Category Archives: The History of Mystery

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. 🙂 )

Researching Murder and Mayhem

posted by Kassandra Lamb~on behalf of the whole gang

We mystery writers often wonder why the police or the FBI haven’t come knocking on our doors. If they were monitoring our research on the worldwide web, they certainly would be.

When you write about murder and mayhem, you end up googling some very strange things at times. We thought it would be fun to share some of our researching exploits with you all.

First up is our newest edition to the misterio press family, Vinnie Hansen, whose Art, Wine and Bullets was recently re-released under our imprint. Take it away, Vinnie:

I knew from the outset that the victim in Art, Wine & Bullets would be throttled. This sent me out to research garrotes.

Did you know there are two types? Yup, cutting and choking. Cutting sounded too messy even for my black sensibilities.

A person can fashion a garrote with any number of handy items: wire, fishing line, computer cables, or piano wire.

I opened my piano and gave the strings a fresh look.

Guitar strings peaked my interest. I play my keyboard with a couple of ukulele groups. I tried to broach the topic with my ukulele friends without scaring them, but that led to puzzlement. Did I play an ukulele? Did I want strings for a soprano, tenor or baritone ukulele?

Vinnie playing her keyboard with ukulele band.

Vinnie rockin’ it with her ukulele posse (All in Good Time Orchestra, with guest appearance by Tammi Brown)

 Finally, at a music store, I got down to it, “Which string would be best for killing someone?”

I ended up purchasing a black nylon guitar G-string. I played with it around my neck, wondering how a person warmed up to autoerotic asphyxia.

Art, Wine & Bullets also, of course, includes bullets–.38’s to be exact. That research required shooting a Smith and Wesson. But that’s another topic.
~~~~~~~~~~
Paranormal mystery writer Kirsten Weiss is certainly no stranger to strangeness. Here’s one of her recent research experiences as she was writing book 6 in her series, The Hoodoo Detective, set in New Orleans (to be released soon).

Sometimes, research has an intuitive, luck-driven feel, with the right facts turning up at the right moments.

Last month, an acquaintance gifted me a skeleton key. I showed it to another friend, and she told me the keys were often used in magical rituals.

As a paranormal mystery writer, that was the sort of lead I felt compelled to follow. I’m always seeking magical inspiration for my Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mystery novels.

A quick spin on the interwebs informed me the skeleton key is associated with Hecate, a Greek goddess with a connection to my heroine. Even better, it’s also used in hoodoo, the subject of my next Riga Hayworth mystery. Eureka!

Magically, the skeleton key represents unlocking opportunities and removing obstacles. The gift of the skeleton key unlocked my work in progress, simply because I bothered to do a little research.

~~~~~~~~~~
K.B. Owen is our resident history buff. She writes historical cozies set at a women’s college in the late nineteenth century (Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits). It’s a good thing she loves research because she sure has to do a lot of it.

In the course of my early research into what life was like at women’s colleges of the 1890s, I found out that the game of basketball was quite popular with the young ladies.

Wow…really? You know I had to learn more (and use it in my series)! Here’s a quick overview:

Dr. Naismith, holding a ball and a farm basket.

Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball (photo from Wikimedia CC licensed)

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Massachusetts.

In 1892, Senda Berenson Abbott started the first women’s basketball program at Smith College, making modifications to the rules for women’s play.

Women’s rules divided the court into zones, with two players from each team limited to each zone.

Dribbling more than three times was forbidden, as was blocking, stealing the ball from another player, or holding the ball for more than three seconds.

The women’s rules created a game that was slower-moving and more stationary, and therefore would not tax a woman’s “delicate system.” However, the nature of the activity still necessitated shortened skirts, bloomers and stockings, which was considered rather scandalous. In fact, male spectators were barred at Smith.

Smith College Class of 1902 basketball team (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Smith College Class of 1902 basketball team (photo from Wikimedia CC licensed)

By 1895, the game had spread to colleges across the country, including Wellesley, Vassar, and Bryn Mawr. The first women’s intercollegiate game was played on April 4, 1896, Stanford vs. Berkeley. Stanford won.

Even as women avidly embraced the sport, a backlash was growing against it. The biggest problem was that the inherently aggressive nature of competition clashed with notions of “ladylike” behavior. If a lady lost her self-control in the heat of competition, what would be the unseemly result?

We seem to have survived it. 😉
~~~~~~~~~~
As for me, I’ve researched my share of oddities while writing the Kate Huntington series, but the oddest yet was a recent search I conducted for my work in progress, Fatal Forty-eight (due out this fall).

For this novel, I needed to know how one goes about building a secret room in one’s house–one sufficiently hidden that even a search by trained law enforcement officers wouldn’t find it.

A secret corridor leading to a hidden room

A secret corridor leading to a hidden room (photo by Kecko from Switzerland CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia)

Several sources suggested that it was easiest to build a secret room off of a bedroom. This fit perfectly with my story since the kidnapped inhabitant of the room would need a bed, and a bathroom.

Walk-in closets make great secret rooms, I discovered, but that would be too small for my purposes. Building a wall to divide the master bedroom (with the master bath on the secret side) would work, however.

Now how to hide the entrance to the room? I discovered on WikiHow that the do-it-yourselfer could build a bookshelf door in six easy steps.

But another article indicated that a mechanical engineer should be consulted to build a hidden room properly. Since my bad guy wouldn’t want to have any witnesses to where his hidden door is nor how it works, I decided he would just have to be an engineer himself.

I was expecting the reality of secret rooms to be different than in the movies, but as it turns out, Hollywood got this one right.

If you have the budget for it, a custom secret entryway can be created specifically for your secret room…The door is actually a high-tech machine that can be controlled by a wireless transmitter hidden inside a book, sculpture or other object that opens the door when tilted or moved, just like you would see in a movie. The entryway is shipped to the location in its own frame that is designed to fit precisely in the space for which it was created. ~ from How to Put Secret Rooms in Bedrooms, by Michelle Radcliff, Demand Media

The hidden doors are often triggered by moving an object. Excellent! That worked perfectly for my story.

How about you? What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever plugged into that Google search box?

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. 🙂 )

In Houston? Missing This Museum Would Be a Fatal Error

by Kirsten Weiss

The hearse is a work of art.

Its high, wooden sides gleam, hand-carved into the shape of folded drapes. But it’s an automobile, and not of the Victorian period I’m looking for as I research my next steampunk suspense novel. So I continue past the rows and rows of hearses and end up in front of a replica of an Egyptian mummy. Ah yes, the museum’s embalming section. [Tweet this!]

IMG_1192 early 20th century hearse

An early 20th century hearse (photo by Kirsten Weiss).

The National Museum of Funeral History may not be a Houston, TX institution, but it’s certainly one of its more unusual tourist attractions. Founded in 1992, it holds over 35,500 square feet of exhibition space, and is connected to a mortuary school.

As for the embalming exhibit, I learn that embalming fell into disuse after the ancient Egyptians and didn’t really get going again until Victorian days. Who knew? In America, the Civil War brought the embalming process to the masses. And in an early case of crony capitalism, an embalmer “persuaded” Congress to make his company the sole embalmer to Union Troops (predictably, the price of his embalming soon rose).

Relieved to have landed in my Victorian research period, I snap photos of mourning wear and mourning art, then circle back to the hearse room. And finally, I find hearse carriages from my research period, and even a horse-drawn sleigh.

IMG_1195 18th century hearses

Hearses from the Victorian era. Men were drawn in black carriages, women and children in white carriages.

But I’m soon distracted by the electronic “guess the epitaph” game in the celebrity funeral section, aptly named the “Thanks For the Memories” exhibit. I’m terrible at guessing the epitaphs of movie stars. Weirdly, I ace the TV star epitaph quiz.

Planning to be in Houston,Texas anytime soon? Then check out the National Museum of Funeral History. Their trademarked tagline is one to live by: “Any day above ground is a good one.” (TM)

What’s your favorite oddball tourist attraction?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten is the author of Steam and Sensibility, a steampunk novel of suspense set in Victorian-era America, and the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal 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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Like Detective Fiction? Thank the Metropolitan Police Act

By K.B. Owen

Ever wonder how the police came into existence?  We certainly wouldn’t have any detective fiction without them.

Although each country has its own history in that regard, the formation of the police force in England was what led to the birth of detective fiction as we know it.

Here’s where it all started:

The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829

Manchester Police, 1880s, from flickr.com

Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary in the British Cabinet and a Tory, brought about a number of reforms in the area of criminal law and the gaol system, but it was the Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 that was most far-reaching and controversial at the time.  For the first time in Britain’s history, the Act established an organized police force in London, with 17 divisions of 4 inspectors each, its central base at Scotland Yard, under the purview of the Home Secretary.  (The Detective division was formed in 1842).

The early names for these policemen – “Bobbies” and “Peelers” – derived from the man who passed the reform.  They carried truncheons as their only protection, and dressed in blue uniforms (similar to the color of the Royal Navy uniform) with long tail coats and top hats (LearnHistory.org.uk says that the top hats came in handy as stepping stools for policmen to stand on and look over walls).

However, the idea of a government-instituted police force made people nervous.  It was an alien concept, in an age of  Bow Street Runners and local constables (poorly-paid and barely trained), hired individually by each town, walking a beat.  What if the government started using this new police force to get rid of its political enemies, or to spy on honest citizens?

But people also knew that their options were few.  The Industrial Revolution was crowding London quickly, and with more people came more crime.  Constables were notoriously unreliable, preferring to drink in a sheltered corner on a cold night, go to sleep, or visit a prostitute.  Even if every constable was reliable, there still weren’t enough of them.

Although it took a while for the general population to accept police (who were often jeered in public), the police force worked well in suppressing riots and bringing down crime in the areas they were allowed to go, driving crime, in a way, out into the neighboring boroughs, which experienced an increase (later Municipal Acts were instituted to address this problem).

One significant black eye for the police, however, came in 1888: Jack the Ripper. But that’s another post.

Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, Sept 22, 1888. Wikimedia Commons.

Want more info?

Text of the 1829 Act

Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 (Wikipedia)

History of the Metropolitan Police

Crime, Punishment, and Protest Through Time, c. 1450-2004

The Metropolitan Police

So, who’s your favorite detective? Do you prefer your protag to be an amateur or a professional, private eye or cop? I’d love to hear from you!

~Kathy

About K.B. Owen:

K profile pic 2014K.B. Owen taught college English at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.  A long-time mystery lover, she drew upon her teaching experiences to create her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

K.B. currently lives in Virginia with her husband and sons, and is busily planning the lady professor’s next adventure.

 

Check out the latest Concordia Wells adventure!

cover art by Melinda VanLone

cover art by Melinda VanLone

A deadly secret that won’t stay buried…

It is the fall of 1896, and Miss Concordia Wells is hip-deep in the usual tumult of a lady professor’s life: classes, clubs, student pranks, and the unending drama generated by the girls she lives with on campus.  Complicating this normality is the new Lady Principal, whom the students have nicknamed “the Ogre.”  The woman seems bent on making Concordia’s life miserable.

And then there’s the exotic spirit medium, Madame Durand, who has befriended Concordia’s mother and has started a “Spirit Club” on campus.  Madame’s prognostications of doom are at first only mildly irritating – until events take a sobering turn.  An ancient Egyptian amulet donated to the college mysteriously disappears, the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia’s best friend – confesses to killing him.

Desperate for answers, Concordia unravels a 20-year-old secret, closely guarded by men now dead.  But such secrets can be dangerous for the daughters left behind, including Concordia herself.  Can she make sense of the mystery that has bound together their fates, before it’s too late?

Where to buy Unseemly Pursuits:

Kindle

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

iBooks

Ready for an “unseemly” giveaway?

SwagKitDuring K.B.’s Unseemly Pursuits book tour, which goes through the first week of March, there’s a giveaway at each blog stop (including here!).  The winner, randomly drawn from the commenters at each stop, will get a free ebook copy of Unseemly Pursuits.  At the end of the tour, she’ll hold another random drawing from among the ebook winners for the final prize: a special Concordia Wells series swag package! It includes customized mug, keychain, JellyBelly mini-tin, and signed paperback copies of the first two mysteries: Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits. You can read, sip your coffee, and snack on candy in unseemly style. Check the sidebar on the home page of kbowenmysteries.com for the full tour schedule and other info.

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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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Iceland: The New Hot Spot for Mystery Novels

I recently returned from Iceland and was fascinated by the quality and depth of its bookstores. For a country of only 300,000 people, Iceland has a fertile written heritage, starting with its medieval Viking sagas and continuing to a rich collection of modern mystery novelists.

photo of Icelandic waterside town

A typical Icelandic fishing village.

Is their voracious reading habit because of the cold weather? Iceland’s recent economic crash? The BBC recently reported that Iceland has more writers, more books read, and more books published, per capita, than any other nation. It’s estimated that one out of ten Icelanders will publish a book. Unfortunately, only about three percent of Icelandic works are translated for the English market.

Iceland hasn’t yet developed the international reputation its Scandinavian neighbors have for mystery novels and thrillers. The English-language series I found most prominently displayed in the bookstores of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, (and also available on Amazon) was the Reykjavik Murder Mystery series by Arnaldur Indridason. His prose is as sparse and clean as Iceland in October, which happens to be when the first book in the series, Jar City, takes place.

The book is noir-ish, featuring Reykjavik Detective Erlendur. Like a good noir hero, he’s divorced and feeling his age. One of his children is a junkee, the other in rehab. Chapter one drops the reader into a murdered man’s apartment, while the Detective examines the body. It seems like a simple enough crime against an elderly male –and most likely random – except for one clue: a cryptic three-word message left beside the body. Tantalizingly, the author only gives the reader one of the three words, driving an otherwise prosaic scene forward.

photo of moss-covered lava field

A lava field in Iceland, covered in moss.

The Day Is Dark, by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, is another currently “hot” Icelandic book, though it is largely set in Greenland. Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, an attorney, departs Iceland for a snowbound outpost in Greenland, where Icelandic employees have disappeared. Malignant townsfolk and hints of danger in the woods ratchet up the tension in this book, which is part mystery and part thriller.

Looking for a real classic? The medieval Icelandic sagas are jam-packed with murder, mayhem, and magic. Ranking as one of the world’s most important literary works, the sagas take place around the beginning of the last millennium, and have preserved much of what modern scholars know about the daily life, religion, magical practices, and adventures of the early Norse men and women, including their astonishing journeys to America.

kirsten-1

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten works part-time as a writer and part-time as an international development consultant. She writes the Riga Hayworth paranormal mystery novels. Her fifth book in the series, The Elemental Detective, will be published in December, 2013.

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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

How Sam Spade Came to Be Hard-Boiled, Part 2

Hi!  K.B. Owen here again, with the rest of the story behind The Maltese Falcon.  If you missed Part 1, click here.  Thanks for joining me today!

Samuel Dashiell Hammett:  1894-1961

Hammett’s life was more important to his work than is usual with an author.  Hammett was the first detective (a Pinkerton) to write detective novels, and is considered one of the best practitioners of the hard-boiled detective genre.  His life was varied and controversial.  He was friends with Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and West, and was Lillian Hellman’s lover.

image of Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett

His middle name came from the French side of his mother’s family the “DeChiells,” who had been famous in France for their bravery in battle, but his upbringing was humble.  Hammett was born on a run-down farm in Maryland to a struggling Irish middle-class family.

He loved to read anything and everything, and would do so late into the night.  However, he had to quit school at 15 to help support the family when his father became ill.  He hated his jobs, which were mostly in the railroad and industrial fields, and never held one for any length of time.

He became a Pinkerton operative when he was 21, and liked it.  The Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency was the largest private law enforcement agency in the U.S., founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, a former Chicago policeman.  He invented the trademark of his business – the unblinking eye – and its motto, “We never sleep,” which led to the shortened tag of “private eye.”

The Pinkertons filled a gap between the federal government’s small Secret Service and the local police forces.  As the nation grew more complex, the gaps grew:  the Pinkertons were called upon to prevent assassinations and to solve difficult cases, especially those crossing several local jurisdictions.   These are the kind of tasks the FBI performs today, but the FBI (founded1908) of the ‘20s didn’t really get going in terms of its mission, organization, and jurisdictional authority, until it was re-organized under J. Edgar Hoover in 1934.

Pinkerton logoThe Pinkertons were also hired by big businesses to break up the formation of unions – with varying degrees of success, as those of you familiar with the Homestead Strike of 1892 know. The Pinkertons were highly disciplined.  They were on 24-hr call, were required to keep meticulous reports, and had to be able to successfully watch a house for days at a time without being detected.  Their work took them all over the country:  Hammett went to Idaho, Utah, Montana, and San Francisco for assignments.

Hammett joined the Army during WWI, but became disabled with tuberculosis and was discharged.  For the rest of his life, he would be plagued with respiratory problems.  He also smoked and drank a lot, which of course didn’t help.  He worked off and on as a Pinkerton for a number of years.

During one of his rehabilitations at a hospital, he started dating one of the nurses and got her pregnant. He married her, moved to San Francisco, and eventually they had two children, but then later divorced.

After another stint as a Pinkerton in San Francisco, Hammett got sick again, and they couldn’t get by on his disability pension.

At this point he was too ill to do the physically demanding detective work, so he began writing detective stories, and then novels.  The Maltese Falcon was his most successful, and the one for which he’s best known.  His Pinkerton experiences gave him a unique inside view of his detective creation.  Hammett, in one edition of the novel, describes Spade as his ideal of the hard-boiled detective:

He is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and what quite a few of them in their cockier moments thought they approached.  For your private detective does not want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent bystander or client.

Hammett also wrote the Nick and Nora Charles detective series for the screen: The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936).

Even with all the money he was making at the time, he couldn’t hang onto it. His drinking problem became serious and he was hospitalized at age 42.

Hammett also became involved in Communist party activities, and was named chairman of the Committee on Election Rights, a group allied with the Communist Party.

Somehow, he managed to join the Army again in 1942 (at age 48, with TB!).  The Army was aware of his communist affiliations and kept a close eye on him.

He was sent to jail in 1951 for refusing to testify about the Civil Rights Congress bail fund (which had helped put up bail for people arrested for Communist activities, who then turned right around and jumped bail). Hammett was also interrogated by the McCarthy Committee in 1953.

He died of lung cancer in 1961.  As a veteran of two wars, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Publication and response to The Maltese Falcon:

The story was first serialized in Black Mask Magazine the year before it was published as a novel in 1930.

The third film version of The Maltese Falcon in 1941 (directed by John Huston, with the fabulous cast of Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) became the definitive version of the novel.

Bogart and Astor--confrontation scene

Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenstreet and Lorre

Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway praised Hammett’s story.  When Gertrude Stein came back to the U.S., Hammett was the writer she wanted to meet.  Eleanor Roosevelt loved the book, and wouldn’t let it be pulled from the shelves when the anti-communist movement blackballed Hammett.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about The Maltese Falcon, and it was written by fellow hard-boiled mystery writer Raymond Chandler:

[Hammett] took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley; it doesn’t have to stay there forever, but it looked like a good idea to get as far as possible from Emily Post’s idea of how a well-bred debutante gnaws a chicken-wing.

Have you read The Maltese Falcon?  Do you enjoy the hard-boiled detective genre?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells mystery. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 2 and 3 in the Concordia Wells mystery series.

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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

How Sam Spade Came to Be Hard-Boiled, Part 1

Cover of Black Mask magazine featuring the Maltese Falcon

Hi, K.B. Owen here, to talk about the “hard-boiled” detective story subgenre and one of my favorite examples of that style, The Maltese Falcon. (Yes, I’m fully embracing the irony of a cozy mystery writer discussing such a rough-and tumble fictional world. If you really want your mind blown, check out my hard-boiled short-short fiction piece a few months ago on Laird Sapir’s blog). 

This will be in two parts: today, I’ll talk about the genre in general and some background on Sam Spade’s world; next Tuesday, I’ll talk about how Dashiell Hammett’s background (hint: he wrote what he knew) came to be linked so closely with his creation, and the reaction to the novel’s publication.  I hope you can join me for both parts!

What is hard-boiled?
What we call “hard-boiled” (a term first coined by Raymond Chandler) is crime fiction that’s characterized by a hard-drinking, cynical private eye with his own moral code, a sexy dame with lies even longer than her legs, and an emphasis on action over contemplative deduction. Although the detective-hero is street-smart and savvy in the ways of the criminal underworld, he solves the case more with his fists than by sitting in a corner, smoking shag tobacco and thinking over the puzzle.

Some folks consider hard-boiled and noir interchangeable terms, but critic Otto Penzler gives a great explanation of why this isn’t the case: Noir Fiction is About Losers, Not Private Eyes.

Only in America
The hard-boiled subgenre is a uniquely American creation, arising from the frontier heroes, larger-than-life loners, scoundrels and criminals of U.S. history.

American literary tastes of the early 20th century had been conditioned by the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper. The hero, Natty Bumppo (I kid you not), had moral virtue and fantastic visual powers by which he could read broken twigs and faint footprints to seek out the enemy.  Rather than society’s rules, he followed his own code of ethics.

American readers were interested in frontier adventure tales, stories with a romantic interest, and those with a residual sense of the “eye for an eye” justice of their Puritan forefathers. They avidly read stories serialized in magazines – in 1922 alone there were over 20,000 magazines published – and the magazine detective story format was emerging as a very popular medium. The enormous following of the late 19th century dime/pulps (even though the stories were rather primitive) also encouraged publishers of the early 20th century to promote this sort of fiction.

A Classic Example: The Maltese Falcon (1930), by Dashiell Hammett

poster fior the 1941 film of The Maltese Falcon
Of course, many of us are familiar with the 1941 film, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. But there’s much more to the story than what we see in the film version.

Since the novel is set in 1920’s San Francisco, let me give you a little background about that time and place:

San Francisco was the metropolis of the West – a focal point of immigration, mining, industry, and export.

After the passage of the Volstead Act (otherwise known as Prohibition), the city became a major port of entry for illegal liquor. Speakeasies paid off local authorities in free liquor; networks of rum-runners stretched inland; and houses of prostitution flourished. Apparently many San Franciscans considered Prohibition an incentive to commerce.

The Bay area during this time attracted German, Italian and Chinese immigrants. In fact, an entire Chinese society, complete with criminal gangs, holy men and a social hierarchy, developed in a twenty-square-block area of downtown SF.

In terms of law enforcement, corruption abounded. Many of the cops, D.A.s, and city officials were either on the take or looking to advance themselves by whatever means necessary. This mindset is a prominent part of the world of The Maltese Falcon. Private eye Sam Spade doesn’t dare trust anyone but himself in such a world.

Next week, we’ll talk about Hammett the author, and how The Maltese Falcon was received at the time.

Are you a fan of hard-boiled detective fiction?  Have you seen the Bogart film?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells Mystery. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 2 and 3 in the Concordia Wells mystery series.

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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)