Meet Tito Amato, 18th-Century Opera Star and Sleuth

Tito Amato is a castrato singer, a divo of the 18th-century opera stage, who lives and works in Venice during the last few decades of the Republic’s tumultuous decline. The castration forced upon him as a young boy could easily have made Tito a bitter man, but in his case, the physical violation resulted in empathy for anyone wronged by a repressive, uncaring society. A friendless stranger, the Jews of the Venetian ghetto, a Carnival dwarf, a wise woman of the Old Religion, a murdered servant whose master would like to simply to forget her—Tito seeks justice for all.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a trade paper copy of the first Tito Amato mystery, INTERRUPTED ARIA.

Susanne Alleyn: Buongiorno, Signor Amato. We’re grateful that you’ve been able to take a break from your busy rehearsal schedule to visit with us. Please tell us a little about your time and place.

Tito: I live in the Most Serene Republic of Venice in the mid-1700s. Although my ancient city once ferried Crusaders to the Holy Land and ruled the eastern Mediterranean like a seafaring queen, in my day Venice has been deserted by fortune. She is dying. Literally, she is sinking into the lagoon. Morally she is wasting herself in a maelstrom of pleasure and gaiety. Economically she survives by fleecing the foreigners who flock to our island to enjoy our musical and artistic treasures, our women, our gambling houses, and especially, our six-month Carnival. I believe you have a city that serves a similar function, though it is inexplicably located in the middle of a desert—Las Vegas.

SA: The practice of castrating young boys to make opera singers of them is abhorrent to most 21st-century readers. Could you tell us more about it?

Tito: Blame St. Paul: he is the one who first admonished women to keep silent in the churches. The rest followed according to the literal-minded logic of some boneheaded churchmen. Boy sopranos sang in church choirs, but their voices deepened after only a few years. Around the 16th century, it occurred to some clever voice master to preserve the angel voices by means of surgery. Later, when the new spectacle of opera became the reigning entertainment of the day, the public wanted to hear the same high, thrilling voices they enjoyed in church. My contemporaries find the castrato voice fascinating and compelling, the perfect expression of song in a culture that has developed artifice and illusion to a high art. My arias make women swoon and grown men weep.

Bev interjects: Tito also makes boatloads of money singing them. Not too shabby, eh?

SA: Is there anything about 18th-century Venice that would seem particularly familiar or relevant to readers of the early 21st century?

Tito: Carissima Bev, the chronicler of my adventures, has noted an unfortunate similarity. Like your world, my Venice is undergoing an economic decline. Our merchants once depended on lucrative trade routes to the Levant (your Middle East) and the Orient. The esteemed title La Serenissima conjured up visions of maritime superiority and political glory. Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage changed all that—trade gradually turned toward the West and Venice was left with scraps. Our merchants and aristocrats, who are one and the same,now take brutal, desperate measures to preserve their wealth and status. I’ve faced cynical, greedy villains who’ve sabotaged Venice’s foreign trade agreements, blamed powerless Jews for Venice’s money woes, even attempted to swindle benefices out of the Vatican.

SA: How and why did you first become a sleuth?

Tito: I didn’t set out to involve myself in crime. I was having enough trouble preparing for my opera debut and adjusting to living in my family home after years spent at a Naples conservatory. On opening night disaster struck. Adelina Belluna, a prima donna who had taken me under her wing, collapsed during the second act. It was soon discovered that she’d been poisoned, and my friend, Felice Ravello, was accused. Unjustly, I was certain, but the authorities were determined to close the case quickly and execute Felice. I had to find the real killer. In so doing, I found that I had both a natural streak of curiosity and a nose for justice that served me well.

SA: Many literary sleuths have a companion, or sidekick, in their investigations. Do you?

Tito: In PAINTED VEIL, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Augustus Rumbolt. “Gussie” is an Englishman who was making his Grand Tour of Europe when he decided to defy his family and stay in Venice to study painting. My sweet sister Annetta may have had something to do with his resolve—Gussie is now my brother-in-law as well as my closest friend. Having spent his youth in tramping and riding over his father’s estate, Gussie provides a welcome strong arm in many of my cases.

SA: Is there an established police force in 1740s Venice? Do your efforts ever clash with official attempts to maintain law and order?

Tito: Venice has a rudimentary police force. The sbirri are rough men whose main job is to keep order during Carnival and our many festivals. If real detective work is called for, the task falls to the chief of the sbirri , Messer Grande—whose title translates to Mr. Big. Messer Grande rarely appreciates my efforts.

SA: Does your career as a singer ever interfere with your avocation as a sleuth? Or vice versa?

Tito: To the contrary. The opera houses of Venice are the meeting places of society. The Doge himself keeps an official box at the Teatro San Marco, and even the poorest gondolier has his space on a bench in the pit. In between, every layer of Venetian society is represented. I have access to everyone, high and low. They all know me because I am the celebrated Tito Amato, primo uomo .

SA: On that note, I hear that you’ve been accused—ahem!—of milking the audience for applause.

Tito (bristling): I enjoy an incredible rapport with my audience. They love me and I love them. I won’t apologize for that or for sharing the incredible voice that the knife bestowed and years of vocal training refined.

SA: I gather that the mysteries you solve are generally not tied to a discrete historical event.

Tito: You are correct, with one exception. In CRUEL MUSIC, an unscrupulous Venetian senator coerces me into helping him attempt to place his brother on the throne of St. Peter. Sent to spy on a music-loving Cardinal with the political power to swing the conclave, I was thrust into the midst of papal politics. And I thought Venetian aristocrats fought dirty! I have only two pleasant memories of Rome: finding Liya again and singing for Pope Clement XII. The blind pontiff was lingering on his deathbed, and I like to think that my angelic voice eased his last days.

SA: What’s next for you?

Tito: Carissima Bev has been making notes on the period in my life when I must face the decline of my golden throat and decide what the remainder of my time on this earth holds. She spends many hours pecking away at her writing device. There are many stories she could tell, but I believe she’s chosen the mysterious disappearance of my beloved mentor, Maestro Torani. It was an uncomfortable time for me in many ways—I was even suspected of murdering the poor man to gain his position of director of the Teatro San Marco. Imagine!

SA: What was your most fascinating, confounding, or horrifying case over the course of your career so far, and why?

Tito (visibly shaken): I believe you have a saying in the 21st century: You can’t choose your family. Truer words were never spoken. My younger sister Grisella was born at the moment our mother drew her last breath, and that tragedy set the tone for the rest of her life. Wayward isn’t the word for Grisella—one must think in terms of depravity and wickedness. Bev chronicled the culmination of Grisella’s misdeeds in THE IRON TONGUE OF MIDNIGHT. Surely this was the most horrifying set of murders I’ve ever been a part of, both because my own sister came under suspicion and because the midnight killer seemed to strike the isolated villa with absolute impunity.

SA: I understand you have a wife.

Tito: Yes. Liya, the love and light of my life.

SA: I’m confused. You’re a eunuch. How is it that you are able to marry?

Tito: It will surprise your readers to learn that many castrato singers have reputations as great lovers. The great Caffarelli temporarily lost his voice when he caught a cold hiding in a cistern to avoid his mistress’ angry husband.

SA: (snicker)

Tito: And then, there is the tragedy of Siface, who was murdered by his noble mistress’ family who objected to their liaison. Without violating my privacy, I will say that I do just fine, especially with the invigorating potions and unguents that my herbalist wife concocts. Despite my capability, the Catholic Church forbids the sacrament of marriage because I cannot physically father a child. Thus, my darling pagan and I “jumped the broom” in the tradition of the Old Religion, and I adopted her child as my own son.

SA: Though prominent historical characters rarely take center stage in your investigations, would you care to “name drop” about any fascinating people that 21st-century readers would’ve heard of?

Tito: I do hope they’ve heard of Maestro Vivaldi. After one of my operas, the great composer once put his hand to his heart and said, “Tito has just given us a taste of the choirs of Heaven.” Sticking with the musical world, I met Signor Handel during my disastrous visit to London (as yet unchronicled by carissima Bev). Just between us, I found him pompous and cold. The man works too hard—he needs to put his quill down and get out more. Lastly, I would wager your readers have heard of Casanova. The adventures of that self-styled great lover will endure down the ages—if someone else doesn’t write them, he will. A Venetian like myself, Casanova often attended the opera, ensconced in the box of a generous patron, generally in the back with his hand up a woman’s skirt. Believe me, good people, the man is only famous for being famous (as Bev puts it).

SA: Perhaps you know what “motion pictures” are. Which actor do you think would do the most accurate job of portraying you?

Tito: Do I understand correctly that my performances could be saved and recreated in some mysterious manner? That I could see myself acting on the stage, hear my own voice? But this is miraculous! Singing is the most fleeting of all arts—my throat sounds a note and it vanishes within seconds, never to be repeated in precisely the same way. To capture that … sheer bliss. How I wish these devices existed in my time.

Oh … you asked about an actor to play me. I truly have no idea, but carissima Bev is partial to Signor Johnny Depp. I only hope he’s able to sing soprano.

SA: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us, Signor Amato?

Tito: Bev is nudging me to list my adventures in order. She feels the series is most enjoyable when read from start to finish.

• INTERRUPTED ARIA In which a prima donna is poisoned, and I race the executioner to save my unjustly accused friend.

• PAINTED VEIL In which Gussie and I track a masked killer bent on destruction of the Venetian ghetto.

• CRUEL MUSIC In which I travel to Rome and find that the election of a new Pope can lead to murder.

• THE IRON TONGUE OF MIDNIGHT In which Gussie and I confront a killer who terrorizes a country villa.

• HER DEADLY MISCHIEF In which a courtesan tumbles to her death, and I must solve the mystery before the murderer comes after my family.

Coming in 2013, STRIKING THE HAPPY HOURS In which my mentor disappears, and I am suspected of his murder.


All the Tito Amato Mysteries are available in trade paper and as eBooks from Poisoned Pen Press ( www.poisonedpenpress.com ) or from your favorite local or internet bookseller. During 2012, the publisher in re-releasing the first five volumes with new cover art.

Beverle Graves Myers made a mid-life career switch from psychiatry to mystery writing. A graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, she worked at a public mental health clinic before her first book was published in 2004. From her home in Louisville, Kentucky, Bev also writes short fiction set in a variety of times and places. Her stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, Futures, and numerous anthologies. She has earned nominations for the Macavity, Derringer, and Kentucky Literary awards.

For more information on the Tito Amato Mysteries and on Bev and cowriter Joanne Dobson’s new series set in World War II-era New York, visit this website: www.beverlegravesmyers.com


Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear once or twice a month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.

Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook.

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A Conversation with Jack Haldean, Mystery Writer–and Solver

Jack Haldean lied about his age to get into the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War.  A first rate pilot who had a gift for encouraging his men, he rose to the rank of major (a post later called squadron leader).  He was brought up by his beloved aunt and uncle, Sir Philip and Lady Rivers, in Sussex but, although he has landed gentry as relations, he has no inherited money of his own.  After the war he turned his gift for writing detective stories into a full time job and, helped by his friends and his own imagination and intelligence, has managed to solve some truly baffling cases in real life.

SA: Good morning, Mr. Haldean!  Tell us something about yourself and your world.

Haldean: It’s the 1920’s.  The War is—thank God!—behind us and there can’t be many days where I don’t feel a sense of how incredibly lucky I am, simply to be alive.  And yet . . . so many really good blokes didn’t make it that there’s always a tinge of sadness in that feeling of luck.  It’s bittersweet, you know?  The war, followed by the great pandemic of Spanish influenza, meant that all of us are, in a sense, looking over our shoulders, clinging to this little bright spot of life.  You can see that sense in the art, read it in the poetry and always, always hear it in the music.  I heard Rhapsody in Blue at the Queen’s Hall the other day and there, amidst the noise of the City, expressed in those urgent chords, there’s the plaintive wail of the clarinet and the transposition from the assertive major key, big with confidence, into the minor keys of regret.

London captures that mood.  One the one hand, it’s a big, confident city, where rubber from Malaya, tin from Singapore, tea from India, silks from China and coffee from Sumatra is all funnelled up the Thames, into the waiting docks and warehouses and out into London shops and British factories.  And yet, on the Embankment, looking out on to that same river, lie the poor beggars too poor to afford a bed.  Some of them are there, having squandered their chances, it’s the only place to go but most—including men who risked everything in the trenches—are there because it’s so very hard, once you slip off the ladder, ever to get a foothold back in to decent society.  I’d change that if I could.  If it wasn’t for good friends and a loving family, I could easily have gone down that road.

SA: How did you become a sleuth?

Haldean: It’s rum, this business of solving mysteries.  I drifted into it by accident. I’d always had a knack for writing but the real passion of my life was flight.  It’s hard to remember now how extraordinary it was that, with the aid of a few bicycle parts, a motor and some cloth, wood and wire, one of the great dreams of the human race—flight—had actually come true.  I was, of course, desperate to get into the war—we all were—and even more desperate to get into an aeroplane. I won’t say much about the war, but no one who went through it was ever the same again. I started to write stories, mainly about flying, which had to be published anonymously as I was a serving officer, but after the war, I was able to turn what had been a sideline into a job, when I landed a post on the magazine On The Town.  No one wanted to read about the war—it was all too real and too raw—but everyone wanted detective stories.

I met Bill Rackham, now Inspector Rackham of Scotland Yard, when I wanted some inside information about how the police would actually go about solving a crime.  Bill, an ex-infantry officer, and I hit it off from the start and I was lucky enough to spot the solution of a mysterious business that had occurred in Wiltshire.  After that, Bill got into the way of discussing cases that were a bit out of the way, and between us we managed to crack most of them.  

One case that Bill didn’t particularly want to land me with was finding out what had happened to Mark Helston.  He thought it was hopeless (and so did I!) as the police had investigated the affair and come to the conclusion that Helston, for reasons best known to himself, had vanished deliberately.  The case has been written up under the title of Trouble Brewing. Bill and I did find what happened to Helston but it was a far more mysterious business than any of us dreamed it would be at the beginning.

SA: How do you think the world of the 1920s compares with ours in the 21st century?

Haldean: Solving mysteries is something I’ve never been paid for and that’s one big difference between my world and the world Dolores Gordon-Smith tells me about.  I don’t think any amateur, however gifted, would be welcomed by the police in her time.  There’s been such huge advances in forensic science that it’s hard to see how an amateur would fit in.  The world as a whole has become more specialised and, with education for all, far greater weight given to paper qualifications in all walks of life. The gifted amateur seems as out of place as a brontosaurus. I do admire some aspects of the early 21st century, such as better housing, equality of races and the way women are free to enter the professions without being patronised, but I must admit there are some aspects of Dolores’s world I find bewildering.

Television, for instance.  It sounds like a good idea but hasn’t it damaged your lives?  Without television you’d all have to get out and form clubs and associations as we do and meet real humans instead of having life delivered to you vicariously as a series of moving pictures.  You all seem so isolated by the electronic devices that were meant to bring you together.  I’ve heard of two women chatting by email when they could simply walk out of their houses and actually speak to each other. And how hard are you expected to work?  We work harder and longer, but work stays at work. When we leave the office, that’s it.

I’ll tell you another thing that’s changed too.  Because world affairs are there in your living room through the television, it’s easy for some of you to think that you’re living in the most disaster-prone era ever.  That’s nonsense. We’ve got gross poverty, the aftermath of the war, the terrible pandemic of flu which killed more that the war itself, Russia descending into hideous cruelties and the Nazis on the rise in Germany but we don’t have to dwell on them every evening.

We’d like to think that Germany is going to sort its problems out but Dolores tells me there’s another war to come.  Honestly, after my experiences related in A Hundred Thousand Dragons, I’m not surprised.  I don’t know if that’s my most baffling case, but it was certainly the most personally wounding up to now.  I was involved, you see.  I was part of the problem and the man I eventually had to face was very much part of the new Germany.

He died and I couldn’t regret it.  There’s been very few murderers I’ve regretted bringing to justice.  There was one man—the story’s related in Mad About The Boy?—whose end I sincerely mourned.  He’d been my friend and was, in so many ways, a totally admirable man until he took that fatal wrong step.   I can only hope that in a better world he’ll find not justice—what he did was very wrong—but mercy.

SA: As a writer of detective stories, how do you think they compare with real life?

Haldean: Sometimes, when I’ve written a detective story, I’ve wondered about using murder as entertainment.  Real murder isn’t remotely entertaining but it’s the mystery that intrigues us.  We all want to know what happened and why.  I was delighted to learn crime and detective shows are popular on television. I’d love to see Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple’s cases acted out.  I understand they’re really good!  I’m not sure about seeing my cases on TV but if it had to happen, I’d like the actor to be half-Spanish, like me, intelligent and reasonably good looking.  We all have a little streak of vanity after all! 

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Dolores Gordon-Smith is the author of the Jack Haldean series set in 1920’s England, a Great War spy thriller, Frankie’s Letter, and a column in the UK’s leading magazine for writers, Writing Magazine. Trouble Brewing, Jack’s sixth adventure, was released in April.  She has been a teacher, a civil servant and a shaker-out of Christmas puddings in a jam factory. A huge fan of the “Golden Age” of detection, Dolores is married with five daughters and lives in Greater Manchester, England.

To find out more about Jack and his world and to read Dolores’ weekly blog, go to www.doloresgordon-smith.co.uk .


Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear once or twice a month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.

Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook.

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Interview with Miss China Bohannon, Bookkeeper (and Sleuth)

Smart and sassy 1890s bookkeeper turned sleuth China Bohannon is a magnet for danger. Perilous adventures come at her from all directions, actively seeking her out. She’s survived being kidnapped, thrown off a steamboat to drown, and even gotten shot in the line of duty. Is it also possible to survive a forest fire and multiple attempts on her life? China will be tested when, in Three Seconds to Thunder, a gang headed by a clever undercover boss strives to take over a whole forest, no matter who gets in the way. It’s a good thing China has a clear-eyed grasp of the evidence because the men in her life seem blind to obvious clues.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of any China Bohannon mystery, One Foot on the Edge, Two Feet Below, or the latest in the series, Three Seconds to Thunder (forthcoming).

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Susanne Alleyn: How do you do, Miss Bohannon? What year is it now for you, and where do you pursue your trade?

China Bohannon: Hello. Have we met, perhaps before I escaped from my evil step-mother, Oleatha, and joined my uncle, Montgomery Howe, here in Spokane, Washington? For reasons I don’t wish to go into here, I took  the unorthodox step of running away from my former life in June, 1896. I’ll understand if you don’t want to acknowledge me now. I fear I may have acquired something of a reputation since I began work in Uncle Monk and (blushing) his partner Gratton Doyle’s investigative agency. But, aside from the annoyingly mundane requirements of the job—keeping accounts, writing letters and making out bills, answering the telephone, which Monk and Grat both seem to think will reach out and bite them on the lip— my work has become rather exciting. Frightening, too, at times. Please, allow me to tell you a little of what’s been happening.

SA: How and why did you become a sleuth?

China: I know some people will say these events are my own fault; that I shouldn’t be sticking my nose into what is inherently men’s business. And Gratton and Uncle Monk would both add a part about involving a certain Police Sergeant Lars Hansen in the mix. A great deal of distrust lies between my private investigators and the Spokane Police Department. Monk and Grat say Lars is not trustworthy, that he takes bribes and turns a blind eye when it suits him. At first I thought Grat’s warning was due to a rivalry over a certain Miss Fern Atwood (and I’m convinced this is part of it) but I’ve also seen for myself some of Lars’s questionable acts. And he does seem inordinately interested in Doyle & Howe cases.

Anyway, my very first adventure came about because the police department refused to look for a missing girl, the daughter of a maid at one of the big South Hill mansions. And then, to my shock, Gratton and Monk also turned the mother down. All the men seemed to believe the girl had “gone bad” and disappeared into the tenderloin district. So unfair—so wrong.

I ask you, what could I do when Rachel’s mother begged me . . . me . . . to find her daughter. And so I did. Too late, I’m afraid. The girl was dead. Murdered. And in the course of events, I was almost murdered, too. I tell you all about it in my story, One Foot on the Edge, so you can read for yourself what transpired.

Gratton gave me a dog, during this time, a purebred Bedlington terrier. He hoped she would help keep me safe, and she (I named her Nimble) has become a large factor in my life. But that’s another story, one between Gratton and me.

I must tell you my dearest wish is to be integrated into the detective business right alongside my uncle and Gratton Doyle. I would dearly love seeing my name on the shingle over our office door. Miss China Bohannon, Private Investigator, it would say. I want the freedom to take on cases that I feel strongly about apart from Grat and Monk’s approval, just like I did in solving Rachel’s murder.

In my next adventure, it was Monk and Gratton together who, in asking me to act as a simple decoy while they whisked a client’s family to safety, nearly got me killed. This took place in the Coeur d’Alene Mining District, a place of fabulous wealth, after one of the owners of the Flag of America mine was murdered. Since I was thrown overboard from a steamboat on Coeur d’Alene Lake and only by merest lucky chance (the Irish luck, you know) I survived, I don’t believe they had the right to ignore my efforts to bring these murderers to justice. Do you? And the worst thing is, they ignored me when I tried to point them in the right direction. It took getting shot, being mistaken for a prostitute, and indulging in a real fist fight to convince them differently. Well, I guess they finally learned. If you want to see how all this came about, I tell you in Two Feet Below.

My heart gave a giant leap when Gratton and Monk produced a new sign a couple of days after closing the mining district case. It’s happening. They’re making me a partner! Or so ran my giddy thoughts. They didn’t, though. What they did was make me the official office manager.  Better than nothing, I suppose, but my quest continues.

Go ahead. Call me a suffragette. I won’t exactly deny it, although I prefer the term “emancipated woman.” In Spokane, Washington, in 1896, there are many women working to legalize voting rights for women. The town is a regular hotbed of activity. We also want to promote a living wage for women. I believe any progress I make in my own employment is another stride towards equality for all women. I’m strong and capable. I can do this.

SA: Tell me about your most recent investigation. Are the mysteries you solve generally tied to contemporary historical events?

China: When I talk to the person who writes down my stories, I’ve learned that many of the things that happened in the story she calls Three Seconds to Thunder still happen in her century. It’s hard to believe. There are still incidences of land grabs, still timber thieves, still greed and murder. You’d think after all this time . . .

While I consider myself a modern 1890’s career woman, the Doyle & Howe Detective Agency hasn’t turned me loose on a case of my own just yet. I’ve got to say I’m champing at the bit (as Monk or Grat would put it) and recently, when a call for help came in, a trip into the mountains above the St. Joe country sounded just the thing to prove my worth and assist a friend at the same time. My friend Porter Anderson’s uncle had disappeared and a Johnny-come-lately timber baron claimed the family homestead. What’s more, he had a bill of sale for it. Porter was positive his uncle didn’t sign any bill of sale. The problem was proving it.  Porter knew his uncle would never sell out and leave the country without telling anybody. He was afraid old Lionel Hooker might be dead—murdered.

However, Monk being Monk, he declared the case unsuitable for a lady like me, and took it on himself. No one heard from him for days. With Gratton on another case, I ask you, what could I do? Just leave my uncle to the unknown? Not me. I set out to discover his whereabouts, that’s what, just as the dry lightning of summer set the whole darn woods ablaze.

What I found was a trail of lies, theft, and murder, with uncle Monk the next likely victim. Then, just when we believed the problem solved, trouble broke out again. This time, Gratton Doyle was the one in danger and I had to bail him out. I’m not sure how appreciative he is.

What I’ve learned is that every case is personal. I’ve learned I have to care deeply for the victim, and that I have to be prepared to take risks. But maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is this: Men can be downright silly. They are reluctant to consider a woman capable of being a murderer—murderess. Not even when the clues are right under their noses!

I believe I’ve still got a lot of work to do if I’m ever to reach my goal.

Signed:

Miss China Bohannon
Spokane, Washington
October 26, 1896

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C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington, where she crafts stories set in the Inland Northwest. She is a two-time Spur Award finalist, in 2007 for Short Fiction, and in 2009 for Audio, as well as the 2008 Eppie Award winner for historical/western fiction. She is a member of Western Writers of America, and reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup magazine.


Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear around the middle and end of each month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.

Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook.

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A Talk with John, Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor Justinian

Empress Theodora

The year is 548 and Empress Theodora is dead, the victim of cancer. Or so everyone in Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire, believes. Everyone, that is, except Emperor Justinian, who orders John, his Lord Chamberlain, to find the murderer or suffer the consequences. There is no sign of foul play, but many of the aristocrats at the imperial court had good reason to want Theodora dead . . .

Susanne Alleyn: What year is it now for you, sir, and where are you located?

John, Lord Chamberlain: It’s 548. To be precise, it is July 2. I’m sitting in the study of my house on the grounds of the Great Palace in Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire. I had hoped to get to your communication sooner but my current investigation hasn’t left me time. In fact I’ve just now returned from a visit to the dungeons.

So though it’s late, I’ve lit a lamp and turned my attention to your queries. I’ve spent most of my time the past few days trying to answer questions Justinian has posed and yours are considerably less vexing.

I must live in Constantinople because, as one of the emperor’s closest advisors, I’m constantly on call. Emergencies don’t keep schedules. I would much prefer living on a farm in my native Greece.

It was Fortuna that brought me to this city, and she made me a slave and put me in chains to do so. I’ve manged to advance myself and throw off my literal chains, but figuratively, my official post binds me here, as surely as those poor wretches are confined to the cells I just left.

SA: What do you love most about the time and place in which you live? What do you like least? What particular aspect of your world—if any—would you change, if you could?

John: I can’t say I love either the time or the place. This time, like all others, is filled with horrors, both natural and manmade. How can one love living through plagues and earthquakes and endless wars in Persia and Italy and Africa? Not to mention street crimes and court intrigue. We might love the history that is past, that has become in our imaginations the Golden Age of Athens or the height of the Roman Republic, but the time we must live through is merely to be endured.

And I can say the same of this place. I must endure it until I can leave. As to what I like least or would change, perhaps I may be permitted to pass on those questions for, as we all know, walls have ears and long tongues, especially for what appears to be, or could be made to appear to be, treasonous talk.

SA: Well, what aspects of your world do you think would seem most alien to those of us who live in the 21st century?

John: The emperor’s right of absolute control over every life in the empire. Not only does he have temporal power over everyone, but he is also head of the church.

SA: Where and when were you born, Lord Chamberlain, and how did the events of the first 20 to 30 years of your life influence you?

John: I am Greek, born in 495. I attended Plato’s Academy just outside Athens but I ran off to become a mercenary. As a youngster I preferred action to philosophy. Not long afterwards I met my Cornelia, who travelled with a troupe re-creating the ancient Cretan art of bull-leaping. In a way it was because of her that I ended up where I am, and who I am. I wanted to buy some fine silks for her and accidentally wandered into Persian territory where I was captured and enslaved and later sold back into the empire. But that was all long ago, when I was in my early twenties. I eventually gained my freedom and set my boots on the ladder to the high office I currently hold. Although my hold at the moment feels rather precarious, given Justinian’s insistence that I find a murderer who doesn’t seem to exist.

SA: So how is law and order maintained in sixth-century Constantinople?

John: Here in the capital we have an urban watch under the command of the City Prefect. The excubitors, that is the imperial guard, can also lend assistance outside the palace if necessary. Law and order here means preventing riots like the Nika Riot back in 532, during which the mob nearly burned down the city.

Laws against common crime are hard to enforce and individuals are more or less on their own. Wealthy men don’t venture into the streets without personal bodyguards; everyone else carries a blade. Well, it is true I refuse to have a bodyguard, to the distress of my friends, but I would feel uncomfortable with companions always at my heels. I do carry a dagger and from my days as a mercenary I know how to use it.

As for investigations, sometimes a physician can guess at what sort of poison might have been used, but solving crimes is mostly a matter of tracking down scraps of information and then putting the pieces together. The mosaic on the wall of my study was assembled the same way.

SA: Does the thought of assisting the authorities to send a guilty person to execution, particularly a lingering, gruesome death, affect your personal feelings about investigating a crime?

John: My problem more often than not has been that the authorities cannot or will not mete out appropriate justice. I prefer not to think that I have had to personally administer justice, but rather that I have brought murderers face to face with the fate they deserved.

As to method of execution, a clean death is to be desired. The blade between the ribs is a better way to die than many which the authorities would employ.

SA: Is there someone, particularly an infuriating or downright evil someone who turns up in your life a lot, whom you’d like to murder if you could?

John: Until very recently, yes. But now moot, as well as being much too dangerous to answer.

SA: Are the mysteries you solve generally tied to contemporary historical events?

John: They are naturally tied to the society I live in, but not necessarily to world-shaking events that will be remembered by history. As it happens, though, practically everyone I’ve had to question during my current investigation is highly placed and might well be remembered: General Belisarius and his wife Antonina, the generals Artabanes and Germanus, the Patriarch of Constantinope, the pope, among others.

SA: My goodness—that’s most impressive. Tell us about this investigation.

John: Empress Theodora died last week after a long illness. Justinian is convinced she was murdered. So I’m trying to find a murderer who may not exist, or who might be too well connected for me to bring to justice. All those people I just mentioned had motives. And if I fail . . . well . . . I may end on that farm in Greece I was talking about, or more likely in those dungeons I’ve just come from.

And now I hope you’ll excuse me. I have been trying to speak with the captain of the excubitors but he seems to be making himself scarce. I suspect I will be able to find him at home in the small hours of the night. I would be happy to write more but I fear Emperor Justinian is growing impatient.


The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short Lord Chamberlain detections in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999’s well-received One For Sorrow, the first full-length novel about their protagonist. Nine For The Devil is the ninth entry in this award-winning series.

Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear around the middle and end of each month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.

Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook. Her next novel, The Executioner’s Heir, about Charles Sanson, the hereditary executioner of Paris, will appear in 2013.

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Meet Daisy Dalrymple, 1920s sleuth!

The Daisy Dalrymple series is set in the 1920s, when England was recovering from WWI, though many of its people were still suffering from the after-effects. Daisy herself lost her brother and her fiancé in the war, but she’s a cheerful person, who make the best of things, likes people, and enjoys talking to all sorts, from maids to marquises. She has one unfortunate habit—stumbling upon murder victims. As it has led to her acquaintance with and marriage to DCI Fletcher of Scotland Yard, she’s not so sure even that is a bad thing.

Susanne Alleyn: Tell me about your background, Miss Dalrymple.

Daisy Dalrymple: I was born in England in 1898 and grew up on a country estate in Worcestershire. My father was a viscount. I had an idyllic childhood (if you don’t count the French governess). And then, when I was sixteen, the War came along.

Because of the war, I didn’t have a London Season. When I left school, I worked as a volunteer in a military hospital not far from home. I was too squeamish to be a VAD nurse, so I helped in the office. I fell in love with a Conscientious Objector who drove a Friends’ ambulance. We were secretly engaged. Then he was sent to France, where he died when his ambulance was blown up by a German mine. A corner of my heart will always be his.

My father had always expected my brother to take care of me until I married. When Gervaise was killed in the trenches, Father was so stunned he didn’t get round to making a new will before he himself died in the ’flu pandemic. I was left with £50 a year—enough to scrape by on but not with any degree of comfort. I could have lived with my mother, the Dowager Viscountess, or with the distant cousin who inherited title and estate, but neither was a bearable choice.

After the Armistice, I went to London to share digs with my best friend, Lucy. To my mother’s horror, I became a working woman.

I learnt to type and take shorthand, but I hated it. Lucy is a photographer and she employed me to help her, but she didn’t really have enough work then for two. I had a brilliant idea—as the daughter of a lord with family connections in half the noble houses of England, I had entrée to many stately homes inaccessible to any ordinary journalist. I persuaded the editor of Town and Country magazine to pay me to write a series of articles about those country houses, laced with the history of the families.

That’s how I happened across my first murder, and met DCI Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard . . .

SA: Are you a member of the police force or a professional investigator, then? How and why did you become a sleuth?

Daisy: I’m an unintentional amateur sleuth. I just keep getting caught up in situations where I can’t help but get involved. It all started on my first assignment as a journalist.

At the very first house I went to, an unpleasant guest was found one morning floating face down in the frozen lake. It would have passed for an accident, but for some photographs I had taken that showed suspicious marks on the ice. I drew them to the attention of the investigating officer, DCI Fletcher, and that was the beginning of it all.

Alec, not to mention his Superintendent, complains that I meddle in his cases, but the sad fact is, more often than not I’m involved before he is. When I’m already acquainted with the witnesses and suspects before he arrives on the scene, naturally I’m in a good position to help. To do him justice, he acknowledges that. He picks my brains—but then he expects me to stay out of his way and have nothing more to do with the investigation. As though I could ignore it when I’m right in the middle of it!

Besides, people tell me things they wouldn’t tell the police. Perhaps they don’t want to bother them with something that might not be important, or they’re afraid they’ll be asked further questions that they’d rather not answer. Some people just don’t like talking to the police. I sympathise. I’ve met a few local police officers I’d prefer not to have to talk to (not to mention Alec’s Superintendent).

Alec accuses me of sympathising too much, at least with those suspects I’ve “taken under my wing,” as he expresses it. It’s true I don’t always pass on everything I find out. Some of it is quite unnecessary for the police to know. Some would bring trouble to people who’ve done nothing to deserve it—in my opinion.

Doubtless Alec’s opinion would differ, which is why I sometimes don’t tell him everything I find out. He, after all, is a copper sworn to uphold the Law. I’m not. And my idea of Justice doesn’t always coincide with the Law.

In spite of our little disagreements, Alec and I married. I have a darling stepdaughter (Alec’s first wife was carried off by the pandemic that killed Father) and the most adorable toddler twins . . . But that’s not what you want to read about.

SA: Tell me about your most recent investigation.

Daisy: Gone West, an English phrase signifying “dead or disappeared,” is the account of my latest involvement in criminous activity (as my chronicler’s editor put it), which occurred as a result of my previous adventures. Of course, I’m as keen to keep quiet about my part in such things as Scotland Yard is, but word gets about.

An old schoolfriend, Sybil, heard via the Old Girls’ bush telegraph that I’d been mixed up in a few investigations. She turned up like a bolt from the blue and asked me to look into something fishy going on at the isolated Derbyshire farmhouse where she lived, working as confidential secretary to an author. A “troubled atmosphere,” she said.

It didn’t sound very serious. Besides, Sybil is a widow with a young daughter to support and no family to turn to. I couldn’t refuse her.  I agreed to go and stay for a few days (thank goodness for Nannies!) to see if I could help, and I drove to the Derbyshire Dales in my newly acquired second-hand Gwynne Eight. Climbing those steep, lonely hills was a bit nerve-wracking. There were moments when I didn’t think we’d get to the top of the slope without the radiator boiling over, or the carburettor giving up the ghost in some incomprehensible and unrepairable fashion.

We made it to the top in one piece, to the old stone farmhouse. What I found there was a household riven by resentment, jealousy, rivalry, envy, and long-held grudges. I should have turned tail right away, but how could I guess it would end in murder?

The local police found out—not from me!—that I was married to a Scotland Yard detective. They decided to call in the Yard and Superintendent Crane sent Alec, who was furious. He can’t believe I don’t somehow get mixed up in this sort of situation on purpose.

SA: I’m sure you’d never actually murder anyone, but is there someone whom you’d like to murder if you could?

Daisy: No, not really, but I can’t say I was unhappy when my dentist was murdered . . . He died happy, though. In fact he Die(d) Laughing.

SA: What was your most fascinating, confounding, or horrifying case over the course of your career so far, and why?

Daisy: The case described in Anthem For Doomed Youth was both shocking and heart-breaking. It started with the discovery of three bodies buried in Epping Forest, on the outskirts of London. Alec was ordered to try to find the killer before he added number four to his count.

I went off with a couple of friends to visit my stepdaughter and their daughters at their boarding school, safely out of the way. But we took the girls to a public garden and they went to explore the maze, where they found the body of one of their teachers—not a popular one, I’m glad to say.

As it turned out, this death and Alec’s multiple murders were linked, sort of. They were all connected with horrible things that happened in the War, years ago, the past wreaking havoc in the present.

Alec told me all about his case. I have to admit that I did not tell him all about mine. It was one of those occasions when he and I would not have agreed.

SA: You intrigue me! Well, thanks very much for the opportunity to chat.

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Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of a Daisy mystery (US addresses only, please).


I, Carola Dunn, was born and grew up in England, and most of my books are set in England, including 20 Daisy Dalrymple mysteries (1920s), 3 Cornish mysteries (c. 1970), and over 30 Regencies (early 1800s). I’ve lived in the US for many years, though, in Southern California and now in Eugene, Oregon—more like England with the changing seasons. My house is not far from the Willamette River, where I walk every morning with my dog, Trillian.  http://caroladunn.weebly.com/

Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear around the middle and end of each month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.

Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook.

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A Visit With the One and Only Dorothy Parker

Welcome to literary New York! Dorothy Parker is the wisecracking sleuth in the humorous historical mystery You Might as Well Die, the second book in The Algonquin Round Table Mysteries.

When second-rate illustrator Ernie MacGuffin’s artistic works triple in value following his apparent suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge, Dorothy smells something fishy. Enlisting the help of magician and skeptic Harry Houdini, she goes to a séance held by MacGuffin’s mistress, where Ernie’s ghostly voice seems hauntingly real . . .

Susanne Alleyn: Delighted to meet you, Mrs. Parker! What year is it now for you, and why do you live where you do?

Dorothy Parker: It’s the Roaring 20s in New York City. Why do I live here, you ask? Where else would I live? Dubuque? I’m a New Yorker through and through. And not just New York, but Manhattan. I get a nosebleed if I travel above 80th Street.

I’m a writer, unfortunately. And if you want to make a living and get published in America at this time, New York is the place to do it.

SA: What do you love most about the time and place in which you live?

Dorothy: I’m not much for sentimentality, but nevertheless I’ll tell you this—what I love most about my life and times is my group of friends. Many people call us The Vicious Circle. (That should confirm for you what I meant about sentimentality.) Others call our group The Algonquin Round Table because, you know, we have lunch at the Algonquin Hotel at a round table every day. (Very original, don’t you think?) We’re a gang of smart-mouthed writers, editors and critics. And we do what all writers do—we try to get away with as little writing as possible, and we drink and talk and trade insults instead. 

The founding members of the Algonquin Round Table: Art Samuels, Charlie MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

SA: What aspect of your world would you change, if you could?

Dorothy: I’d start by adding a few zeros to my bank balance, and then I’d just play the rest by ear. There’s a dozen newspapers published in this town, and who knows how many magazines? They’re great about printing the news, but not one of them can print a nice check.

Also, I’d like to change what people think of me. They know me as a wisecracker, saying things like, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Or “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” But I’m much more than a smart aleck. I write poetry, short stories and dramatic criticism—and some of it ain’t half bad, if I do say so myself.

(Editor’s note: The Portable Dorothy Parker, a collection of her best work, has never gone out of print since it was first published in 1944.)

SA: Most New Yorkers came from somewhere else. Where were you born?

Dorothy: Remember what I said about being a New Yorker through and through? Okay, I fibbed a little. I’m technically not a native New Yorker. I was actually born in the seaside town of Long Branch, New Jersey, while my family was on summer vacation in 1893. But, honestly, we came back into town right after Labor Day, so I nearly made the grade.

SA: When did you begin to solve mysteries?

Dorothy: In all honesty, I’m not preoccupied with solving mysteries. I’m a writer, for Pete’s sake… Well, I did find that dead drama critic under the Algonquin Round Table, who was stabbed through the heart with a fountain pen, and I had to help find out how he got there and who put him there. And now there’s a friend-of-a-friend who committed suicide under mysterious circumstances…

But my biggest mystery is always where to find the next cocktail.

SA: How is law and order maintained in New York in the Twenties?

Dorothy: Very poorly! Prohibition is on. There’s a speakeasy on every street and a flask in every back pocket. Bootleggers run rampant. (One almost knocked me over the other day!) Most of the cops are on the take. And gambling is a national pastime.

But, hey, ain’t we got fun!

SA: Tell me about your most recent investigation.

Dorothy: Right now, I’m trying to find out why a friend—well, no, not a friend, let’s call him a royal pain in the neck—decided to commit suicide. This guy was not some hand-wringing nervous wreck. Far from it. Ernie MacGuffin is—was—about the most self-assured, self-deluded second-rate artist in New York (and that’s saying something). Why would he take a nosedive off the Brooklyn Bridge? And then why would his “spirit” (notice the quotation marks) appear at a séance a week later?

Fortunately, I’ve made friends with Harry Houdini, who is not only a master magician but also a top-notch debunker of phony mediums. One way or the other, we’ll get to the bottom of what happened to MacGuffin.

SA: In the course of your investigations, who is the most interesting historical figure you’ve met so far, and why?

Dorothy: As I mentioned, I’m working with Harry Houdini right now. He’s gotten us out of a couple tight scrapes. But being in and around the Algonquin Hotel, I’ve met plenty of famous (and infamous) folks. Ever heard of William Faulkner, Douglas Fairbanks or Cole Porter? How about Paul Robeson or Edna Ferber? Oh, and there’s a fellow scribbler by the name of Ernest Hemingway. Keep an eye on him. I expect big things of him someday.

But perhaps the most important notable figure in my life is Woodrow Wilson—which is the name of my dog.

SA: If your cases were made into movies or a television series, which actor do you think would do the best job of portraying you?

Dorothy: Funny you should ask. Several actresses—my friend Ruth Gordon, for one—have portrayed characters that were fictional versions of me. It’s gotten to the point that if I wrote a screenplay about my own life, I’d be sued for plagiarism.

But who cares who would play me in a movie? I want to know who would play my love interest! I like the look of that Johnny Depp—the one in the pirate movies. Shiver me timbers, I’d walk his plank any day!

(Editor’s note: Readers can play this game, too. Vote here for which contemporary actress might play Dorothy Parker in a movie.)

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Leave a comment below for a chance to win a a paper or eBook copy of an Algonquin Round Table Mystery.


When not writing the Algonquin Round Table Mysteries, J.J. Murphy is an award-winning health care writer and very busy parent of twin daughters in suburban Philadelphia. Visit www.roundtablemysteries.com or www.facebook.com/RoundTableMysteries.

Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear around the middle and end of each month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.

Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook.

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A Conversation with the Cambridge Fellows

Meet a pair of Classic Age type sleuths with an unusual twist. This isn’t Harriet and Peter or Tommy and Tuppence—it’s Jonty and Orlando!

Susanne Alleyn: Good morning, gentlemen! What year is it now for you, and where are you located?

Orlando Coppersmith: 1908, Cambridge.

Jonty Stewart: Cambridge in England. There’s another one in America, you know, Orlando.

Orlando: Really? How astonishing.

Jonty: We live here because we’re both based at St. Bride’s College, trying to knock some sense into our students. I teach them about Tudor Literature.

Orlando: And I lecture in Mathematics.

Jonty: Orlando’s frighteningly clever.

SA: How did your historical milieu influence you?

Orlando: I’m not clever enough to answer that.

Jonty: Try us with another one.

SA: Well, how did the events of your early lives influence you and/or your careers as solvers of mysteries?

Orlando: Um, I’m not sure that’s any better.

Jonty: What Orlando means is that neither of us had that easy a start in life. His family were . . . not exactly loving. Would that be fair?

Orlando: It would. I’m not as lucky as you, old man. Jonty has an extraordinary family with whom I get on very well.

Jonty: He means I have a very loud mother who’s madly in love with him and a terrifyingly clever father who likes to solves cryptograms with him. Win all round.

Orlando: Meeting Jonty showed me that all sorts of things in life were possible. Love, friendship, going out and using my brains for something other than mathematics. He changed my life.

Jonty: Daft beggar. And meeting Orlando gave me hope at a time when I was a bit low. I had a rough time of things at school and it came back to haunt me at times. He changed my life, too.

Orlando: Can we change the subject, please?  

SA: Is either of you a member of the police force?

(a choking sound)

Jonty: Oh I say, Orlando. Steady there. (He whacks his back.) I’m afraid that the police wouldn’t exactly approve of our relationship. Up before the beak and two years hard labour if they knew what we got up to in private.

Orlando: We’re amateur detectives, although we do work alongside the police when need be. That’s how we got started, acting as the eyes and ears for Inspector Wilson of the local force when there was a series of murders in St. Bride’s. (Lessons in Love)

Jonty: We get commissions, too. People ask us to solve crimes, particularly old ones.

Orlando: Sometimes hundreds of years old.

Jonty: Nearly as ancient as you, Orlando.

Orlando: Very funny.

SA: Do people contact you, as they contacted Sherlock Holmes?

Jonty: You said the ‘S’ word. Orlando won’t approve. I like Holmes—and Watson, he’s a marvellous bloke—but old grumpy guts here thinks Sherlock’s a bit of a smarty pants.

Orlando: I refuse to comment. And don’t call me “grumpy guts” in public.

SA: Tell me about your most interesting investigation.

Jonty: That has to be the time we saw a dead man at The Anglo-French exhibition at the White City just before the Olympics of 1908. We didn’t know he was dead until afterwards, of course. (Lessons in Trust)

Orlando: Excuse my friend’s rambling. He can never keep to the point. The police told us in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t investigate the death.

Jonty: So we did, of course.

Orlando: And you nearly got yourself killed.

Jonty: And you did a runner. This idiot found out something rather distressing about his family history and decided to go off and investigate it. Without me.

Orlando: I think our most interesting investigation was the one about the Woodville Ward. (Lessons in Discovery)

Jonty: Don’t change the subject. And trust you to choose for your favourite a mystery that was all about coded letters and nothing to do with real live people. What about the time you had to pose as a gigolo? (Lessons in Seduction)

Orlando: I was not a gigolo. I was a professional dancing partner. Next question, please, before my “friend” finds anything else to make fun of me about.

SA: All right, then: What was your most fascinating, confounding, or horrifying case over the course of your career so far, and why?

Orlando: Maybe you shouldn’t answer that, Jonty.

Jonty: No, it’s fine—people have to know. The most horrifying was when we got asked to look into the death of one of the people who’d made my life hell at school. It was agony at the time, although now I can look back and say it did me a power of good. I had to face my demons and having Orlando at hand made it easier. (Lessons in Power)

Orlando: The most horrifying case for me was our first one. What began as a fascinating intellectual exercise turned sour. If I’d known it would put Jonty’s life at risk I’d have never agreed to be involved.

Jonty: Daft pudding. Of course you would. He loves a challenge, really.

Orlando: Maybe I should talk about the case at Bath? And your propensity for flirting with actors. (Lessons in Temptation)

Jonty: Change the subject again, please.

SA: Are the mysteries you solve generally tied to contemporary historical events?

Jonty: Sometimes. The opening of the White City was a huge event for London. My father was obsessed with the place, to the point of Mama threatening to cite it as co-respondent in her divorcing him.

Orlando: I sympathise. I’d have liked to cite your motor-car in the same way.

Jonty: But we’re not married, Orlando, shame to say.

SA: In the course of your investigations, have you encountered important historical figures who played supporting roles in your cases?

Jonty: In the past, yes. When we solved the Woodville Ward mystery we ran across Richard III, Henry VII and Elizabeth Woodville. Orlando’s almost old enough to remember being dandled at their knees.

Orlando: Don’t forget, I’ve worked out at least three foolproof ways of murdering you without the risk of being caught. Actually, he’s hiding his light under a bushel, again. He’s the one who got dandled at royalty’s knee. The Stewarts are all very pally with the royal family.

Jonty: That’s what got us involved in the gigolo—sorry, dancing partner—case. The king’s old mistress died under mysterious circumstances and they needed someone of discretion and good sense to put into the hotel where it happened. Nobody like that was available, so they asked Orlando.

Orlando: Excuse me while I resort to method number one.

SA: Who is the most interesting historical figure you’ve met so far, and why?

Orlando: The Duke of Connaught, the King’s brother.

Jonty: Was he the one who fancied that chap playing Lady Macbeth in the all male production because he thought he was actually a girl? Nice bloke. He used to dandle me on his knee.

Orlando: Do shut up about that.

SA: Presumably you are somewhat familiar with our early 21st century, after conversations with your author. What would you most like to take back to Edwardian times?

Jonty: The freedom to hold Orlando’s hand in public—at least in Brighton. Not that he’d let me, probably, being a shy old stick, but the opportunity would be nice.

Orlando: I’d welcome the chance of entering into a Civil Partnership with Jonty. An official declaration of how much we mean to each other.

Jonty: I’d like to fly in one of your modern aeroplanes. How wonderful to cover the length of the British isles in little more than an hour. And going to Jersey without resorting to a ship would be good, wouldn’t it, Orlando? He gets sick as a dog when we sail.

Orlando: Hm. In his case it might be an Uncivil Partnership.

SA: Does the thought of assisting the authorities to send a guilty person to execution affect your personal feelings about investigating a crime?

Jonty: Sometimes. But I salve my conscience with the fact that the law’s the law and people who take a life know what will happen to them if they caught. Render unto Caesar and all that.

Orlando: And I’d rather the right person was charged with the crime than some innocent man or woman. We’ve seen some near misses, haven’t we?

Jonty: Just a few. If we can help save the innocent, it’s all to the good.

SA: And to conclude . . . I’m sure neither of you would ever murder anyone, but is there someone, particularly an infuriating or downright evil someone who turns up in your life a lot, whom you’d like to murder if you could?

Orlando: Owens, from “the college next door”.

Jonty: He’s St. Bride’s arch-enemy and any decent college man would strangle him with his own bicycle clips.

Orlando: I’ve devised two other foolproof and undetectable methods of murder, just for Owens.

Jonty: I said he was frighteningly clever, didn’t I? If he ever took to a life of crime, we’d all be doomed.


Leave a comment below for a chance to win a print copy of one of the Cambridge Fellows books OR an exclusive “Seductive Dr Coppersmith” t-shirt (winner’s choice).

As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries. A member of the Romantic Novelists’  Association, and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows Series, set in Edwardian England, was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name.

Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear around the middle and end of each month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.

Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook.

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