Lake District Murders with Style: Martin Edwards and Rebecca Tope Sunday, Nov 24 2013 

The glorious natural beauty of England’s Lake District, which contains its largest lake, rising fells, and every kind of tree found in the UK, hardly seems to present typical murder landscape. Yet Auntie M has chosen it twice for her own Nora Tierney Mysteries–The Green Remains and 2014’s The Scarlet Wench–and she’s certainly not alone. Two masters have series set in the land of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.

the-frozen-shroud-by-martin-edwards1With a strong feeling for the history of crime novels, Martin Edwards is the archivist for both the Crime Writers Association and for the Detection Club. His talk this year at St. Hilda’s reminded us that the Golden Age authors had more psychological depth than is generally acknowledged. Edwards’ knowledge of crime novels and history is extensive and he is a fascinating speaker.

Author of stand-alones, short stories and multiple essays on crime, he is best known for two series: the Liverpool Harry Devlin series and  the newer one that explores the Lake District and features DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind.

The Frozen Shroud explores the hidden depths of the small yet remote and diverse locale. Highlighting the landscape and its ability to capture loveliness with menace are the hallmark of this series, confirmed in this sixth offering in the series.

With his vivid descriptions and an overlapping of murders to be solved, The Frozen Shroud capitalizes on a creepy local legend with links to the past and two murders on Hallowe’en that bear the same characteristics. Daniel Kind’s love of research of murder adds to the atmosphere, and Hannah Scarlett’s work situation, fraught with stress and coupled with the the rising tension between these two fascinating characters, adds to the texture of the novel.

There are plenty of red herrings that bring this series along classical lines, making it a totally satisfying and complex crime novel. The dialogue and prose are literate and realistic. Old hurts, revenge, misconceptions and plain old jealousy rear their head as motives. The characters living near the haunted ground of Ravensbank all have secrets with ties to the past, and it would be cruel to tell readers more without spoiling the plot. If you haven’t read this atmospheric series, now’s the time to grab one and then gobble them all up.

 

toprRebecca Tope, journalist and author, has four murder series in print: Den Cooper, Devon police detective; Thea Osborne, house sitter in the Cotswolds; rebecca topeundertaker Drew Slocombe; and now her newest series set in the Lake District and featuring florist Persimmon Brown.

I met Tope at St Hilda’s and again in September at Bouchercon, where her British perspective on the differences of mysteries by English and American writers added to her panel discussions. Warm and lively, Tope seems to find the time to write prolifically while living in rural Herefordshire, on a smallholding situated close to the beautiful Black Mountains. She raises Cotswold sheep along with two elderly dogs. Her evenings are spent spinning, knitting and weaving, and she takes commissions for big  pure wool throws and blankets.  Recently added alpacas will make soft baby blankets available. Now where does she find time to write?

Tope’s mind must be working all the time her hands are busy on new plots and characters. Introduced in The Windermere Witness, Simmy Brown’s Windermere florist shop seems an unlikely setting for involving her in murders. With her unconventional parents living nearby, running a B&B, Simmy is getting used to her new home post-divorce in Troutbeck. Her shop assistant, Melanie, and a smart teen, Ben, with a bent for investigation, form Simmy’s “team,” to the chagrin of the local detective, DI Moxon.    

The Ambleside Alibi, book two in the series, finds Simmy unwittingly providing an alibi for a murder suspect, immediately after delivering a bouquet to a grandmotherly sort, sent from a granddaughter the old woman apparently didn’t know she had.  

Then another elderly woman is found murdered and a host of family secrets will be unearthed that may or may not tie the two women together. Against her better judgement, Simmy finds the peaceful new life she envisioned for herself once more fraught with danger and murder. When an attempt is made on her life, she knows she’s become more involved than she’d ever imagined.

Moxon provides a nice foil to Simmy, a reluctant witness and even more reluctant investigator, as he becomes exasperated in his attempts to protect Simmy while finding a murderer. The relationship between these two seems unlikely yet possibly inevitable down the road, a side aspect to drive readers look for the third installment in the series premiering in 2014, The Conistan Case.

 

 

Guest Blogger Susan Sloate: Book Research: When You Do It Right and It Still Comes Out Wrong Sunday, Dec 4 2011 

Folks, Auntie M’s son is getting married, so the next two posts will feature guest bloggers.

Please welcome Susan Sloate and her very interesting story~

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?ui=2&ik=cb5e064ea5&view=att&th=13406808a8ce227b&attid=0.2&disp=inline&zw     I’ll admit it up front: I’m a real snob about book research. When I read historical fiction, I expect the author to have gotten the facts right. I love losing myself not only in a great story, but a story that’s teeming with details, large and small, which make me believe I’m there.

A writer’s job, first and foremost, is to tell a good story. But in the process of telling that good story – and persuading the reader of its truth – the writer also owes the reader something critical: factual accuracy.

If an author is sloppy with facts, how can a reader believe the rest of the tale? The bond between writer and reader – that pledge to tell the truth – is broken when there are misspellings, bad grammar (except in dialogue), and most glaringly, errors of historical fact.

I am severe on such errors. (Think of a schoolmarm wielding a big hickory stick.) It takes work to check the details, correct the spelling errors and see to the punctuation. But it’s part of the job.

I’ve always accepted that, and enjoyed writing stories with historical backgrounds. The challenge of burrowing for facts – often obscure ones – and populating my stories with them, to surprise and (hopefully) fascinate the reader, was part of the pleasure (also an excellent excuse for putting off the actual writing, which as any writer knows is half the job, anyway). There is endless room for creativity after you’ve founded it on historical fact.

… Which brings me to my own novel, FORWARD TO CAMELOT, co-authored with Kevin Finn. CAMELOT is a story about an actress who travels back in time from the year 2000 to November of 1963, and while trying to retrieve  priceless artifact, finds a way to save President Kennedy from assassination in Dallas.

We did plenty of research. Years worth. Probably a hundred books, a dozen films, hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, audio tapes, trips to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the JFK Library in Boston and Arlington National Cemetery, several symposia on the assassination, conversations with archivists, historians, researchers. We really tried.

Getting it right was important, because we were presenting historical figures as major characters in the story, and we wanted to show them, as much as possible, as they really were. Finding both President Kennedy and Lee Oswald in the mists of fantasy, legend and just plain prejudice, was not easy. But we think we finally did.

We were also blending historical fact with the plot we created, such as the car crash in Dallas on November 18th (4 days before the assassination) that revealed hundreds of stolen rifles, part of a gunrunning operation that had been going on for years, and was tied to the perpetrators of the assassination. (True; you can look it up.)

That gunrunning operation was originally set up by – wait for it – Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald. (I am not inventing this.) And it did become an important part of our plot, which most people thought we had made up. (Wish we were that creative.)

So getting the details right in this case was important because we were mixing them right into the creative stew of our story.

So what happens when you realize you’ve committed the cardinal sin – you’ve gotten it wrong?

     The plot of FORWARD TO CAMELOT turns on an artifact that our heroine, Cady, is sent back in time to retrieve: The Bible owned by JFK, which was used to swear in Lyndon Johnson as president on November 22, 1963. According to William Manchester’s excellent DEATH OF A PRESIDENT, the Bible disappeared after Sara Hughes, the judge who swore in LBJ, left Air Force One in Dallas and was asked by an unknown man at the bottom of the ramp to give it back.

Intriguing? You betcha. This is a novelist’s dream – to find some obscure fact no one else has ever used, that we can then work up into a grand story.

But … we also wanted to be sure of the facts. Manchester’s book is the ONLY one of the hundreds we read that even mentioned the Bible’s disappearance. (The other books, understandably, dealt with the continuing questions over whodunit.) Jim Bishop’s excellent book on the same subject says the Bible was in fact a Catholic missal (prayer book), but never mentions that it was lost.

What’s a mother to do?

What we did was call the Kennedy Library in Boston, asking if the Bible had ever been returned. Manchester says the Kennedy family wanted it back, but that was in 1967. The archivist said very definitely that the Bible had not been returned.

That’s when we knew we had a winner: A totally original take on the assassination story, a treasure worthy of the hunt, that if recovered today would be priceless. Jackpot!

      The book was published in November 2003, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the assassination. It became a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in three literary competitions and was optioned (though alas not yet made) by a Hollywood film company.

Everything was grand – until Kevin called me in despair a few years ago and said, “We have to pull the book. We made a huge mistake.”

Uh – excuse me?

He then told me that two of his friends had called to let him know that they knew where the Bible (rather, the prayer missal – Jim Bishop was right) actually was, and of course it was the one place you would never expect.

According to them, it was at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, where it had been, on display, since the library opened.

To make matters worse, they had found out this interesting fact on JEOPARDY. Yes, America’s game show had mentioned it, in front of millions.

Who knew?

Apparently, according to the LBJ Library archivist I belatedly consulted, Sara Hughes, the judge, did hand off the Bible to a Secret Service agent, who returned it to Mrs. Johnson (not Mrs. Kennedy), who then turned it over to her own press secretary, Liz Carpenter, because she knew that reporters covering the story would be interested in the details of the swearing in.

But … nobody ever asked. No one was interested in how LBJ was sworn in; to them, the story was the dead president, not the live one. (That must have been a real kick to LBJ’s considerable ego.)

So the Johnson family kept the missal and when they were setting up the LBJ Presidential Library, asked the Kennedy family whether they wanted it back. The Kennedys said it had been a recent gift to JFK from an admirer; it did not have sentimental value for them, and they didn’t care about it.

Thus it landed in the LBJ Library – which neither of the authors ever thought of consulting. We figured a JFK librarian would have information on JFK’s possessions and spent considerable time cross-checking other books about the assassination, looking for references to it.

So there you are. Our Bible, which was really a prayer missal, was never a cherished possession of JFK’s (as Manchester stated) and in fact was never `missing’.

We did not pull the book, though. I suppose there’s egg all over our faces, but even so, it’s hard to get mad about this one. We read something in a well-written, well-researched book that turned out to be wrong, and tried hard to corroborate the facts in logical places, except that the people we consulted knew less about it than we did. And therefore, we believed our assumptions to be true, and acted on them.

Frankly, I can’t feel too bad about it. Because if we had gone to the right source in the first place and learned that the Bible (missal) had never really been misplaced, we might have thought twice about trying to save JFK from assassination in FORWARD TO CAMELOT. And I’m convinced that giving up on this novel would have been the real mistake.

I’m still very proud of the book – glaring inaccuracy and all – and if I need comfort, I go back to my favorite time-travel book, Jack Finney’s TIME AND AGAIN. Finney’s classic was set in New York in 1882 and featured the Dakota apartment house in the plot. In a research note at the end of the novel, Finney said that the Dakota was actually built in 1885, but … he needed it for his story in 1882, so he used it.

Well, that works for me. We needed a lost Bible, and using it helped us save JFK (on paper anyway) from tragedy. Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

So to you writers of historical fiction: Sometimes getting it wrong helps you to surprising new revelations. I wish you lots of interesting research, and many wonderful surprises along the way.

Susan Sloate is the author of 17 young-adult books and the co-author (with Kevin Finn) of FORWARD TO CAMELOT, the 2003 time-travel novel about the JFK assassination, which became a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in 3 literary competitions and was optioned for Hollywood film production. Her biography for children, RAY CHARLES: FIND ANOTHER WAY!, was honored in the 2007 Children’s Moonbeam Book Awards. Her unpublished 2007 novel, STEALING FIRE, was a semi-finalist in the 2008 and 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contests. She has written and co-directed two one-act plays in their world premieres, optioned two screen properties to Hollywood film companies, written feature articles for sports publications, and is a sought-after speaker for conferences and classrooms. She appears in volumes of WHO’S WHO IN AMERICA, WHO’S WHO IN ENTERTAINMENT and WHO’S WHO AMONG AMERICAN BUSINESSWOMEN. Visit her online at http://susansloate.com.

Lee Lofland

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The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & Writing, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Gaslight Crime

Authors and reviewers of historical crime fiction

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

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