I recently wrote about my love of historical mysteries with a touch of romance. You can well imagine my delight to discover a local book festival that featured a panel of Victorian Era historical mystery writers: Tasha Alexander, Stefanie Pintoff, and Maureen Jennings.
I have only read Stefanie Pintoff’s first mystery, In the Shadow of Gotham which introduces NYPD officer Simon Ziele and early criminal profiler Alistair Sinclair. The books are set in early 1900s New York City. They have a more difficult, and as yet unrealized, potential for romance. Simon is an immigrant and comes out of the lower East side. Isabelle is Alistair Sinclair’s former daughter-in-law, and is decidedly upper class. Clearly there’s an interest between the two, but their differing social backgrounds are a major obstacle.
I haven’t yet read Maureen Jennings books although several are in my TBR pile. Based on the comments of the audience, I intend to begin reading her books soon. Ms. Jennings is best known for her Detective Murdoch series set in late 19th century Toronto, which begins with the book Except the Dying. Detective Murdoch is also the victim of prejudices. As a Catholic living in a Protestant-dominated society, there is only so far he can go in his position. In fact, the moderator made the mistake of calling him “Inspector Murdoch,” and Ms. Jennings was quick to point out that because of his religion, Murdoch couldn’t rise to the rank of Inspector. The Murdoch books were turned into a television series first in Canada and later in many other countries. She has a new series set in Shropshire, England during World War II.
Some of the most interesting comments the authors made were about the time period in which their stories are set. They all stressed what an exciting time the Victorian Era was and agreed that many people misinterpret the Victorian Era as being a stuffy, rigid time.
Tasha Alexander said that she wanted to write a book set as society is nearing the end of the period with World War I approaching. She commented that it’s a time of tremendous social and political change, but the members of society don’t realize that the world as they know it is going to change permanently. Ms. Alexander noted that while there was a rigid code of morals on the surface, there was much more happening underneath. She also said that she’s always been fascinated by social history; the Victorian Era gave her the opportunity to explore how you take an aristocratic woman and bring her to the point where she’s enlightened.
Maureen Jennings commented that she finds the late 1890s to be tremendously exciting and changing. She feels the Victorians were trying to make the world better. There was tremendous poverty and more privileged people were starting to become aware of it.
Stefanie Pintoff said that she finds the spirit of the age and the way of thought exciting. She finds it to be a time of amazing curiosity to learn about the world, and sited Darwin as an example. Ms. Pintoff said she tries to depict visually the chaos of old and new societies meeting and clashing. For example, in her books there are still horse and carriages, but also the early subway.
The authors talked about how they selected the setting for their series. Ms. Jennings said that it was easy doing research on Victorian Toronto, as many of the buildings still remain from that period. Ms. Pintoff said that she has always loved New York, so it was a natural setting for her series.
Part of all of Ms. Alexander’s books take place in London. She said that she chose London because she loved it, and had lived there for a time. However, readers of her novels know that her characters have also traveled to a variety of other settings, and Lady Emily owns a villa on Santorini. I asked Ms. Alexander if she ever planned to write a novel set largely on Santorini, and she said that someday she would like one set in Greece.
The issue of romance was broached in several questions. Someone asked Ms. Pintoff if she might eventually have Isabelle and Simon marry. She said that she has a bit of a Cheers problem, referencing the fact that so many TV series fall apart once the main couple gets together. Tasha Alexander pointed out just how well the romance between Amelia Peabody and Emerson worked in the long running series by Elizabeth Peters. Stefanie Pintoff agreed, but also pointed out that Simon and Isabelle are from a very different class. All three authors agreed that they need to be authentic to the period, and can’t write as if people of the time didn’t mind the different classes mixing and marrying.
After the panel, the three authors were available to sign their latest novels. While I waited in line, I told Ms. Alexander that I first encountered her books on an old Amelia Peabody listserve of which she was a member. I asked her if she ever planned to have Lady Emily travel to Egypt. She said that not only would she love to do so, but that she has at least one scene firmly in mind. Lady Emily and her husband would be dining at Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo when they hear an argument between a loud man and a woman in a crimson dress. As a fan of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, I know exactly who the couple is, and hope that Ms. Alexander soon takes Lady Emilia to Egypt.
- LinnieGayl AAR