Mary Reed and Eric Mayer co-author the John, Lord Chamberlain, historical mystery series set in 6th century Byzantium. The eleventh, Murder In Megara, was published in October 2015 by Poisoned Pen Press. The Guardian Stones, a World War Two mystery set in rural Shropshire, will appear under the pen name Eric Reed in January 2016 from the same publisher.
Murder In Megara links
Poisoned Pen Press
CAT MUMMIES AND FLYING LORD CHAMBERLAINS
Writers of historical mystery fiction are occasionally handicapped by not being sure whether certain matters could take place in any given time period.
Some eras are relatively easy to research but others, well, not so much. Our time-tested method for overcoming such difficulties?
Note what is known and extrapolate from the information in a fashion that will not break the laws of the universe. In this way writers are able to describe scenes that sound unlikely but are not when the
mandatory explanations are offered.
The writer has often to plough some fairly far-off fields to obtain needed information but we have found it will often pop up in casual reading rather than deep research, thus underlining the need for writers to find time to read as much as possible.
So, escorting you behind the scenes to provide examples from our work, we might mention spontaneous combustions occurred and the sea caught fire in Two For Joy. How these feats were accomplished involved looking into accounts of early miracles and investigation of certain natural phenomena.
In Three For A Letter the automatons — including musicians, an archer, and the mechanical whale played an important part in the plot – were based upon the writings of Heron of Alexandria, to which we added
something of our own, while our protagonist Lord Chamberlain John’s brief flight from atop a Constantinople tower as related in Four For A Boy became possible by combining information obtained from perusal of
accounts of failed Victorian suicides and an historical record of a 17th century flight in the city.
Occasionally information comes to hand long after publication supporting what appears at first blush to be the over-inventive imagination of certain writers of mysteries not a hundred miles from this blog.
Cat mummies spring to mind.
In Six For Gold we sent John to Egypt, accompanied by Cornelia and John’s servant Peter, to look into the matter of sheep committing suicide. While the trio are in Alexandria Peter meets Pedibastet, purveyor of cat mummies. They are certainly mummies but not as ancient as presented, for Pedibastet manufactures and sells them to unwary visitors as genuinely ancient artefacts.
A forger of mummies, we thought, and why not? Visitors to Egypt think of pyramids and mummies. Greed knows no bounds and such souvenirs would be easy enough to accomplish — the reader can tell from their description these are not the highest grade of mummy — so although the notion pained us no end, to keep his expenses down we arranged for Pedibastet to breed or steal his basic material. It would be just the sort of thing
this type of seedy character would do — and so he did.
Even so, one of Pedibastet’s creations plays a part in assisting John and his companions to put on a somewhat scurrilous street performance in Alexandria. This unlikely event was necessary because, Peter having been
robbed, the party needs funds to pay for their passage up the Nile in connection with John’s investigation.
At least there were cats in Pedibastet’s mummies, unlike some mentioned in a BBC report this past summer.
A team investigating the contents of animal mummies via the use of an x-ray machine and CT scanner discovered some mummies contained only partial remains or none at all. Experts were divided on why this should be so: were they made for sale to pilgrims and there was more profit to be made in such spurious artefacts or was it believed even a part of an animal was considered as sacred as the whole?
Cheops, as Cornelia dubbed the cat mummy, returned to Constantinople with the travelers and currently resides in John and Cornelia’s bedroom.
Evidence for his presence there occurs in an early chapter in Murder In Megara, latest entry in the series to published by Poisoned Pen Press in October.