I am very pleased to have M. Louisa Locke here today doing a guest post about the ‘community’ in her series. At this stop on her tour she is giving away a copy (ebook or paperback, paperback to US only) of UNEASY SPIRITS. For a chance to win, leave a comment with your email and you can get more chances to win by clicking HERE. Be sure to check in at other stops on her tour, listed below, with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours for a chance to win the other books in the series. M. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer. The published books in her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, feature Annie Fuller, a boarding house owner and reluctant clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes, while her short stories, Dandy Detects and The Miss Moffets Mend a Marriage, give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries. Locke is an active member in the Alliance of Independent Authors, and a Director of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative. You will find my review of BLOODY LESSONS below. Welome, Louisa.
O’Farrell Street Boarding House: A Cozy Community
I would like to thank Kate Eileen Shannon for hosting me on this stop in my Cozy Mystery Book tour as I celebrate the publication of my latest Victorian San Francisco mystery, Bloody Lessons, featuring Annie Fuller, a young widow who owns a boarding house, supplements her income as a pretend clairvoyant, and investigates crimes. I have been thinking about what elements make a cozy mystery, and today I would like to examine the importance of setting a cozy in a close-knit community.
My series is set in San Francisco, not the usual small town you find in cozies, but a city of over 200,000 people in 1880. Nevertheless, the O’Farrell Street boarding house that Annie Fuller owns acts as the equivalent of a small village. In addition to Annie, there are nine boarders and two live-in domestic servants living in the house, along with a cat, Queenie, and a Boston terrier, Dandy (important characters in their own rights.) These boarders also give me an opportunity to introduce the reader to a variety of other small, distinct social and ethnic communities in San Francisco.
For example, among her boarders are Esther and Herman Stein, who come from the influential German business class of San Francisco, and two elderly seamstresses, Miss Minnie and Miss Millie Moffet, who are dressmakers to some of the wealthiest members of San Francisco high society. Annie’s friendship with Beatrice O’Rourke, her cook and housekeeper, and Kathleen Hennessey, her maid, gives her connections into the ranks of the Irish who were not only found among the working classes but also dominated San Francisco politically, socially, and economically at the time.
One of the reasons that cozies are often set in small geographic areas is that it makes it easier for an amateur sleuth, such as Annie Fuller, to investigate. Unlike the professional detective in a big city who is investigating strangers, an amateur is usually responding to crimes close to home, and her friends and family often know the victim, the witnesses, and the suspects. She can depend on her acquaintances to help her ferret out clues. These friends and family also make up the cast of interesting characters we expect from a cozy. The boarding house residents (boarders and servants and animals) play all of these roles in my mysteries.
Indeed, the close-knit community of the boarding house helps Annie in each novel. In Maids of Misfortune, Annie is investigating the death of a wealthy merchant, Mr. Voss, and her boarder Mrs. Stein actually knows the man’s widow and helps Annie get a job as a maid in the Voss household to further her investigation. Later, her young maid, Kathleen Hennessey, uses connections within the community of San Francisco domestics to help Annie track down a possible witness to a murder, taking her to St. Joseph’s Parish Ball to do so.
In the second book, Uneasy Spirits, Kathleen accompanies Annie to a series of séances (as Annie investigates a fraudulent trance medium), and uses her invisibility as a servant to gather information on the household. And Esther Stein helps again, this time getting needed information through one of her daughters, who is a friend of one of the séance participants.
Beatrice O’Rourke, Annie’s Irish cook and housekeeper, is her chief confidant, but she is also the widow of a former police captain and provides information about how the police work. Beatrice’s nephew, Patrick McGee, who often visits the boarding house because he is courting the maid Kathleen, is also a San Francisco police officer; he not only funnels information to Annie but, in my latest book, Bloody Lessons, he helps save the day.
In Bloody Lessons Annie is investigating a series of poison pen letters directed at San Francisco school teachers, and two of Annie’s boarders, Barbara Hewitt and Laura Dawson, teach in the public schools and are invaluable sources of information.
Finally, most of the humor and the light tone of my mysteries come from the residents in the boarding house. The affectionate banter between Beatrice and Kathleen in the kitchen, the activities of Barbara Hewitt’s young son Jamie, the eccentricities of the elderly seamstresses, Miss Millie and Miss Minnie Moffet, and the antics of the animals all lighten the mood when murder and mayhem get too intense. Dandy, the terrier, and the Misses Moffet even get to solve their own mysteries, with Annie Fuller’s help, in my short stories, Dandy Detects, and The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage.
So, while Annie’s O’Farrell Street boarding house and its fourteen residents (including the cat and the dog), may not be Mrs. Marple’s St. Mary Mead or Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, it does provide the perfect close-knit community for my Victorian cozies.
In Bloody Lessons, it’s the winter of 1880, and the teachers of San Francisco are under attack: their salaries slashed and their competency and morals questioned in a series of poison pen letters.
Annie Fuller, the reluctant clairvoyant, has been called into investigate by Nate Dawson, her lawyer beau, and the case becomes personal when they discover that Laura, Nate’s sister, may be one of the teachers targeted for attack.
In this installment in the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, readers will find the same blend of a cozy mystery with romantic suspense, played out against the historical backdrop of late 19th century San Francisco, that they found in Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits.
If you are new to this series, you will still enjoy spending time with the lively residents of Annie Fuller’s boarding house and visiting San Francisco when Golden Gate Park was filled with horse-drawn carriages, saloon-keepers controlled politics, and kisses were stolen under gaslight.
Before reading this book, the author offered the preceding books in the series. I didn’t have the time to read them so I declined. It might have helped. I don’t read the book blurb or anything about a book for review before I read the book. So I was a decent way into the book before I realized this is Annie’s series, she is the protagonist, not Laura. So my first suggestion to a reader is to read the series from the beginning. Because if this book is anything to go by, it is well worth reading. I also suspect it is more of a serial than a series due to the lack of heavy backstory – which is great and totally appropriate for the time period the story is set in, when serials were the norm. (And ironic, that a serial should cause me confusion, as the writer of a serial, and advocate for more serials and less repetitive backstory found in series.) A young teacher dies after a fall down a flight of stairs. But was it an accident, murder or suicide? There are arguments for all these possibilities but the victim was able to say the word pushed before dying. But even that is unclear – was she pushed down the stairs or being pushed to marry as she also said her fiance’s name? We also have Laura being attacked in an alley behind the boarding house. Are the two things connected? There is also a vicious letter writing campaign against certain teachers. Personal? Or politics because of salary disputes? It is a good mystery with a lot going on. The parallels to today are interesting – the more things change, the more they stay the same – teacher salary disputes, a returned vet with PTSD. I am not a major fan of historical mysteries but I did enjoy this one so I do recommend it. Just read the first two first! ♥♥♥♥
October 2 – Mochas, Mysteries and More – Guest Post, Giveaway
October 3 – Brooke Blogs – Review
October 4 – rantin’ ravin’ and reading – Review, Guest Post, Giveaway
October 5 – Shelley’s Book Case – Review
October 7 – Books-n-Kisses – Review, Guest Post
October 8 – Cozy Up With Kathy – Interview
October 10 – Christy’s Cozy Corners – Review, Giveaway