Tag Archives: historical mystery

Where My Research Takes Me: Rare Book Reading Room, Library of Congress

Where the research takes me: to the Library of Congress (main reading room)

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

by K.B. Owen

All kinds of decisions (and a hundred indecisions, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot) go into the plotting of a mystery. For example, as I was deciding upon the plot points for UNSEEMLY FATE, book 7 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries, I knew I needed a rare literary artifact that would be compatible with the lady professor’s interests (primarily Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and the Romantic poets). It was to be a gift from one of Concordia’s new relatives – a RICH relative (I think you can see where I might be going with this), which would set off a chain of catastrophic events that sends Concordia scrambling for the rest of the story.

The Criteria

I had one other proviso: the item couldn’t be SO rare that people would be giving it the squinty-eye and asking how the heck the rich man came to have it, and didn’t it belong in a proper museum, rather than a private gallery at some women’s college? Hmm???

That let out Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Sigh. And as far as the Romantics, not that many decades would have elapsed before we were in Concordia’s time (1899)…so something lost or rare was less likely. Double sigh.

I was basically scouting around for something of literary significance that would appeal to my protagonist’s interests, and old enough to be somewhat rare but not holy-cow-you-must-have-stolen-that rare. AND…I wanted to be able to use cool quotes by that author as apropos headers to chapters…’cause that’s just how this former academic rolls. *wink*

Enter William Blake, the Very First Romantic Poet/Artist

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips. Oil on canvas, 1807.

William Blake had a lot to say about society, religion, art, and man’s place in the cosmos. I soon settled on his 66-page Descriptive Catalogue, of which he printed less than one hundred copies in 1809 (making it 90 years old by the time Concordia sees it). The Catalogue was written to promote an exhibition of his watercolors and frescoes in hopes of drumming up sales and potential commissions.

Here’s the full title, as William Blake was more voluble than concise: A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, Poetical and Historical Inventions, Painted by William Blake, in Water Colours, Being the Ancient Method of Fresco Painting Restored: and [water color] Drawings, For Public Inspection, and for Sale by Private Contract. 

Blake sold copies of the Catalogue for two-and-a-half shillings each, which also covered the cost of admittance to his one-man show (in a room over his brother’s shop).

What Made It Perfect for Concordia

Of particular interest to me was Blake’s commentary in the Catalogue about Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, which takes up nearly a third of the pamphlet. Blake had painted a work entitled The Canterbury Pilgrims, from which he later created a copper-etched plate and made prints (with watercolor touch-ups), but the text in his Catalogue went beyond mere description of his painting and analyzed Chaucer’s own characterization of the pilgrims.

Print from Blake's copperplate etching, Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, 1810.

Print from Blake’s copperplate etching, Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, 1810.

And our dear lady professor has an interest in Chaucer – perfect.

I was able to find descriptions of the text and cover via online searches, but then I got stuck. I wanted to know what it would be like to hold it in one’s hands, to turn the pages, and so on, as Concordia would do.

Where the Research Takes Me: To See the Real Thing

Where the reasearch takes me: to the Rare Book Reading Room

An original of William Blake’s “Descriptive Catalogue,” 1809. Housed in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book Reading Room, LOC.

Sometimes you just have to see something in person. I’m fortunate enough to live within 25 miles of the Library of Congress, and a search turned up an original (16 are known to exist at this point) in LOC’s Rare Book Reading Room.

There were a lot of hoops to jump through – getting a reader/researcher card, securing advance notice to have it located and pulled, restrictions as to what you can bring in with you, how the books are to be handled, and so on. But it was worth it, and I’m grateful to each of the librarians who assisted me.

And the Rare Book Reading Room is a VERY quiet place.

Any cool discoveries you’ve made recently? I’d love to hear from you. ~KBO

AVAILABLE NOW:

Unseemly Fate

Book 7 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

Beware of rich men bearing gifts…

It’s the fall of 1899 and the new Mrs. David Bradley—formerly Professor Concordia Wells of Hartford Women’s College—is chafing against the hum-drum routine of domestic life.

The routine is disrupted soon enough when the long-hated but wealthy patriarch of her husband’s family, Isaiah Symond, returns to Hartford. His belated wedding gift is a rare catalogue by artist/poet William Blake, to be exhibited in the college’s antiquities gallery.

When Symond’s body is discovered in the gallery with his head bashed in and the catalogue gone, suspicion quickly turns from a hypothetical thief to the inheritors of Symond’s millions—Concordia’s own in-laws. She’s convinced of their innocence, but the alternatives are equally distressing. The gallery curator whom she’s known for years? The school’s beloved handyman?

Once again, unseemly fate propels Concordia into sleuthing, but she should know by now that unearthing bitter grudges and long-protected secrets to expose a murderer may land her in a fight for her life.

UNSEEMLY FATE is the seventh adventure in the Concordia Wells Mysteries, featuring 1890s professor-turned-amateur-sleuth Concordia Wells Bradley.

Amazon:

Also available on:  B&N, Apple, Kobo

AND I’m running a pair of giveaways…

Want to win a free book, ebook, or audiobook?

Check out these giveaways!

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Audiobook Giveaway

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Book Giveaway

Anyone can enter! Contests end May 15th.

 

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

Posted by K.B. Owen. K.B. 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…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now seven books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

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. 🙂 )



Winston Churchill, Nazis, and the (almost) exploding chocolate bar

by K.B. Owen

With Valentine’s Day still on our minds, we thought you might enjoy this post about an exploding chocolate bar.

photo by John Loo (creative commons)

The year was 1943, and those crafty Nazis had come up with another plan to assassinate Winston Churchill.  They decided to prey upon the Prime Minister’s fondness for expensive chocolate, and began work on a bomb hidden in a pound-slab bar of Peter’s Chocolate.

photo via wikimedia.org (cc)

How it was supposed to work:

The exploding chocolate bar was made of steel, with a thin layer of real chocolate covering it.  Inside was the explosive, with a 7-second delay mechanism.  I’ll quote the rest of the description, as detailed by Lord Rothschild, head of counter-espionage at MI5:

When you break off a piece of chocolate at one end in the normal way, a piece of canvas is revealed stuck in the middle of the piece  which has been broken off and sticking in the remainder of the slab.  When the piece of chocolate is pulled sharply, the canvas is also pulled and this initiates the mechanism.

The bar was wrapped in shiny, expensive foil, and labeled “Peter’s Chocolate.”  The plan was to take the chocolate into the war cabinet dining room, and so take out as many cabinet members as possible, along with Churchill.

As you may have guessed, the plot was unsuccessful.  British agents, working undercover in Germany, alerted MI5 about the plot, and included a rough sketch of the bars they had seen.

Since there was concern that the exploding chocolate bars may actually reach the British public, Lord Rothschild wrote a secret letter to artist Laurence Fish, asking him to draw a better picture of what such a bar might look like. (Fish’s widow just recently discovered this letter, part of which is quoted above, and donated it to the country’s collection of other war-time documents).  Check out The Huffington Post’s article, which includes a photo of Rothschild’s letter.

There’s also an interesting looking sketch (via Photobucket) you may want to check out, which I can’t post here for copyright reasons. I haven’t been able to establish if this is Fish’s drawing, or someone else’s, but it looks really cool!

Want to read more? Check out these other sources:

Mystery Fanfare: Death by Chocolate: Winston Churchill.

Independent.ie

Tek-Bull

Sometimes real life is crazier than fiction, right?  What do you think of the plot – did they really have a chance to pull it off?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

Kathy

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…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

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 Two-Sided Sword of Ambition

by Kassandra Lamb and K.B. Owen

I woke up the other morning with the subject of K.B. Owen’s new release, Unseemly Ambition, on my mind. My muse had apparently spent the night pondering the question: What happens when ambition, normally a good thing, is no longer reined in by a conscience?

When we say someone is an ambitious young man or woman, that’s meant as a compliment. We’re saying that they are going to work hard in life and probably accomplish great things. And if we say that someone “lacks ambition,” we’re putting them down, indicating that they are practicing one of the seven deadly sins: sloth. They are being lazy, cruising through life. We may even view it as an intrinsic flaw in their character.

1725 engraving of "The Lazy Student"

“The Lazy Student” 1725 copper engraving by Johann Georg Puschner

A synonym for ambition might be goal, or even dream. And we’re supposed to have goals and dreams. The only times in life when someone is allowed to not be ambitious are childhood and retirement. And even then, although it’s not expected, we still applaud ambition when it occurs.

Many of my younger writer friends complain about the reactions they sometimes get from others (sometimes even total strangers). Some people tell them to “stop wasting their time” and “get a real job.” These critics don’t see writing as a worthy ambition. “You’re just sitting around all day writing.” As if crafting words were the same as eating bonbons.

I have never gotten that reaction. When people ask me what I’m up to these days and I tell them, their response is always positive. “Wow, that’s so cool!” Why? Because I’m retired from two previous careers as a psychotherapist and college professor. So I’ve already fulfilled the requirement to be ambitious. Now, my efforts to write are seen as a bonus ambition!

But ambition has a dark side. What happens when one is so obsessed by their ambitions that they become ruthless?

I’m reminded of a famous incident 20 years ago, when those close to a champion figure skater conspired to take out the competition via a physical attack. In 1994, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband and her bodyguard hired a man to attack Nancy Kerrigan and break her leg. Their ambitions were successful in the short term. Kerrigan was forced to withdraw from the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, leaving the path open for Tonya Harding to win that event.

Stamp of Azerbaijan--Nancy Kerrigan skating

1994 Azerbaijan Republic stamp honoring Nancy Kerrigan

Kerrigan, fortunately, recovered from the attack, her leg only bruised rather than broken. She continued her career and won or placed in other champion-ships, including winning a silver medal in the 1994 Olympics.

Those who had engineered the attack ended up in prison, and Harding avoided jail time only by pleading guilty to hindering the prosecution of those men. Her career was over. The U.S. Figure Skating Association conducted their own investigation and determined that she knew about the attack in advance. They stripped her of her 1994 Championship title and banned her from skating.

In this case, the overly ambitious were caught and punished, and their intended victim recovered relatively unscathed, but that doesn’t always happen in the real world. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, much of the evil in the world is perpetrated by those who have crossed the line to the dark side of ambition.

When ambition is no longer balanced by ethics and compassion for others, it becomes ugly… and unseemly. But fortunately, in both the real world and in fiction, there are those who are willing to stand up to the overly ambitious, such as K.B. Owen’s intrepid Concordia Wells.

Your thoughts on the two-edged sword of ambition? Have you ever felt its bite? Talk to us in the comments, but first here’s K.B. to tell you more about her new book, and a contest. Woot!! (Psst, it’s okay to have the ambition to be one of the twelve winners. Make sure you enter multiple times. That’s allowed.)

Hi, K.B. here. So excited to tell you about Concordia’s latest adventure…

book cover UNSEEMLY AMBITION, A Concordia Wells Mystery
by K.B. Owen

A murder…a missing boy…a secret society’s bold and deadly plot.

It is 1898, and Professor Concordia Wells turns to an old ally when her good friend, the eleven-year-old Eli, disappears after his mother’s murder. Complicating Concordia’s desperate search for answers is the ever-watchful college dean, who has recently learned of her past “lady sleuth” doings. It also doesn’t help that Concordia’s own school colleagues are not above suspicion.

Despite the dean’s close scrutiny, the lady professor presses on with her unseemly inquiries. Far more people are in jeopardy than the loved ones she seeks to protect, and now there is no turning back.

Available at:     AMAZON     BARNES & NOBLE      KOBO     SMASHWORDS

And in paperback as well!

Ready for a little “Unseemly” giveaway?

We’re ready to celebrate the recent release of the new Concordia Wells mystery, Unseemly Ambition, and we want you to party with us!

K.B. Owen mysteries logoPrizes: ebooks from the series, a signed paperback, promo goodies (Post-It pads, candy tins), and even the opportunity for folks to collaborate with K.B. to name a character or pick a distinctive trait for a character in book #4, Unseemly Haste! She’ll be randomly drawing twelve winners overall. If any of the winners live outside the United States or Canada, she’ll substitute a gift card to Amazon because of the prohibitive postage for certain items.

When: between now and January 31, 2014. Winners will be announced on February 6, 2014.

How to get your name in the drawings (choose from any or all of these): 

1. subscribe to K.B.’s newsletter (those who have already subscribed will have their names automatically entered);

2. write a review on Amazon or BN for any of the Concordia books (your name will be entered TWICE for each review, and if you’ve already left a review in the past, drop her a line to confirm that you want her to enter your name in the giveaway, either in the comments or email: contact@kbowenmysteries.com);

3. send her a pic of yourself (to the address above) with any of the Concordia books (on your e-reader or in print)…or, if you feel camera-shy, send her a pic of one of the books “in the wild.” She’d love to see where Concordia has traveled to! She’ll post them on her Unseemly Readers page;

4. leave a comment on today’s blog post, and any she writes at kbowenmysteries.com. There will also be the opportunity to comment on upcoming guest posts K.B. writes (to be announced).

Remember, your name can be entered more than once, so participating in multiple ways will increase your chances of winning!

 K.B. Owen is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 4 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

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.

***

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.)

Welcome to the Family, K.B. Owen

I am thrilled to welcome a new author to our group! K.B. Owen (a.k.a. Kathy Owen) writes historical cozy mysteries and we have bribed lured enticed her to join us here at misterio press.

I have read her newly released novel, Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery, and it is one of the best debut novels I have ever read! But more on her book in a moment.

First, I’ll let Kathy introduce herself.

Headshot of K.B. OwenHi! I’m a former college instructor, with a Ph.D. in 19th century literature. These days, I’m applying my background and interests to historical mystery writing, and have created a female professor as amateur sleuth. I’ve been a professor but never a detective, so I’m living vicariously. (Although I never taught college classes in a bustle and long skirts, either. Thankfully!)

I’m also married to the love of my life, and am mom to three boys, ages 12, 17 and 20.  In my *ahem* free time, I enjoy reading, baking, gardening, and backyard bird-watching.

 

Phew, Kathy, you are one busy lady! And, folks, she also has a delightful website and blog at K.B. Owen, Historical Mystery Author: Chasing the Cozy Thrill.

Now a bit more about Kathy’s writing. Her stories are set in the late 1800’s at a women’s college (women going to college was a newfangled concept back then). Kathy is a meticulous researcher and her descriptions pull you back in time so that you feel you are living in Concordia’s world.

This is what I love most about historical fiction. You get to learn about another era–not just the dry facts from history books, but the way that people dressed, talked, interacted, the attitudes and conventions, etc. At the same time you are being entertained by a delightful story, in this case a suspenseful mystery.

Kathy is also great at developing compelling, and sometimes quirky, characters. But wait, don’t just take my word for it. Here are some comments from award winning authors who have read Kathy’s book.

  • “What a perfectly enjoyable debut! The author seamlessly works in the finely wrought historical details that make the reader feel totally at home. …truly a delight to read. I’ll definitely be awaiting more adventures of the intrepid Miss Wells.” ~ Martha Powers, author of Conspiracy of Silence and Death Angel
  • “The exquisitely plotted mystery will keep you turning the pages well into the night, and the richness of the world will keep you thinking about the story long after you put it down.” ~ Janice Hamrick, author of Death Makes the Cut

Below is the blurb and links for her book, but before you run off to check it out, please join with me and our misterio press authors as we break out the virtual bubbly to celebrate.

(photo by ori2uru, Creative Commons 2.0 license, Wikimedia Commons)

 A Toast ~ Welcome Aboard, Kathy!

 

Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells Mystery

Dangerous and Unseemly book cover

An unseemly lesson… in murder. The year is 1896, and college professor Concordia Wells has her hands full: teaching classes, acting as live-in chaperone to a cottage of lively female students, and directing the student play, Macbeth. But mystery and murder are not confined to the stage, especially when the death of Concordia’s sister, Mary, appears to be foul play. To make matters worse, the women’s college is plagued by malicious pranks, arson, money troubles, and the apparent suicide of a college official. With her beloved school facing certain ruin, Concordia knows that she must act. As she struggles to seek justice for her sister and discover who is behind the college incidents, there are some closest to Concordia who do not appreciate the unseemly inquiries and bold actions of the young lady professor. Can she discover who is responsible… before she becomes the next target?

Absorbing in its memorable characters, non-stop plot twists, and depiction of life in a late-nineteenth century women’s college, Dangerous and Unseemly is a suspenseful and engaging contribution to the cozy historical mystery genre. Fans of Harriet Vane and Maisie Dobbs will find in Concordia Wells a new heroine to fall in love with.

Available now:

Amazon Kindle

Paperback (Amazon)

Barnes and Noble Nookbook

Smashwords

Kobo

Scribd

Posted by Kassandra Lamb, co-founder of misterio press.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!