If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

February Interviews

2/5 Heather Weidner, Glitter, Glam, and Contraband
2/12 Rhys Bowen, Above The Bay of Angels
2/19 Elizabeth Penney, Hems & Homicide
2/26 Annette Dashofy, Under The Radar

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
2/1 Valerie Burns
2/8 Jeannette de Beauvoir
2/15 Kathryn Lane

WWK Bloggers: 2/22 Kait Carson, 1/28 & 1/29 Special Interviews with Agatha Nominees by Paula Gail Benson


WWK is proud of our four Agatha nominees. Kaye George for Best Short Story--not her first time to be nominated, Connie Berry and Grace Topping for Best First Mystery Novel (wish they weren't having to compete against each other), and Annette Dashofy for Best Contemporary Novel--her fifth nomination!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Look for Kaye George and Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Kaye's story is "Life and Death on the Road" and Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Kaye George's first novel in the Vintage Sweets mystery series, Revenge is Sweet, will be released on March 10th. Look for the interview here on March 11.

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, will be released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here on April 29th.

Don't miss Shari Randall's "The Queen of Christmas" available on at Amazon. Shari's holiday story for WWK was too long so she published it for our enjoyment. It's available for 99 cents or on Kindle Unlimited for free!

KM Rockwood's "The Society" and "To Die A Free Man; the Story of Joseph Bowers" are included in the BOULD Awards Anthology, which was released on November 19. KM won second place with a cash prize for "The Society." Congratulations, KM! Kaye George's "Meeting on the Funicular" is also in this anthology, which can be bought for 99 cents on Kindle until November 30.

Paula Gail Benson's story "Wisest, Swiftest, Kindest" appears in Love in the Lowcountry an anthology by the Lowcountry Romance Writers available 11/5 in e-book and print format on Amazon. The anthology includes fourteen stories all based in Charleston, South Carolina.

Kaye George's "Grist for the Mill" was published in A Murder of Crows anthology, edited by Sandra Murphy on October 9th.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

An Interview with Rhys Bowen by E. B. Davis

Isabella Waverly only means to comfort the woman felled on a London street. In her final dying moments, she thrusts a letter into Bella’s hand. It’s an offer of employment in the kitchens of Buckingham Palace, and everything the budding young chef desperately wants: an escape from the constrictions of her life as a lowly servant. In the stranger’s stead, Bella can spread her wings.

Arriving as Helen Barton from Yorkshire, she pursues her passion for creating culinary delights, served to the delighted Queen Victoria herself. Best of all, she’s been chosen to accompany the queen to Nice. What fortune! Until the threat of blackmail shadows Bella to the Riviera, and a member of the queen’s retinue falls ill and dies.

Having prepared the royal guest’s last meal, Bella is suspected of the poisonous crime. An investigation is sure to follow. Her charade will be over. And her new life will come crashing down—if it doesn’t send her to the gallows.

Above The Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen is set in London and Nice during the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign. It is one era I know little about so reading the book was a learning experience, which I’ve now come to expect when reading Rhys’s books. It’s not just the big milestones, but the minutia of daily life that fascinates.

Rhys creates another memorable character in Isabella Waverly (aka Helen Barton). Isabella must adjust from peerage class to working class status after her father loses his job due to his drinking and her mother dies. Although her father didn’t inherit a title, he and his children were educated and of the peerage class. Put into servitude to help upkeep her little sister, Isabella puts her feelings aside to do her best in a bad situation. Given the opportunity, Isabella excels in Queen Victoria’s kitchen.  
When I read the royal menus loaded with calories, it was no wonder few British people lived past 50 in 1900.

The book is also a study of contrasts. Isabella is a woman of little power and status working for a queen who rules much of the world.

Please welcome Rhys Bowen back to WWK.                                              ____________                             E. B. Davis    

I’ve read most of your books. Is this the first one set during Queen Victoria’s era? Was the research motivation to write the book?

RHYS: The motivation came from a previous visit to Nice. I was up on a hill and saw an enormous white building. I asked a gardener if it was a hotel. He said, “No, madame, it was built for your queen.”  Did he mean Queen Elizabeth? I asked. “No, madame. Queen Victoria.”
That was the first time I learned that Queen Victoria had spent her later years visiting the Riviera every winter. A hotel was built for her. She came with her entire household (including her bedroom furniture). This was something I had to write about so I started doing more in- depth research both through reading and in the library in Nice.

Hotel Regina Excelsior--Nice, FR. Built for Queen Victoria--now apartments

Before the social changes brought about by WWI and WWII, women had little power, especially in England where the class system was entrenched. Isabella is a study of grace under pressure. Was this a common situation, one in which impoverished gentry ended up in the working class?

RHYS: Usually an impoverished girl of the upper class would end up as a companion or, if educated, a governess. But Bella is so young that the only position open to her was that of household servant.

After women married, it was expected they would stay at home, one rationalization for not providing training for women in the workplace. How did women in the lower classes survive when they married without jobs? Their spouses didn’t make much money.

RHYS: Until recently most households could exist on the salary of the husband. Food and lodging were affordable. Even the poorer families had a roast on Sunday. If the wife wanted to help out with money (or if the husband drank away his paycheck, which sometimes happened) she could take in laundry, do someone’s ironing or mind someone’s children. There were plenty of factories where women also worked.

I’ve never thought of Queen Victoria as being progressive. Did she push for positions for women in the workplace?

RHYS: She was divided on such matters. In some ways progressive, as in cleaner standards for water and labor laws for children. But she also felt that women should defer to their husbands, or at least be guided by them, as she was by Albert. She probably felt that women shouldn’t have to work.

I loved Lady Mary Crozier. Would she later become a suffragette?

RHYS: I don’t think she would actively demonstrate. She was too much in love with her husband to want to embarrass him.  

Isabella had problems transitioning to her lowered status. Louisa, Isabella’s little sister, doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, although she isn’t in servitude. Louisa decides to marry into trade. Isabella isn’t happy, yet can’t fault Louisa because her future in-laws are wealthy. Was Louisa more practically minded or did she not appreciate her former gentrified status?

RHYS: Louisa was younger, so probably didn’t remember her father at a time when he behaved like a true aristocrat. And she is less intelligent/ambitious. I presume also that she has fallen in love with this boy and love blurs all boundaries of class.

When Louisa offers a place in her household for Isabella so she will not have to work, why did Isabella turn her down?

RHYS: She was definitely tempted, especially when it is pointed out to her that she could resume her education. But I think it was pride, not wanting to be beholden to a younger sister, or to a family she considers lower down the social scale. But also, it was the realization that she loved to cook and she has a chance to make strides in her new career. If she had still been with her horrible employer, she would have accepted!

I was a bit confused about meals. Did they eat breakfast, lunch, teatime, and dinner, too?

RHYS: Oh yes. They ate and ate. Full breakfast, kidneys, bacon, eggs, fish, etc. and for the royals also lamb chops and more. Then all those courses for lunch. Sandwiches, cakes, scones for tea and then a full banquet of food for dinner. If you saw how fat Queen Victoria became you would understand where all that food went!

The elaborate meals with many courses couldn’t have been healthy. But during that era, wasn’t being plump a status statement of wealth?

RHYS: They liked a girl with some meat on her, as they put it. But also remember that houses were very cold. They burned calories keeping warm, and they took a lot of exercise. Think of Jane Austen. Those women walked into town and back, several miles. The aristocrats would go riding, hunting, dancing.

Although Isabella gets her position in the Royal kitchen through false pretenses, how does she earn her way to Nice?

RHYS: Through a stroke of luck! The pastry chef injures his leg and cannot travel. She is the assistant pastry chef and also the only one who speaks French so they have to take her.

At one point, the Queen’s doctor asks the cooking staff to reduce the calories of the Queen’s meals because she was having difficulty walking. Was this solely due to her being too heavy, or did she have gout and a congestive heart condition?

RHYS: I don’t think she had a heart condition. She was so heavy that her legs would no longer support her. She might well have had gout, or diabetes.

What were chilblains? Do people still get them?  

RHYS: They were red inflamed sore places on fingers and toes. I have never seen them personally but the generation older than I spoke about them. Apparently, you got them from sitting too close to the fire, although that might be an old wives’ tale.

Bayer Heroin? When was this product outlawed?

RHYS: Oh, you would be amazed at what products were readily available: cocaine in children’s drinks, arsenic in various medications, and the newly invented heroin—more refined and better for you than opium! It was marketed as good for coughs!  I’ve no idea when it was outlawed.

Helena, Queen Victoria’s daughter, was addicted to heroin, but she lived 77 years. Did she remain addicted throughout her life?

RHYS: I’m not sure. She also took cocaine.

When did “Cordon Bleu” become common terminology?

RHYS: The term was first used in 1827. The Cordon Bleu cooking school in 1896.

I was surprised Isabella didn’t encounter more prejudice and sexism in a kitchen led by male chefs. Is there honor among chefs?

RHYS:  In the royal kitchen it was known that Queen Victoria wanted her. Therefore, it was up to the staff to accept her. The male yeoman cooks ignore her and she is assigned to the female cook. In the French kitchen the male chefs probably think this is some kind of English peculiarity. However, when they see that she knows how to cook, they accept her. The food is the most important thing!

Why did Queen Victoria become close with Abdul Karim and why did this alarm those near to her?

RHYS: He was sent over as a gift from India, to be a table servant. She was always attracted by the exotic and by handsome young men, so gradually he wormed his way into her affections.
He claimed to be the son of an army surgeon when in reality his father was only an orderly. He claimed to be an educated man when he wasn’t. The queen became dependent on him, because she had recently lost John Brown who bossed her around, I believe. She liked a man telling her what to do.
Unfortunately, this man was not only objectionable but dangerous. He was close friends with the head of the Muslim League—actively working to expel the British from India. Victoria used to have him in the room while she went through the confidential government papers. There were many attempts made to get rid of him.

Queen Victoria was the last British monarch of the House of Hanover. What does that mean? She had children.

RHYS: She was actually a Saxe-Coburg because she was married to Albert. At the outbreak of WW1 there was much anti-German feeling in Britain and her grandson, King George, changed the family name to the House of Windsor to sound more British.

Obviously, the Queen no longer arranges marriages for her children. But back then Queen Victoria did, and the motive was to increase political allies—often by relations marrying relations—resulting in hemophilia. When did arranged marriages stop? Was hemophilia a factor in stopping this practice?

RHYS: The lack of suitable monarchies stopped it. Germany became a republic. France was a republic. Russia murdered its Tsar. But to a certain extent, royal marriages have still to be arranged. Charles was told that Diana was suitable, not Camilla. The queen was attracted to Prince Phillip and then a match was arranged between them. Harry is the first to marry a commoner.

Why is Jean-Paul Lepin impressed by Isabella?

RHYS: Physical attraction, then her feisty nature, then her ability to cook.



Kait said...

Queen Victoria has always fascinated. She was so young when she came to the throne and she aged into a powerhouse. With all the chatter about whether Camilla will be named Queen Consort or Princess Consort, given Victoria and Albert's extremely close relationship, why was he never named King Consort. Is there a prohibition on the title?

Annette said...

I'm a huge fan! Just finished The Tuscan Child (yes, I'm a little behind and trying to catch up) and cannot wait to read this one. It sounds fascinating!

E. B. Davis said...

I have never read a Rhys Bowen book that I didn't love. Her series are wonderful. I love her knowledge she displays in her one off books, too. Thanks for the interview, Rhys!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Fascinating premise! Victoria is such an interesting person in so many ways, though her spending the winter months in the south of France instead of damp, rainy England seems excessive. Health issues? And did the Prime Minister travel back and forth to see her?

Authorrhysbowen@gmail.com said...

He also had a villa nearby!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Such a great interview, E.B. and Rhys. Well done. And Rhys, off to pick up this book! I'm intrigued. As an aside, we are very much looking forward to your Albuquerque visit in the Sisters in Crime Croak & Dagger chapter. One more question: you speak about Queen Victoria's daughter dying at 77. Isn't that an incredibly old age for someone in this era?

Again, wonderful information and storyline.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer of sexy and funny fiction, blogger at Handbags, Books...Whatever said...

Your covers are gorgeous. The interview is so interesting. Thank you, ladies.

KM Rockwood said...

I've always enjoyed Rhys's books, and I think I will enjoy this one, too.

Unknown said...

I've read almost all of her books. In the middle of Angels. Stayed up too late reading again! Great story-telling always! I learn so much when I read a book by Rhys Bowen. As a reader and as a writer! She makes it look easy!

Nancy Good said...

Sorry forgot to leave my name.
Nancy Good left "staying up late" comment above.