Category Archives: The History of Mystery

True Crime and Criminals

daffodils

Happy First Day of Spring!!

We’re using this “off” week to announce something special for you all.

We’re in the process of gathering the most fascinating tidbits from our archived posts into topic pages.

The first of these are now live under the parent page: True Crime and Criminals.  Check them out!

Sophie Lyons, pickpocket and con woman

Sophie Lyons (1848-1924) thief, pickpocket and con woman

True Crime and Crime-fighters in History by K.B. Owen

The Making of a Psychopath by Kass Lamb

Here are the other parent pages (with some of the topic pages under each) that we will be releasing over the next few months:

Spooky Side Up (Exploring the Paranormal, True Ghost Stories)

Mental Health Musings (Stress Management, Relationships, Self-esteem, etc.)

On Writing (Tips for Writers, Where the Research Takes Us, Conferences, etc.)

On Reading (Book Reviews, Mystery Author Interviews)

So stay tuned! And also check back next week for another interesting mystery author interview with Jenna Harte.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Ides of March: more than the Shakespeare play you read in school

I first heard the phrase “the ides of March” in ninth grade, when we were assigned Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It’s a great play for your average teen, full of intrigue, deceit, betrayal, prophecy, political power, and murder. The soothsayer’s prognostication in the play is now legendary:

Beware the ides of March.

That’s it: short and sweet. Ever notice that most soothsayers in these stories are cryptic old men? A little more information would have been handy for Julius, who was assassinated on the ides of March in 44 B.C.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

How did the old man know? Shakespeare doesn’t say. There were all sorts of divination techniques back then, from ooh to eww. Check out this wikipedia article for the complete list. I like to think it was owl entrails. Just call me old-fashioned. *wink*

Even though we don’t examine entrails (known as extispicy) or watch the peckings of roosters (known as alectromancy) anymore, we continue to look for patterns to make sense of our world. Pattern recognition is hard-wired into us by evolution and has saved us many times in our early survival days. But it’s also tricky. Some patterns are significant, and some are purely coincidental.

I doubt I would have given the ides of March another thought in my lifetime if not for a klutzy mishap in eleventh grade. I broke my ankle on March 15th of that year, slipping on the wet floor in the pool locker room. Even then I didn’t get it, until my mom pointed it out and wrote Beware the Ides of March on my cast. Everyone got a chuckle out of that. I got off easy compared to Caesar, right?

Me and my prom date, 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

Me and my prom date, less than 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

In the decades since, I have managed to get through the ides of March unscathed, and those locker rooms got non-slip mats for the floor, so we’re all good.

A few interesting facts about the Ides of March (Idus Martii):

  • The term “ides” referred to the middle of the month, at the time of the full moon. Based on the Romans’ lunar calendar, the ides were on the 13th for most months of the year and on the 15th in March, May, July, and October.
  • The ides, no matter what the month, were considered a holy day dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter, and commemorated by animal sacrifices.
  • By the oldest Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year; therefore, the ides of March was the new year’s first full moon.
  • In Rome, the ides of March was when one settled debts. Kind of like an IRS tax deadline.

You can see that Caesar’s assassins picked a significant day to do the deed. Here we have the death of Caesar linked to sacrifice, the settling of a debt, starting a new year, and a celebration of the Romans’ most important god. Patterns yet again.

The unluckiness of the ides of March doesn’t end with Caesar’s assassination. Here are some ominous things that have happened in history on March 15th:

  • 1889: cyclone in Samoa destroys six U.S. and German warships docked in the harbor at Apia, killing over 200 sailors.
  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II signs the papers to abdicate his throne, turning over his rule to the Bolsheviks. He and his family are imprisoned and executed.
  • 1939: the Nazis seize Czechoslavakia
  • 1952: record rainfall hits La Reunion (an island in the Indian Ocean), dumping over 73 inches in a 24-hour period.
  • 2003: the World Health Organization issues a world-wide health alert for the emerging SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus. Panicked populations across the globe don surgical masks and close schools.

For the rest of the list, check out this Smithsonian Magazine article.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that March 15th is more unlucky than any other day of the year. At least, I hope not. Crutches are a pain in the neck on the stairs.

Happy Ides,

Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 released a few months ago.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Where the Research Takes Us and a New Release in Historical Mysteries!

by K.B. Owen

I’m so happy to announce the release of the next Concordia mystery.

It seems that, no matter where the lady professor may go, trouble is sure to follow. Not even wedded bliss can stop our intrepid Concordia from getting involved in something dangerous…

When a killer crashes the honeymoon, three’s a crowd…

It’s the summer of 1899, and Professor Concordia Wells—now Mrs. David Bradley—eagerly anticipates their honeymoon in the Hamptons. She has one errand along the way, to visit a former student seeking advice. About a love interest, no doubt.

If only it were that benign. The young lady, now employed as a switchboard operator, inadvertently eavesdropped on a murder plot involving the high finance world of the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club. How to notify the police without losing her position? Before Concordia can think of something, the girl is murdered.

Without proof, the police give little credence to second-hand conspiracy tales. David convinces Concordia to leave the matter to the authorities and go on with their honeymoon. Little do they know that trouble will follow them to their peaceful getaway, and entangle them in secrets and long-standing grudges until they are fighting for their very lives. “’Til death do us part” may happen sooner than the couple ever imagined.

Available on Amazon for Kindle.

I’ll post more purchase links as they go live, including the paperback. Just in time for your holiday relaxation, curled up in a cozy chair on a wintry afternoon! *wink*

I know many of you enjoy the background research behind my books. While writing Unseemly Honeymoon, I needed all sorts of info: 1899 telephone operations, turn-of-the-century honeymoon customs and behaviors, the terrain of the Hamptons area of Long Island, the system of jurisprudence in Suffolk County, and the Long Island RR in 1899 – it’s stops, platforms, and schedules. And then there’s 1899 baseball, yachting, hotels, and theater performances. Fun stuff! I’ll probably be developing some of these as more extensive blog posts down the road. But for now, here are a few fun little facts that I picked up along the way:

Want to read more? Click here.

Happy Holidays,

Kathy
Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 just released.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

‘Tis the Season: 19th century Shoplifters

by K.B. Owen

As “Black Friday” rapidly approaches, the official opening of the holiday shopping season in the U.S., we thought it would be fun/interesting to look at a related activity, past and present.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, retailers lose $13 billion (that’s a 13 with nine zeroes after it!) in merchandise each year.  The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is prime-time for such thefts, when professional and amateur alike hit the crowded stores.

Such was the case in the 19th century, too. According to a December 12, 1897 article in The Sun: 

As soon as the shops become crowded with throngs who go to investigate, admire, and buy their Christmas offerings, shoplifters also turn out en masse. Experience soon teaches them that they can do their most profitable work this season.

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don't you love the nicknames some of these gals have?

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don’t you love the nicknames of some of these gals?

For now, let’s set aside discussion of the amateur shoplifters of the 19th century — wealthy and middle class women, mostly, who often had their charges dropped by the store because they came from a prominent family and/or they were diagnosed with kleptomania (by some accounts brought on by something “menstrual”). Our focus today is on the professionals, also known as “hoisters,” or “h’isters.” There were two kinds of hoisters: the clouters and the pennyweighters. To quote one of the policemen in the article: “These people have more ways of stealing than they have fingers and toes.”

Shoplifters such as Flossie Maitland and May Murray (couldn’t find their pics, sorry), worked together as clouters, with one to distract the clerk and the other to wear the apparatus under her skirt. The clouting apparatus consisted of a hidden band around the waist, to which strong elastic bands are attached. The item to be stolen would be dropped on the floor, and the clouter would stand over it (covering it with her skirt), then stoop down as if she was picking up a hairpin, reaching under her skirts to secure the item beneath the criss-crossed elastic.

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

The Sun article describes May Murray as “‘Big May,’ the most notorious shoplifter in the country.” Policemen in every city had heard of her. When she was caught in New York (after being followed in and out of several stores by police in a nearby cab), they found a 42-inch sealskin coat hidden under her skirt, and two other fur coats beneath the cab seat from the stop at the previous store.

Pennyweighters (both male and female) were thieves who would steal an item and replace it with a cheap copy so its disappearance wasn’t quickly noticed. Jewelry was a typical target. The thieves would scope out the jewelry on display ahead of time and create something close in appearance that could be quickly swapped out.

So, without security cameras or metal detectors, what was a Victorian department store owner to do? The common solution was to hire a detective to keep watch, although some stores, such as Lord & Taylor, denied that they even had a problem with shoplifters.

Surprisingly, some of the private detectives were women. Why? According to a female detective interviewed for The Sun article, “they (store managers) found that men were clumsy at following and arresting women shoplifters.”

Here’s a bit more about this particular lady detective, from the reporter’s point of view (he’s referring to himself in the third person):

shoplifters2

“Things not being what they seem” certainly makes writing mysteries fun!

Have you ever seen someone shoplift an item? Should we bring back store detectives, as opposed to those metal detectors that go off for no good reason when you’re trying to leave the store? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Last Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

portrait by Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1845.

by K.B. Owen

This week marks the anniversary of the death of famous American poet/author/critic Edgar Allan Poe on Oct 7, 1849. Although the cause of his death was vaguely listed as “congestion of the brain,” the root cause is still a mystery. No autopsy was done or death certificate issued.

The circumstances of Poe’s death:

photo by KRichter (CC)

Poe was found in Baltimore near Gunner’s Hall (a tavern being used as a polling place that day) “rather the worse for wear,” according to Joseph W. Walker, the man who discovered him. Poe was able to give him the names of two acquaintances who lived in the area. Walker sent them urgent notes to come and help decide what to do with him. When they came to assess the situation, the general consensus was that Poe was the worse for drink, and they took him to Baltimore’s Washington College Hospital.

Strangely, he was wearing clothing not his own. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:

Poe’s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat” (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 59.)

There wasn’t much that the doctors could do for him other than make him comfortable. Although he briefly regained consciousness at intervals (though never for long enough to explain what happened), he died four days later.

Which leaves us with all kinds of questions: how did he come to be where he was found, and in someone else’s clothes? What happened to him? What killed him?

We know that Poe left Richmond for Philadelphia (some say New York) via boat (one source says the train…arghh, research is a minefield) and arrived in Baltimore on September 28th. However, there is no reliable account of what happened to him between then and when he was found on October 3rd.

Poe’s bitter rival, and 150 years of slander:

Griswold, 1855.

I didn’t realize until my adult years that what I thought I knew about Poe and his death as a high schooler (decades ago, never mind how many, LOL), was shaped by the accounts of Poe at the hands of his most bitter rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold was extremely adept at character assassination, which he had already directed at Poe during his lifetime. But now the floodgates were about to be opened wide….

Read the rest at K.B. Owen Mysteries

 

 

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact. ?

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Introverted Author, the Malice Domestic Convention, and a Giveaway!

Malice Domestic 29

 

by K.B. Owen

To (liberally) paraphrase Austen: it is a truth universally acknowledged, that we introvert authors need to come out of our writing caves from time to time and interact with our fellows.

The Malice Domestic Convention fits the bill nicely for those of us who are mystery author introverts. Malice celebrates mystery fiction written in the cozy style, aka the tradition of Agatha Christie, and has been held yearly in Bethesda, MD since 1989. With its three days of panel discussions, book signings, awards, and social receptions, the convention draws authors and readers alike.

One of many signings, after the crowd had thinned and I could move around.

When I step into the space, I feel as if I’ve rediscovered my tribe. No one bats an eyelash over you bringing your takeout lunch to Luci Zahray’s (otherwise known as the “Poison Lady”) panel on the use of organophosphates to bump off someone (characters, of course). The audience was practically rubbing its hands and cackling with glee as she detailed the symptoms, the lack of a test to detect the compound, the difficulty in reversing the effects, and the ease of access to the poison (any Home Depot or garage sale…also, apparently DDT can still be found at the random garage or yard sale because folks don’t throw out ANYTHING).

Luci Zahray, “Poison Lady.” You can’t see the rat poison and other samples she had on display from this angle, unfortunately.

For the introvert, the nice thing about a convention is you can pick and choose when you want to converse. You can get a lot out of the convention by simply attending the panels and listening (not an option if you are ON the panel, of course, but then you signed up for that, LOL).

The hospitality lounge is a nice place to get yourself some coffee or tea and browse the long tables for bookmarks and promotional goodies that authors set out. I came away with a pen, a set of sticky notes, a disposable flashlight, and a hand mirror…all kinds of cool stuff! I had brought some of my own material for the hospitality tables, too: bookmarks of my Concordia Wells series, along with a basket of peppermint patties and individually wrapped tea bags with my logo sticker/web address on the back of each piece.

It’s hard to see the stickers here, but they were really cute. *wink*

I kept refilling the basket, but there wasn’t a candy or tea bag left by Sunday morning!

In between browsing the dealers’ tables, chatting with folks, getting my books signed, and going to the Agatha Awards dinner, I attended several terrific panels that weekend (there were many more I couldn’t fit in). Here’s a partial list to give you an idea:

  • Malice Go-Round: It’s Like Speed Dating, But With Authors (Attendees sit and relax while pairs of authors come to them, distribute bookmarks–and sometimes chocolate, and describe their series and new releases. Then the moderator calls time, they rotate to another table, our table gets a new pair of authors, and so on. One of my fave events).
  • Making History: Agatha Best Historical Novel Nominees (Authors nominated for the Agatha in the category of best historical novel talk about their books, their research, etc. A fab and funny group!).
  • Murder on the Menu: Food & Mysteries (Several food-themed series authors talked about their inspiration, where they get their recipes, and the funny coincidence of growing up in households where their moms couldn’t cook all that well…maybe compensation for a deprived childhood? *wink*)
  • Poison Lady (Described above).
  • Book’em: Book-Loving Sleuths (Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s amazing how many bookshop mysteries are out there!)
  • Murder Way Back When: U.S. Historicals (Loved hearing about research challenges and successes…I continued the conversation with a couple of the authors afterward, comparing databases we use).
  • Sherlock Lives! (I love reading about the Great Detective, and it was so much fun to listen to the discussion of the current pastiches out there, and all the SH societies).

Panel for best historical Agatha nominees. Catriona McPherson won!

The most meaningful event for me personally was the Mystery Most Historical Signing, held on Friday evening. Mystery Most Historical is this year’s Malice anthology of short stories, and guess what…a story of mine is in it!

“Summons for a Dead Girl” is set in September of 1911 in New York City, months after the devastating Triangle Factory fire, and features spirit medium/con woman Maddy Cartiere. The blurb and opening paragraphs below give you an idea of the story:

***

This book signing was an additional thrill because I was part of a large group of authors (many of them prolific and best sellers) who were also signing. The reader turnout for autographs was amazing, and it was such a privilege to chat with mystery fans while sitting in the company of award-winning authors such as Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Elaine Viets!

Your typical group picture: someone looking away, someone’s eyes closed, someone waving a hand or fussing with something, LOL.

 

Short story author Keenan Powell was signing on my left. Such a nice lady!

To celebrate the release of the anthology, I’m holding an:

Anthology Giveaway

May 9th-23rd

I’ll be giving away five (5) signed paperback copies of Mystery Most Historical!

To help with logistics, I’m using the Gleam giveaway service to keep things organized and randomly select the winners. All you have to do is visit the giveaway page HERE to see your options for entering the drawing. Multiple entries increase your chances:

https://gleam.io/NjmCZ/anthology-giveaway

I’ll notify the winners no later than May 31st, and ask for your street address to ship the book to you. Good luck!

Do you enjoy attending conventions, or do you find them a bit overwhelming? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

Posted by K.B. Owen, misterio press author.

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, she did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts.  Thankfully. Learn more about her historical mysteries at her website, Chasing the Cozy Thrill.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

1890s Courtship Etiquette

by Kathy Owen

Among the rewarding perks of historical novel writing are the cool bits of info that I find along the way.

While researching the topic of courtship for the fifth book of the Concordia Wells Mysteries – a series set in a fictitious 1890s women’s college – I came upon a fascinating self-help etiquette book by Mrs. John Sherwood, entitled Manners  and Social Usages (1884, revised 1901). I thought I’d share it with you today, focusing on what was expected of men and women in their journey to the altar.

etiquette-manual-title-pg

 

At the time of its original publication, the United States was barely 100 years old. The author (an American woman who had read and traveled widely) was very much aware of the need for a guide. She says in her Preface:

The newness of our country is perpetually renewed by the sudden making of fortunes, and by the absence of a hereditary, reigning set. There is no aristocracy here which has the right and title to set the fashions.

But courtship was no mere fashion. It was a serious business, with significant consequences to the young lady’s reputation if she and her parents/chaperone weren’t careful:

etiquette-manual8a

Sadly, I think the “black sheep” will always be with us.

What were the consequences when one of these black sheep strayed into the fold? Wolfish rather than sheep-like (though a wolf with a big wallet and a taste in theater…but ahh, the metaphor is falling apart on me, so I’ll stop):

etiquette-manual-5a

Ouch. So, what is the remedy?

Chaperones. Yeah, even back then no one was crazy about the idea. Mrs. John Sherwood acknowledges the tedious nature of a young lady having to be chaperoned constantly. Apparently, American girls were particularly resistant:

etiquette-manual-9a

Besides having a chaperone, what else can a young lady do to protect herself? Mrs. Sherwood was a big fan of a girl “playing hard to get.” According to the author, “Men, as they look back on their own varied experience, are apt to remember with great respect the women who were cold and distant….

etiquette-manual-6a

Brrr, it’s getting chilly in here.

And the restrictions weren’t over once a formal engagement was announced…no, no.

etiquette-manual-2a

You can imagine my vexation, as an author, in not being able to get my engaged couple alone for some crucial plot points without the risk of vulgarity…but wait! Dear Mrs. Sherwood notes two exceptions to the rules of chaperonage, both of which apply to Concordia:

etiquette-manual12a

Check. Concordia is twenty-nine (was she ever a “giddy girl”?). On to exception #2:

etiquette-manual10a

Concordia is a literature professor at Hartford Women’s College…double check! Mrs. John Sherwood, I could kiss you. …okay, never mind.

What do you think of the courtship conventions of the 1890s? Are there any we should keep? Or are you relieved to be living in the 21st century? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

P.S. – Check out my new release, Beloved and Unseemly!

belovedandunseemlyebook

A stolen blueprint, a dead body, and wedding bells….
Change is in the air at Hartford Women’s College in the fall of 1898. Renowned inventor Peter Sanbourne—working on Project Blue Arrow for the Navy—heads the school’s new engineering program, and literature professor Concordia Wells prepares to leave to marry David Bradley.

The new routine soon goes awry when a bludgeoned body—clutching a torn scrap of the only blueprint for Blue Arrow—is discovered on the property Concordia and David were planning to call home.

To unravel the mystery that stands between them and their new life together, Concordia must navigate deadly pranks, dark secrets, and long-simmering grudges that threaten to tear apart her beloved school and leave behind an unseemly trail of bodies.

Now available at your favorite online bookseller (buttons are clickable):

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 6 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The mystery of 1890s train travel…and a book release!

Concordia logo FINALby K. B. Owen, misterio press author

I love being a historical mystery writer. Though it means additional research time as well as longer gaps between book releases, I run across fascinating stuff. I enjoy weaving the plot of a mystery into the historical world. I hope you’ve been pleased with the results so far!

I’m here today to announce my newest release, Unseemly Haste (book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries). It’s set in the summer of 1898, as my characters make their way from New York to San Francisco aboard a Pullman sleeper car train. LOTS of research. Want to see some of the cool things I ran across?

I’m so glad you said yes. *wink*

Planning the journey: the route from New York to San Francisco

The New York Tribune, May 21, 1898. ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov

The New York Tribune, May 21, 1898. ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov

Railway mergers, shared use agreements, and the standardization of track gauge, platform configurations, etc, made cross-country travel by rail easier than ever by the 1890s. The three-day trip covered 3,270 miles. For the route my characters took, four different railways were involved: the Pennsylvania RR, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago RR, the Central Pacific RR, and the Union Pacific RR. According to Appletons’ General Guide to the United States and Canada: Western and Southern states (D. Appleton and Company, 1889), the cost of the Chicago Limited Express (sleeper compartment included in the price) from New York to Chicago was $28, then from Chicago to San Francisco, aboard the Overland Limited, $72.50.

All aboard! Dining and Recreation:

Though a short journey for its time, passengers still needed places to sleep, eat, and relax along the way. Pullman Palace cars supplied passengers needs with style. Luxury amenities included electric lighting, steam heat, chandeliers, and gourmet menus.

 

Lithograph advertisement, Strobridge&Co, 1894. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Lithograph advertisement, Strobridge & Co, 1894. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

 

1895 Baltimore and Ohio RR publicity photo. Wikimedia commons public domain).

Dining car, 1895 Baltimore and Ohio RR publicity photo. Wikimedia commons (public domain).

 

courtesy of University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries.

Courtesy of University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries.

 

Pullman parlor car, Smithsonian Institute Archives, http://sirismm.si.edu

Pullman parlor car, Smithsonian Institute Archives, http://sirismm.si.edu

Sleeping:

The ingenious Pullman design converted seats to private bunks at night.

 The interior of a Chicago and Alton Railroad Pullman car circa 1900. Photo by Detroit Publishing Co, c. 1900. Library of Congress.

The interior of a Chicago and Alton Railroad Pullman car circa 1900. Photo by Detroit Publishing Co, c. 1900. Library of Congress.

 

George Pullman's 1865 sketch for patent #49,992, via midcontinent.org.

George Pullman’s 1865 sketch for patent #49,992, via midcontinent.org.

 

For those who could afford it, entire private cars were available, as pictured below. (Less expensively, private compartments within a railway car were also available).

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Porters:

Pullman porter helping passenger aboard, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Pullman porter helping passenger aboard, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Pullman porters at the time were exclusively African-American, and were referred to by passengers and industry officials alike as “George,” no matter their given name. Working conditions and pay were exploitatively poor. They finally unionized in 1925, under the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, led by A. Phillip Randolph. According to the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum:

The porters had tried to organize since the beginning of the century. The wages and working conditions were below average for decades. For example, the porters were required to work 400 hours per month or 11,000 miles—whichever occurred first to receive full pay. Porters depended on the passengers’ tips in order to earn a decent level of pay. Typically, the porters’ tips were more than their monthly salary earned from the Pullman Company.

It was certainly a thankless job, which I kept in mind when creating Jonas, the porter who features prominently in Unseemly Haste.

Which brings me to my announcement:

NEW RELEASE!

Unseemly Haste

Book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

cover by Melinda VanLone

cover by Melinda VanLone

 

Murder aboard the Overland Limited…

It is the summer of 1898. Professor Concordia Wells is eager to accompany her friend, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton, on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco. Breathless vistas and exciting locales will be a welcome change from a fiancé impatient to set a wedding date and the threat of revenge from the remaining Inner Circle members back in Hartford.

But Concordia should know there is no such thing as a free ride. When the Pinkerton Agency switches assignments at the last minute, she and Miss Hamilton both have jobs to do. Fellow passengers prove to be both help and hindrance: a lady reporter in hiding, a con man, Chinese acrobats…and a corpse or two. Then there is the handsome gentleman with the dark hair, green eyes, and a secret agenda of his own. Good thing Concordia is an engaged lady. Or is it?

Available now at these retailers (buttons below are hyperlinked):

*coming soon to iBooks

Have you ever traveled via sleeper train? Do you wish you had the chance? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

 

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is a mom to three sons and writes the Concordia Wells series of historical mysteries. Her twitter handle is @kbowenwriter, or you can connect with her on her Facebook page.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

More Gallivanting… Come visit the FBI of the past with me

by Kassandra Lamb

Today I’m at K.B. Owen’s cyber-home talking about the history of the FBI. Please come over and check it out. And don’t forget to enter my contest HERE.

Criminal Minds and the History of the FBI

136px-US-FBI-ShadedSeal.svgCriminal Minds is a favorite TV show in our household. My husband likes it because the interaction of the characters reminds him of the teamwork he experienced during his working years at another government agency. I like the psychology involved (for the most part; sometimes they get something wrong).

About a year ago I was telling hubs about a new book idea–a therapist is kidnapped from her office by a serial killer. He said, “You should get the BAU involved.”

Of course! Because in real life they would be involved in such a case. How cool would that be to write a book about my favorite FBI agents in the Behavioral Analysis Unit? So I set out to do some research, and discovered some very interesting stuff. (And I also wrote the book! See below.)

First, there are some things in the show that aren’t really true about the FBI… Read More.
book cover

Fatal Forty-Eight, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. She locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, while back at headquarters, misunderstandings abound.

But they can ill afford these distractions. Sally’s time is about to expire.

BUY LINKS:

AMAZON   B&N   APPLE    KOBO   SCRIBD

 

Walking the Paths of the Past

by Kassandra Lamb and guest blogger, Jennifer Jensen

I love living history parks. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts are among my favorites. I love to learn about history by walking their dusty streets and watching folks in era-appropriate garb go about the tasks of life in times past.

So when children’s author, Jennifer Jensen, asked if she could guest post on our blog and tell us about Connor Prairie, I was thrilled.  Jen’s new release, Through the Shimmer of Time, is a time-travel adventure. Granted it’s aimed at 9-12 year olds, not our usual readership, but the story is chock full of mysteries: how did Jim get zapped back in time, who is behind the random thefts in the village, and how can Jim and Hannah prove that a suicide was really murder?

And I’ll tell you all a secret – I read this book and loved it!

Jen Jensen headshotSo here’s Jen to tell us about the park that inspired her fictional setting of the book, and provided her with a fun place to do her research.

Take it away, Jen!

First, thank you to the misterio press authors for inviting me here.  As the first guest blogger, I feel very privileged!

Conner Prairie is a fabulous living history park in Central Indiana, and my kids and I were frequent visitors.   When we started going, the 1836 Prairietown was the only area, but the park has expanded to include a Lenape Indian camp, Morgan’s Raid during the Civil War and baseball in the 1880s.

Connor House

(photo by Derek Jensen, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia)

woman in costume making pottery

Woman making pottery (Photo by Derek Jensen, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

With so much history being acted out in front of us, what better place to ask “what if?”  What if you could really travel back in time instead of just talking to actors in costume?  What if a boy went exploring where he shouldn’t? What if he got accused of a crime when he arrived?  What if there was a ghost who wanted her name cleared?

When you don’t actually have a time travel machine, a living history museum can be the next best thing for research. Conner Prairie’s “1836” cabins are all historic buildings, moved onto the site from around the Midwest.  When you step onto those hand-planed boards, you know what it felt like in olden days.  The doors really were short, the stairs to an upstairs room really were narrow, and the mud really does crumble out of the chinking.

costumed woman by fireplace

(photo by Paul J. Everett, CC license via flickr.com)

storekeeper

the storekeeper (photo by Paul J Everett, CC license via flickr.com)

At Conner Prairie, the staff aren’t just in costume – they stay in character.  They have background information about their character’s personal life, his/her business and chores, and even where they moved from.  It’s fiction, but it’s all historically accurate.  If Mr. Whitaker talks about receiving goods for his store from Cincinnati, you can bet that central Indiana shops in 1836 got their stock there.

I helped make biscuits at the inn, and watched the blacksmith work the forge.  I could ask questions about a housewife’s herb garden, what she grew and how she kept pests away, but she would look blank if I asked what the modern name of something was.  I got good tips on what plants were used for which ailments, but once I had that clue I went back to modern research for details.

blacksmith's anvil

(photo by Paul J. Everett, CC license via flickr.com)

There were a few places where staff members did not have to stay in character.  One particular area, where kids could do some activities and ask questions, kept me from making a fool of myself.

In my book, Jim sleeps in the loft with the other children.  I had pictured a Little House on the Prairie loft from the television show, without thinking that Little House was set 50 years later.  But here I was, standing in an authentic cabin from the right time period.  And it turns out that to get to the loft, the kids would climb a straight-up ladder and go through a square cut in the ceiling.  The only real light in the loft was from the fireplace downstairs.  No happy children looking down on parents here!

Another tidbit: in the summer, families would remove the chinking between the logs in the loft to let some air flow through, and then re-chink when the seasons turned cooler.  Bunches of herbs were often hung to dry in the loft, and both of these tidbits made Jim’s reactions a bit richer – those shadowy shapes can be spooky!

log cabin

(photo by Paul J. Everett, CC license via flickr.com)

I still relied on historical records and books to verify and expand on the details, from food and medicine to journalistic style, but it was the hands-on research at Conner Prairie that let me capture the atmosphere for my fictional Granger Village.

If you could travel back in time, to “when” would you go?  Have you found a living history park that brings that favorite time period to life, and what sorts of mysteries can you imagine happening there?

Through the Shimmer of Time book coverThrough the Shimmer of Time

A mysterious pottery shard . . .
A haunted cabin . . .
A shadowy stranger . . .
And no way home
Present Day: Jim has a talent for getting into trouble. Grounded from his model rockets, he goes exploring where he shouldn’t and gets zapped back in time. Can he find the way back home or is he marooned in the past?
1838: Hannah’s life in her frontier village is filled with a little play and a lot of hard work. A seemingly harmless trick lures a strange, dazed boy from the old haunted cabin. Now Hannah must make a choice – and face the dangers.
Together, Jim and Hannah struggle to unmask a thief and solve a murder while they search for the key to unlock time.  It will take all their courage and wits, plus the rocket motors in Jim’s pocket, just to stay alive.

Jennifer Jensen is an award-winning writer who wouldn’t be without her computer or smart phone, but still dreams of living in the olden days. Until someone invents a working time machine, she lives in Indiana and makes do with plenty of imagination, loads of books and as much Dr. Who as the BBC will produce.

Through the Shimmer of Time is her first novel. Connect with her at her blog, through Facebook or on Twitter (@jenjensen2).

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )