TURNING A VICTORIAN MISSIONARY INTO A SLEUTH by Peggy Hanson

Miss Matthews touring 1909            My great Aunt Mary was a real person.  After attending Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, she went off to Monastir, Macedonia as a foreign missionary in 1888 and did not return until 1920, when I believe she was sent away by Serbian authorities for being an American spy.

During her tour of duty running a school for girls, she acted heroically through one crisis after another:  the end of the Ottoman Empire; the Young Turk Revolution; Balkan Wars I and II; and, especially, the relentless German bombardment of her school and city during World War I.

In an age when women were taught to keep a low profile and be guided and protected by men, Aunt Mary became a force of her own in Monastir, dealing with Turkish, Bulgarian and Serbian governors; providing a haven and provisions for victims of war (she did not discriminate along ethnic or religious lines); becoming in every sense a strong feminist against the Victorian odds.

And she left thirty-two years’ worth of diaries, letters and pictures for her family to peruse, transcribe, and donate to her beloved Mount Holyoke—where she had received the Medal of Honor for her work in the Balkans.

After a year of immersion in the Mary Matthews collection, intending to publish it as a diary, I realized I needed to take a different tack.  With two mysteries under my belt, DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN, I had my aha! moment: I am a mystery writer, not an academic Istanbul coverresearcher.  Aunt Mary will be available to academics once the Collection is archived and opened by Mount Holyoke in fall of 2015.  For my tribute, I needed to turn her into a sleuth.

At first I thought it would be easy.  Having read all her first-hand material, I knew Mary Matthews’s mind and heart.  I have researched the Victorian era until I am practically wearing bustles.  Much about life in Monastir echoed my own experience in central Anatolia as an early Peace Corps volunteer.  Even the street names were in Turkish!

Miss Matthews, as she was known, wrote in detail about daily events at her school and in her town—and many of those events cried out to be tweaked just a bit to make them murderous.  She was the “go-to” person when any crisis occurred, whether it be a sick cat, a needy neighbor, disgraceful behavior by her girls or an epidemic of scarlet fever or flu.  I would have all the names and the descriptions from Mary herself…

Except that Mary Matthews edited her own papers ruthlessly before she died.  I know that “Mr. Eftim picked a rose” in 1917.  I know nothing about the 23-year-old missionary’s feelings as she embarked from her protected life across the Atlantic on a Cunard liner, spent a few days in London when Jack the Ripper held the city in fear, or ate oysters and prime rib aboard the luxurious Orient Express.  (Since this was all pre-electricity, one almost doesn’t need to invent mysterious deaths among the passengers!)

I believe Aunt Mary deleted all this interesting material later in life when she feared it might not look “missionary” enough.  We are left with a paragraph from one of her mother’s letters naming the ship, the dates in London, and the fact that Mary and her woman companion “made their way across Europe to Constantinople.”  The only way they could have visited the cities mentioned was by the newly-opened Orient Express.

Despite not having much to go on, I wanted to start my series with the journey of that young woman.  This meant inventing characters who might have been with her or at least could have been with her.  I put in a few people who are mentioned later in the actual diaries (Miss Ellen Stone, a British nurse, kidnapped in 1901 and who eventually went to Monastir) or about whom I had read (the British journalist who made his career following Miss Stone’s adventures in the Macedonian mountains.)

As I made up characters and incidents, I had fun imagining Mary’s interactions with them.  It was delightful to research what London and Paris were like at that time.  (Did you know the Eiffel Tower was being built in Fall of 1888?)

I love dining-car scenes and began to immerse myself in the gossip and putdowns and kindly remarks exchanged among the passengers.  To do that, I had to place people at tables, sketch them out – and, where necessary, go back to the S.S. Bothnia or the respectable little hotel in London to position red herrings.

I wish I were a writer who could plan out everything before she starts!  I’m not.  I’m as surprised as anyone when something untoward is found under the berth or in a lady’s purse.

The working title for my book is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.  So…don’t expect all the religious people making the trip to be saints.  Don’t get too attached to a character who might, just might, become a victim.

Trust Aunt Mary.  She was a problem-solver in life. She will be a problem-solver in fiction!

 

Peggy brown scarfPeggy Hanson is an author and travel blogger who loves to share her international life with her readers. Peace Corps, Voice of America, teaching of English–all these have played major roles in her life. Growing up in a series of small towns in Colorado, the daughter of a mountain-climbing Congregational minister and teacher, probably helped mold her affinity to nomadism. In her adult life, she’s lived for extended periods in Turkey, Yemen, India and Indonesia.

Her first two books are mysteries in the Elizabeth Darcy series set in other countries: DEADLINE ISTANBUL and Deadline Yemen cover by AnneDEADLINE YEMEN. She is currently working on the third in that series, DEADLINE INDONESIA, and is also compiling and editing her great aunt Mary’s diaries and letters and pictures from 1888-1920 when she was a missionary teacher and principal in the Balkans. The working title of the diaries is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It is a story of early feminism and a woman’s bravery in the face of war.

www.peggyhansonauthor.com

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Review: Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

alex-pbkAlex

Pierre Lemaitre

ISBN:  978-1-62365-000-1

MacLehose Press; 2013pierre lemaitre

Hard Cover, 362 pgs.

Release date: September 3, 2013, $24.95

Reviewed by Gina Metz

Alex is book one in Pierre Lemaitre’s Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy translated from French by Frank Wynne.

Alex Prevost is a beautiful single 30 year old woman living in Paris.  After a day of shopping and treating herself to a dinner out, Alex is kidnapped off a Paris street while walking home.  Her kidnapper savagely beats her and places her in a cage suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse.  All he will tell her is that he wants to watch her die.

An eyewitness notifies the police but gives very vague details of the girl, the kidnapper and the van.  Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven is assigned the case but initially has very little to go on and it is even difficult to be sure a kidnapping has taken place.

Verhoeven does not want to take the case as it hits entirely too close to home for him.  A few years earlier Verhoeven’s wife was kidnapped and killed and he had a breakdown shortly thereafter.  But his superior insists that he take the case until another detective comes back to town to take over the case.  By the time the other detective returns, Verhoeven is too deeply involved in the case to relinquish it.

Alex is a riveting book that the reader will not want to put down until the final page has been read.  Be prepared to be enthralled by the book’s twists and turns.  I could not read this book fast enough.  I highly recommend it to mystery readers.  I cannot wait to read the other books in this trilogy.

Review: Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

alex-pbkAlex

Pierre LemaitrePierre+Lemaître[1]

ISBN:  978-1-62365-000-1

MacLehose Press; 2013

Hard Cover, 362 pgs.

Release date: September 3, 2013, $24.95

Reviewed by Gina Metz

Alex is book one in Pierre Lemaitre’s Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy translated from French by Frank Wynne.

Alex Prevost is a beautiful single 30 year old woman living in Paris.  After a day of shopping and treating herself to a dinner out, Alex is kidnapped off a Paris street while walking home.  Her kidnapper savagely beats her and places her in a cage suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse.  All he will tell her is that he wants to watch her die.

An eyewitness notifies the police but gives very vague details of the girl, the kidnapper and the van.  Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven is assigned the case but initially has very little to go on and it is even difficult to be sure a kidnapping has taken place.

Verhoeven does not want to take the case as it hits entirely too close to home for him.  A few years earlier Verhoeven’s wife was kidnapped and killed and he had a breakdown shortly thereafter.  But his superior insists that he take the case until another detective comes back to town to take over the case.  By the time the other detective returns, Verhoeven is too deeply involved in the case to relinquish it.

Alex is a riveting book that the reader will not want to put down until the final page has been read.  Be prepared to be enthralled by the book’s twists and turns.  I could not read this book fast enough.  I highly recommend it to mystery readers.  I cannot wait to read the other books in this trilogy.

Review: Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

fey_floats-the-dark-shadowFloats the Dark Shadow

by Yves Feyauthor-yves-fey

ISBN-13: 978-1937356200

BearCat Press (August 31, 2012)

Ever since seeing this book’s gorgeous trailer…

I’d been eager to read it, wondering if it could possibly live up to its preview. Let me tell you, it does not disappoint. Yves Fey is a consummate artist. Her passionate, enthralling world fully involved all my senses—including the sixth. Fair warning: that enthrallment included “the fascination of the abomination” in unstinting measure.

Set in Belle Epoch Paris in 1897, here’s how the story starts: “Gilles unlocked the scorched oak door and raised his lantern, illuminating the staircase that coiled down to the dungeons of the chateau. Underneath the smell of ashes, of damp stone and lantern oil, he inhaled traces of other odors. Mold, urine, and feces, Clotted gore. Fear. The fetid bouquet blossomed in his nostrils. Repugnance entwined with anticipation.”

“Repugnance entwined with anticipation”: Gilles feels this and often so does the reader. Fey’s prose is vastly more than words on paper, vividly evoking odors, images, sounds, sensations (on the skin), and feelings (in the heart)—as many of them sinister as sumptuous. Her work clearly has been impeccably researched and fully imagined, in meticulous detail. Like the mists of Paris in the novel, these details constantly swirled, coalesced, disappeared, and reappeared in new forms in my mind. After this, my imagined Paris will always be the City of Light and Shadow.

The book’s multisensory richness is more than matched by emotional energy and complexity rarely found in characters outside the classics. The passion of some scenes nearly sets the pages on fire. There’s not a predictable personality in sight—though there are some you’ll recognize, since Fey weaves in historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, and the infamous child murderer Gilles de Rais, he of the “gore-sodden soul” (a compound adjective worthy of Homer).

For an expanded experience, log onto http://yvesfey.com/, the most beautiful website I’ve ever seen. You’ll be able to visit the mysterious Paris of Theo, Averill, and Michel (depicted by artists of the Belle Epoch); read and hear its poetry; and learn about its history, customs, and institutions.

All in all, Floats the Dark Shadow exerted an irresistible allure that enveloped me totally—exactly what I want from a novel. I understand this book is the first in a series. As soon as I reached the last page, I was longing for the sequel.

Pinterest for Inspiration and Profit by Neil Plakcy

neil_plakcy_alohaPinterest for Inspiration and Profit

by Neil Plakcy

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing social networking sites these days. But it’s all about pictures – how can an author whose stock in trade is words make use of a site like this?

pinterest_header

I write books set in three types of places. Those where I’ve never been –Tunisia and Corsica. Those where I’ve been, but so long ago that I need a refresher, such as Paris, the French Riviera, and Hawaii. I also write books set in places I can visit more easily, including my home town in Pennsylvania, and various sites in South Florida, where I now live.

I use photographs to help in writing about all three places. Sometimes they’re pictures I’ve taken myself, but more often they’re ones I’ve natural_predators_300found on line. They can be photos tourists have taken and posted, promotional shots, or who knows what. I often will capture those images and stick them in a folder, and use them when I need inspiration, or when I want to know what certain kind of building or cityscape looks like.soul_kiss_sneakers

I’ve discovered a second use for these, as well, by posting them on Pinterest. I’ve begun adding them to Pinterest boards, and tagging them with brief quotes from the book that relate to them.  This process also sometimes gets me to find additional pictures, especially when I have a great quote I want to post.

I believe that by posting these quotes, and links back to my website, I can sell books to people interested in those places. Daydreaming about Hawaii? If you enjoy the board I’ve set up, then perhaps you’ll like my books too. Do you love golden retrievers? I do, and I enjoy posting pictures of goldens to my board. And I’ve noticed that whenever I upload a picture of one of my goldens , linked to my website, www.goldenretrievermysteries.com, the sales of books in this series get a boost.

stories_and_novelsI also have a board set up for ‘Neil Plakcy’s Books and Stories,’ and I post my covers there.  It’s another place where a fan can stumble on me and say, “I didn’t realize he’d written other books!”

One caveat: You have to enjoy fiddling around with pictures to get the most out of Pinterest. If you consider it work, you’ll be too caught up in the possible rewards.

To see my boards and pins:  http://pinterest.com/neilplakcy/

Happy pinning!