Meet Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady with keen insight into human nature and a knack for solving mysteries. Problems both quaint and dramatic find her in Sour Springs, a small town in Colorado at the turn of the twentieth century. Here in Volume One are her first three adventures, novelette-length mysteries previously published individually.
In The Silver Shawl, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives—was she kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? In The Parting Glass, Mrs. Meade puzzles over the case of a respectable young man accused of drunkenly assaulting a woman. And in The Oldest Flame, Mrs. Meade’s visit with old friends turns to disaster with a house fire that may have been deliberately set. Quick and entertaining forays into mystery and times past, each story is just the perfect length to accompany a cup of tea or coffee for a cozy afternoon.
To celebrate this event, Elisabeth is doing a blog tour - writing guest posts, answering interviews, giving away things, the whole shebang. She's here today to revive my blog and talk about historical mystery and classic mystery.
Historical Mystery and Classic Mystery:
Closer Than You Think
Mystery today is one of the most adaptable genres, or at least one on which a wide variety of variations are made. Booksellers split the main genre into half a dozen subcategories: hard- boiled, cozy, historical, British, police procedurals, and more. Authors have discovered over the years that the classic mystery plot can be given a fresh twist by trying it out in different scenarios and styles, sometimes with splendid results. I’ve read and enjoyed some of these attempts, but the lure of the classics is always strong. I’m always ready to go back to certain settings—say, an English country house in the 1930s, with a mixed bag of suspects and an enigmatic private sleuth to sift them out. One book along these lines may be better than another, but the formula never gets old.
In my own writing, historical mystery is my sub-genre of choice. It’s a pretty extensive sub- genre in itself—you can have a historical mystery set anywhere from ancient Rome to Regency England or the trenches of World War I. But in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that it’s one of many sub-genres, I personally feel it shares the closest kinship with the “classic” mystery, the style that many of us know best. Think about it for a minute. Mystery fiction as we know it began with authors such as Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and their contemporaries in the 19th century, and was refined into an art by G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and a multitude of others during mystery’s Golden Age in the early 20th century. A genre often permanently retains some of the characteristics of the era in which it was born or became most popular—certain plot devices, character types or literary styles that particularly resonated with the people of those times linger on through decades of later authors’ efforts. The detective novel was born in the Victorian era and came of age during the Roaring Twenties, the glamorous ’30s and the World Wars. I think to some degree, the culture of those times is woven into the fabric of the genre, and filters through our consciousness when we hear the word “mystery.”
That’s true, at least, for those of us who cut our mystery teeth on Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Modern-day mysteries just don’t hold the same appeal for me. There’s a certain flair and romance to the old standbys of the footprint and fingerprint, the cigar ash, the handkerchief with a whiff of perfume, the railroad timetable, the half-burned scrap of paper and the revolver in the desk drawer. Cell phones and digital technology just aren’t in it. And there’s the plot angle, too. Before the widespread use of forensic evidence, mystery plots focused in on suspects’ motivations, personalities and relationships—the human interaction element—of necessity. This is an element I’ve always found fascinating. Agatha Christie experimented with more dramatic examples of this back in the Golden Age itself, with situations that deliberately stripped away possible physical evidence and relied almost entirely on the testimony of witnesses (Cards on the Table and Five Little Pigs, for example). She even made an early foray into what we would now call historical mystery, setting Death Comes as the End in ancient Egypt.
At the root of it, I suppose, I write historical mystery because I’m a historical-fiction person any way you slice it. Writing in a modern setting has never really worked for me (and I’ve got a couple of failed story drafts to attest to that). When I had an idea for a mystery series, it was only natural that it should be a historical one. Perhaps it’s because of this relationship between history and mystery that I’ve always felt myself on familiar ground while writing the Mrs. Meade Mysteries. My own characters, their home town and their plots may be different, but I still feel I’m following in the footsteps of the mystery authors I’ve read and loved—or at least cutting a new path through a familiar forest.
Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, avid reader and lifelong history buff. Her first published story, “Disturbing the Peace,” was an honorable mention in the first annual Rope and Wire Western short story competition, and is now collected with six others in her debut short story collection, The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories. Her other works include short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression. A homeschool graduate, she chose not to attend college in order to pursue self-education and her writing career. Visit her online at www.thesecondsentence.blogspot.com .
Elisabeth is doing a fun giveaway of one signed book and several Mrs Meade bookmarks (sneak peek!). Enter to win, but don't forget to hurry over to CreateSpace or Amazon to buy your own copy. Supporting your non-local author: it's a thing.
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