by Grace Topping
It’s a toss-up as to which I enjoy more—contemporary mysteries or historical mysteries, but I frequently lean more to the historicals. So when Dianne Freeman’s historical mystery, A Ladies Guide to Etiquette and Murder, won both the Agatha and Lefty awards and was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, I couldn’t wait to read it. It definitely was worthy of awards, and I immediately got a copy of her second book, A Ladies Guide to Gossip and Murder. When I learned the third book in her Countess of Harleigh Mystery series was soon coming out, I couldn’t wait to interview Dianne and learn more about it. It sounds just as good as the first two in her series.
A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder
(A Countess of Harleigh Mystery Book 3)
London is known for its bustle and intrigues, but the sedate English countryside can host—or hide—any number of secrets. Frances, the widowed Countess of Harleigh, needs a venue for her sister Lily’s imminent wedding, away from prying eyes. Risings, George Hazleton’s family estate in Hampshire, is a perfect choice, and soon Frances, her beloved George, and other guests have gathered to enjoy the usual country pursuits—shooting, horse riding, and romantic interludes in secluded gardens.
But the bucolic setting harbors a menace, and it’s not simply the arrival of Frances’s socially ambitious mother. Above and below stairs, mysterious accidents befall guests and staff alike. Before long, Frances suspects these “accidents” are
As Frances and George search for the culprit among the assembled family, friends, and servants, more victims fall prey to the mayhem. Mishaps become full-blooded murder, and it seems that no one is safe. And unless Frances can quickly flush out the culprit, the peal of wedding bells may give way to another funeral toll
Welcome, Dianne, to Writers Who Kill.
After The Ladies Guide to Etiquette and Murder was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award and won the Agatha and the Lefty for
It is said that a good setting is often like another character in a book. What made you decide on a setting in London during the Victorian era?
I knew my protagonist would be one of the dollar princesses whose family traded a big dowry for a title in a transatlantic marriage. I wanted to take a peek into her life a decade after the wedding, so that led me to the late Victorian era among the British aristocracy, and I can’t think of a better setting for a mystery. These were the glamorous and powerful people of their time, but this was an era of transition. The middle classes were really coming into their own by then and they didn’t want to be tenant farmers or servants on big estates anymore. Agriculture, which is how most of the peers of the time made their incomes, was suffering from drought, cheap imports, and lack of labor. If they lost their money, they’d soon lose their grip on power. Many fell for crazy investment schemes or married heiresses to hang on as long as they could. Even the monarchy was in transition from the upstanding Queen Victoria who expected her aristocrats to set an example of proper behavior, to her playboy son, Edward.
So, there were all the entitled nobles, struggling to hold on to their status with few bankable skills, stuck in loveless marriages, projecting an appearance of propriety, while indulging in any number of sins with the fast crowd surrounding the Prince of Wales. What could possibly go wrong?
Readers frequently enjoy fish-out-of-water stories. With the Countess of Harleigh being an American living in Victorian England, she could definitely be considered such. Do you think she is hindered or helped in her pursuits by being an American?
Is it Lady Frances or Lady Harleigh? With etiquette being in the title of your first book, you definitely needed to know the proper use of titles and forms of address in England during that time. How did you research this?
It is definitely Lady Harleigh. To be Lady “First name,” one has to be born into the aristocracy. When Frances was first married, her husband hadn’t inherited the earldom yet, so he was simply Lord Reggie, and Frances would have been Lady Reggie. (I think if she had known that, she would have nixed the marriage.) Once he inherited, they were Lord and Lady Harleigh or the Earl and Countess of Harleigh. The use of titles can get pretty twisted, but there are plenty of guides available to help out. Debrett’s has been my definitive source. When in doubt, I use their handbook on forms of address.
Were you able to travel to England to do research?
My travel to England came a few years before I wrote Etiquette and Murder, so it was more
Facing some financial difficulties, Lady Harleigh decides to make her living by sponsoring rich young American women—women who are hoping to marry into the upper crust of British society. Given her own experience of being married for her money, is she doing them a favor?
With many books being adapted for TV movies, have you ever given any thought to doing a script based on any of your books?
Not until this very moment. What? How? We have to talk!
Writers often comment about what a solitary endeavor writing is. Do you find it very isolating? How do you stay connected to others in the writing community?
When I’m actually in front of my computer getting the words down, then I’m on my own. But considering how much I reach out to others for research and for giving and receiving feedback, I don’t feel isolated at all. The writing community on social media helps to keep us connected, as do writers’ organizations like Sisters in Crime, particularly the local chapters. I’ve really missed going to in-person meetings this year, and the big conventions too.
Promoting a new book during a pandemic has to be hard. Have you found any positive benefits from taking a different approach to book promotion?
I really do miss chatting with readers and visiting my favorite bookstores, but I am starting to like virtual events. You can do them from the comfort of your own home and team up with bookstores that are too far to visit under normal circumstances.
Please tell us about your path to publication. Was it a smooth journey or a long and twisting road?
For those who don’t know, PitchWars is a contest for writers with a completed, unpublished manuscript to try to “win” a shot at working with a mentor. I won and worked with my mentor, E.B. Wheeler, for about 6 weeks. This was the first time I’d ever been edited and it was eye-opening. At the end of this period, all the mentees showcase their first page and a 50-word pitch to all the agents who signed up to participate. If something piques their interest, they’ll ask to see more.
I did find my agent through this program and to my surprise, my manuscript went through yet another round of edits. When I’d polished it as much as possible, she took it on
With your third book in the series out, what do you know now that wish you had known when you first started writing? Any advice for new writers?
I wish I’d known about the writing community as mentioned above. I never even heard of SinC or MWA until after I had a book contract. At that time, I was urged to join a debut group (debut authors who were all launching in the same year) but there wasn’t one for 2018 adult fiction yet, so I formed one. It was a ton of work. I’d scour PW for debut announcements then track that author down. Others I found from announcements on Twitter. After a few months, the group had a social media presence and debut authors started finding us. There were 125 of us, all launching our first novels, supporting, commiserating, and promoting each other throughout that year. We all could have done it on our own, but it wouldn’t have been half as effective, and nowhere near as much fun. My advice is to find a group of writers to join, and if you can’t find one, start one.
What’s next for the Countess of Harleigh?
The next book in the series has a slightly different slant to the title:
A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder. Here’s a teaser:
Now that Lily is married, Frances and George have announced their engagement and are busy planning their own wedding. Only one thing stands between them and a lifetime of marital bliss—his wife.
When Irena, a young, exotic Frenchwoman is arrested for assaulting Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich outside Marlborough House, she claims to be not only the duke’s cousin but also Mrs. George Hazelton. Whispers about George’s duplicity grow to cries of scandal when the woman is found murdered in Frances’s garden. George and Frances become the prime suspects. To clear their names and put an end to the scandal, they’ll sort through the woman’s astonishing stories to determine which are true, which are false, and which could lead them to the real killer.
Wow! Sounds intriguing. Thank you, Dianne.
For more information about Dianne Freeman and her Countess of Harleigh Mystery Series, visit her at