Welcome to Monday! What do I have for you today? An interesting historical murder mystery set in London from 1665-1666. At the heart of the story are the murders of young maids, but on the fringes there are the inclusions of actual events during this period such as the Black Death Plague that swept through London killing hundreds of thousands, and the Great Fire of London that nearly burned London to the ground. If you are a fan of historical books you should check this one out! I have author Susanna Calkins here today to share her thoughts on journaling. Do you keep a journal?
Here is a bit about Susanna before we get to her post:
Susanna Calkins is a historian and academic, currently working at Northwestern University. She’s had a morbid curiosity about murder in seventeenth-century England ever since she was in grad school, when she was first working on her Ph.D. in history. The ephemera from the archives—tantalizing true accounts of the fantastic and the strange—inspired her historical mysteries, including A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (St. Martins Press/Minotaur Books). Born and raised in Philadelphia, she lives outside Chicago now with her husband and two sons. You can learn more about Suzanne on her website,blog,Twitter and Goodreads.
Here is Susanna:
Thirty years and several hundred notebooks later…
Three decades ago, when I was in—ahem—seventh grade, my English teacher had us read The Diary of Anne Frank. Although I remember being devastated by Anne’s story, I loved the accompanying assignment: Keep a diary for three weeks. Trust in that diary like Anne trusted in “Dear Kitty.” For three weeks, I kept my diary as required, in a composition notebook with wide lines and customary mottled black cover.
The first day after the assignment was over, however, I picked up my pen and hesitated. ‘I don’t need to do this anymore,’ I remember thinking. But somehow, it didn’t matter. Like Anne, I found I wanted to keep track of my life, to record my thoughts and activities, to sort through my dreams.
For the next thirty years, I kept a journal. I didn’t write everyday, and certainly there were some spells when I didn’t write at all. But in those thirty years, I filled several hundred notebooks. When my backpack became a purse, the size of my notebook changed, to keep it easier to carry. When I began to make more money, I no longer had to rely on cheap spiral looseleaf notebooks, and I began to seek out beautifully ornate artisan notebooks—one of my few luxuries. No matter the size, no matter the cover, still I write.
Nowadays, people regularly stop short when they observe me scribbling away. It’s an uncommon sight, they tell me, to see someone writing by hand. Maybe that’s true.
Sometimes, they ask me why I bother. Then as now, I don’t know for whom exactly I write. For my husband and children? My not-yet-existent grandchildren? Posterity? As a historian, I know that people often use diaries to get insights into the social and cultural life of everyday people. I don’t know what will become of all these journals, or if they will have any value. Perhaps in our increasingly digitalized and paperless society, these journals will matter more. Perhaps they won’t. All I know is that writing my thoughts down on paper is essential for my healthy well-being. Maybe, like Anne, I write because I am.
Who knows, someday someone may read Susanna's journals and wonder about her life. I am sure Anne Frank had no idea how big of an impact her little diary would make. Keep on writing, Susanna! Thank you to Susanna for taking the time to guest post today. Best of luck with the release of your debut novel! Susanna comes with a gift. One lucky U.S. resident will win a signed copy of Susanna's book: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate. Just fill out the Rafflecopter to enter.
Here is my review:
A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins
For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn't kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself.
Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.
In her debut novel Murder at Rosamund's Gate, Susanna Calkins seamlessly blends historical detail, romance, and mystery in a moving and highly entertaining tale.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: April 23rd 2013 by Minotaur Books
Three and a half stars: An intriguing historical murder mystery.
A harsh knocking disturbs the household. Young Lucy, the chambermaid, opens the door to find a stern constable at the door. He is requesting to speak to her master, the magistrate, immediately. Lucy and the rest of the servants murmur amongst themselves trying to determine the nature of the early morning visit. Soon enough they learn the truth. A young maid was found murdered, her body discarded in an empty field. Rumor has it she was carrying someone's baby. The unsolved murder gnaws at Lucy's mind, but she puts it behind her and proceeds about her duties. Lucy begins to notice that her best friend and fellow maid, Bessie, is acting strangely. Then tragedy strikes, Bessie is murdered. Lucy is determined to find the killer, especially after a reckless accusation lands someone in jail who is dear to her. Can Lucy trust her master's son, Adam, to help her solve the crime or is her perhaps the perpetrator?
What I Liked:
- I do enjoy historical fiction, but I don't usually read in this time period, I am more prone to go with more modern books set in the 19th and 20th centuries. So I was pleased that this read was very informative on life and events that took place in the 17th century. The story opens in London in the year 1665. I very much appreciated that Ms. Calkins not only did a great deal of research to make this read authentic, but she also wove in real events that occurred during the eighteenth month period that the book recounts. I was especially fascinated by the outbreak of the Plague in 1666 and later the Great Fire that swept through and nearly burned London to the ground.
- The main character, Lucy, is an eighteen year old chambermaid who has the privilege of working in a kindly home with a good master. Even though she has a good employer, it is very clear just how difficult life was for women in this era, especially those born into the working classes or those in poverty. As a woman, you had very little rights and you could only hope that you would marry someone who would treat you with kindness. So often young maids were forced into sexual relations and impregnated by masters and sons of their employers, only to be discarded and abandoned once the child arrived. A servant's life was difficult, and I appreciated that this book enlightened me a bit more about the lives of those who worked as servants during this era.
- At the heart of this book is an interesting little murder mystery that honestly kept me guessing until the end. I was indeed surprised when the culprit was unmasked, it was a bit of a shocker. There are plenty of suspects and motives and I liked that I was continually conjecturing who the murderer was. I enjoyed that this book was an educational historical with a suspenseful mystery.
- I admired young Lucy's courage and spirit. As a maid, she refuses to accept things as they are and endeavors to help find the killer. In addition, she also chooses to better herself by learning to read and conducting herself in a ladylike manner. Though, I must admit, there were times when I thought her behavior went a little too far as she put herself into compromising positions, which at times I thought were a little unbelievable. Nevertheless, Lucy is an extremely likable heroine and I found myself rooting for her the entire way.
- I enjoyed the inclusion of some interesting historical tidbits throughout. For instance, in the story gentlemen often carried small painted portraits of a woman's eye if they were involved with someone who perhaps was married or attached to someone else. I thought this was a fascinating practice. Also there are numerous references to woodcuts. Woodcuts were printed stories that were written up by anyone who was a witness to the event. These lurid stories were sold for entertainment, even if they were often written by unreliable witnesses and had no truth to them. The murder woodcuts were some of the most popular. It was interesting to see the forerunners to our modern newspapers and magazines.
- There is section where Lucy visits the prison and the conditions were horrific. I liked that this book featured the justice system for the day. Crime and punishment were treated harshly and so many people were tried and even executed on false testimonies and accusations. It was certainly a revealing look at how justice was served in this era.
- I appreciated that at the end of the book, there is an author's note that discusses her research and it explains the historical events that she included and she reveals any historical inaccuracies that were in her book.
And The Not So Much:
- I have little knowledge on the religious movements during this era and there were numerous references to the Quakers that left me a bit befuddled. I don't know much about the Quakers, and I honestly never had a clear picture of what their motives were and what they stood for and I was not clear on their involvement in the story. I would have loved to have a bit more detail on the Quakers, it would have cleared things up a bit for me. Near the end, there is also a reference to a reverend being a papist and I had no clue what that meant. Adam, the son of Lucy's employer, is involved with the Quakers and I was not clear on this relationship, either.
- I was a touch disappointed in the romance in this one. While it is nice to read a book that does not feature a romance as a focal point, I was a bit sad that at the end that Lucy's romantic future is uncertain. There is a touch of romance in this for all of you who need a romance. It is slow building and realistic and I enjoyed watching it develop but it isn't the centerpiece of the story.
- The first portion of the story is a bit slow as there is a great deal of time establishing the characters and the setting. The main murder doesn't occur until about a third of the way in, and that point the story picks up. This isn't too much of an issue for me as I appreciate that Ms. Caulkins took the time to carefully flesh out her characters and do her world building. The only other issue I had was at the three quarter mark, the story veers away from the murder mystery and diverts to the plague storyline. I did enjoy the whole story line featuring the plague, but I was a bit distracting from the main storyline.
A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is an interesting historical murder mystery that will be sure to please fans of this genre. I appreciated that it had well developed characters, detailed world building and suspense. The addition of some of the big events in history such as the London Fire and the Black Plague really added to the story. If you enjoy historical books and are looking for one that features a mystery definitely give this one a try!
"Best have care, then. Living with a murderer under your roof may not be so good for your health."
"There is truth, my dear, and there is the law."
"Not just to see the university, though of course the notion drew her, but to be a part of it. To live and dream, to study and share her thoughts, to ponder the words of great men."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.