Monday, May 28, 2018

Cozy Con 2018: Part Two

I'm going to exercise a little poetic license and deviate from the actual order of the panels for The Poisoned Pen's CozyCon 2018. I'm going to post them in the order in which host Barbara Peters wanted them. Peters had to contend with an author whose flight was late, and I don't so I can follow her original plan. And just in case you missed Part One, you can catch up with the rest of us.

Right now it's time to get this show on the road, so here's the panel with historical mystery writers C.S. Harris, Tessa Arlen, and Ann Parker!

L to R: Barbara Peters, C.S. Harris
"Originally, I was a reader of romance, which will surprise all of you since I started The Poisoned Pen," host Barbara Peters said. "I cut my reading teeth on the Oz books, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, whatever. My mother was the more serious mystery reader. She loved P.I. stories, so I was also brought up on Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. I read Robert Parker in real time, but I find that historical mysteries are my passion.

"One of the reasons why I enjoy Poisoned Pen Press and all the other presses is that they publish books that I like to read. I publish books that I like to read, and these three authors write books that I particularly like to read.

"Candace's latest book was reviewed on Shelf Awareness today. They called it 'a blend of Elizabeth George and Georgette Heyer, Why Kill the Innocent will appeal to mystery and Regency readers with its intricate plotting and historical detail,'" Peters continued. "This is the thirteenth Sebastian St. Cyr mystery, and in reading it you will get a history lesson about the totally dysfunctional family of George III. George IV, the heir, had a daughter from one of the worst marriages in recorded history, and she's the focus of part of the plot of this book, right?"

C.S. Harris
"Yes. Princess Charlotte," Candace replied. "I knew the general outline of the family, but I was appalled when I read more and learned what the Prince Regent put his wife through.

"He sent his mistress to the dock to meet his bride's ship. Caroline, his bride-to-be, knew that Lady Jersey was his mistress, and the Prince Regent sat Lady Jersey prominently at the wedding feast. Lady Jersey was invited along on the honeymoon. He had given Caroline pearl bracelets as wedding gifts, and he took them back and gave them to Lady Jersey who made a point of wearing them around Caroline because the Prince Regent had appointed her one of Caroline's ladies-in-waiting. It's really hard to imagine that he could've been any crueler to her unless he would've locked her up.

"The Prince Regent was a narcissist, a pathological liar, and he was very vindictive," Candace told us. "He was incredibly mean to his daughter. I don't think he had the capacity to love anyone other than himself. As his daughter Caroline grew up, the crowds loved her and would cheer as she rode down the street. This made her father hate her because those same crowds would boo and hiss whenever he went by, so he tried to keep her out of the public eye. Despite this, Caroline grew to be a very likable woman.

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"She died in childbirth, and that made everyone scramble to get married because, although George III had had all these children, Caroline was the only one who was legitimate. By the time Caroline died, they were all in their forties, so it was too late, and that's how England wound up with Queen Victoria."

"So that's the household in which the mystery takes place. We'll get back to that, but you can see that it was a setting that was just ripe for disaster!" Barbara said. "So, Ann Parker, there you are-- it's good to see you!

"For you, this is a pivotal book because Inez Stannert, whom we first met during the silver rush in Leadville, Colorado, has decided that her life needs a reboot, and she's gone off to San Francisco, which is a rough town. There's a lot going on."

"Yes," Ann replied. "San Francisco in 1881 had the Barbary Coast, it had Chinatown, and in addition to the Barbary Coast waterfront, there was another in the Mission Canal District that I became very intrigued with. It was also a rough part of town. Inez and I began to tiptoe through the town to see what was there and what was of interest. Inez was looking for business opportunities; she's a savvy woman. It was an interesting period for businesswomen in San Francisco."

Ann Parker
"Inez was part owner of a saloon in Leadville with her husband, and they're now divorced," Barbara said. "She's also invested in a couple of bordellos in Leadville with her partner, Flo, who's a madam. So, for her day and age, Inez is an adventurous venture capitalist."

"It just so happens that this is an exciting time for women entrepreneurs in San Francisco," Ann said. "Women owning and running millinery shops, laundries, stationery shops, and boarding houses-- proper and not-so-proper. A lot of them needed capital to grow their business. There actually was a woman in San Francisco who was well-known for giving loans and helping women to build their businesses. Right now her first name is POOF! gone, but they used to call her Mammy Pleasance. Does this ring a bell for anyone? But there is a history of women funding women, which is pretty cool."

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"Needless to say, a body floats up, her past comes back to haunt her-- both literally and figuratively-- from Leadville, so it's a very interesting book with lots going on," Barbara said. "And it's a kind of pivot for her to see where we're going. Because Leadville was becoming like Cabot Cove a little bit so San Francisco really opens up possibilities."

"Oh, yes!" Ann replied. "There's San Francisco, and across the bay there's Berkeley. The University of California existed during this time frame-- and accepted women."

Barbara moved on to the third writer on the panel. "So, Tessa, this is your fourth book for Lady Montfort. You've jumped from the Edwardian Era right into World War I."

"Yes," Tessa replied. "In fact, in the third book, I did a little countdown. When the mystery was solved, the boys were going off to war. I left it at that, but then I decided I wanted Lady Montfort to be involved in the war on the home front. I'd just finished reading Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That, and I thought, 'Oh, this is what I want to do.' So it starts in the summer when England is struggling to bring in the harvest without men and women are stepping up to run the Land Army as well as run hospitals and keep everything going.

"Clementine [LadyMontfort] is up in Scotland visiting a friend who's in a very special hospital called Craiglockhart which is taking care of the growing number of soldiers struggling with what they called then 'shellshock' and what we know today as PTSD. The Battle of the Somme ran throughout the summer months, and the casualties were horrendous.

Tessa Arlen
"So Clementine visits Oscar and decides that the Dower House can be turned into a rehab center, which not only had to be funded by her husband but had to get approval through the War Office.

"Everything is going well at the hospital. The doctor has many types of therapy, and he's worked hard to educate the nearby villagers because they all believed these men are cowards and malingerers. Then a young war hero who's not only suffering from shellshock but amnesia as well is found murdered in the hospital's vegetable garden. Since the War Office is about to arrive for its quarterly inspection, with this murder, it looks as though the hospital is completely out of control."

"And Mrs. Jackson, the formidable housekeeper is in charge of the hospital," Barbara remarked. "Many of your readers will already be familiar with country houses being turned into hospitals after watching the second season of Downton Abbey.

"Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson have a Holmes-Watson... no, they don't because they're really quite equal. There's not that disparity between them."

"They're intellectually equal, but socially they're not equal at all," Arlen observed. "But they do have a huge respect and liking for each other."

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"Candace, let's get back to Why Kill the Innocent," Barbara said. "You've told us about Princess Charlotte and her terrible situation. When a body is discovered, who is it, and why is it of such importance to St. Cyr?"

"The victim is Princess Charlotte's music teacher and a minor composer and was based on a real person named Mary Guest who did teach Charlotte. But she wasn't murdered!" Candace replied. "St. Cyr gets involved because his wife literally trips over the body."

"Sebastian has evolved quite a bit since the series began," Barbara said.

"Yes," Candace replied. "When he returned to London from fighting Napoleon, he was quite damaged-- PTSD-- and then he learned secrets about his own family that he found very hard to accept. Yes, he's definitely coming back from the edge."

"St. Cyr's family is wildly dysfunctional and so is his wife's family," Barbara commented. "You almost have to wonder if there were any normal families among the British upper crust during the Napoleonic Era!"

"I think it was a combination of money and power... and people who were marrying, not for love, but for alliances," Candace said. "Parents had very little to do with their children who were spoiled by nannies."

L to R: Tessa Arlen, Ann Parker
"Ann, let's get back to you," Barbara said. "Inez has come to San Francisco, and she's not alone."

"That's true!" Ann chuckled. "She's brought her ward with her, Antonia, who is a young girl Inez met in Leadville in the previous book. By book's end, Antonia has no family, so Inez takes her under her wing.

"It's interesting how these things bubble up from the unconscious," Ann remarked. "I had no intention of this happening, but I'm glad it did. It's wonderful to get to know Antonia, and I'm finding it's a lot of fun pairing her with Inez. Antonia is such an independent, strong-willed child. She's almost like Inez in miniature. It will be interesting to see where this goes."

"Inez came from such a solid, affluent background, but she made one terrible mistake," Barbara said.

"But he's such a charmer!" Ann laughed.

"Yes, he's a gambler," Barbara said. "It's just so interesting to see Inez, who comes from such a solid upbringing, make this one mistake, and she's led a very unconventional life ever since.

"Yes, her family disowned her, and the only person who keeps in touch is her sister," Ann said. "How does a person live their life after making one terrible mistake?"

"Lady Montfort, on the other hand, made a spectacular marriage," Barbara said to Tessa.

"Yes, and now Clementine's broken the rules by investigating murders," Tessa said. "She investigates upstairs, and Mrs. Jackson-- who at first didn't want anything to do with this-- investigates downstairs. By this fourth book, Mrs. Jackson is completely on board."

C.S. Harris
Looking at C.S. Harris, Barbara said, "You left us with a cliffhanger, you rat! Do you plan these things out, or do they just happen?"

Candace laughed. "I know how it's going to turn out! Laura Joh Rowland, who's a good friend of mine, told me that she made a mistake with her Sano Ichiro series. She planned it as a one-off, and she said that, if she had it all to do again, she'd plan out the series. So... that's what I did. I sat down and planned things out, like Sebastian's personality and his family. I thought I'd have this all done by book six, but I'm writing book fifteen right now!"

"I like the fact that the series is moving in such small increments of time," Barbara said.

"Yes, thirteen books, and it's only been three years."

"I tell everyone it was a twenty-year war and only ended with Waterloo," Barbara said.

"Fourteen is Who Slays the Wicked," Harris told us. "The blurb will be out soon, so I'm not giving anything away by telling you that Lord Ashworth is the victim."

"Good! At least one of these bastards gets killed!" Barbara exclaimed. (Does she get emotionally involved with any of her favorite series? Nah. Not a bit!)

Ann is interested with the Palace Hotel and a printing co-operative, so she's thinking about an opera singer, that co-operative, and maybe a body in a trunk for her next book, although she's going to have to talk with her editor (Barbara) first. "Oscar Wilde actually visited Leadville," Barbara told us, "and Ann has been trying to think of a reason for Inez to go back there so she can meet Wilde."

"I'm going to wait a book or two on that," Ann said.

Tessa, on the other hand, is thinking about writing something new. "It's a very different protagonist," Tessa said. "She's very young, a little socially awkward, but she's quite independently-minded. She becomes infatuated with an American fighter pilot who's stationed on an airfield that's on her grandfather's land. This takes place during World War II, and the dialogue is so much easier! Her name is Poppy Redfern, and she lives in a very remote village which is horrified at having all these Americans on their doorstep. I'm married to an American, so it's very easy for me to write this!"

Thus endeth Part Two. Come back next Monday for the third and final part which features Paige Shelton, Kate Carlisle, and Jenn McKinlay!


  1. This does sound like so much fun, Cathy! And I'm glad that you were able to be there.

  2. Oh, I love this! I've seen two of these authors before and lately, I'm really enjoying discovering, reading, and contemplating reading historical mysteries. I've gone down the rabbit hole a little. I so enjoyed the panels at Malice that featured the historical writers and so that has prompted my latest reading. Wonder when CozyCon will be next year? Hmmm....

    1. It's always on a Saturday, usually the week before Mother's Day in May.


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