Leslie Karst here, pleased as rum punch to welcome my pal Maddie Day (aka Edith Maxwell), whose brand new mystery, Murder in a Cape Cottage, released just yesterday. Edith and I roomed together at my very first mystery writers convention, Left Coast Crime back in 2014 in Monterey, CA, and we’ve been buddies ever since. Be sure to read to the end, as there’s a GIVEAWAY of the new book! Take it away, Maddie/Edith:
[UPDATE: Congrats to Carol, who won a copy of Murder in a Cape Cottage!]
Mixing History and the Present
Thanks for inviting me back to the Chicks, Leslie!
As Maddie Day, I write contemporary cozy mysteries. As Edith Maxwell, I’ve written seven late nineteenth-century Quaker Midwife Mysteries, as well as a new 1920s book possibly in the wings. I love doing research deep dives into history, digging up details about life and language from the past.
My newest book, Murder in a Cape Cottage, is the fourth Cozy Capers Book Group mystery. After I dreamed up protagonist Mac and fiancé Tim finding a decades-old imprisoned skeleton in the walls of their cottage, I knew I needed to learn more about life around 1930 – which was when the bride had her hands chained to the wall and a new wall built around her.
This an era when my parents were children, when my grandmothers were young mothers, when other elders I’ve known were alive and shared memories with me before they passed on. I have a clearer sense of the time than I ever could have with my Rose Carroll books.
Still, it’s the little details that matter. What would poor Della’s wedding dress have looked like (yes, the skeleton was wearing her bridal outfit)? What kind of cars did her friends drive, what did they wear, what movies were newly released? What cigarettes did they smoke? Plus slang phrases in use at the time, a special interest of mine.
Westham is a (fictional) coastal town on Cape Cod, so I also had to look into fishing boats, holiday festivities, well-off people’s homes and more modest ones.
The story stays in the present, but the following passage from the victim’s friend’s diary reveal a few bits:
I spied Della’s name again toward the end of February.
Met Della when she got off work at her daddy’s office.
That explained what she’d been doing with her time.
She was so upset. We went for frappes at the soda fountain to talk it through. She said her father blew his stack when he saw she had a picture of her sweetheart. She wants to run away with him. I told her that was rash, and she should wait.
Here we see the soda fountain, slang for being angry, the word for milkshake in Massachusetts, and two girls out of high school but working in town, not away in college.
I have a number of author friends who say they would never write historical novels because they don’t want to do the research. It turns out I love it so much I bring history in my present-day books! Sure, ascertaining the details can take more time, but it’s fun, too. And I think it’s edifying to see how much we humans haven’t changed, for better and for worse, from the times of our predecessors.
Readers: What are your thoughts about a bit of history in your mystery? If you read historical fiction, what era do you like? I’ll send one commenter a signed copy of the new book. (Please include your email address in your comment.)
About Murder in a Cape Cottage: ʼTis the day after Christmas, following a wicked-busy time of year for Mac’s bike shop. It’s just as well her Cozy Capers Book Group’s new pick is a nerve-soothing coloring book mystery, especially when she has last-minute wedding planning to do. But all pre-wedding jitters fade into the background when Mac and her fiancé, Tim, begin a cottage renovation project and open up a wall to find a skeleton—sitting on a stool, dressed in an old-fashioned bridal gown . . .
As Mac delves into the decades-old mystery with the help of librarian Flo and her book group, she discovers a story of star-crossed lovers and feuding families worthy of the bard himself. Yet this tale has a modern-day villain still lurking in Mac’s quaint seaside town, ready to make this a murderous New Year’s Eve.
“She’s handcuffed to the wall,” I whispered. “The poor thing. Somebody seriously didn’t want her to get married.” My heart broke for her, but this was also feeling like a horror movie. My own wedding was only days away.
About Maddie Day/Edith Maxwell: Maddie Day pens the Country Store Mysteries, the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, and the new Cece Barton Mysteries. As Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell, she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and short crime fiction. Day/Maxwell lives with her beau and cat north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook.