Creative License: Sherlock Holmes During World War II

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May is National Mystery Month, so what better way for us mystery lovers to celebrate than to take a look at one of the most, perhaps the most, famous sleuths in history: Sherlock Holmes?

I have to be honest here. I am not a great lover of the Holmes character. I find him too egotistical and woman-hating for my taste. However, there’s no denying Conan Doyle had something when he created this sleuth whose deductive reasoning and attention to detail wove intricate (and sometimes hard to believe) plots. I personally prefer sleuths who appreciate the value of intuition and psychology along with reasoning, such as Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey, and, of course, the protagonist of my Adele Gossling Mysteries. 

Last month, I binge-watched the Sherlock Holmes films, but not the contemporary ones. I binge-watched the twelve Universal films and the two 20th Century Fox films. All were made in the late 1930s and 1940s and feature Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson. 

The series is pretty distinctive in several ways. Classic crime buffs are familiar with Rathbone playing many villainous characters so the series gave him a chance to play a good guy. Bruce, whose name might not be familiar to you, created the Watson character as the lovable but somewhat bumbling sidekick which set a precedence for the Watson character (and many sleuth sidekicks) for books, TV, and film after that. 

Photo Credit: Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, cropped screenshot from Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, 1943, Universal Pictures: Patrick CecilF/Wikimedia Commons/PD US not renewed

But the most distinctive feature of the series is that most of them are not set in the late 19th or early 20th century when Conan Doyle wrote the Holmes books. They are set in the late 1930s and 1940s (that is, in times contemporary to when they were made). The series has an interesting history. Fox made the first 2 films which were actually set in the 19th century like the original books. These films weren’t very successful so Fox dropped the series. Universal picked it up and decided to change the setting to contemporary times. It was then the series became a huge hit and went on for twelve more films. 

Why did Universal decide to change the time period? When the third film in the series (and Universal’s first), Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, came out, it was 1942 and World War II was raging. They thought the audience would identify more with a contemporary Holmes than a Holmes far removed from the war’s troubling times by fifty years. Audiences identified with the scenery of London and Europe featuring bombed-out buildings, air raids, and blackouts.

Universal took it a step further. The screenwriters revamped many of Conan Doyle’s plots to make them fit with the war. Instead of London underworld criminals. Holmes was fighting Nazi spies. For example, the fourth film in the series, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is based on a Conan Doyle short story but features a secret code Holmes is trying to keep from falling into German hands. 

Universal’s creative license was very effective not only in making the series more successful than Fox’s version but also in inserting messages to boost the morale of British and American audiences. Many of the films end with Holmes imparting philosophical messages to Watson that are essentially telling audiences not to lose faith and good will triumph over evil in the end. 

I’ll admit I’m a purist when it comes to films based on literature. I initially resisted seeing the series because so many of the films were set in contemporary (relative) times instead of when the books take place. But once I started to watch them, I got hooked on how the films show the life and struggle of citizens living during World War II. I highly recommend giving them a chance. You can find most of them on YouTube here

And if you want more mystery, check out my Adele Gossling Mysteries here. The first book in the series, The Carnation Murder, is out! You can find out all about it and pick up your copy here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, 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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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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Cover Reveal/Release Day Announcement: The Carnation Murder

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Every year, I choose a word and/or phrase to define how I want to improve myself. This year, my phrase is “let it go”. I even have a card stuck on my bulletin board to remind me to let things go.

After five years of writing historical women’s fiction, I’m letting it go and turning to something new: historical cozy mysteries. Why? Because I realized who I am now is not who I was five years ago. Historical women’s fiction served me well at that time, and I loved writing the Waxwood Series. But now all I want to give readers is a sense of comfort and a little bit of fun. Nothing spells comfort and fun more than cozy mysteries. 

This is why I’m thrilled to present the cover for The Carnation Murder, the first book of my Adele Gossling Mysteries, and tell you when the book is coming out.

So, without further ado…

historical mystery, cozy mystery, women sleuth, new release, ebook, murder mystery, small town mystery

So, y’all probably notice there’s a lot of purple in there, right? There’s a reason for that. The color purple plays a role in helping Adele Gossling solve the mystery of the dead debutante in her gazebo. On a carnation, purple is about whimsy and freedom. How do these qualities appear in the book? You’ll have to read it to find out!

You’ll also notice the gold frame on the book. Originally, the fabulous designer who made the cover went for more of an Art Deco look, using geometric shapes and clean lines and spheres. A great example of Art Deco is these stills from the 1927 silent masterpiece Metropolis

As much as I love Art Deco, we associate it more with the 1920s and 1930s. The Adele Gossling Mysteries takes place at the turn of the 20th century, some twenty years earlier. So the designer and I went back and forth, and we finally decided on a more Art Nouveau style for the frame. Art Nouveau was sort of the precursor to the Art Deco movement, combining the favored lines and spheres with a more decorative and florid style. One of the defining artists of this period was Alphonse Mucha, whose work you can see here

Here’s more about The Carnation Murder:

Smart inquisitive, and a firm believer in the new progressive reforms, Adele Gossling seeks a new life after the devastating death of her father. So she flees the big city of San Francisco for the small town of Arrojo. She plans a life of peace and small pleasures running her own stationery shop and living in her own house. But peace is exactly what she doesn’t get when she discovers her neighbor dead 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 suspect the young man is innocent. In spite of the raised eyebrows from Arrojo’s Victorian-minded citizens, she and Nin set out to prove Richard Tanning didn’t do it. But if he didn’t, who did?

What early reviewers are saying:

“Really well paced and researched appropriately for the era.”

“The story comes alive.”

Release Date: April 30, 2022

I’m equally excited to let you know the book is now on preorder at a very special price. So come check it out and get your copy at your favorite online bookstore here

Happy reading!

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