Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Exactly one week until THE FAMILY WAY is in stores, and Amazon seems to have dropped the price again. Good news if you haven't snagged your copy yet.

So to whet your appetite here is another little sneak peek....

It couldn’t be true. For a second I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me, but the sunlight was falling directly onto that flame-red hair, making it glow brighter even than my own and the way he swung his arms in that rolling, jaunty way when he walked was so familiar to me. The last time I had seen him was two years ago, when we’d had to flee together from Ireland after a failed prison break that had killed my other brother Joseph. I’d left Liam hiding out in France, wanted by the English. So what on earth was he doing walking down a busy street in New York in broad daylight?

            “Liam!” I exclaimed in delight and moved forward to throw my arms around him.

Instead he took a backward step. He looked startled, afraid, and for a moment I thought he was going to bolt on me. But his eyes lit up and he managed the ghost of a smile. “Molly. It’s good to see you. How are you?”

            “Well, thank you.”

            His eyes traveled over my person and reacted when he noticed my belly. “It’s a little one you’re carrying, is it? Does that mean that—“ He broke off, trying to phrase the question correctly. I could see he was trying to catch a glimpse of my left hand.

            I read his meaning and laughed. “Yes, Liam, in case you’re wondering. I’m rightly and properly married. To a captain in the police force no less. I’m Mrs. Daniel Sullivan.”

I saw his glance become wary. “A captain of police. Well, well.”

“I would have written to tell you the news, but I had no way to contact you.”

He nodded. “It’s better that way.”

He looked thinner than when I’d last seen him and he never had had more than an ounce of meat on those bones. And older too. A grown man and not a boy. A man who had seen too much suffering for his years.

“Holy Mother of God, Liam,” I said. “It’s grand to see you. How long have you been in the city?”

 “A week or so.”

“Why didn’t you let me know?” 

He shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. “It’s a big city, Molly. How would I have found you?”

“I left my address with you, didn’t I?” I felt frustration rising inside me. This was my brother, whom I hadn’t seen for years, and he was treating me like a causal acquaintance, almost like a stranger.

“You might have done so. But I destroyed all the papers I had; everything, just in case we got caught. No sense in involving other people in our struggles. That’s why I didn’t try to seek you out, Molly. It’s better if no one knows I’m here.”

“What are you doing here, for God’s sake?” I demanded.

He looked around warily, although nobody on the street seemed to be paying either of us any attention. “I can’t tell you that, Molly.”

“Look, why don’t you come back to my place for a meal?” I said. “Then we can have a grand old chat.”

Again that guarded look. “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. Better for both of us that way.”

I touched his arm lightly. “Liam, are you in trouble?”

At this he laughed. “Trouble? Me? Oh no, only a price on my head from the English and me in this country with false papers. Otherwise everything’s just grand.”  He shifted uneasily again. “I shouldn’t be standing out here, for anyone to see.”

“Then come and have a cup of tea. There are plenty of little cafes on the Bowery.”

He shook his head again. “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.” He must have seen my face fall. “Look, I don’t want to involve you in anything, Molly. Far better if you’ve not seen me and don’t know that I’m here.”

“But I’d like to help if I can,” I said. “Is it on Brotherhood business that you’re here?”

“Of course, but I can’t tell you about it so don’t ask me.” He glanced past me up the street. “I should be going. It was lovely to see you. I just wish I could stay and have a ‘grand old chat.’”
THE FAMILY WAY by Rhys Bowen, Minotaur Books hardcover and Kindle in stores March 5, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wot no Downton?

I feel lost without Downton to gripe about on Monday mornings. Of course there was the Oscars last night, (or should that be there WERE the Oscars??) Liked Seth. He was genuinely funny and quick and could sing really well. Loved the sock puppets. Daniel Day-Lewis obviously expected to win as he had a great speech prepared. Jennifer Lawrence obviously didn't expect to win as she had nothing prepared. Hated Michelle Obama's bangs--made her look like a wannabe teenager.

And the gowns. Almost all of them were really classy. Hallie Berry has about a six inch waist. Ann Hathaway is too thin now but still looked gorgeous. But apart from her win, I can't say I was thrilled with any of the winners. Especially not Argo for best picture over Les Mis. No comparison in my book. And I would have liked that adorable little girl to win for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

But overall what a good year for movies and amazingly a year in which I'd seen most of them!
But what was Meryl doing last year? No picture? Come on, lady. You're only 70. Get moving.

So do share your Oscar thoughts.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Women Trailblazers

It's twelve days to go until The Family Way is published, so I'm getting excited.

I'm also gearing up to respond to more people who tell me Molly could never have been a detective in her time. So I've been thinking more about what women actually achieved in Molly's time. Of course the expectation was the women stay home and raise a family. But in spite of this women were doing amazing things.

Do you remember that wonderful TV series called The Duchess of Duke Street? It was about a woman from very humble beginnings who goes on to found one of the best hotels in London. And it was based on a real woman who founded Brown's Hotel (still going strong--the hotel, not the woman).

Then there is Coco Chanel, whom I have written about. She came from an orphanage, learned to sew, started designing hats for ladies, then their outfits and went on to create a fashion house and perfumerie known all over the world. Not only did she start a fashion house but she designed business suits for women, and chic trousers long before anyone else in the world dared to wear them. Hooray for Coco.

And we mustn't leave out the scientists and inventors. Madame Curie who won the Novel Prize for science. Alice Hamilton was a distinguished physician who was the first woman on the medical faculty at Harvard. And Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage on the first mechanical computer in the mid 1800s, writing was has come to be accepted as the first computer program.

So Molly--feel free to be brave, adventurous, ambitious.  Molly is married now, so it will be interesting to see whether being a married woman restricts her from carrying on a professional career, won't it? Somehow I don't think she'll stay home and have tea parties.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Final Thoughts on Downton, Season 3

Overall impression--I didn't enjoy this season as much as the two that preceded it. Several reasons why--it was hard to handle Sibyl's death and then to know that Matthew wasn't going to make it past the final episode.

But also I think the driving force behind the two first seasons was the Mary/Matthew story. Will they ever get together and find happiness. My favorite episode ever was when Matthew was reported missing. They hold a concert at Downton and Matthew appears in the middle of it when Mary is singing. Corny but so romantic.

I'm not thrilled about the way it's turning into gothic melodrama/soap opera. The man with the mad wife, a la Jane Eyre? Surely there would be a provision in the courts that if someone was no longer able to recognize their husband the marriage could be terminated?

And I never felt the whole Bates story was properly explained. She made a pie with arsenic to poison herself? I don't believe it. She was the worlds most selfish, heartless woman. She made a pie wanting to poison Bates when he came to tea. I think she was taking a little arsenic herself to build up tolerance and took too much but that is never made clear.

I also found it hard to go along with Thomas being promoted, given the feeling on homosexuality at the time. And the fresh and flirty maid was too much. So there was a lot I didn't like. But i did like the way Sibyl's death brought the family together. I liked Edith becoming her own woman, to the point of deciding to be someone's mistress knowing they can't marry. I liked the way Branson is adapting to a new life and is being accepted for his good qualities (and the fact that he can catch a cricket ball).

I just wish they hadn't had to kill off Matthew. Couldn't he have been disfigured in the accident and a new actor could have taken over (having had a face operation)? Or have been in a coma for a couple of seasons and wake up when Mary is about to marry someone else? Or gone to check on land he inherited in India and make the occasional cameo appearances? Someone suggested his death was Julian Fellowes vengeance. Maybe it was.

But will I watch it next year? Heck yes. And if you can't survive until next January in the US, then I have a new book out in August called Heirs and Graces that is about the unlikely heir to a dukedom, a home even statelier than Downton, three weird sisters, two strange children and one horrible duke. (and Georgie doesn't find out that Darcy has a wife in an insane institution and nobody eats a pie with arsenic in it!)

So what are your final thoughts on the season?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dishing on Downton, Final Week.

Spoiler alert. Don't read on if you haven't watched the final episode yet.

For those of you who have--what a roller coaster, wasn't it? So much covered in one episode. And all the time waiting for doom to strike. Since I had read that the actor who plays Matthew was leaving the show I knew that something bad was about to happen to him. So when he went out with a gun, got on a train I was sitting on the edge of my seat. And then when he and Mary and the baby were so happy together I knew he'd never make it home alive.

Now I wonder how successful a new season can be. Wasn't the whole glue that kept us watching the love story between Mary and Matthew? The family is going to get naughty Rose, but she won't make up for the ones we have lost.

I liked the storyline with the servants this week, didn't you? And I like the way they have become people we know and care about. Mrs. Patmore and her suitor, Mrs. Hughes showing such a caring nature, and Thomas and Jimmy sorting things out. All good. And Daisy now seems to be friends with the new kitchen maid.

But sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Bates--too syrupy for words. I want them to be happy... but...enough already.

I wonder if anything will become of Isobel and the doctor? That was a nice little cameo too, wasn't it?

And one thing I loved personally was the whole Scottish environment. The castle, the piper, the stalking and the clouds over the green Scottish hills are exactly like Lady Georgie's home at Castle Rannoch in my Royal Spyness books. And the great hall with all the weapons and stag's heads. And the piper waking them each morning. All so familiar. It was almost as if my books had come to life.

So what did you think? Satisfactory or not? Did you know that Matthew was going to leave and thus had to be written out? Was this season a let-down? Do you think it can still go on successfully?Will you still watch next year? I expect I will.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sneak Preview of The Family Way

Only three weeks now until THE FAMILY WAY, my 12th Molly Murphy mystery, is published. If you haven't yet pre-ordered your copy yet, it's showing up on Amazon today at a greatly reduced price, so I recommend snapping it up before the price rises again.

And if you have already read THE FACE IN THE MIRROR, the Molly short story on Amazon, and would like your appetite whetted even more, here's a sneak preview at The Family Way:

“I must say she gave a most favorable…” I started to say. The rest of my sentence was cut off by a terrible shriek. “My baby! Someone has taken my baby!”

We spun around to see a young woman, fair-haired and attired in the usual white shirt waist and cotton skirt of the Lower East Side, looking around desperately, her light eyes wide with terror.
            “My baby!” She screamed again. “She was here. In her carriage. I left her for a second while I went into the butcher’s and now she’s gone.”
            Instantly there was chaos as the crowd closed in around her. We were caught up in them and swept across the street to the young woman.. She was gesturing to a battered baby carriage that was now empty, apart from a crudely made cloth rabbit and one knitted bootie.
            Older women had already come to her side to calm her screams. One of the nuns we had seen was first to reach her, patting her shoulder with a comforting meaty hand. “Don’t fret, my dear,” she said in a strong Irish accent. “Perhaps someone from your family picked the baby up. Perhaps she was crying and one of your other children is carrying her around.”
            “I don’t have other children. She’s my only child.” Her eyes continued to dart up and down the street. “Who can have done this? Where have they taken her? My baby. Somebody find my baby for me.”
            I felt a wave of terror, of almost physical sickness, come over me and as if in response my own baby gave an almighty kick. I clutched at a lamp post to steady myself. Sarah had gone ahead of me, pushing through to the center of the little group. “Somebody go and find the constable,” she said, “And you children—spread out. Go and look on the adjoining streets and see if you can spot anyone carrying a baby in their arms. They can’t have gone too far with her.”
            “Does anyone have smelling salts?” The nun demanded. “This poor woman is about to pass out.”
            Sarah rummaged in her delicate little purse and produced hers. The nun proceeded to wave them under the woman’s nose. For once I could almost have used them myself. But I got a grip on myself and stepped forward. “Did anybody see a person near the baby carriage? Did anyone see someone carrying a baby away?”
            Heads were shaken.
            “You see people carrying babies all the time,” a small girl answered. She spoke with a trace of Italian accent and had the black hair and big dark eyes that betrayed her ancestry and the fact that this quarter was known as Little Italy. She looked no older than seven or eight but she herself had a squirming toddler on her hip. “We have to take the babies out and look after them so mother can clean up the apartment.  Stop it, Guido,” she added as the toddler wriggled even harder. “You’re not getting down.”
            The woman was no longer screaming but sobbing, her thin body shaking with great gulps.
            “It’s another of those kidnappings they’re talking about,” a woman next to me muttered.
            I turned to ask her what she meant when the crowd parted and two constables pushed their way toward the distraught woman.
            “Stand aside please,” one of them bellowed. “Move back now. Go on, about your business, all of you.” The crowd backed up a little as his billy club was brought out. He reached the woman. “Now what’s happened here?”
            Fifty people tried to talk at once, shouting in various accents with much hand waving. If the circumstances hadn’t been so terrible, it would have been a comical scene. The constable held up his hands. “Ladies. Quiet. One at a time.”
            I glanced at Sarah, then decided it was about time I helped. I stepped forward. “This woman’s baby has been stolen from the baby carriage,” I said.
            He looked at me, determining immediately from the way I was dressed that I was not a resident here. “Did you witness it, ma’am?” he asked.
            “No. I had just come out of the building across the street when I heard her screams. We have asked, but it seems that nobody actually witnessed it.”
            He nodded. “It’s easy enough to lift a baby from a buggy around here without anyone seeing,” he said.  He looked across at his fellow constable. “You’d better let them know at HQ. We might be looking at another one.“
            The younger policeman nodded, fought his way back through the crowd then disappeared down the street at a great rate. The constable turned back to the young woman, who was visibly shaking, hugging her arms to herself as if she was cold. “Now then, what’s your name, my dear?”
“It’s  Martha, sir. Martha Wagner.”
 “So tell me exactly what happened, Mrs. Wagner,” he said.
            The young woman fought to control her sobs. “I was shopping for my man’s dinner, the way I always do. I went into the butcher’s for sausages and I left the baby outside because there’s no room for a buggy in the shop. I was only in there a moment. Not more than a minute or two and when I came out…” she paused and gulped. “She was gone!” Her voice rose in a hysterical scream again.
            “You were alone? No other kids to guard the buggy?”
            “She’s my first. We’ve only been married a year,” the woman said. “We just moved here from Pennsylvania. My man has just found a job on a river steamer.”
            The nun was patting her arm again. “We’ll pray for you, my dear, and for your dear child that the dear Lord watch over her and deliver her safely back to you.”
            The young woman shook her head furiously. “I want her back now,” she said.
            “We’ll do what we can,” the constable said, “and these things usually turn out well. So give us a description of the child.”
            “They say she talks after me,” she said. “She’s three months old, real dainty like a little china doll with big blue eyes. Just a tiny amount of light hair like mine. Everyone says she’s like a little angel. Her name is Florrie. Florence after my mother who passed away last year.”
            The constable duly wrote this down. He shifted uncomfortably as unsure what to do next.
            “I heard that there have been other kidnappings,” I said. “Does this fit the pattern?”
            He looked at me as if I was speaking a strange tongue. “That’s not my job, ma’am,” he said. “I couldn’t say.”
            “But surely the police must have some ideas? Haven’t you been asked to be extra vigilant?”
            Sarah tugged at my sleeve. “Molly, we shouldn’t get involved in this. I need the help of these men. I don’t want to antagonize them. I’m sure they’re doing all they can.”
            “They don’t seem to be,” I said angrily. “He doesn’t seem overly concerned. If it were my baby…” I stopped short as that awful vision flashed through my mind. My baby.If somebody stole my baby.
            “The good sisters here will keep an eye open for your child,” the constable said, nodding to the nuns.
“We will indeed. And we can alert the sisters at the Foundlings Hospital to be on the lookout as well.” She looked at her fellow nun for confirmation.
“But who can have taken her? Why would anyone do this?” The words came out as gulping sobs.
“I’m sure the baby will turn up again safe and sound,” the constable said. “Now why don’t you give us your address and…”
            “Here we are, sir.” The young constable had reappeared, red faced from running. “Another kidnapping, so they are saying.”  He forced his way through the crowd. “Stand aside ladies and let the captain through.”
            And to my horror Daniel materialized between the heads of the crowd. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dishing on Downton, Week 6

As usual a spoiler alert: If you haven't seen this week's episode, don't read this! 

There was some real good emotion last night, wasn't there?  I mean the whole episode with Thomas, revealing him as a vulnerable person. But I thought it was all sewn up rather nicely with his lordship smoothing things over, and Carson making him under butler. In fact I felt it was a whole night of easy solutions--the writer is tiring of his subject, methinks.

The tiresomely noble Bates comes home, thank God. I couldn't have stood one more week of him in prison looking noble and woebegone. But Rats--now I'll have to discard my FREE BATES T shirt! And is given a cottage, which is really a stupid idea because a valet has to be on hand to dress and undress his master at all hours and so does Anna. Now they'll have to walk across the estate in the dark and rain at midnight after a dinner party! I grew up in England. I know how often it rains..

And Tom is made land agent, and starts to prove his worth, which we all guessed. And it seemed there was a little something wrong with Mary--a mere tweak needed--so that she can get pregnant. And Ethel is conveniently re-situated where she can see her child.

They had to introduce the really naughty Rose to bring some life into what is now, on the whole, a dreary plot. She was fun but oh so predictable. And poor Edith, now falling for a man who has a wife in an asylum. What's the betting the wife will conveniently die before too long so they can marry after all?

But nothing else matters really because there was a bloody good game of cricket and that's what counts!

So do you also feel it's losing it's sparkle, it's emotional appeal?  Of course I can't stop watching, but....

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fearless Females of the Edwardian Era

It's now less than a month to the publication of The Family Way, my 12th mystery novel featuring Molly Murphy, female detective in the early 1900s. And since so many people have queried whether a woman of her time could do brave and daring things, I have decided to feature some of the amazing women of her era.

Following last week's feisty female detectives, I'm focusing this week on female explorers, of whom there were too many to mention. When you think how primitive and dangerous travel was at this time in much of the world, and how cheap the lives of women, their exploits are all the more remarkable.
Let's start with Lady Hester Stanhope who went out to the Middle East in 1815, was shipwrecked on Rhodes and adopted the garb of a warrior. She traveled throughout the region, through what is now Syria and Lebanon, making friends with the potentates who ruled it, refusing to wear a veil and instead continuing to dress as a man and move among men. She settled in Sidon in her own hilltop fortress and was the first to excavate an archeological site in the Holy Land.

Gertrude Bell followed in her footsteps, traveling throughout the Middle East, sometimes also disguised as a man and was one of the founders of the modern state of Iraq. She was at the same time as Lawrence and commanded the same amount of respect from the Arabs. In fact it was said she was one of the few foreigners for whom the Arabs of the region showed any affection.

Isabella Bird was a sickly child in Scotland but set off nonetheless for a journey to America, from there to Hawaii, Australia and India. She later traveled to Morocco and rode among the Berbers. She wrote about her travels and became a legend in her own time. She was the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographic Society in 1892.

Delia Akeley was born in Wisconcin in 1972. With her husband she went to Africa and traveled widely. She was one of the first westerners to explore the desert between Kenya and Ethopia, and traveled the Tana River in a dugout canoe (avoiding the hippos)

Later came such figures as Louise Boyd who mounted her own expedition to the North Pole, Amy Johnson who was the first person to fly between London and Australia, and of course everyone knows Amelia Erhard. But to this list should also be added all those brave women who set off across the continent, walking behind a covered wagon, burying children along the way, sometimes burying husbands and continuing on alone.

There were always strong, independent women, who defied convention, faced danger... it's just that we don't hear about them much because history is exactly that.  Written by men about men.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dishing on Downton, Week 5

Warning, as usual, if you haven't seen this week's episode, don't read on.
I had to see the first half of this episode this morning on DVD as the superbowl was still on when Downton started last night and it was too exciting to leave. (sorry the Niners just lost).

I thought this was a very real episode, when all that veneer of stiff upper lips crumbles all around. Robert desperately trying to hold on to his position of undisputed head of household, Cora hurting so much that she just wants to punish, even the dowager showing some cracks in her composure and Mary finally being so nice and kind all around. Nice scene with Matthew and Mary.

And have we finally got the Bates drama sewn up? I'd like to know how a prison warder and a convict could influence a woman far away in London. If Bates could threaten the other con and make him do what he wants, why did he not do it sooner??

Finally the thing that bugs me most. It takes two to tango. Ethel is the fallen woman who had no choice but to resort to prostitution to feed her child and yet nobody mentions that it was a young upper class officer, a man who should know better, according to their rules, who got her pregnant in the first place. Nobody blames him or seems to think that he did anything wrong.

This is particularly interesting to me as it's the theme of my new Molly Murphy book that comes out in four weeks from today. It's called The Family Way and it examines the moral issues and treatment of women who find themselves pregnant.

So what do you reckon? Branson will take over one of the farms and live nearby with the baby at Downton?  Matthew and Mary can't have children and adopt baby Sibyl? And when will O'Brien and Thomas stop being so naively trusting of each other. They both know the other is a bad lot and yet they go on believing each other!  Only two episodes to go, aren't there? How will we survive?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Feisty Females of the Early 20th Century

It's just a month now until the 12th Molly Murphy novel comes out. It's called The Family Way and it deals with the meaning of family on many levels (as well as being a really suspenseful mystery).

So to build up to March 5, I'm doing a series of blogs on the real Molly Murphys of the ealy 20th Century--women who defied all odds and did amazing things. And today I'm starting with the real life investigators.

So many people have said to me that Molly couldn't possible do the things I have her do. No woman at that time could be a detective. Aha--well I love to prove them wrong. My first true life example is Isabella Goodwin. Mrs Goodwin was a police matron in New York City, married to a policeman who died. The police department started using her for under cover surveillance and she proved to be so good at it that she became a fully fledged police detective, the first of two women detectives on the squad at that time. I've seen her uniform at the police museum in New York. How anybody could run after crooks with that high neck, tiny waist, tight sleeves I've no idea!  But I was so impressed with her that she comes into several of my books.

My other shining example of what a woman could do at that time is NELLIE BLY  Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran to a working class family she came to the attention of a newspaper editor when she wrote a scathing rebuttal to a letter in the Philadelphia newspaper. He hired her first to write a column then he started sending her out to do investigative reporting. When she was sent to Mexico to cover the election there she was a little too probing into corruption and had to be whisked home to save her life.

Back home she moved to the New York World. She became famous for beating Jules Vernes fictional Around the World in 80 days. She did it in 72 and reported it all to her newspaper who saw their circulation soar as a result. Other remarkable feats: she got herself committed to an insane asylum to report on the terrible conditions there, also had herself arrested so that she could report on the conditions in the women's prison. She was so well respected as a reporter that she was the only woman reporting back from the front in WWI.

Helpless females? I don't think so.