Interview with mystery author Rosemary Simpson

Welcome,
readers. My special guest today is Rosemary
Simpson
. We’re chatting about her new historical mystery, Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets (A
Gilded Age Mystery).
Bio:
Rosemary
Simpson is the author of two previous historical novels, The Seven Hills of Paradise and Dreams
and Shadows
, and two previous Gilded Age Mysteries, What the Dead Leave Behind and Lies
That Comfort and Betray
. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International
Thriller Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. Educated in France and the
United States, she now lives near Tucson, Arizona.
Welcome, Rosemary. Please tell us about
your current release.
Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets is the third book in the Gilded Age
Mystery series, set in New York City in the late 1880s. Opera singer Claire
Buchanan shows heiress Prudence MacKenzie and ex-Pinkerton Geoffrey Hunter a
postmortem cabinet photograph of her deceased twin sister and newborn niece.
Claire is convinced that a double murder has been committed by the cold, controlling
widower, Aaron Sorensen, who swiftly remarried. His second wife is already
pregnant and may be in terrible danger. In order to discover the truth and find
evidence of guilt, Geoffrey probes Sorensen’s past while Prudence casts herself
as his next victim—putting her own life at grave risk.
What inspired you to write this book?
Postmortem
photography was extremely popular during the era in which the novel is set.
Black-bordered cabinet photos and cartes
de visite
served to announce and memorialize deaths, especially the passing
of children. There was also a belief that the soul flew out of a person’s mouth
at the moment of death, and photographers vied for the distinction of being the
first to capture the image of a departing soul. I imagined a photographer so
obsessed with that idea that he hastened the deaths of mortally ill individuals
in order to seize the moment of the soul in flight. And that’s where the plot
was born!
Excerpt from Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets:
The woman
Josiah ushered into Geoffrey Hunter’s office was tall and slender, elegantly
dressed in a gown that could only have been fashioned in one of the couturier
salons of Paris. The high-necked black wool afternoon costume gleamed and
glistened with elaborate designs of jet-beaded passementerie, rosettes, twisted
cording, and finely worked braid, its severe perfection lightened by a fall of
snow-white lace from the interior of the narrow sleeves. The perfectly pointed
V waist and naturally contoured bustle were the epitome of the latest European
fashion as pictured in Godey’s Lady’s Book.
“It’s
wonderful to see you again, Prudence,” she said. “I hope you’ll forgive me for
declining your supper invitation last night. The rehearsal schedule has been
brutal.” The women exchanged
kisses on the
cheek in the French fashion; then Claire held out a gloved hand to Geoffrey. “I
hardly recognize you when you’re not lurching about on the deck of a ship.” Her
speech was lightly accented, as though she had spoken English as a child, then
lived abroad for many years.
She accepted
the cup of coffee Josiah handed her, settling herself into the chair he placed
in front of Geoffrey’s desk. With one penetrating look she seemed to take his
measure; the
slightest of
nods indicated he would do.
“Thank you
again for last night’s tickets to Aïda,” Prudence began.
“It wasn’t
the best of performances,” Claire said. “There’s no point pretending
otherwise.” She gestured toward the folded Times. “I see you’ve read the
review.”
“Will Frau
Schröder-Hanfstängl continue?”
“Everyone
gets bad reviews occasionally. There was a rumor for a while that she was
considering a teaching position at one of the conservatories, but nothing came
of it. All performers grow thick skins. We wouldn’t survive otherwise. So, yes,
she’ll sing for the rest of this season at the Met and probably for years to
come.”
“I’m sure you
can’t help but wish it were otherwise,” Geoffrey said. He knew that some
artistes spent their entire professional careers singing minor roles or lost in
the chorus, waiting for the chance that never came.
“Prudence
mentioned that you’re a former Pinkerton agent, Mr. Hunter.” Claire Buchanan
deftly sidestepped his comment.
“The
Pinkertons claim to be the best detectives in the world. Is that true?”
“It’s a
well-deserved reputation,” he answered.
“I hadn’t
realized there were lady detectives until Prudence told me about your
partnership and that Allan Pinkerton had hired female operatives,” Claire
continued. “You were kind aboard ship not to ask questions about my personal
life. I’m sure I made it obvious I wouldn’t welcome them.” She smiled an
apology. “I wasn’t keeping secrets to be deliberately mysterious. I thought
that if I didn’t talk about it, the pain would eventually lessen. So I taught
Prudence the tarot and avoided all mention of what I’ve lost.”
“How can we
be of assistance, Miss Buchanan?” Geoffrey asked. Josiah had been right, as
usual. Their shipboard acquaintance had come to the office today with the
intention of becoming a client.
The opera
singer reached into a velvet reticule whose passementerie matched the patterns
on her dress. She took out a black cardboard folder slightly larger than her
hand. “Open it,” she said, giving the folder to Prudence. “A part of me dies
every time I look at it.”
The cardboard
was of the thickness used to mount and protect photographs, the two covers tied
together by a narrow black silk ribbon. On the front was an embossed design of
intertwined lilies surrounded by a stand of cypress trees, popular symbols of
mourning throughout the Western world.
“Is this what
I think it is?” Prudence asked. She’d seen cabinet photos like this one too
many times not to recognize what she’d been given. She glanced up in time to
catch a twitch of aversion cross Geoffrey’s face.
“Please undo
the tie.”
Prudence
opened the folder. Inside, mounted within an oval cutout decorated with the
same motif of lilies and weeping cypress trees, was the photograph of a young
woman holding in her lap a perfect infant. Eyes open, tiny features composed
and expressionless, the child had been posed with its head lying against the
mother’s bosom, as though to be comforted by the sound of her heartbeat.
Except that
both of them were dead when the photograph was taken.
The lifeless
woman was Claire Buchanan.
What exciting story are you working on
next?
The fourth
book in the Gilded Age Mystery series, Death
Leaves a Shadow
, will be released by Kensington in late 2019, and I’m
working on the fifth volume. No title yet. I’m also developing another mystery
series and crafting a standalone historical novel.
When did you first consider yourself a
writer?
I’ve always
written. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. For me, the writing
life started with a journal. When I occasionally go back and read some of the
entries, they almost always include mention of a storyline I was developing.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I do write
full-time now, and I start the day by listing the non-writing things that have
to get done. Meetings, appointments, all of the commitments I can’t postpone.
Then I decide when I can work in blocks of time for concentrated writing work.
I end up with a schedule that I try to stick to as much as possible, and which
is slightly different day to day. It’s also important to allow time for the
research I do as a writer of historical fiction. And no writer should starve
himself of reading time. That’s vital!
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
Probably the
detailed spreadsheets I keep of daily time and word counts. I also write short
summaries of every chapter and ongoing character development profiles.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I always
wanted to be either a writer or an actress because it meant you could live in
so many different worlds of the imagination.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
When I’m
writing I feel transported into another place and time. My goal is always to
take the reader along with me.
Thanks for being here today, Rosemary.
Happy writing!

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