What do you enjoy most about writing historical mysteries?
I’ve always enjoyed reading historical mysteries, and writing them feels much the same (though more work, haha). I love stepping back into a different time, whether it’s through research or while plotting within the worlds of my characters. I’ve known them all for so long now, after seven books in one series and three books in another.
How important is the setting in historical fiction?
Since the term “setting” indicates both place and time, I would say that setting is absolutely crucial to historical mysteries. A given time period will influence and constrain the main characters of a story in terms of travel, communication, the interpretation of evidence, their comportment while out in society, and so on.
What is the Pinkerton Agency?
It was the first major private investigation and security agency, founded by Scotsman-turned-American Allan Pinkerton in 1855. The icon is an open eye that reads “We Never Sleep,” hence the term “private eye.” The Pinkertons were mostly men, and the work was both subtle (acting as covert operatives and infiltrating criminal organizations) and brutish (strike-breaking and security). Pinkertons have broken up criminal syndicates, protected President Lincoln in one early attempt called the Baltimore Plot (this was before the Secret Service guarded presidents), thwarted bank robberies and train robberies…the list goes on.
There were a few women operatives—Kate Warne being the most notable of them—and their assignments were more of the covert variety, which is where my protagonist, Pen Hamilton, comes in.
In Never Sleep: The Chronicle of a Lady Detective #1, describe the nature of Penelope’s relationship with her estranged husband.
If it were a Facebook designation, it would read: It’s Complicated. As the Chronicles continue, I reveal more of their past, both the good and the bad. Frank Wynch is a recovering alcoholic and that of course makes any relationship difficult. The two love each other after a fashion, but whether they can make it work is another question—especially on Pen’s side, as she’s quite guarded around him. In Never Sleep, Frank asks Pen to help him with a case. It’s the first time they’ve spent any time together since their separation. She agrees, despite her discomfort—she wants to secure a job in her own right at the Pinkerton Agency, and the successful outcome of the case with Frank would make that possible.
In The Mystery of Schroon Lake Inn: the Chronicle of a Lady Detective #2, who is William Pinkerton and what is his role in the story?
William Pinkerton, son of the agency’s founder Allan Pinkerton, runs the Pinkerton Chicago office by this time. He assigns this case (and others) to Pen. He gets a bit more involved this time around, as he comes up with a disguise Pen can use to better infiltrate the inn and keep an eye on the guests. Pen has never posed as a spirit medium before…can she pull it off? She’d have to be truly clairvoyant to know….
In The Case of the Runaway Girl: The Chronicle of a Lady Detective #3, what is Penelope going up against?
Pen is up against quandaries that are both professional and personal in book #3. Professionally, she’s navigating the powerful worlds of big business and back-room politics (with some anarchists thrown in) as she works to keep the two young ladies in her charge safe from unscrupulous people.
Personally, there is the complication of another love interest in the form of the dashing, somewhat-reformed Phillip Kendall. He’s very interested in Pen and she’s drawn to him despite herself, even though she doesn’t fully trust him. Is he truly reformed, or is he out for himself?
What are some interesting historical facts of the 1880’s?
That’s quite an open-ended question, but I’m happy to share a fun backstory I picked up while researching THE CASE OF THE RUNAWAY GIRL. Several scenes from that book take place at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (now the site of the Renwick Gallery). The building was so grand in its heyday and housed such a wonderful collection it was dubbed “The American Louvre.”
William Corcoran, a very wealthy businessman with southern sympathies, had acquired an extensive art collection and in 1859 commissioned the gallery to be built to house it all. The site was prime real estate, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street.
However, when the Civil War started, things got too hot for him, so he decided to move himself and his family to Europe to wait out the war. The Corcoran Gallery was mostly completed by then, though not the interior. The Quartermaster Corps seized Corcoran’s building to use as a supply depot for the Union Army, and proceeded to finish the interior with cheap materials and partition the space into storage rooms and offices.
William Corcoran returned after the war and wanted his gallery back. It was returned to him in 1869, but not the back rent that he claimed he should be paid. He worked with the original architect to have all the modifications ripped out and the gallery completed, which opened in 1874.
If you want to read more, I recommend American Louvre by Charles J. Robertson (D. Giles Ltd, 2015).
What’s next for you?
I just finished book #7 of the Concordia Wells mysteries…UNSEEMLY FATE. By the time this interview comes out, it will be released!
Beware of rich men bearing gifts…
It’s the fall of 1899 and the new Mrs. David Bradley—formerly Professor Concordia Wells of Hartford Women’s College—is chafing against the hum-drum routine of domestic life.
That routine is soon disrupted, however, by the return to Hartford of the long-hated but quite rich patriarch of her husband’s family, Isaiah Symond. His belated wedding gift is a rare catalogue by artist/poet William Blake, to be exhibited in the college’s antiquities gallery.
But when Symond is discovered in the gallery with his head bashed in and the catalogue gone, suspicion quickly turns from a hypothetical thief to the inheritors of Symond’s millions—Concordia’s own in-laws. She’s convinced of their innocence, but the alternatives are equally distressing. The gallery curator whom she’s known for years? The school’s beloved handyman?
Once again, unseemly fate propels Concordia into sleuthing, but she should know by now that unearthing bitter grudges and long-protected secrets to expose a murderer may land her in a fight for her life.
Available May 1st at these online retailers:
BN, Apple, Kobo: books2read.com
About K.B. Owen
K.B. taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.
A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences to create her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. There are seven books in the Concordia Wells Mysteries so far.
K.B. also has another series, about the adventures of a lady Pinkerton in the 1880s, entitled Chronicles of a Lady Detective. There are three novellas/novels in the Lady Detective series so far.