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Thursday, 28 November 2013

A nice little Austenesque Christmas Mystery - perfect stocking filler!

So, here we have it... find it Here and at, also as Kindle. 

Jane and the Christmas Masquerades is a book consisting of two novellas in which Jane and Caleb are guests of Araminta's uncle, Major George Coate. This is the fourth volume in the Jane, Bow Street Consultant series, following the detective capabilities of Jane Fairfax, now Jane Armitage, aiding her Bow Street Runner husband.

Before giving the blurb for the novellas I'd like to talk a bit about why I write murder mysteries. 
I like to write  books about characters who happen to be linked by murder; I  rely on people to hold them together, not the sensation of the crime. I want to write about my detectives using legwork and brainwork, in an era where there are no magical CSI framinstans.   The crime is almost an incidental to permit the peeling off of layers of personalities without dragging in significant psychological events in their childhood and dwelling on the angst of the detective, nor throwing in gore and horror to shock the audience.
A story reliant on shock value is not, in my opinion, a good murder mystery, but should be classed horror or thriller. I find so-called ‘psychological thrillers’ anything but thrilling.
I write books of the kind that I want to read, about people. 
My target audience is, I suppose, the older woman, over 40’s; though I was seeking out gentle, amusing and entertaining murder mysteries since my teens so maybe the target audience is just me and my immediate family – husband of 30 years aged 55, and mother, aged 82.  My son doesn’t read murder mysteries.  Oh, and I’m 48. 

Jane and the Vanishing Valet
On arriving at Major Coate's country house, Jane and Caleb discover a servant crisis as the Major’s son has just given the congé to his valet; but the new valet, when he arrives, is really very odd in his behaviour!  

The Major’s disparate relatives are meeting Araminta for the first time, and there are some tensions within the household as personalities clash when confined to the house in inclement weather, with heavy snow blanketing the countryside.

When the Major is struck down in his study, with a cruel blow, and the valet goes missing, it appears that he may have been the culprit.  If indeed the valet had murderous intent, and is not himself a victim, it appears that he may have had more reasons than mere theft for doing so. Finding the vanishing valet becomes a priority for Jane and Caleb; and they must also prevent anyone from finishing the Major off, since a lack of footprints suggest that the valet is still in the house…alive or dead.

Jane and the Unladylike Wife
Invited with Major Coate's other house guests to a dinner party, it is a shock for Jane and Caleb to discover next day that their hostess, Mrs Steggall, was murdered overnight.
A mysterious and outrageously vulgar woman, claiming to be married to one of the Steggall boys, called after Jane and Caleb’s party had left.  It appears that she may have been responsible for shooting Mrs Steggall, but finding her, and who she actually is, proves a challenge.
The victim's well-known meanness apparently leaves no shortage of possible accomplices or indeed killers if the unladylike female caller is more – or less –  than she seems. 
Caleb demonstrates his knowledge of advances Bow Street has made, in matching bullets and wads, to be able to have a very good idea which gun was used to shoot Mrs Steggall, and he and Jane are able to bring the murderer to book, despite the destruction of evidence!
Meanwhile, Miss Bates has a chance to overcome her disappointment over Mr Redmayne and find happiness.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

What the well-equipped milord of Jane Austen's time needs

A big estate like Pemberley had a large number of dependents and estate workers who needed housing, and who managed the various duties that kept the estate prosperous.  As well as the home farm with its various workers there may have been tenant farmers holding land to farm and whose rents took the place of produce grown; there would have been coverts for birds to shoot for sport and for the table, managed woodland perhaps, and gardens both for the enjoyment of the owner and his family, and for the kitchen garden.

The construction of attractive and decorative and cleanly cottages for the estate workers, called cottages orné, according to the principles of William Atkinson, have been thoroughly blogged by Kathryn Kane   here  and here and here.  Worth a read, so do go take a look if you have not already done so.  The idea of nice cottages was so popular that Ackermann's repository published several ideas of such cottages.  And I have to say some of them were rather larger than what I would call a cottage; though as Kat points out, the conceit of having a large 'cottage in the country' was sometimes one that attracted wealthy men too, whose sensibility to aesthetic pleasure probably exceeded their common sense.  I do not apologise for showing a fairly wide selection before moving on to specialist buildings.

This one at least was a moderately sensible idea, having four cottages together to keep each other warm in winter.  I remark upon this in passing in an as yet to be published romance called 'None so Blind'. 

... and this one is a rich man's beach hut.  As the blurb about it says, Splendour and magnificence are made subordinate to the calmer enjoyments of domestic felicity... 
I doubt the tween maid felt much domestic felicity about looking after the master in his rustic conceit.

However, enough about cottages ornés;and on to the specialist buildings Ackermann's considered essential to illustrate.
First, on entering the estate, the estate gatehouse or lodge  is required both to show status and to indicate where the entrance is [having driven around the wilder countryside frantically looking for places, believe me this IS necessary; you do not want to get stuck in the muddy ruts of any old farm track and spoil your muslins with muddy splashes when you have an invitation to a house party with Mr and Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy!]. The gatehouse needs a gatekeeper and possibly his wife to turn away the unwanted callers and direct those who are going in the right direction.

The house itself will have various necessary adjuncts like a chapel: 

And as cleanliness is next to Godliness, one must have the ornamental bath in the garden, since once the difficulties engendered by difficult to remove dress and powder in the hair were no longer in force this impediment being removed, it is probable that baths will be employed by us as common and frequent sources of innocent pleasure as well as for medicinal relief. And a relief to the noses of all around them too... The writer pontificates about Roman baths for a while and suggests warm as well as cold baths.  I bet the servants loved trekking across to the bath house to stoke the means of heating the warm bath.

What else does the man of leisure need?  ah yes, the fishing lodge.  No home should be without one.  Note: first make sure you have at least a good sized stream for your fish. 

It looks like another cottage orné to me...

For the comfort of the family and all those ice creams and sorbets, the ice house of course on which I have already written here

Oh but to make those ice creams, the cream is needed - so of course a dairy, served no doubt by a buxom dairy maid and no cows in sight, or perhaps in a field to look attractive and far enough away not to smell at the house guests, or look menacingly large at the ladies.
And of course for the vegetables, a gardener must have a gardener's cottage:
compact and bijou, the way posh vegetables should also be.

And of course all those tenants and estate workers in their cottages ornés will need a bailiff to make sure they pay their rent, don't damage the nice new cottages, nor moon at the master's company.
So, gentle reader, what plot bunnies have you in mind?  will your heroine, like my heroine Penelope, hasten to shout at the bold bad land owner who is pulling down the tenants' cottages only for her to find out that he is replacing them with ideal cottages instead, but showing him her spirit?  Will a house party with an ornamental bath turn up one member too few, because he or she turns out to have been drowned - and was it an accident or was it foul play?  Is the ornamental chapel the scene for impious young bloods emulating the Hell Fire Club, and is the heroine abducted for their debaucheries?  Will your fishing party at the fishing lodge catch something unexpected that has drifted downstream?   Will the gatekeeper alert Mr Veryrich to tell him that a man has driven neatly in through the narrow gates as though he was a top sawyer but being missing his head is hardly likely to be driving them nags, sir?