Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Tortoise


            In my new release "Bespoke" (the first in a series of Victorian mysteries), Detective Inspector Deverell has just been promoted and sent north to Yorkshire, where he is expected to benefit from some well-earned rest and recuperation -- whilst also solving crimes, of course.

            Over the past few years, Deverell has not only been stabbed and shot at in the line of duty, but has suffered great tragedy in his personal life. Somehow he survives, plodding onward determinedly, and throws himself into work. He's a private man who keeps his troubles to himself and prefers to deal with problems alone, on his own terms. One day, he thinks wistfully, he'll retire somewhere south, where the climate is milder, so he can grow fruit trees. But that is all far off in the future and he's a realist. With the way his life has gone lately he knows he'll probably never make it that far.

 
           The "powers-that-be" believe a sojourn in Yorkshire will give Deverell a chance to get his breath back, away from London's grim streets and the busy world of Scotland Yard. But Deverell suspects he's simply in the way at the moment and nobody knows what to do with him. Truth is, he was not expected to pull through after being left for dead in an alley, shot by an assailant. When he survived not only the bullet but the surgeon's knife and a stay in hospital— nothing short of a miracle itself in late Victorian London— returning to work as if nothing much had happened, he took everybody by surprise. They'd already given his desk and chair to another man. Packing him off to the "wilds" of Yorkshire, therefore, was the best solution they could come up with -- that and a hasty promotion, of course, to make him think it was planned all along. Just part of his career trajectory.

            So there he is, sent to investigate some blackmail letters lately received by one Ezra Welford, wealthy, self-made businessman, who also happens to be a member of the same London gentleman's club frequented by the police commissioner. Welford has complained that the local police are incompetent and he wants one of Scotland Yard's finest to take the matter in hand. When Detective Inspector Deverell arrives and begins to work with his slow, meticulous methods— including an eccentric fixation on the most insignificant of details, Welford thinks he's been sent a dud and he's not best pleased. He's not the only one. The local people are distrustful of strangers, especially "foreigners", and Deverell, with his darker, dangerously exotic looks stands out like a sore thumb in the Yorkshire Dales. As for the local police, they are mostly resentful of the suggestion that they need anybody from London to show them how to do their jobs. It looks like another uphill climb for Deverell. Never mind. He's used to those. In fact, if he was ever welcomed somewhere with open arms and smiles he'd only be exceedingly suspicious. He doesn't much care what these folk think of him. He merely plans to bide his time here until his bosses decide he is mentally and physically fit to return to his duties at Scotland Yard. He'll get by; he always does. He's not expecting fireworks and fanfare.
 
He knows everybody calls him The Tortoise and not always with fondness.

            But when blackmail turns into a case of murder and the corpses start piling up, it soon becomes clear that Deverell, with a steady, methodical brain to untie all the knots, is the best man for the job after all. He'll even surprise himself, just when he thought such a thing was quite impossible.

            And he'll discover a few other new things about himself. Including the fact that he has a sweet tooth.

* * * *

Read more about Detective Inspector Deverell on February 20th! Stay tuned to this blog for an exclusive excerpt from "BESPOKE" next week. Have a great weekend, my lovelies!

 (Image: Self portrait by the artist Charles Wesley Jarvis 1812-1868. It was impossible to find a close likeness of D.I. Deverell, so this one must suffice, despite its lack of "exotic" features. And yes, the clothes are a little outdated for Deverell, but he's never been very aware of fashion and has not looked at himself in a mirror in thirty plus years, so you'll have to forgive him. Personally, I think he'd like this portrait since it looks so little like him. He can continue with his desire to go unrecognized and we have thrown you utterly off the scent.)

           

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Rebel in Scarlet Gloves


Suspect: Miss Lucy Greenwood, creator of bespoke cakes for special occasions. (Part-time sleuth)

Age: 28

             As the daughter of a cook, Lucy grew up with a love for baking. From a young age she learned how talent in the kitchen can make a person valuable to any household and much sought after by employers. But she is also far too independent and stubborn to stand being given orders for long, so she has spread her wings, invested her savings and opened her own shop—"Bespoke Temptations" in York. Here she makes marvelous creations to order and also serves tea, coffee and chocolate in a little tasting room where ladies can sample her cake and enjoy a quiet gossip without a male escort. It is the first shop of its kind in this part of the country and one of the very few anywhere that welcomes unaccompanied women.

        
    But her revolutionary ideas are not appreciated by everybody in that town. In fact, the other tradesmen on her street take offence at this attractive young woman, in business for herself, brazenly pushing her way into their exclusive little group. The outside of her shop is decorated with a sophisticated sort of subtlety that only hints at the delights within (no, they would certainly never enter the place to see for themselves) and the bow window is swathed in rich silk curtains, parted just wide enough to reveal a careful arrangement of dainty, mouthful-sized, chocolate and strawberry pink, fondant cakes. But beyond that tempting offering, nothing more can be seen of what goes on behind the curtains. Her male neighbors would prefer to keep women in their place, out of the business world and certainly not wandering around town without the protective guidance of a gentleman companion. As far as they're concerned, everything about this haughty cake shop proprietress --including her modern, independent manners, exotic ingredients (yes, she's been known to use coconut)and elegant, secretive draperies -- suggests wickedness afoot.
 
Certainly nothing about this woman or her cakes can be called plain. The turmoil she's created simply by moving in to the premises on Charles Place is little short of anarchy.

            They know nothing about her past or where she came from, but one look at her striding proudly down the street in one of her fashionable outfits is enough to start the rumor mill churning. They've heard she's a member of the Rational Dress Society and that she attends lectures by the National Society for Women's Suffrage. That's bad enough, but she also reads popular novels without hiding the covers. She carries them boldly in the street, alone, holding these scandalous books in her scarlet leather-clad hands. There is simply no excuse for it.

     
       Their wives feel much the same about Lucy Greenwood. She is an unmarried woman with no apparent desire for a husband and an equal disdain for gossip. So how can she fit in with them? She dresses far too fashionably. What's more, they hear from the postmaster's wife that she orders expensive, fancy, lace underthings from Lockreedy & Velder's Emporium in London. What, exactly, does she need them for, if there is no man in her life to see them?

            Surely these extravagances do not fit with her membership of the Rational Dress Society— a group that means to be rid of corsets altogether.

            They simply cannot make her out.

            Crimson gloves, lurid novels and decadent amounts of lace, indeed! This is Charles Place, the finest parade of gentlemen's shops in York, not the Montmarte in Paris.

            Just who does this prim miss think she is?

            Finally, we come to the name of her shop; the very apex of her mischief.

            Bespoke Temptations? As Detective Inspector Deverell thinks before he's even met the young lady accused of poisoning the victim, Now that was trouble, if ever he'd heard of it.

And he is soon to find out how very right he is.
           

* * * *

Get to know the mysterious Lucy Greenwood on February 20th, or pre-order today!

(Images used here: Public domain graphic of Victorian lady and "Plain chocolate caramels" c. early 20th century recipe book. Also author's own photograph of her gloves. Photo of cake -- and, indeed, cake itself-- provided by author's sister)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Fred and Flora's St. Valentine's Day Special

From today and for a limited time,
in celebration of St. Valentine,
you can find a treat online,
so grab it now, while there's still time!

For a loved one, or for yourself
there is no need to search a shelf
click a button and please your mate
'Tis better than roses and choco-late

Show her that you do adore her
As Duke Fred does his Lady Flora
I promise the start of a great amore!
'cos with this book you'll never bore 'er.

(Yikes.)

But now that I have your attention with my dreadful attempt at poetry, you can pick up an e-book copy of the Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora for a bargain price online. So surprise a loved one -- or yourself! It's thrifty AND romantic, who can complain about that?

Get you Valentine Special here! Or go to your Amazon/ Barnes and Noble/ Smashwords etc. to find Lady Flora and her shockingly pink toes.


* * * *

When a playful and blindfolded Lady Flora Chelmsworth collides, literally, with the arrogant and staid Duke of Malgrave— subsequently manhandling his person and mistaking him for a hat stand—it is not an auspicious beginning. Assuming she hasn't made the best of impressions, therefore, Flora is shocked and alarmed when he soon proposes marriage. With her troubles, she can only decline the offer.

For one thing, she's not the woman he thinks she is. For another, she's not even sure that she knows who she is. Her past, as she remembers it, contains blood-thirsty pirates, Covent Garden concubines and a babe in a hatbox. And that's just the beginning. Or one of them. It wouldn't be fair to marry this very proper and painfully dignified gentleman, whose life is loaded with duties and responsibilities, his past free of mystery, scandal and misadventure.

Rejected by the impertinent chit, his pride wounded, Malgrave should forget this curious bump in his usually well-planned path. Unfortunately, getting ahead of himself—unaccustomed to refusal—he has prematurely commissioned her palm-sized portrait. Anonymously, of course, for discretion's sake. Now, hidden in some secret place, where only he shall ever see it, her replica will serve as both a reminder of that humiliating mistake and a caution against similar temptations.

Little does he know that Lady Flora's miniature portrait will also one day bring her spinning back to his arms. From a far greater distance than he could ever imagine. Several hundred years, in fact.




Monday, February 11, 2019

What did the bees know?


Suspect: Mrs. Hazel Carruthers, Housekeeper

Age: Various reports. Unconfirmed.

             She has been the housekeeper at Welford Hall for only six months and already made an enemy of the "toplofty" butler. There is no love lost between the two head members of staff and Carruthers has been heard to say that she will "swing for that butler one of these days". He's accused her of deliberately killing off the bees in one of her ladyship's hives, as well as eavesdropping at doors and stealing wine from his cellar. But Lady Isolda wanted to give Carruthers — a widow with impeccable references from her former life in service— another chance. Thus the butler has not been able to get rid of the housekeeper he despises.

            Not yet, in any case.

          
Little is known about Hazel Carruthers, other than small snippets she has shared with other staff, such as her unhappy childhood in the workhouse. And most of her stories they don't fully believe, for she's told so many of them and seldom the same one twice. Now she's gone off— with no notice— to visit her sister-in-law in Cleethorpes. At least, that's where she's gone according to one version she told.

            She's unpredictable and tends to do whatever she wants, much to the butler's steadily building rage. If she fails to return, he's certainly one who will celebrate heartily.

            But her association with Welford Hall and its inhabitants is not yet over. She just might be plotting her return, a prank, and a little bit of vengeance.

            Carruthers may, or may not have killed off one of Lady Isolda's hives, but she definitely has a bee in her bonnet about something.

            Find out what on February 20th. Pre-order now!

 

(Image used here: The Fur Jacket by Joseph DeCamp 1910)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Husband


Suspect: Ezra Welford

Age: 69

            Wealthy businessman, Ezra Welford, made his fortune with confectionary, producing popular toffee, pastilles, chocolates, caramel and humbugs in his York factory and selling it in stores all over the country. Despite his financial success, however, Ezra feels incomplete without a knighthood. For several years now he has been angling for that acclaim, but to no avail. Unfortunately, he is not a man of good manners, patience, grace or dignity, and since he so stubbornly believes that he is always in the right, he cannot be taught. His desperate, clumsy efforts to fit in with aristocratic society tend to push his chances of ever being accepted by them even farther away.

            He married Lady Isolda Skefflington when she was eighteen and newly returned after four years living in Bermuda with her half-brother, the Marquess of Skefflington. She was everything Ezra wanted in a wife -- elegant, connected, impeccably well-mannered and of ancient pedigree. The Skefflingtons have an entire page in Burke's Peerage. So he fully expected their marriage to open more doors and smooth his upward path.

          
  Much to Ezra's aggravation, however, things have not quite turned out the way he planned. Everybody loves and admires Lady Isolda, but her husband still struggles for respect from the upper classes. Adding to his frustration, the three children she gave him have turned out most disappointingly, causing him nothing but indigestion. The grand manor house he built on land purchased from the Marquess of Skefflington is widely mocked as ugly and pretentious, and, to be frank, since he has nothing in common with his fine lady wife, her noble presence at his side is little more than salt in his wound, a reminder of his own failures and everything he will never be.

            Isolda is still, after more than forty years of marriage, something of a mystery to her husband. Her frail health irritates him, because he sees it as an excuse to avoid his company— a suspicion enlarged by her ladyship's preference for certain members of staff to whom she confides. His children are ungrateful, unhappy and show him little respect, and the household staff, he's quite sure, look down their noses at him. He is, in many ways, a stranger in his own home, where everything is his wife's "province".

           
Now that she's dead, everything will change. Could something have happened during the garden party, in the festering heat of that afternoon, to put him over the edge?  The guests on his lawn were drinking champagne, but Ezra, preferring something less sweet, bubbly and "fancy", sent the stuck-up butler indoors for a bottle of port. It might not be the proper time of day for his favorite tipple and it might not look refined, but on this hot day he was beyond caring. He decided he would drink what he wanted to drink, eat what he wanted to eat, say whatever he wanted to say, and they could all put up with it. Or leave.

            There comes a time in every man's life when he's simply had enough.

            Perhaps this was Ezra's day.

 

BESPOKE is available now for pre-order!

 

(Image used here: Portrait of Frank Duveneck by Joseph DeCamp 1916 and Still Life: Two glasses of red wine, a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and a plate of biscuits on a tray by Albert Anker)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Nurse and the Knight


Suspect: Imogen Welles, Nurse

Age: Forty

             Nurse Welles was hired to look after and manage Lord Percival, Lady Isolda's younger brother, who can be quite a handful. She is a no-nonsense sort with a dry sense of humor and a resting expression that seems steeped in vinegar. But something about her self-complacent smirk suggests she knows more about the family secrets and sins than she's letting on.

            Whatever she knows, Nurse Welles protects her information as a crypt-keeper guards bones. She steers clear of the servants' hall to avoid all the petty squabbles, and lives in Lord Percy's rooms on an upper floor of the house in what used to be the nursery.

      
      It is evident that the nurse sees herself as superior to all other staff and, indeed, to most of the Welfords too. According to the butler, she has ingratiated herself with the lady of the house by freely supplying certain remedies for anxieties and headaches, as well as providing a confidential and sympathetic ear on occasion. The butler, of course, resents this intrusion, as he has been her ladyship's friend and confident far longer. But Nurse Welles remains unmoved by the butler's dislike and only faintly amused by his jealous fussing. In her eyes she is far above him in consequence and in Lady Isolda's favor.

            After all, two women together can not only share a great many secrets they would never tell a man, they can also complain about things the male gender would never understand.

            As for Lord Percival, she can handle him better than anybody else ever could. The knack, she says, is not to believe a word he utters -- but to presume everything he comes up with is an extension of his make-believe world. Her job is to take care of his practical, daily needs and keep him sheltered from the real world. In other words to keep him "out of the way" where he cannot embarrass the haughty Welfords, who, in actual fact, do a fairly good job of embarrassing themselves.     

 * * * *

Suspect: Lord Percival Skefflington

Age: Fifty-two. (Prefers five and a half. Or twenty-five.)

 
            Percy Skefflington is the younger brother of Lady Isolda and the last child of the fifth Marquess of Skefflington. His elder half-brother Amyas, the current Marquess, resides in Bermuda, where he has lived since before Percy was born. Amyas Skefflington still holds the title, but gave up most of his Yorkshire property when Percy was a boy, selling the land to wealthy, socially ambitious, Yorkshire businessman Ezra Welford.

      
      He might not appear to have much grip on reality, but Lord Percy is very much aware of his proud, noble and ancient Skefflington roots -- just as he knows the Welford family are cuckoos on that land. The old castle on the hill might be in ruins, but Percy still sees it as it used to be, long ago, when brave warriors defended the battlements on behalf of his ancestors. He also imagines himself as a much younger man, armor-clad and ready for war to protect his Skefflington birthright.

            But since marrying into that "common" family of thieves and humbug-salesmen, his sister Isolda has promised to look after Percy. She vows to keep him safe and out of an asylum. She's also promised him that one day, when she's gone, he will inherit secret treasure. Or so he says. Perhaps she simply wanted to keep  him on his best behavior.

            Perhaps it is just another of his fantasies.

            As Nurse Welles remarks, "Lord Percival says a lot of things all day long. Very little of it has anything to do with reality. If I rushed around in response to every statement he makes, I'd never have a moment's peace."

            But the last thing Percy wants is for anybody to be at peace on his land. Not when the usurpers don't belong there.

            Fortunately for them, he is distracted, at present, by what flavor jam he'll have in his sandwiches for tea at three o'clock and that is his most pressing matter.

 
* * * *

 
BESPOKE is now available for pre-order, or pick up your copy on February 20th!

 
(Images used here: Our Nanny by Joseph DeCamp, 1895. Portrait of Lord Percy as a Young Man William of Orange by Antonis Mor, 1555)
 

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Surplus Siblings


Suspects: Master Galahad and Miss Clelia Welford, reluctant brother and sister
Age: 39 and 36 respectively
 
            "I've always been excess. Surplus to requirement," says Galahad, the  youngest Welford son and middle child. "So has Clelia, haven't you, sister dearest?" Referring to their parents, he claims, "They only needed an heir. Lord knows why they had us too."
            Since he has little responsibility or incentive in his life, Galahad drifts along from one aimless pleasure to another. He is a profligate gambler, and not a very lucky one. The need for money is the only reason he comes home to Welford Hall occasionally, but his parents are growing less inclined to  pay off his debts these days.
   
         In fact, on the Sunday of his mother's annual garden party, he was heard asking for money, yet again, first from his father and then his mother.  He was witnessed storming out of the house in a foul mood, shortly before his mother's dead body was discovered in the conservatory. Known to be an irreverent, roguish fellow, who never takes anything seriously unless it threatens his unchallenging, self-absorbed existence, could it be possible that he lashed out that day when his mother put her foot down and refused to give him money?
            Now he's anxious to get back to London and his usual entertainments for Welford Hall, in his opinion, is no better than a mausoleum. He has no love for his elder brother and sister-in-law, no respect for his father and very little tolerance or understanding for his meek sister. Oddly enough, he is a favorite of the cook, Bess Duckworth, who still thinks of him as a cheeky little boy stealing jam tarts from her kitchen. Galahad possesses a certain charm with the ladies when he cares to use it— if he has the energy to put in any effort. But all those years wasted in pointless pursuits have left him directionless, tired with no cause to be and bitter with no real reason.
            There is one thing he prides himself on, however. Galahad Welford is no hypocrite and never hesitates to tell people what he truly thinks of them. Including the members of his family.
 
* * * *
 
            Clelia is the only daughter of the Welfords. At thirty-six she is considered an old maid, well beyond her prime and with no hope of building her own life outside the house in which she has grown up under her mother's watchful, demanding eye. She is very much aware of the fact that everybody in the family regards her as a disappointment, as a plain spinster with no particular purpose. To her brothers she is an inconvenience at best; an embarrassment at worst.    
            She has no formal education, other than training in the skills expected of a society wife and hostess— including music, dancing and light conversation; subjects in which she never excelled and was only ever deemed barely adequate. In her early twenties, there were a few hopes of her finding a husband, but those days are long gone and now she drifts about the house like a lost ghost, preferring, most of the time, not to be noticed.
            Very recently, however, Clelia Welford's life has taken a slight, shy, surprising turn for the better. Afraid that her family might interfere and spoil it for her, she's managed to keep this change a secret. Until her brothers find out and, on the day of the garden party, one of them decides to tell her mother all about it.
            Lady Isolda was a woman who went to great lengths to keep her family away from scandal. So how did she react to the news of her daughter's shocking act of rebellion? And what did Clelia do when confronted? Was she finally pushed to the edge, desperate to end the dreariness of her life as a woman overlooked in that house?
            The Welford siblings may have been raised with every luxury and comfort that great wealth can provide, but they know nothing of parental love and compassion. Their father is mostly disinterested and so absent from their lives that he knows and cares about nothing going on in them. Their mother, however, tried to manage everything and, since she had a hand on the purse-strings, she usually succeeded in curbing their freedom— completely in Clelia's case, and to a certain degree in Galahad's.
            They both dreamed of escaping her reins, but they were chained to her; Galahad by greed, Clelia by fear of the outside world. With the death of Lady Isolda, their lives are about to change, some of those ties to Welford Hall being ripped asunder.
            Did one of them engineer it that way out of desperation? Perhaps they were even in it together?
 
* * * *
 
Look out for "BESPOKE" coming officially to an online bookstore near you on February 20th, 2019. available HERE FOR PRE-ORDER.
 
(Images used here: Portrait of a Young Gentleman by George Dawe 1819 and A Song Without Words by George Hamilton Barrable 1880)