Book Party for THE CLIENT’S WIFE

cover-The Clients Wife2Yes, I went to a book par­ty last week, and I tell you—Thomas Wig­gin knows how to par­ty. Big room with chairs set up—check. A show­ing of a full movie—check. Cook­ies and popcorn—check. Adult beverages—yeah! Cof­fee and tea, sure—but choice of wine as well as mar­ti­nis, both gin and vodka—check! And, icing on the cake—the read­ing of a scene by the author who made it come alive. (After all, he had a long stint as a star­ring actor of both day­time and night­time TV—not to men­tion writ­ing episodes of the day­time dra­ma, then per­form­ing a one-man show he wrote.)

Of course, that’s beside the point. The impor­tant part of a book par­ty author signing 2is the book. And, get­ting a new slant on the where, why, and how of the author’s inspi­ra­tion and car­ry-through of that book.

Thomas Wig­gin was inspired by his par­ents, the Gersh­win music they loved, and the Nick and Nora Charles movies of the 1930s. So how did those things all come togeth­er?

Mr. Wig­gin had an answer for that. In those old movies, Nick and Nora had a son, Nick, Jr. What we didn’t know is that Nick, Jr. was not into the detec­tive scene, but his daugh­ter Emma was. Yes, Emma Charles spent time with her grand­par­ents. She learned to love Gersh­win, inves­ti­ga­tions, and mar­ti­nis. As the book, The Client’s Wife begins, Emma has left her job with the police depart­ment and has begun her own detec­tive agency. All she needs is to find a man who appre­ci­ates the fin­er things of life. Gersh­win, good Eng­lish, and the kind of rela­tion­ship her grand­par­ents had. (All this, of course, while solv­ing crime cas­es.)

I’ve only start­ed read­ing my new, signed copy of The Client’s Wife. It’s head­ing toward my five-star cat­e­go­ry.

 

Battle of St. Leonard Creek — 1814

St Leonards Creek MD mapWhen I think of war in the days of sail­ing ships, I envi­sion bat­tles on the ocean. For the War of 1812, I must include the large estu­ary of Chesa­peake Bay and even deep rivers. But a bat­tle on a creek? Espe­cial­ly a creek that fam­i­ly sail­boats and cruis­ers might anchor in for an overnight ren­dezvous? (More espe­cial­ly, one where my hus­band and I met with oth­er boaters for a friend­ly week­end.) But in June of 1814, it did hap­pen.

The British con­trolled Chesa­peake Bay, allow­ing lit­tle trade with St Leonards battleoth­er coun­tries. In an attempt to open the bay, for­mer pri­va­teer, Com­modore Joshua Bar­ney took his fleet of eigh­teen small gun boats, barges, and sloops down the bay. He was able to harass the British ships, then escape into small­er trib­u­taries. Barney’s Chesa­peake Flotil­la clashed with the British from June sixth to the twen­ty-sixth, end­ing that day where the Patux­ent Riv­er meets the mouth of St. Leonard Creek. (Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Muse­um, the unnamed green sec­tion in the cen­ter of the map above. is locat­ed at the site and com­mem­o­rates the bat­tle.)

Dur­ing the ensu­ing bat­tle Bar­ney, with 360 sailors and 120 marines held off an over­whelm­ing force that bet­tered him ten to one. One source says that Pres­i­dent Madi­son, him­self, took con­trol of the land forces when Bar­ney was severe­ly injured. After four hours, beat­en, they retreat­ed. Had they won, they might have pre­vent­ed the burn­ing of Wash­ing­ton.

Note: Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Muse­um coop­er­at­ed with a mid­dle school in a UTube video of a pre­sen­ta­tion of Com­modore Barney’s tale of the bat­tle.

War of 1812 in St. Michaels

cover-St Michaels bookSt. Michaels, Md. calls itself “The Town That Fooled The British.” Dur­ing the War of 1812, there were as many as six ship­builders in and near St. Michaels. One ship they pro­duced was a fast schooner (lat­er known as the Bal­ti­more clip­per). These ves­sels were well suit­ed for out­run­ning pirates or for­eign naval ves­sels at sea. A mil­i­tary bat­tery was sta­tioned at St. Michaels to pro­tect the town and the ship­yards. On August 10, 1813, the British attacked. How­ev­er, the res­i­dents had turned off any lights in their homes and hung lanterns high in the trees. As a result, most of the can­non balls sailed over and beyond the vil­lage. One house  was hit by a can­non­ball. It went through the roof, and bounced down the stairs next to a child sit­ting there. (She told all about it in lat­er years.) There are oth­er sto­ries of that time in the book—about the women sewing an Amer­i­can flag, about the bat­tle against the mil­i­tary bat­tery, about get­ting infor­ma­tion from a British desert­er, and about a farmer on a near­by island who tried to fool St. Michaels.

Sev­er­al years ago, when my hus­band and I were sail­ing on Chesapeak Bay Maritime museum2Chesa­peake Bay, we often stopped at St. Michaels and tied up in a slip next to the Chesa­peake Bay Mar­itime Muse­um (shown here). Of course, I shopped for sou­venirs. I pur­chased the book­let shown above. The sto­ry is engross­ing. I vowed to write about the War of 1812 some­day. That day arrived in 2013, and my mys­tery is now fin­ished. It is in the process of cov­er design and man­u­script for­mat­ting, to be pub­lished this sum­mer. So, I haven’t hit exact­ly 200 years from 1813, when the St. Michaels inci­dent occurred, but the war offi­cial­ly end­ed in 2015. Short­ly, For­got­ten Body, the sec­ond in the Jo Durbin Mys­ter­ies, will be pub­lished. It isn’t exact­ly about the war, but it does involve a reen­act­ment of the For­got­ten War of 1812.

 

One Hundred Fifty Years Ago

Lincoln funeral-trainOne hun­dred fifty years ago the coun­try was in mourn­ing. The pres­i­dent, Abra­ham Lin­coln, had been assas­si­nat­ed. His body was tak­en by train from Wash­ing­ton, D.C. to his home state. There were stops along the way at var­i­ous large cities to accom­mo­date the mourn­ers. The train mere­ly passed through small­er cities.

One such city was Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia. On April 22, 1865, at 2:19 p.m. the train arrived in Lan­cast­er. In a tes­ta­ment to the uni­ver­sal grief, with only a total city pop­u­la­tion of 17,000 peo­ple, 20,000 peo­ple crowd­ed beside the tracks for a final farewell. On April 21, 2015, my local newspaper’s front page was cov­ered with the sto­ry, A NATION MOURNS. A sec­ond arti­cle told the sto­ry of the 15-year old boy who was at the the­ater with his father the night Lin­coln was killed.

Route of Lincoln Funeral Train

Route of Lin­coln Funer­al Train

Besides that eye-wit­ness report, I learned what local dig­ni­taries were watch­ing, the descrip­tion of the train, and that Lincoln’s son, Cap­tain Robert Lin­coln, was in one of the cars. The cas­ket of Willie, the son who died in 1862, had been dis­in­terred and was in the final car with Lincoln’s cas­ket. He would be buried beside his father.

There were no tweets, no instant mes­sag­ing, no ring­ing cell phones, but the nation heard the news.

Five Stars For THE RAINALDI QUARTET

Rainaldi Quartet coverWish I could give this book six stars! That would be five stars for the sto­ry and the sixth star for the phys­i­cal book. Sure, I love to read e-books as well, but I do love to hold a well-designed, superbly craft­ed trade paper­back, turn the soft pages that lie flat, feel the tex­ture of a love­ly cov­er, and read the unique sans serif type font to fol­low an entranc­ing sto­ry.

On to the sto­ry. The Rainal­di Quar­tet refers to the four men who meet week­ly to play in their home­town of Cre­mona, Italy. Two are luthers (those who make vio­lins) as well as vio­lin play­ers. Rainal­di is one, the oth­er is the nar­ra­tor of the sto­ry, Gian­ni. A priest plays the vio­la and the younger, chief of police plays the cel­lo. But it is Rainal­di, in good spir­its, who choos­es what they will play when the sto­ry opens. And it is Rainal­di who is mur­dered late that night.

The plot fol­lows Gian­ni and the chief of police as they try to deter­mine why their friend was killed, what secret he knew, what papers he had been work­ing on, what amaz­ing event he looked for­ward to. Their search takes them to the Eng­lish coun­try­side, to Venice, and to the ruins of a house burned a cen­tu­ry ago look­ing for doc­u­ments, then look­ing for a rare vio­lin that may or may not exist.

Besides pour­ing over the mys­tery of the book, the read­er will absorb bits of his­to­ry, bits of the mak­ing and restor­ing of rare vio­lins, and espe­cial­ly, the day to day life of an Ital­ian gen­tle­man of a cer­tain age (as they say). Gianni’s mus­ing on his grand­chil­dren vis­it­ing, the chang­ing light on the canals of Venice, and his emo­tions over sud­den death are, sur­pris­ing­ly, every bit as engross­ing as the search for the per­haps myth­i­cal vio­lin and the rea­son behind mur­der.

Although this is placed in cur­rent times, his­to­ry under­lies the plot. And, as an Amer­i­can read­er, I mar­vel at fam­i­lies who “remem­ber” ances­tors of a hun­dred or more years ago, and live in the same home, look­ing at the same por­traits on the wall, and may not be all that impressed by the fame of the vio­lin­ist in their fam­i­ly tree.

 

War of 1812 in Havre de Grace

Havre de Grace in 1813

Havre de Grace in 1813

This com­ing sum­mer my new mys­tery, For­got­ten Body, will be released. Since it cen­ters around a reen­act­ment of the War of 1812, I am shar­ing some of my research. What did the area look like? This dio­ra­ma made to rep­re­sent Havre de Grace at the time shows a sparse­ly set­tled area.

Havre de Grace sits on the shore of the Susque­han­na Riv­er in Mary­land. On May 2, 1813, the British under Admi­ral Cock­burn attacked and burned most of the hous­es in the town. Sev­er­al reports from that time tell the sto­ry. The Admi­ral planned to bypass Havre de Grace until he saw an Amer­i­can flag fly­ing and some­one shot can­non fire. That was prob­a­bly John O’Neill. He stood his ground, fir­ing until the can­non back­fired on him, forc­ing him to leave. How­ev­er, he did join oth­ers with their mus­kets.

O'Neill At The Cannon

O’Neill At The Can­non

The 40 local mili­tia, most­ly old­er men, wise­ly retreat­ed in the face of an over­whelm­ing force after one was killed. John O’Neill was cap­tured. He was to be exe­cut­ed the next day, how­ev­er his 15-year-old daugh­ter rowed out the admiral’s ves­sel to plead for her father’s life. Since she had the papers that proved he was a mil­i­tary offi­cer and not a civil­ian, he was released. The sur­viv­ing arti­cles hint that her come­ly ways and brav­ery affect­ed the admi­ral. In any event, he gave her his gold-mount­ed tor­toise­shell snuff box. (Exact­ly what any teenag­er would love to have.)

Oth­er sto­ries may not have been authen­ti­cat­ed. One I heard was that the admi­ral declined to burn the home of a wid­ow since she had no hus­band fight­ing against Moth­er Eng­land. (I must admit, that is the sto­ry I used in my upcom­ing mys­tery.)

Ques­tion: When the entire sto­ry is a fab­ri­ca­tion, must the his­to­ry be absolute­ly authen­tic?

My answer: Some­times. If the his­to­ry is pre­sent­ed as authentic—you bet your life. I’ll make it as authen­tic as I can. If the his­to­ry is admit­ted­ly augmented—hey the writer/history doesn’t tell every­thing. And, if the his­to­ry is pre­sent­ed as a fabrication—go for it! (I under­stand that was the think­ing behind Uni­corn West­erns.)

What is your answer?

America At War-1812

My Thurs­day series on the War of 1812 con­tin­ues.

President Madison

Pres­i­dent Madi­son

They called it Pres­i­dent Madison’s War. It was a war to free the impos­si­ble con­di­tions on the Atlantic Ocean—Britain seiz­ing ships and con­script­ing sailors, while both Britain and France declared our ship­ments ille­gal. The coun­try was deep in depres­sion with the Pres­i­dent for­bid­ding trade across the ocean. Although also ille­gal, com­merce con­tin­ued to the north, across the Great Lakes with Cana­da.

But the lack of com­merce and the result­ing Amer­i­can finan­cial depres­sion wasn’t the only rea­son many in the Unit­ed States favored war. Some want­ed to over­come the advan­tage the British had with the Indi­ans who often joined Eng­lish forces against the Unit­ed States. Oth­ers were look­ing to grab land, to add farmable acres, specif­i­cal­ly Cana­da and Flori­da. Thomas Jef­fer­son is said to have remarked that cap­tur­ing Cana­da was, “a mere mat­ter of march­ing.”  There were areas of Cana­da large­ly pop­u­lat­ed by Amer­i­cans. Mean­while, Eng­land believed that Cana­da was ade­quate­ly pro­tect­ed. The Unit­ed States did bat­tle with Cana­di­an and British forces, with vic­to­ries going each way.

One notable Amer­i­can vic­to­ry was at Put-In-Bay when Amer­i­can Com­modore Oliv­er Haz­ard Per­ry turned pos­si­ble defeat into vic­to­ry and cap­tured an entire British fleet. His report became famous. “We have met the ene­my and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”

Even­tu­al­ly, how­ev­er, the Amer­i­can attack was defeat­ed. The Amer­i­cans in Cana­da didn’t ral­ly around their for­mer coun­try­men. They only want­ed to be left alone. They prob­a­bly num­bered among those who were unit­ed by the Cana­di­an vic­to­ries into the coun­try that, in 2012 cel­e­brat­ed their two hun­dredth anniver­sary of vic­to­ry against their south­ern neigh­bors.

Dur­ing much of 1812, most British ships were too involved fight­ing France to wor­ry about our east coast. The only for­ti­fi­ca­tions on both sides were along our North­ern board­er with Cana­da. Life went on as usu­al on most of the Atlantic coast. Var­i­ous civil­ian mili­tia formed along the water­front and in towns and vil­lages. How­ev­er, no Unit­ed States mil­i­tary forces were placed on Chesa­peake Bay.

The Forgotten War

This year, 2015, marks the 200th anniver­sary of the last bat­tle of the War of 1812. Note that I didn’t say this is two hun­dred years since the end of the War of 1812, because that offi­cial­ly came on Decem­ber 24, 1814, when The Treaty of Ghent was signed. But that was in Europe, and with­out twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry com­mu­ni­ca­tion, such as cell phones, radio, or even cable mes­sages, the news had to wait until a ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Why am I inter­est­ed in that bit of his­to­ry? My next book revolves around a reen­act­ment of the War of 1812, so I did a bit of research for inci­den­tal com­ments as my char­ac­ters speak. I want­ed to know what was true, although some of my char­ac­ters may not know the real facts. But why did I choose that time to reen­act instead of the more com­mon Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War or the Civ­il War?

That’s anoth­er sto­ry.

My hus­band and I spent a lot of time sail­ing on Chesa­peake Bay. We stopped at var­i­ous ports and I shopped the local gift shops. They always had a book about the local his­to­ry, which includ­ed the War of 1812 and bat­tles on Chesa­peake Bay. I read up on those bat­tles. The burn­ing of Havre de Grace. How the peo­ple of St. Michaels fooled the British. The defeat of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and the burn­ing of the White House. The suc­cess­ful bat­tle at Bal­ti­more. So I knew when I wrote the next book my char­ac­ter, Jo Durbin would be involved in a reen­act­ment of the For­got­ten War. Of course, there’s a For­got­ten Body.

And, while the sub­ject is fresh in my mind, I’ll spend the next few Thurs­days telling bits of Amer­i­can his­to­ry that changed the lives of our ances­tors (and, even­tu­al­ly, our lives as well).

Why did we go to war with Britain? What hap­pened back in 1803-07? The Unit­ed King­dom (Eng­land) and Napo­lian­ic France went to war against each oth­er. Nei­ther side want­ed Amer­i­can sup­plies to reach the oth­er. They both declared it ille­gal for Amer­i­can ships to deliv­er goods to the oth­er. Which, they fig­ured, made it per­fect­ly okay to seize ships defy­ing their laws. France seized 206 Unit­ed States flag ships, but Eng­land seized 528 Amer­i­can ships. Not only that, but Eng­land seized around 6,000 men from our ships and put them to work on their ships, often claim­ing they were real­ly AWOL from British ships. They also bar­ri­cad­ed Amer­i­can ports.

In 1811, Pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son decid­ed the only way to solve that Henry Clayprob­lem was to for­bid the Amer­i­can com­pa­nies from ship­ping any­thing any­where. Con­gress agreed. That put the whole coun­try into a finan­cial depres­sion. Not hard to imag­ine what came next. Ful­ly half the old con­gress was vot­ed out. The old guard was replaced by the young War Hawks. Hen­ry Clay became the new Speak­er of the House, a posi­tion, until then mere­ly as a pre­sid­ing offi­cer. Under Hen­ry Clay the office became one of par­ty lead­er­ship, as it is now. (That would be the Demo­c­ra­t­ic- Repub­li­cans, before the par­ty split. The oth­er par­ty was the Fed­er­al­ists.)

So Amer­i­ca went to war against Great Britain. Amer­i­ca was com­plete­ly unpre­pared for war.

 

Free e-book—A KNUCKLEHEAD IN 1920s ALASKA

A Knucklehead in 1920s AlaskaEvery Thurs­day I post some­thing I find inter­est­ing, hop­ing you will too. So, today’s inter­est­ing bit is about tomorrow—which is when one of my e-books goes free for five days.

File it under both his­to­ry and mys­tery. The his­to­ry part is easy. The book is one I wrote with my father from audio tapes he gave me quite a few years ago about going to Alas­ka to earn col­lege mon­ey.  He was nine­teen, a hot-head­ed kid who didn’t want to take any guff. Of course, guff is often what one gets from an employ­er, so he had a lot of dif­fer­ent jobs. He failed to blow him­self up car­ry­ing dyna­mite. He failed to drown when he and a horse end­ed up under the ice in a near-freez­ing riv­er. He even man­aged to sur­vive danc­ing with what they referred to as “a woman on the line” when her boyfriend showed up. In fact, after I heard my father’s adven­tures, I real­ized that it’s a mar­vel I was ever born. That’s the his­to­ry part.

The mys­tery part is at the tail end of this book, sort of a Thank You for reading—a reprint of my first short mys­tery, “Yesterday’s News” pub­lished in Future’s Mys­te­ri­ous Mys­tery Mag­a­zine sev­er­al years ago.

A Knuck­le­head in 1920s Alas­ka e-book is avail­able for Kin­dle. The free dates are Feb­ru­ary 27 through March 3, 2015. Do read and enjoy!

Mon­day, I’ll be back here, but I’ll be vis­it­ing Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers too.

Five Stars for MAIDS OF MISFORTUNE

My five-star pick this week com­bines two of my loves—mystery and his­toric fic­tion. Maids of Mis­for­tune takes place in 1879 San Fran­cis­co. A young wid­ow sup­ports her­self as board­ing house own­er Annie Fuller, and, in dis­guise, as psy­chic Sibyl who gives per­son­al and finan­cial advice to clients. As a woman, she knows that no one would ever accept such advice from her, but they will accept it as com­ing from the stars. When one of her clients dies, sup­pos­ed­ly by sui­cide, she knows his finances weren’t in the sham­bles the police claim. When the police real­ize it was mur­der, they look to his fam­i­ly. Annie pos­es as a serv­ing girl for the fam­i­ly to find the truth.

The author, M. Louisa Locke, seam­less­ly puts the read­er square­ly in that time and place. While we are engrossed in the plot we notice the work involved to keep up a house, the atti­tudes of every­one toward a Chi­nese cook, Annie’s belat­ed real­iza­tion of what her laun­dry girl does, and the prob­lems of trav­el and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in an ear­li­er age.

Maids of Mis­for­tune is the first of a series (the ebook is now free). There are sev­er­al short sto­ries as well. The fourth full-length mys­tery in the series will be out this month.

Of inter­est to the writ­ers among my read­ers, M. Louisa Locke’s blog shares her ongo­ing mar­ket­ing plans for an inde­pen­dent writer. (Next week I’ll revis­it the upcom­ing Agatha awards with anoth­er good read.)