The War That Didn’t End All Wars: World War I

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Today is Memorial Day, and we want to honor all the people who fought and lost their lives. I want to take a look at a war that is sometimes forgotten, or, rather usurped by its older brother later in the 20th century: World War I.

There’s no doubt World War II has gained in popularity in the last several years. There was a time when you looked on the Amazon bestseller list for Historical Fiction and saw only (or mostly) books set during the Second World War. But World War I has always been more fascinating to me. I got interested in this war after binge-reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ classic series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. Though the series is set in the 1920s, Wimsey is a World War I vet and there are references to his experiences during the war and even a mystery with the foundations set during the war in the book The Nine Tailors

Photo Credit: Book cover for The Nine Tailor by Dorothy L. Sayers, date unknown, uploaded 30 September 2008 by Jim Barker: Jim Barker/Flickr/ CC BY NC SA 2.0

And when we look at the history of World War I, we find people had very high hopes for it. It was and still is, referred to as “The Great War” (even though few would deny World War II was greater) and “the war to end all wars” (which, sadly, it did not). This war was a modern war and a coming-of-age for warfare.

To begin with, World War I was the first war fought on a grand scale, involving 30 nations (including the United States). Wars up until that time tended to be confined to certain geographical areas so this war was the first real global war. It was also the first to use modern technologies such as tanks, machine guns (the infamous “Tommy gun” was originally designed to be used during the war), automobiles, and airplanes. That made mass destruction easier (sad to say) and so the toll it took physically on those fighting, including the dead and wounded was massive. The total casualties are estimated to be around forty million! While this is about half of the casualties during WWII (when there was even more highly sophisticated warfare), for the early 20th century, this was phenomenal.

But what made World War I stand out above other wars before it was the psychological toll it took on those fighting and on their loved ones. Since such death and warfare hadn’t been seen on a massive scale before, the devastation it brought was huge. Post-World War I was the first time people began to recognize war could cause heavy psychological damage. A new term came into being after the war: shell shock (which we know today is PTSD). One of the things that fascinated me about Sayers’ series is how she shows the effects of shell shock on her protagonist Lord Peter Wimsey even a decade later, including nightmares, migraines, and nervous breakdowns. 

So let me call out to honor those who fought and died in World War I. Sadly, none survive today, as the last died in 2011. But we can still appreciate their bravery and the way they showed us the effects of global war.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, plus news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history and mystery, and more freebies! You can sign up here

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Release Day Blitz for The Carnation Murder!

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Title: The Carnation Murder

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries (Book 1)

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: April 30, 2022

California, 1903: Smart, inquisitive, and a firm believer in the new progressive reforms, Adele Gossling seeks a new life after the devastating death of her father. She flees San Francisco for the small town of Arrojo, planning a life of peace and small pleasures with nothing more exciting than selling fountain pens to the locals in her stationery shop and partaking in the town’s favorite pastime: gossip.

Peace is exactly what she doesn’t get when she discovers her neighbor’s dead body in her gazebo. The police think they have a firm suspect: the young man who was secretly engaged to the victim. But Adele and her clairvoyant new friend Nin Branch are sure he’s innocent. In spite of the raised eyebrows from Arrojo’s Victorian-minded citizens, they set out to prove the young man didn’t do it. But if he didn’t, who did?

Can Adele and Nin solve this puzzling case involving a striped carnation, a diamond ring, a note, a muddy pair of boots, and a broken promise? 

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price from your favorite online book retailer here.

Excerpt

James showed them into the ballroom. 

“I can’t imagine what you think you’ll find, Sheriff,” Adele remarked. “The servants cleared every morsel of the party ages ago.”

“One can never tell.” He examined the floor. “We already know the body was dragged from somewhere. It could have easily been from some hidden corner in this house.”

“In a house this size, it’s entirely possible,” Jackson agreed.

“I beg your pardon, sir.” James cleared his throat. “Mr. Blackstone was most particular about people straying too far from the ballroom. For young Mickey’s sake.”

“Young boys are always afraid of missing all the excitement,” Jackson said ruefully.

“He particularly asked the servants to redirect anyone who wandered past the hallway,” James continued.

“But Mr. and Miss Gossling said they saw some people going out the back door.”

“Yes, sir,” said the man. “It leads to the veranda. Mr. Blackstone had no objection to guests going out for a bit of fresh air.”

“Can you show us?” 

James led them to the hall and opened the back door. The lace curtains seemed limper than they had been a few nights before. Japanese paper lanterns were still strung up, though not lit.

“It must have been quite a spectacle out here,” The sheriff remarked, eyeing them.

“We wouldn’t know,” said Jackson. “Neither Adele nor I ventured outside.”

“Quite content to watch the intrigues going on inside, eh?” Hatfield eyed him.

“Quite.” Jackson’s voice was guarded. “If Lucy was killed out here and dragged, there would be a mark somewhere.”

“I scarcely think it’s possible that she was killed here, Sheriff,” said Adele. 

“And why is that?”

“The lights.” She steadied a swinging lantern with her parasol. “They would have illuminated even the slightest movement. The curtains were drawn in the ballroom and as you can see, that room overlooks this part of the veranda.”

“I see you and your brother both inherited strong powers of observation,” said Hatfield with a gleam in his eye.

About the Author

As soon as Tam May started writing when she was fourteen, writing became her voice. She writes engaging, fun-to-solve historical cozy mysteries. Her mysteries empower readers with detailed plots and a sense of “justice is done” at the end. Her fiction is set in and around the San Francisco Bay Area because she adores sourdough bread, Ghirardelli chocolate, and the area’s rich history. Tam’s current project is the Adele Gossling Mysteries. The series takes place in Northern California in the early 20th century and features amateur sleuth and epistolary expert Adele Gossling. Together with her clairvoyant friend, Nin Branch, they ensure justice is served for women, both living and dead. Tam lives in Texas but calls San Francisco and the Bay Area “home”. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature, watching classic films, reading self-help books, or cooking yummy vegetarian dishes.

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tammayauthor/

Instragram: https://www.instagram.com/tammayauthor/

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16111197.Tam_May

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tam-May/e/B01N7BQZ9Y/ 

BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tam-may

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Where All The Cool Crime Writers Go: The Detection Club

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How would you like to be a member of a secret club that once included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, C.S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien? I don’t know about you, but as a mystery fiction writer, my answer would be “sign me up!”

Did such a club really exist? It did indeed. It was called The Detection Club and it begin in 1930 at the height of the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. Some of its founding members were those mentioned above. These British mystery writers wanted to form a community of like-minded authors working in the genre of crime fiction (the majority of them writing traditional “whodunits”). They realized the benefits of having their own version of a Facebook group in the days when there was no Facebook and even no internet. 

Photo Credit: Meeting of The Detection Club when GK Chesterton was its president, 1930s, unknown author: Peter Philim/Wikimedia Commons/PD UK 

Although the club had some confidential rituals (it was a secret club, after all), there were some that are known to us which, on the face of it, sound corny at best, ridiculous at worst. For example, the initiation ceremony required new members to place their hand on a skull and take the following oath while the president of the club stood over them dressed in a red cloak and carrying a torch:

Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?”

Sounds pretty silly, right? But the club’s initiation oath shows its members took crime fiction very seriously. In fact, their approach to the genre was based on rules set by Ronald Knox, one of its members. Knox created the “Knox Commandments” which, among other things, set ground rules for writing mystery stories that would insure authors played fair with readers. Some of these rules included avoiding cliches such as too many secret rooms, supernatural forces interfering with the amateur detective’s efforts to solve the crime, and coincidences popping up out of nowhere at just the right moment. You can read Knox Commandments here (but be warned some rules might not gel with our more enlightened 21st-century ideas).

The Detection Club wasn’t just about poking fun at mystery tropes and cliches (the skull and red cloak). They were a serious group dedicated to educating their members and improving the standards of mystery fiction. Crime fiction in the mid-20th century was too often given the status of pulp fiction, and they wanted to prove mysteries were just as good as any other genre. To this end, members were able to attend lectures by crime and forensic experts and social gatherings where they could mingle and get insights on improving their craft from other members. 

My first exposure to The Detection Club was a while back when this link showed up in my inbox. I was intrigued that, first of all, so many of my absolute favorite classic mystery writers not only knew one another but were members of the same club. I was also fascinated by the club’s integrity and commitment to “fair play” and its determination to see that its members followed those rules.

Does the club still exist today? You bet it does! It still caters to the genre’s elite and boasts of PD James, Colin Dexter, and Ruth Rendell on its member list. I’m not sure the ritual of the skull and cloak are still in use, but the club is all about maintaining the integrity of mystery fiction and creating a social circle where mystery writers can improve their craft. 

Want to read mystery fiction that avoids divine revelation, mumbo-jumbo, and jiggery-pokery (but maybe not the feminine intuition, at least, not entirely)? Take a look at the Adele Gossling Mysteries! The first book will be out on April 30, but you can preorder it at a special price here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, plus news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history and mystery, and more freebies! You can sign up here

Works Cited:

The Detection Club oath: https://elegsabiff.com/2013/04/20/a-z-challenge-rules-of-the-detection-club-circa-1929/ 

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Who was Miss Marple REALLY?

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We hear a lot about famous male sleuths like Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Father Brown, and, of course, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. They’ve become so famous that after Christie wrote the last Poirot book in 1975, The New York Times published Poirot’s obituary (if you don’t believe me, check this out). 

But until recently, we haven’t heard much about famous female sleuths. That’s because, before Maisie Dodd and Jessica Fletcher, there just weren’t that many around. If called upon to name a famous amateur female sleuth, most people would probably think of Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple.

Marple often gets forgotten in the Christie canon because Poirot was more famous. Given a few quirks, he fits the stereotype of the famous detective while Miss Marple sort of slips through the cracks. Marple is anything but typical of what we might think of as an amateur detective — elderly (Christie’s books hint she’s in her seventies), hedgy, and mild-mannered, with a tendency to ramble on about the little world of her hometown, St. Mary Mead. 

In one of his books on writing, crime author Lawrence Block confessed he likes Marple much more than Christie’s other famous detective, claiming she is more interesting and complex than Poirot. 

I’m a huge fan of the Poirot series, largely after binge-watching the hit British series Poirot (side note: If you’re a fan of Christie and have never seen this series, I highly encourage you to get hold of it. David Suchet nails the Poirot character in looks and mannerisms and really makes the character come alive). I’ve read a few of the Marple books and, to be honest, Miss Marple didn’t impress me. Her wishy-washiness and tangents about St. Mary Mead just got on my nerves. Nevertheless, I could see what Block was talking about. Underneath the grandmotherly countenance and knitting needles lurks a very shrewd and observant mind. 

Photo Credit: Margaret Rutherford as Jane Marple, Murder at the Gallop, 1963, taken 2 October 2006 by Mr. AEL: Mr. AEL/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

Actually, Marple wasn’t the first woman sleuth of advanced years. In fact, Christie took her inspiration for Marple from another not-so-young character who helped the police solve crimes. She was Anna Katharine Green’s Amelia Butterworth. Green was an American crime writer who wrote some years before the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. Green wrote three novels featuring Butterworth, with the first published in 1897. Butterworth is a Gilded Age creation, as, in spite of her age, she has the independent spirit and a gutsiness that would characterize the much younger generation of New Woman emerging at that time.

Interestingly, many film and TV versions of Miss Marple have tried to bring a little life into her beyond Christie’s rather limited vision of the elderly woman sleuth. Probably the most well-known of these was British actress Margaret Rutherford’s Marple. Although Rutherford’s Marple was always with her knitting needles, she looked more likely to poke somebody’s eyes out than make a sweater with them. Rutherford gives Marple the feminist “oomph” she needs, reminiscent of the earlier Butterworth. Although there were only four films made in the Marple series in the 1960s (and one of them was actually based on a Poirot book), they established the image of the lady sleuth we most often think of today — shrewd, tough, and taking no BS from anybody. 

How about some more women sleuths with “oomph”? Check out my new Adele Gossling Mysteries, launching on April 30. The first three books are up for preorder and the first is only 99¢. You can find out more here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, plus news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history and mystery, and more freebies! You can sign up here

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Historical Cozy Mysteries: Getting Cozy with the Past

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I belong to an amazing group of creative businesswomen where we all help support one another in our desire to serve the public (for me, that means you, readers). When I shared with them this week that I’m shifting gears to focus on historical cozy mysteries, I got a somewhat deer-in-the-headlights look from a few of them who asked, “What’s a historical cozy mystery?”

It was my bad because every sector has its jargon. I forgot not everyone is familiar with the word “cozy” nor are they aware historical cozy mysteries exist. So I thought I’d write a little bit about it.

Let’s first start with the basics. A historical cozy mystery is really a subgenre of a subgenre. In writer-speak, genre is like a book’s specific subject with its own specific expectations. For example, romance is a genre (expectation: a love relationship, a happily-ever-after ending), and so is horror (expectation: You’re going to be scared out of your wits). Historical cozy mystery marries two subgenres: historical mysteries (subgenre of historical fiction) and cozies (subgenre of mystery fiction).

On the face of it, a historical cozy mystery is akin to the traditional mystery (sometimes called the “whodunit”). Think Agatha Christie. One of my favorite things to do at the end of a particularly stressful and annoying day is to relax on my recliner with a cup of peppermint tea and open up the Kindle reader on my iPad to a Poirot mystery (yes, he’s a pompous little man, but I like him). I immediately get into the mystery, following along with the clues and suspects, feeling the carefree times of early 20th-century post-World War I England. And Poirot always gets the criminal. Nowhere else in the 21st century can you find that kind of justice. It makes me feel soothed and, well, cozy, like all the bad things that happened during the day don’t matter.

Ah, the epitome of cozy: A pipe and an Agatha Christie book!

Photo Credit: DietmarRauscher/Depositphotos.com 

The cross between mystery and history becomes interesting when we consider the main purpose of historical fiction is to submerge readers into a world of the past, and the purpose of mystery fiction is to present a human puzzle for the amateur sleuth or detective (and the reader) to solve. Writers of historical cozy mysteries aren’t only building a story around a crime that has to be solved, but they’re also giving readers insights into another era. And not just the daily lives of people living in that era, but the kinds of crime and criminals of that era and how those crimes were solved.

We have to remember crime and its detection has changed drastically over the centuries. There were no cyber crimes in the 19th century. There was no DNA testing to help solve crimes until the late 20th century. So crime detection was relatively primitive and, until the late 19th century, pretty crude in most cases. That made it more of a challenge for the historical sleuth or detective, but funner for readers to follow because detectives must make do with their wits and skills rather than rely on forensic scientific evidence.

In Book 1 of my upcoming Adele Gossling Mysteries, Adele’s brother, a former big-city detective, is amazed that the small-town sheriff of Arrojo knows enough to block off the crime scene so no one will tamper with it. Even fifty years before (the book takes place in 1902), this wouldn’t have been the case and it’s well-documented that crime scenes were trampled over by police, reporters, and sightseers. Not a great start to solving a murder.

Another thing about cozy mysteries that differ from crime fiction, in general, is they introduce you to a host of quirky characters. That’s one reason I was drawn to writing cozies as opposed to other types of historical mysteries. Reading a cozy mystery series, the characters become as familiar to them as their own family and friends because, flawed as they are, they’re also likable. Who doesn’t love Jessica Fletcher in the 1980s hit TV series, Murder, She Wrote? She’s grandmotherly while at the same time she’s sharp-witted and bold. Holmes is a cocaine addict and an egotist but he also cares about solving crimes. Fletcher and Holmes couldn’t be more different, but they share one quality, as all cozy mystery sleuths do: They’re on the side of justice. And it’s hard to dislike someone who’s on the right side of the law.

Writers don’t always strive for likability in their characters because many feel that a too-likable character is an unrealistic one. But cozy mysteries aren’t about realism. They’re about escaping into another world where justice is served and criminals are always punished. And with historical cozies, you get the double-whammy: Not only do you get to escape into a “crime doesn’t pay” world but you get to do it during another era.

So if you’re ready to give historical cozy mysteries a shot, I invite you to check out my Adele Gossling Mystery series. The first book is on preorder at only 99¢ but not for long. You can get more information on that plus links to bookstores where you can get the book here

If you want more escape into a cozy world of the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, plus news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history and mystery, and more freebies! You can sign up here

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