Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen bookstore, recently hosted Rhys Bowen, author of The Twelve Clues of Christmas, on her book tour. It's always fun to see what authors show up in the audience. This time, Dana Stabenow and Jenn McKinlay came to hear Rhys talk about her book.
Peters told Rhys that a holiday mystery was a great idea. Bowen said she had this great idea, and told her editor she wanted to give a clue every day, beginning twelve days leading up to Christmas. She was going to do a blog snippet every day. But, her publisher wanted a real book, so she turned her idea into The Twelve Clues of Christmas.
This is Bowen's sixth Royal Spyness mystery. She'll be back to the Poisoned Pen in March with the next Molly book. When Peters guessed that Molly might be pregnant, Rhys said it is called The Family Way. Bowen has found she's writing the Molly books more and more about women's rights and the lack of them. This book contrasts what happens in a stable marriage when a woman is pregnant or not married. The difference could be the difference between life or death.
Bowen decided to write a book with twelve incidents, and twelve clues, a murder every day for twleve days. She thought that would be fun for Georgie, who leads such a dreary life. Georgie was nice enough to stay in Scotland while her sister-in-law was pregnant, but Fig is still petulant after giving birth, and now she's invited her awful mother, Lady Wormwood, and her sister to the castle for the Christmas holidays.
When asked about the names for the characters, such as Fig, Bowen said it's normal for upper-class British people to have odd nicknames. They usually get funny or stupid names from the family. It's a way to show endearment in a society that doesn't show affection. It's not uncommon for the upper-class to have nicknames, and for childish behavior to continue in adulthood. Their lives were so boring, particularly that of the young women. They would count off the hours in the day to relieve their incredible boredom.
Lady Georgie is typical of the class. She's not married, and has no way to make a living. She had a season at seventeen or eighteen, but she failed to find someone to marry. Bowen said a season would start in May or June. Everyone would go away for the summer, then return and finish the season in October. A young woman had six months on the marriage market, the year she was presented at court. There would be five or six good balls during the season, and some afternoon parties. If they didn't find someone that season, they were done. Peters said the best thing for a woman to be in society was a widow if they had enough money. They had control of their own life then. She used Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily as an example of a widow and a sleuth.
Barbara mentioned that Lady Georgie is in a questionable romance, and told Rhys that she must like those. Bowen said Darcy O'Mara and Georgie are in love, but he has no way of supporting her. His activities are questionable. No one knows if he's a spy or not. But, Georgie is in the line of succession, and she can't marry a Catholic. She overheard Fig and her mother talking about that. The Act of Succession was put in place in 1715, and it was just recently changed.
Georgie read an ad in The Lady magazine. Rhys said The Lady is a fabulous magazines with stories and interesting ads. Georgie saw a want ad advertising for a young woman to assist with a house party in Devonshire. Georgie thought it would be a lovely fun houseparty.
Bowen created a typical English village, Tiddleton-under-Lovey. And, she brought along a list of town names to prove English villages have funny names. Then, she added the story of a resident witch who cursed the village.
The Lovey Chase was a typical silly English game in which the young men ran around a course wearing saddles. Those games are part of English life. Bowen wanted to create a classic Christmas as simple as it was, because everyone longs for the Christmas of their childhoods.
The first Sunday in November is called Pudding Sunday because that's when everyone makes the family Christmas pudding. It takes a lot of brandy, and needs time to sit. They also put silver charms in it while mixing it up. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas, and until recently, no shops were open. All servants and tradespeople had the day off. The servants would get a box to take to their families, often a box of food.
Rhys talked about popular games, such as Sardines, a form of hide-and-seek in which one person hides, the others try to find them, and then as each person finds the person who hid, they squeeze in with them in the hiding place. With the game Murder in the Dark, everyone draws a slip of paper. Most slips are blank, but one says "Murder Victim"; one says "Killer"; and one says "Detective". The lights suddenly goes out; the victim falls to the floor, and it's up to the detective to find out who the killer is. When Rhys grew up, everyone learned how to do folk dances in school. Someone would play the piano, and everyone would dance. People had to find a way to entertain themselves.
Barbara Peters had brought an orange to the program at Bowen's request. In Victorian times, people might find an orange wrapped in silver foil in their stocking at Christmas. Oranges were a luxury item because they were imported. Later, it was a treat to receive tangerines and nuts. Then Bowen asked for volunteers, and a few audience members played the game in which you pass the orange with your chin. Then, she passed out crackers to everyone, so we could pull them apart and find jokes in them. She said those were miniature crackers. The full-size ones usually have a crown in them as well.
Bowen said she makes sausage rolls and mince pies for the family celebration, but she boys the pudding. When asked, she said it was tradition to serve goose, but turkey was becoming more popular at the time of the book. And, they would have Yorkshire pudding.
When it went back to the discussion of The Twelve Clues of Christmas, Rhys did a brief summary, saying Georgie found the hostess putting up decorations. She was very pleased to have Georgie there to help. When the guests began to arrive, they proved to be a strange lot. And, that was all Bowen was willing to say to set the scene.
Rhys Bowen currently writes two books a year, one Molly and one Georgie. The writing takes about three months. The Molly books take a lot of research, so Bowen reads for several months ahead of time.
In answer to a question, she said there was a problem with her Evan books. They were a light cozy series that got more serious. People who liked the light books didn't like the change. And, those who liked darker books didn't pick them up because of the covers. Rhys admitted she hadn't yet found where she wanted to be.
The Molly books are historical and more serious than the Evan ones. Bowen enjoys the historical past. With the immigrant story and New York, there are so many stories to tell. She said she hopes the series goes on long enough for her to get to 1906 and the San Francisco earthquake. This series is intense and serious. The British books with Georgie are pure fun.
And, since I just finished The Twelve Clues of Christmas, I agree. They're pure fun.
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
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1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea: A Counting Book
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