s no genetic maker for it that we’re aware of yet. And truly there are options if one is diagnosed with psychopathy, but I thought it was so interesting that, for something that’s so built up – at least in movies and in our public consciousness – we don’t really know much about the origins of it. There’s a lot of debate over nature versus nurture. So I thought, on the one hand, it was really interesting that there’s so much mystery around this well-known condition, and then also I thought, what if a trait – the psychopathic trait – did show up in one family across multiple generations? What would that look like? And wow, that would be an interesting journey to be on, I think, as a reader. A fly on the wall.
PopHorror: Yeah, absolutely.
Elle Marr: I also love true crime. Podcasts. The recent surge of true crime podcasts and the genre in general. I’m kind of fascinated by how quickly true crime as a genre has caught on in the last decade. But really, I’m fascinated by podcasts as the catalyst for all of it. Back in I think it was 2008 or 2012, really just setting the bar for true crime podcasts and what they are capable of accomplishing.
PopHorror: They definitely have become more popular in the last few years than they were before. I’m seeing a new podcast popup almost daily. People are fascinated by true crime. There was obviously a lot of research that you had to do. It was really interesting, the amount of information in the book about psychopathy. How much research did you have to do to get started?
Elle Marr: That’s a great question. It’s over the course of several books. I have not written about psychopathy or psychology in such a concentrated way in my previous books, but my other books have touched on neurodivergent conditions, and certainly antisocial personality disorder, which is the umbrella term for psychopathy, for sociopathy, and borderline personality disorder. I’ve been researching psychopathy since my debut a few years back, just to get a handle around what might drive my characters’ poor decisions, and the decisions that have positive outcomes as well. To really understand why would someone do something so just incomprehensible – to my mind, which I’ll classify as neurotypical – to my neurotypical understanding, why would someone do that? And so it’s been the culmination of several years of research. I did do some more concentrated for this book around true crime podcasts, but I also taught psychology while I was living abroad. I lived in France for a few years, and I taught psychology at the university there, so I learned a lot just through the course of working and teaching.
PopHorror: I am impressed! And I cannot wait to dive into your other work. Just hearing you talk about it… I am so excited.
Elle Marr: Thank you!
PopHorror: The level of research and just the creativity… I am so impressed. How important is diversity in your narratives and contributing to representation in entertainment?
Elle Marr: Very important, and I am not shy about saying that. It’s not, I think, at the detriment of anyone else, to any other specific class of character. It’s just – for me – it’s about creating worlds that are complementary and realistic to the world that I live in, to people that I interact with, to the people that I see in my random grocery store, and also the Asian grocery story down the street, and next to the Hispanic grocery store. I want to create a world that is something that I recognize, and as well as wanting to see more books that reflected me growing up and I didn’t see a lot of books with Asian-American characters or mixed-race characters. I’ve had people ask me, “Are you going to continue to have a lot of your main characters be Asian-Americans or mixed race,” and I’m always like, “It’s not a trope. It’s not like a literary device. It’s just real life.” And to date, there’s been a new influx of diversity in literature and certainly in the national stage, and I’m just happy to contribute wherever it makes sense to the story as well.
PopHorror: One of the first things I noticed while reading this was the representation. I appreciate that.
Elle Marr: That’s exactly what I strive to do, to create more complex characters that hopefully resemble someone we know or ourselves, maybe some flicker or ourselves. And it is with the intention of not… I don’t want to say fetishizing but exoticizing certain aspects about characters, but just letting people be themselves. Some people of a particular race, or sexual orientation, or culture can be assholes, and others of the same ilk are not. There’s so much more that goes into being good people or complex people or well-read people than just our genetic makeup or where we come from or who we are at our base. There’s a lot that goes into it, which is all going back to the nature versus nurture question, which I am constantly fascinated by.
PopHorror: Yes, I completely agree. If the Family Bones was made into a movie, who would play your characters?
Elle Marr: This is the second time I’ve been asked this on this book publicity tour, and I’m so excited by this. I would love, personally, to see Dove Cameron play Olivia Eriksen. Dove Cameron was a young teenage Disney actress, and then she branched out. She actually played Maleficent’s daughter in the Disney Channel movie, The Descendents, which is a huge thing among teens and preteens. She has recently started a music career in the last few years. She’s really branched out and made her own style of music. But she’s quintessential blonde hair, big blue eyes, and looks very demure and very sweet. But then I also think educated and like she’s got something to say. I think she would be a good fit for Olivia. And then for Birdie Tan – those are my main characters who I both love in equal parts – I would love to see Midori Francis. She might be a little on the young side but I think she’s great.
PopHorror: Oh, I love her!
Elle Marr: I think she would make a great Birdie! Or like Olivia Munn, who is a little more in scope in terms of age. I love Olivia Munn.
PopHorror: Yes, but I do love Midori Francis. I think she would be great.
Elle Marr: Yeah, that’s my dream list.
PopHorror: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but what are you currently reading?
Elle Marr: I have been asked that. I actually just finished Lucy Foley’s The Guest List today, and it was fantastic. Another great “locked-room thriller,” which is how I bill The Family Bones. A locked-room thriller. It was excellent, I really loved it. And I’m also reading an advanced reader copy of a book that I think is coming out later this year by Ellen Steil called Lottery, and that’s been great so far. I’m still working on it though.
PopHorror: I’m taking note of these. What is up next for you? Are you currently working on something?
Elle Marr: I am, thanks for asking. I’m working on two books right now. My next book is called The Alone Time, and that’s coming out March 12, 2024. That is my plane crash thriller. I call it a cross between Showtime’s Yellowjackets meets Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls. It’s a plane crash that occurs 25 years ago split between the past and present chapters, where the adult surviving daughters have to deal with some secrets that come out from their past. That’s coming out in March, and then in the summertime 2024, my next book is coming out and it’s called Your Dark Secrets, and that’s coming out from Disney Hyperion Avenue Books.
PopHorror: Well, I am super excited for these! I love Yellowjackets, and I love Karin Slaughter!
Elle Marr: You are my demographic; that’s great!
PopHorror: One last question for you today, Elle. What is your favorite scary movie?
Elle Marr: It’s so ironic that you pose it that way because it’s got to be the Scream series. I can recite the whole first two Scream movies by heart. Every single line. I love everything about it.
Thank you so much to Elle for taking the time to speak with us. The Family Bones is available at your favorite bookseller now!