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Posts Tagged ‘historical mysteries’

I’m back from New Zealand and–totally by coincidence–I’m hosting a New Zealand author. As readers of this blog know, I’m a Dickens fan. I can’t get enough of his quirky characters, dark settings, twisty plots and–yes!–even his social preaching. One of my favorites, Little Dorritt (reviewed here) features a debtor’s prison which is just as much a character as its human inhabitants. That’s why I was so pleased to score a copy of The Raven’s Seal a historical mystery written in the style of Dickens. The author Andrei Baltakmens is a Dickens scholar and plants an eighteenth-century prison in the heart of his novel. The gaol (jail for us in the US) broods over the prose and lurks in the background infusing the story with its dark presence. From the first paragraph:

The Old Bellstrom Gaol crouched above the fine city of Airenchester like a black spider on a heap of spoils. It presided over The Steps, a ramshackle pile of cramped yards and tenements teeming about rambling stairs, and glared across the River Pentlow towards Battens Hill, where the sombre courts and city halls stood. From Cracksheart Hill, the Bellstrom loomed on every prospect and was glimpsed at the end of every lane.

Many thanks to Andrei for providing a guest post on eighteenth-century crime and punishment and to his publisher Top Five Books for providing a giveaway copy (details at the end of the post.)

Early-Modern Crime (and Punishment) in The Raven’s Seal

by Andrei Baltakmens

My novel, The Raven’s Seal, is a historical mystery set in and around a fictional eighteenth-century prison, the Bellstrom Gaol. The gaol is a commanding presence in the novel, presiding over the equally fictional city of Airenchester. But of course there would be no gaol, and no mystery, without crime and punishment, and though the Bellstrom dominated my imagination for a long time, the history of crime in the early-modern period (roughly 1500 to 1800), particularly under the Black Act, makes for a fascinating background which occasionally peeks through into the mystery. (more…)

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Seven Wonders cover

Gordianus the Finder is back in this prequel to Steven Saylor’s popular series of mysteries set in the Roman Republic of Cicero and Caesar. Gordianus is eighteen and embarks on the First Century BCE equivalent of a “Grand Tour” with his old tutor and famous poet Antipater of Sidon. As the Italian peninsula simmers with rebellion, the pair head east to visit the Seven Wonders of the World encountering murder, mysteries and political intrigues. Over the course of their year+ journey, Gordianus evolves into “the Finder” series readers have come to know and love.

For the record, I am not a Gordianus fan. I very much enjoyed Saylor’s multi-generational epics Roma and Empire, which I reviewed, but didn’t take to the couple of Finder novels I sampled. Not because they were bad books, but because I’m not that into historical mysteries. Every reader has her quirks. This book has a distinctly different structure from the others. Saylor uses the journey to visit the Seven Wonders as a framework for several short stories (many of which were previously published in mystery and fantasy magazines.) Each Wonder gets a story with a few interludes, such as attending the Olympic Games and visiting the ruins of Corinth, resulting in ten chapters dealing with murder, witchcraft, ghosts and gods. As their journey continues, a larger mystery entangles Gordianus and Antipater with spies and other enemies of Rome. (more…)

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Giveaway information at the bottom.

Alexandria book coverAs anyone knows, who’s stopped by this blog, I’m a sucker for anything set in Alexandria, especially during the Roman period. I’ve studied the city for many years and it’s the setting for my first novel. So I’m continuing my Alexandria series with this book review and giveaway. I’ll post some more history later in the month.

Lindsey Davis is well known for her Marcus Didius Falco historical mysteries and this one is number nineteen in the series. From the back cover:

In A. D. 77 Marcus Didius Falco, private “informer” and stalwart Roman citizen, undertakes one of the most fearsome tasks known to man—he goes on vacation with his somewhat pregnant wife, Helena Justina, and their family. They travel to Alexandria, Egypt, and they aren’t there long before the Librarian of the great library is found dead under suspicious circumstances, in his office with the door locked from the inside.

Falco quickly finds himself on the trail of dodgy doings, malfeasance, deadly professional rivalry, more bodies, and the lowest of the low—book thieves! As the bodies pile up, it’s up to Falco to untangle this horrible mess before the killer begins to strike closer to home. (more…)

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Proud Villeins coverThis is Part III of a three-part interview with historical fiction writer Valerie Anand. In Part I, Ms. Anand discussed how she became a historical fiction writer.  In Part II, she discussed her Ursula Blanchard series and her feminist leanings.

FAITH L. JUSTICE: Have you been able to make a living as a fiction writer?

VALERIE ANAND: A lot of people said you’ll never earn a living as a writer, but I’m laughing last.  It was hard in the beginning.  I worked a 4-day week at the office and wrote the whole day on the fifth.  It was physically very demanding.  In 1989 I became redundant just as I received the contract to write the six-book series Bridges Over Time. I said, “Right, take the golden handshake, buy a word processor, convert the garage, and trust to luck.” I’m very pleased to say I’ve earned a living off my writing for quite a long time.

FLJ:  How involved are you in the marketing of your books?

VA: I do occasional book signings.  The marketing scene is not quite as lively over here as in America.  I once went to a seminar run by the Society of Authors and there were a number of marketing Bobs on the panel. The authors gave them such a barraging that the whole thing felt rather like a rout or political meeting.  The whole place was filled with authors who felt they were short changed.

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Valerie Anand Author PhotoPopular British historical fiction and mystery writer Valerie Anand brings past times and conundrums to life with fascinating characters, abundant detail and meticulous research in her twenty-one novels.  In the U.S.  she’s been known under her pen name Fiona Buckley for her historical mystery series set in the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign featuring Ursula Blanchard.  Ms. Anand talked to me about her writing, love of history and feminist leanings from her South London home.

FAITH L. JUSTICE: Do you have writing in the blood ?

VALERIE ANAND: For me, writing is a natural function, like breathing. No one can do without breathing and I can’t do without writing. I don’t know why. It satisfies a very deep need. At the age of six, just after I had really learned to write, I suddenly announced that I was going to write books when I grew up and I actually started trying, then and there, on a piece of doubled over paper, with a red crayon. The best moments come when I am trying to transmit something subtle, or very deeply emotional and difficult to express, and feel, after much writing and re-writing that yes, that’s it, I’ve got it right at last, that’s it.

My father was a good teller of stories to small children and so was his aunt, my great aunt Clara. They both made up tales to amuse me. On the same side of the family, I had a cousin (now dead) who although a scientist, was also keen on books and wrote a couple of science fiction paperback novels.

Going back to my father; he loved words. He lost his parents when he was only 14 and after that was cared for by an uncle who, poor man, did his very best for his nephew, but not very successfully. He had apprenticed his own son to the drapery trade so he did the same for my dad. He gave his son and his ward exactly the same chance, in fact. But whereas his own son prospered, my father just loathed drapery. His love of words made him want to work with them – in any capacity. In the end he left the drapers, took to doing part-time proof-reading for national dailies and eventually became permanent. The drive to work with words must have been hugely powerful because he took that risk in the middle of the slump of the 1930s, and was very hard up – in fact unemployed – for a time. Because of that, his first engagement broke up. Luckily for me! He met and married my mother later on.

I was born in 1937, before the war. When war broke out and my father knew he would have to go into the forces, he gave up our rented home in Kent and left my mother and me with his Aunt Clara in Leatherhead, Surrey, just south of London. Dad went into the RAF where he was an Armourer, and we lived in my great aunt’s bungalow which was out of London, but still prone to a few bombs. I can remember being carried into the garden and seeing the glow in the sky, the night the City of London burned.

I can also remember the V1 doodlebugs very well indeed. We used to crouch in the hall of the bungalow, between the strongest walls of the house and away from windows, listening to the beastly things as they droned across the sky, and waiting for the engine to cut out. If it stopped overhead, we were all right, because momentum would carry it onwards. If it stopped before it got near, anything might happen. Fortunately, nothing ever did.

I grew up, didn’t go to university, joined a publishing house as a secretary but turned myself eventually into a trade journalist, specializing at first in business systems and equipment. Later on I became an industrial editor, and ran the house magazine first for Heals, the furniture retailer in Tottenham Court Road, and later for Matthew Hall, a big engineering group. They did everything from put the services into pharmaceutical plants and new office blocks to putting the topsides on oil platforms. It was very interesting.

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