Thieves, Pickpockets, and Sex: The Dark Side of Circus Life

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While today we think of the circus as something fun, colorful, and family-oriented, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, before the Progressive Era, the circus was considered adult entertainment and not very savory entertainment at that. Even in later years, Hollywood liked to portray the circus as a place filled with vice and crime. For example, the film noir Nightmare Alley (the 1947 version, not the 2021 version) opens with a view of some typical circus side shows with thieves lurking in the crowds and a swindling spiritualist. The police suddenly raid the circus, making accusations of soliciting crime and claiming one of the performers’ costumes is indecent (as defined by the standards of the 1940s). Of course, the circus manager has an explanation for everything, but the police order them to move to another town anyway.

The circus worked hard to clean up its act (no pun intended) in the 20th century. The circus in America really began in the 18th century and for two centuries, was considered the place for crime, vice, and sexual titillation. Circuses were rumored to have made deals with pickpockets who roamed the crowd and then gave the circus manager a cut of whatever they got. Men could come and ogle women in tights and leotards in eras where women kept their entire bodies covered and even a curvacious table leg could be considered risque. There were rumors of prostitution, though there is no evidence that this actually occurred. 

This cartoon is taken from a book called Peck’s Bad Boy at the Circus by George W. (Wilbur). According to the caption, the boy Peck’s father is run out of the circus by the police because he was caught standing behind the lion’s cage creating the animal’s roar when the lion had a sore throat. This is an example of how even in the early 20th century, circuses were still seen as dishonest places that were always trying to swindle the public.

Photo Credit: Image from page 108 of “Peck’s bad boy with the circus [microform]” by George W (Wilbur), 1907, University of California Libraries: Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr/ CC0 1.0 Universal

Circuses started to reassess their image in the late 19th century and move toward the more family-oriented entertainment we know today. Circus managers became very strict about things like drinking and men and women socializing together. They included more children-friendly acts such as animals and clowns. The more adult entertainment moved away to the side shows rather than the main circus tent. 

Why did the circuses change their image in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? First, these eras marked a period of change and reform in America. America had prospered in the Gilded Age but with it came the baggage of greed, corruption, and extravagance. These reformers wanted a cleaner, better America and pushed for reform in the entertainment field as well, including burlesque, vaudeville, and circuses. And second, they changed for the same reason Las Vegas changed in the 1990s: money. This era also was the birth of leisure and family fun and circus managers shrewdly realized, just as the Vegas hotel managers did, that children were a lucrative market they were missing by entertaining only adults. 

Book 5 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries, which turns a year old this month, is all about the circus. The conflict between the circus as vice and the circus as decent entertainment unfolds within the mystery of the death of the star performer. If you want to grab your copy, you can do so here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Release Day Blitz for Adelel Gossling Mysteries Box Set: Books 1-3!

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Title: Adele Gossling Mysteries Box Set 1: Books 1-3 (Adele Gossling Mysteries Box 

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: November 25, 2023

Can a forward-thinking woman help the police solve crimes in a backward-thinking town?

“Great new series!”

Smart, inquisitive, and a firm believer in Progressive Era reforms, Adele Gossling seeks a new life after the devastating death of her father. She flees San Francisco for the town of Arrojo, planning a life of peace and small pleasures. But both elude her when she and her spiritual sidekick, Nin Branch, get involved in helping the local police solve the case of a dead debutante, a poisoned schoolteacher, and a family matriarch who may or may not have left a generous will.

The Carnation Murder: Adele Gossling has barely been in Arrojo for a week when she discovers her neighbor’s dead body in her gazebo. 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?

A Wordless Death: Millie Gibb, the new teacher at the local girl’s school, is found dead and everybody in town assumes the homely, unmarried spinster committed suicide. Can Adele and her clairvoyant friend Nin prove Millie’s death was foul play based on a cigar stub, a letter fragment, and a cigarette lighter before the case is closed for good?

Death at Will: When the affluent Thea Marsh dies unexpectedly, the trail of suspects leads to Thea’s beloved and favored eldest son, Theo. Will Adele make a case against Theo’s guilt for the police out of a stained teacup, a fountain pen nib, ashes that should have been in the fireplace, and daisies that should have been fresh?

Pick up this box set of the first three Adele Gossling Mysteries and immerse yourself in turn-of-the-century Northern California in all its dynamic and chaotic glory for a fun and cozy read!

You can get your copy of this box set at a special price at the following online retailers.


About the Author

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with the town’s more conventional ideas about women’s place. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy plant-based dishes.


Social Media Links

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

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

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

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

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

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

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Release Day Blitz for The Case of the Dead Domestic!

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Title: The Case of the Dead Domestic

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 6

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: August 26, 2023

Everybody in town agrees: Arabella Parnell thinks far too highly of herself. She worked her way up to lady’s maid for one of Arrojo’s finest families, personal friends of the mayor. She attends parties given by the lady of the house as if she were the guest of honor. She writes letters to the daughter of her wealthy former employer as if they were comrades. She flirts with some of the most prominent men in the county.

So the Arrojo police are hardly surprised when they find her dead among the shrubbery in a wealthy bachelor’s conservatory.

And yet, amateur sleuth and suffragist Adele Gossling can’t help but wonder: Who was Arabella Parnell really? Was she just a servant with arrogant manners and too much self-assurance? Or was she the victim of the pride and passions of powerful men, one of whom did her in? With a hair comb, a brooch, and a candlestick to go on, can Adele solve this case?

Early reviews:

“It’s so much more than I expected from a cozy mystery.”

“The characters are well-rounded, interesting, and unique.”

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price at the following online retailers.


Excerpt

Missy Grace, the editor of the Arrojo Courier, hurried into her shop, her cotton hair flying as usual around her face. She pushed back her bangs with the edge of her pencil. “Adele, what can you tell me about that body found in Virgil Riddle’s conservatory?”

Adele stared at her. “What the devil are you talking about?” 

“Don’t use such vulgar language, Adele,” Beatrice chided.

“It’s no worse than your ‘bum it,’ dear,” Missy barked. 

Beatrice’s nose went up. “I stopped using ‘bum it’ last year.”

“My congratulations.” Missy turned her back to her. “I’m talking about the sheriff and your brother rushing out of the police station an hour ago, looking very official.”

“They told you there was a body in Virgil Riddle’s conservatory?” Adele asked.

“Certainly not,” Missy said. “You know how hush-hush they are when they’re being official.”

“Then how do you know about it?”

“I caught Assistant Deputy Curd having his morning bun at the bakery and wheedled it out of him.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Adele said dryly. 

“Naturally, the boy was too dense to tell me anything of value,” Missy continued. “He could only say Mr. Riddle had found a girl’s body lying among the shrubbery in his conservatory, and she was most certainly dead.”

“Golly!” Beatrice sighed. “Another murder.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily take Assistant Deputy Curd’s word for it,” Adele said. “He’s not the brightest of men.”

“That’s why I’m coming to you,” said her friend. “You remember our bargain, Adele?” She looked meaningfully at her. 

“I tell you what I know if you tell me what you know.” Adele nodded. “Only I honestly know nothing, Missy. This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

“Well then,” her friend took her arm, “it’s our duty as star reporter and lady detective to find out, isn’t it?”

“I’m not a lady detective, you know,” Adele remarked, but she took off the apron she always wore when dealing with some of the dirtier aspects of her work. 

“You’re leaving me to mind the shop?” Beatrice’s green eyes, which had become more almond-shaped as the years passed, widened. “Golly!”

“I see you’ve replaced your ‘bum it’ with another inelegant colloquialism,” Missy remarked. 

“A woman may speak as she needs to be heard,” Beatrice said with meaning. 

“You know how to handle the cash register, as I showed you?” Adele asked.

“No one will come in anyway,” said the young woman. “It’s too early.”

“Nevertheless, we must always be ready to serve anyone.” Adele put on her gloves. “We’ll fetch Nin first.”

“Has she appointed herself lady detective too?” Missy eyed her.

“You might consider her the unofficial medium for the police,” Adele said as they emerged from her shop. “She’s helped them a great deal in the past, Missy.”

“I don’t object if she doesn’t,” she said.


About the Author

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with the town’s more conventional ideas about women’s place. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy plant-based dishes.


Social Media Links

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

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

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

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

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

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

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Release Day Blitz for The Mystery of the Golden Cat!

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Title: The Mystery of the Golden Cat

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 4

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: January 28, 2023

For Adele Gossling, Labor Day is about giving voice to progressive reforms such as the eight-hour workday and minimum wage for women. But for business owners in Arrojo, California, Labor Day is about making money. City slickers flock to the country seeking holiday deals they can’t get in San Francisco or Sacramento. What better way to celebrate than with bargains and the community picnic?

What they don’t know is there’s a thief in town. He’s already succeeded in getting away with burglarizing business owners in neighboring towns and the county police can’t seem to get their hands on him.

Who is stealing gold trinkets from the shops in Arrojo, California? Is it the dandified Mr. Lyman? The town’s junk collector and pariah, Zephyr Brown? or is it someone or something beyond their wildest imagination?

What reviewers are saying about the series:

“Great new series!”

“Characters come alive!”

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price at the following online retailers.


Excerpt

Hatfield said, “I’m sure your brother told you about the reports we’ve received from my friend Sheriff Hill about thefts they’ve had in Sacramento.”

“But that’s far away from here.”

“Not far enough, Del.” Jackson folded the paper on the crease and laid it down. “Last week, we had a few thefts in some of the towns in this county.”

“Vargas was the first,” Hatfield said. “And yesterday, we received a dispatch from Wells Fargo that Rosa Gris and Blue Springs reported items missing from some of their shops.”

“That’s ghastly!” Her cup dropped to the table, missing the saucer. Tomas mumbled his dismay in soft Spanish. “No one was hurt, I hope?”

“The thief is only interested in valuables, not people,” said Jackson. “There have been no reports of violence.”

“Still — it’s horrible to think —” She took another slice of toast from the holder, feeling her hand shaking.

Hatfield drew his hand toward the edge of the table between them. Adele’s shoulders gave a quick flinch, though she knew the sheriff would never take liberties. But there was something in the man’s gaze, his mouth closed but his eyes large and almost innocent, that gave her the feeling of being in a too-intimate corner with him just then.

“Perhaps Nin and I should warn the Bridge Street merchants before Monday,” she suggested. “From one shop owner to another.”

Silence buzzed around her, muting the brilliant blue sky to gray. Even the pair of doves nesting on the gazebo hushed up their morning song. 

“We’ll be very discreet, of course,” she continued, her voice less assured. “We’ll ask to speak to them in private.”

The sheriff cleared his throat. “I’m afraid you can’t do that, Adele.”

“Why can’t we?”

“Because,” Hatfield said, “the town council refused to allow it when I suggested it.”

“Refused!”

“They want us to keep it quiet, Del,” said her brother. “We shouldn’t have even told you.”

The butter knife slipped from her hand and scraped against her empty plate. Tomas darted forward, mumbling in Spanish, glancing around to see if anything had been broken. “That’s perfectly ridiculous! Why for heaven’s sake?”

“They believe it would cause ‘unnecessary panic’ and ‘soil the potential prospects for prosperity in our good town’,” Hatfield grumbled. “Those were Mrs. Faderman’s words. They all agreed with her, of course.”

“They didn’t have much choice,” Jackson remarked. 

Adele threw down her napkin. “So that’s what you meant when you said their behavior borders on negligence! That civic pride of hers has blinded her again!”

“Not to mention made her deaf and dumb,” Hatfield said dryly.

Adele rose, pacing the veranda. “Her behavior doesn’t border on the negligent, Sheriff. It is negligent. Even criminal!”

“Really, Del,” her brother mumbled. “Must you always exaggerate?”

“What else would you call it, Jack?” She insisted. “She’s prepared to risk what could be a mess of thieves roaming in our midst.”


About the Author

As soon as Tam May started her first novel at the age of fourteen, writing became her voice. She writes engaging, fun-to-solve cozy mysteries set in the past. Her mysteries empower readers with a sense of “justice is done” for women, both dead and alive. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and feature sassy suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling. Tam has also written historical fiction about women defying the emotional and psychological confinements of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in Texas because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy vegetarian dishes in her kitchen. 


Social Media Links

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

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

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

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

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

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

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🥳Release Day Blitz for Death At Will!🥳

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Title: Death At Will

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 3

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: October 29, 2022

Teddy Roosevelt is running for president and even Arrojo can’t deny progressive reforms are here to stay. Rebecca Gold, one of the era’s New Women, chooses just this time to set up her own law practice in Arrojo and lands the affluent Thea Marsh as her first client.

When Thea dies unexpectedly, the trail of suspects leads to her own family. The beloved and favored eldest son, Theo, is accused of the crime. Could such a placid man really be guilty of matricide?

The police think so. So Rebecca turns to her new friend in town: businesswoman and fellow suffragist Adele Gossling. Adele has already proven herself to be adept at helping the local police solve crimes, much to the shock and chagrin of the town’s conservative citizens. Despite promises never to involve herself in crime detection again, how can she refuse a friend in need?

Will Adele make a case against Theo’s guilt for the police out of a stained teacup, a fountain pen nib, ashes that should have been in the fireplace, and daisies that should have been fresh? Or will Theo go to the gallows and the real murderer escape justice?

“The characters are true to life, and the early methods used in criminal detection are fun to read.” – Amazon reviewer

What reviewers are saying:

“Entertaining page-turner!”

“Intrigue that will draw you in and make you want more.”

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price at the following online retailers.


Excerpt

Within fifteen minutes, her brother sauntered into the shop, the silver deputy sheriff’s badge shining in the sunlight. “All right, Del, why the hush-hush?” 

“Does the sheriff know you’re here?”

“I told him I was going to the Bush farm to check on that stolen horse,” he said, amused. “Those girls of yours insist you have a murderer locked in your storeroom.”

Adele laughed. “I’m afraid they let their imaginations run away with them. No, no murderer, Jack.”

“Not yet,” Nin said.

“Are we playing guessing games now, Miss Branch?” he asked in a stiff tone.

“I never guess, Mr. Gossling,” she answered. “I take evil and death in any way it comes.”

He crossed his arms, looking at his sister. “Well?”

She told him all Rebecca had said about her employer’s death as the woman sat silently with her hands in her lap. It was as if Jackson’s badge made her nervous again.

He looked at Rebecca. “It would be better, Miss Gold, if you would tell the sheriff of your suspicions, just as my sister suggested.”

“I promised Theo I wouldn’t,” she insisted. “I promised him there wouldn’t be any scandal.”

“But if Thea Marsh didn’t die of natural causes —”

“I didn’t say that wasn’t true!” she insisted. “I merely said I had a feeling about it.”

He sighed. “I understand your trepidation. But there’s a procedure to these things, you know.”

“Fiddlesticks!” Nin burst out. “Don’t you believe in helping a friend?” Rebecca gave her a grateful look.

“When there’s no crime involved, I’m the first to help anybody,” Jackson’s tone was crusty. “But if there is a crime—”

Adele took his arm. “We need your professional and astute eye, Jack. If there is nothing in it, no harm done. If there is something, Rebecca will convince the family to go through the proper channels.”

“They won’t have much of a choice,” he remarked.

“Then you have no reason to object a look around Mrs. Marsh’s room, do you?” She gave him a sharp look. 

“I have no objection as long as there is a method to it,” he insisted. “One simply can’t go bursting into a room with a magnifying glass hollering ‘murder afoot!’”

“Don’t tell me the Anspatches never entered a room permission.” She eyed him.

He looked away and she was sorry she had spoken. But then, he said, “I suppose it can’t do any harm to look around as long as the family consents, and we’re very careful. But only if we have their full consent, Del.”

“That you have, deputy,” Rebecca said in a relieved tone.

And I have your full promise if there is anything in the least suspicious, you go to the sheriff.”

“You have my promise.” She bowed.

About the Author

As soon as Tam May started her first novel at the age of fourteen, writing became her voice. She writes engaging, fun-to-solve cozy mysteries set in the past. Her mysteries empower readers with a sense of “justice is done” for women, both dead and alive. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and feature sassy suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling. Tam has also written historical fiction about women defying the emotional and psychological confinements of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in Texas because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy vegetarian dishes in her kitchen.

Social Media Links

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

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

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

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

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

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

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