When I first decided to switch from contemporary romance to historical mystery I thought of a heroine who was an actress who becomes a Pinkerton agent. It made sense to me since she would be good at infiltrating different situations and get right in the middle of things. The idea seemed so fresh and I still believe it is, but I was surprised when I started my research and discovered that Allan Pinkerton hired the first female detective, the incomparable Kate Warne and that he hired several actresses through the years.
So what makes Lilly a different from other historical mystery heroines out there? First, she’s young. Twenty-two. And she’s a walking dichotomy. When I researched the theater, I learned a lot about the life of women who “tread the boards.” Raised in an industry where women were considered little more than harlots by the public they entertained, they were also some of the few women who were treated as equals to their male counterparts and were paid accordingly. Though it was a life of travel and different places, the nomadic life of a traveling theater actor was, in many ways sheltered, since they were never in one place long enough to put down roots or make lasting friends outside their fellow players.
Like many heroines, Lilly is headstrong. Unlike many, that determination stems from a natural curiosity, and eagerness to try the next thing, and determination not to let her shortcomings lead her to failure.
I’m a firm believer in strong backstory. We are the sum total of the events and people of our past have made us. Lilly is no different. When she hears her mother being killed by a lover, she is so traumatized she blots the memory from her mind. That isn’t the only scar left by the mother she loved so deeply. All Lilly’s life, Kate Long had a parade of men waltzing through her bedroom. Lilly doesn’t even know who her father is, even though she hopes it is the man who took her under his wing when her mother was killed.
Sir Pierce Wainwright gives Lilly something few girls of her time had: an education equal to that of a noble-born son. This puts her in good standing when she interviews for the Pinkertons.
Fearing that she will be just like her mother, Lilly has always downplayed her looks and keeps herself pure until she marries. Four short months after the wedding, he attacks her, demeans her, and steals her life savings. It seems she does have her mother’s penchant for falling for handsome, smooth-talking men, after all. How do these old scars and new wounds affect her?
Trials Turn to Motivation
Furious that she was so easily swayed by pretty words and that she and other women are such easy prey for men, she wants to change things. Now she is determined to become a Pinkerton. She can’t help every abused woman, but she can help a few.
Too young, too innocent, unskilled, she gets the job anyway, but only by hook or crook, her intelligence, and what she knows about Allan Pinkerton, whose motto is “the ends justify the means.”
So, we have our heroine, who had a far different background than most heroines in the 1880s:
Like most young ladies of her time, she is unskilled and green as grass, BUT She is well-educated.
She is naïve and doesn’t think things through, BUT she is determined and hardheaded.
Kate’s blood does run through her veins, BUT thanks to Pierce, she has morals and values to act as a balance.
Like other women, she is dependent on men to help her achieve her goals, BUT her anger and frustration over the state of women, keep her pushing for more.
For every negative, I’ve given her a positive. Led by determination and curiosity, Lilly rushes headlong into trouble and often does stupid things. But given her personality and her unique past, she learns with every case, stumbling onto clues as much as discovering them, but always falling back on the traits that made her the woman she is.
Penny Richards has been publishing since 1983 with just over 40 books to her credit. Mostly contemporary romance, her books have won several industry awards, including a Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award and a RITA nomination, and have made many best seller lists. She currently writes the Lilly Long Mystery series for Kensington. Lilly is a Shakespearean actress who becomes a Pinkerton agent to help women who have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous men. The first book in the series, AN UNTIMELY FROST was awarded Best Historical Mystery of 2018 from the Texas Association of Authors. The third book, MURDER WILL SPEAK, takes Lilly to the infamous portion of Ft. Worth known as Hell’s Half Acre. MURDER WILL SPEAK is scheduled for release in April of 2018.
FB: Penny Richards, Author and Lilly Long