09/15/17

Happily Ever After

An online reading group I frequent recently blew up over a book that ended with a (dreaded) cliffhanger. As much as authors seems to love them, readers I talk to hate the idea of not knowing how the story ends. I admit, ambiguity makes me nervous. My own real life is filled with it right now. Politics shifting my day job in slippery ways, questions about family members, hurricanes, and the possibility of a move means I’ve got a lot of cliffhangers going on.

It’s exhausting, and there’s nothing better for me than to escape into a book. I’m reading recommendations from friends, but only after pestering them to death about the ending. I hate reading books that don’t have a happy ending. I don’t need every page to be sweetness and light, and I certainly don’t want a story with some tension and hurt, but in the end, everything needs to be all right.

If I was reading to learn something or reading about a historic period, I could understand a downer ending. That’s real life. But I read for pleasure. When I’m not editing or on a writing jag, I finish three novels a week. If I wasn’t careful, I could pack a lot of depressing stories into my head, which is exactly what I don’t want.

I promise my books will always feature an upbeat ending. People won’t be perfectly healed millionaires without a care in the world, but they will be hopeful, happy, and ready to take on what’s next. Before you chastise me for being unrealistic, I’d like to point out that my world contains vampires, witches, and ghosts. If you can handle that much fantasy, the idea of a happy ending shouldn’t be impossible.

Of course, a happy ending doesn’t mean there were never any problems along the way. I’m in the midst of copy edits for the next Mallory book and I can assure you all of the characters face challenges. Relationships have ups and downs; a couple even break up entirely. There are bad days at work, and fights at home. But in the end things are all right, or maybe they’re going to be all right despite everything.

Without realizing it, I ended this book with a party, just like Fire in Her Blood ended with a party. My YA book, The Mermaid and the Murders, also ended with a party. While the party came a few chapters from the end of Under a Blood Moon…yep, it’s a pattern. I’m not sure if I’ll worry about correcting it though – the good times in life should be celebrated. Small celebrations for hitting some goal, big celebrations for big events, and quiet celebrations that no one else knows about remind us that good things happen. They help us mark the good times and give us joyful memories to sweeten the hard times.

Because there are hard times – ugly times when we can’t face another day and we don’t know what’s going to come next. And you’ll find those in my books, but not, I promise, at the end.

05/15/17

Patron of the Arts

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I pay for my entertainment.

As a kid there wasn’t a lot of extra money for things like books. Most of the people I knew were in the same boat, except for one girl with a rich grandmother. Walking around the newly opened Barnes and Noble (which meant the world had finally joined our small town) she filled a basket with books and paid for them with a grandmother supplied credit card. Not just any books, but hard-covers from the new releases table, the kind of books that cost a quarter of my family’s weekly grocery budget. I knew I would be rich when I could buy all the books I wanted without even considering the prices.

I’m privileged to have made that dream come true. Decades later, thanks to a great job in the big city, I developed a weekly book habit. My Friday night indulgences included a cup of hot cocoa from the in-store coffee shop and three or four books of my own. I didn’t flinch at my monthly book budget, even when it climbed to the $200 mark.

But a curious thing happened as eBooks started to become my preferred reading choice. I began to question the value of a book. If I wasn’t paying for paper and ink, what was a reasonable amount to pay? The magic conversion from a thing of worth (a book on a shelf) to a worthless thing (a used paperback) seems even more unfathomable when we’re talking about a downloaded electronic file. At the same time, I value the joy I get from reading a book. And if I’m not sure what I should pay for an electronic book file I don’t really own, how do I judge a streamed podcast I listen to but never download?

Finding a good story-based podcast is hard. I don’t want to listen to people chat or a conversation that wanders around. I want a tale, a fable, a narrative that will hold my attention and spark my imagination. Myths and Legends Podcast is exactly that, a podcast that tells a different myth or related a different legend each episode. After the main story, the ‘creature of the week’ introduces a new supernatural critter, ghost, or monster.  I stumbled on the podcast when I was too sick to hold a book or focus my eyes to read. I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I love listening to the well researched, well put together podcasts.

I could listen for free but I don’t. The host (Jason) can’t produce the stories for free. There are research costs and equipment costs, not to mention the time he spends. I edit audio as part of my day job – it’s time consuming to get it right. I like Jason’s work. I love the stories. They inspire and entertain me. I want to support them, so I joined the podcast as a member.

As a writer, I understand that sometimes we need to give away content to get folks to take a chance on us. They don’t know if our stories are worth their money. I agree with that idea. I’m much more likely to try a new author if the first book is free, or if the free trial of the book hooks me. But I don’t want to get to a place where I’m not willing to support the artists who make the content I love. I wouldn’t steal from a bookstore or sneak into a concert without a ticket, which means I’m not comfortable listening to every episode of a podcast without contributing. Now if only someone would give me a way to pay my favorite authors on AO3.

05/1/17

Quiz: Are you a Romance Hero?

Have you ever felt like you’re walking around in a movie? Or maybe that your life is the plot of a novel? Do obstacles pop up in a way that seems plot-driven? Do you wonder if your life is really someone else’s summer daydream?  Well, I’m here to help.

Every spring I judge a writing contest. Last year, it inspired my list of ways to tell if your hero is a jerk. This year, I’d like to perform a service for all my readers and help them figure out if they’re secretly the romantic lead in story, an always ideal creature that is usually called ‘the hero’. Consider each trait below. If they sound like you, you might just be someone’s hero.

You always have a condom, no matter how implausible sex might be.  Most of us don’t go hiking, riding on the range, kayaking, or to board meetings thinking about safe sex, but heroes always seem to have a discreet condom in their pocket.
Bonus points if you can offer a plausible explanation for the condom, like the cowboy hero who explained the condom was a integral part of his saddle bag first aid kit.

You’re such an accomplished lover you always know what to do for your partner, every time, even if it’s the first time the two of you have been together. Sure, everyone has different preferences, but the hero magically never tries something their partner doesn’t like.
Bonus points if you give your partner something they craved but have been too afraid to ask for/never even said out loud.

You are so potent, that the one time you forget protection your partner is immediately pregnant regardless of age, being on the pill, or a history of infertility.
Bonus points if those pregnancies have no negative side effects like morning sickness or exhaustion.

You always satisfy your lover first. Heroes never rush into anything, least of all their partner. The person (or people) they’re with is always satisfied at least once, usually twice, before the hero even thinks of their own pleasure.

You can go a very long time without having sex and lose none of your abilities as a lover. Even five hundred years of celibacy doesn’t make you rush or fumble.

You are never so injured, tired, or hungry that you can’t have sex. Ever. Bruised, beaten, or dealing with heavy blood loss a hero can always satisfy (see above).

You are never not completely in love with your partner. Is she moody? Does he have the flu? Doesn’t matter. You still find them sexy, or maybe adorable, but never annoying, whiny, or tiresome. Heroes never fall out of love and think their partner is always perfect.

You can always set the mood for some romance. Bad guys chasing you? Earthquake? Zombie attack? A real hero only needs a semi-dark or semi-private place to turn any situation into a sexy night to remember.

You are instantly loved by all. Colicky babies, defensive mutts, and disapproving mothers all immediately fall for you, even though they usually hate people like you. They instinctively know you’re different, without being able to put it in words.

Did you say yes to three or more of the above? If so, you might be a trope-driven romance hero. Maybe consider developing a few real life flaws to go with that tortured back-story. Or don’t: a lot of folks love romance heroes.

03/15/17

Irish myths, legends, and more

It’s almost St. Patrick’s day and as an Irish Girl I’m obligated to talk about Irish things. Thankfully, I love a lot of Irish things like my grandmother and my mother, strong Irish tea, and crusty soda bread. Some of those Irish things even influence my writing, here’s a list of the big ones:

Darby O’Gill and the Little People
When this movie came out in 1959 it was meant to be wholesome family entertainment. It’s terrifying. I saw it as a child one stormy day and have lived in fear of fairies every since. Darby is a good man who’s a bit of a slacker. He and his daughter are about to be kicked out of their home because of his habit of drinking instead of working. Thankfully his replacement, a very dapper, singing Sean Connery, adds some levity. Darby ends up extorting three wishes from the fairy king. They go rather badly; like death’s carriage in the sky and a banshee that still appears in my nightmares. While it has a happy ending, it’s spooky enough to be a scary movie for eight-year olds and people like me.

The Secret of Roan Inish
This Irish/American independent film tells the story of Fiona, a little girl who is sent to live with her grandparents. While there she discovers her family tree may include a selkie – an Irish seal shapeshifter.  Fiona has a baby brother, Jamie, who has been lost at sea. She comes to believe her selkie ancestor is keeping him. Convinced  the selkie will only return Jamie when their family lives on the island where the seals live, Fiona sets out to make that happen. This movie is filled with magic and I rewatch it every year. It’s responsible for at least three of the characters in the Death Witch series.

Tropical Brainstorm by Kirsty MacColl
NPR’s Celtic music show, Thistle and Shamrock, is a weekly listen in my life. Unfortunately, there are weeks when I have to switch it off, Irish music can get a bit depressing. That’s why I love Kirsty MacColl’s final album so much – the hit singer took inspiration from a trip to Cuba and blended the upbeat Latin rhythm into her Celtic songs. Yes there are some sad songs (AutumnGirlSoup), but the story telling (like ‘England 2 Colombia 0’, a catchy song about adultery and lies) is perfect. This album is perfect for dancing around the kitchen on gray gloomy days.

And then there are the books. My two favorites are Classic Celtic Fairy Tales by John Matthews and Irish Folktales by Henry Glassie (Editor)  Classic Celtic Fairy Tales is beautifully illustrated, with each story followed by a notes section filled with references. Irish folktales contains well documented stories arranged by topic (faith, war, ghosts). Each story is preceded by the first name of the teller and the county they lived in. This anthology with stories from 1825 to the ‘present day’ is perfect when I want to pull a piece of folklore from a specific time or place. These two are the books I go to when I’m looking for a new monster or need inspiration for a character. Movies and TV shows are great, but these more scholarly treatments feel closer to the source. Someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to visit my grandmother’s home town in Ireland. I imagine the stories I hear there will be the ones in these books, with dangerous, beautiful fairies, brave men, cunning women, and a lot of magic.

I plan to capture them all in stories of my own.

 

 

 

06/20/16

June Reads – Hard Truth by Nevada Barr

I stayed up until 1 am reading and it wasn’t until the next day that I realized this book helped fulfill my goal of reading more books with disabled characters.

Heath, a strong young woman, is confined to a wheel chair after injuring her spinal cord in an ice climbing accident. In the first pages of the novel she bitterly wheels her wheelchair through an accessible camping lot, only to fall out onto a pair of lost girls. The two girls, one twelve and one thirteen, have been lost in the wilderness for almost a month.  They’re nearly naked, horribly traumatized, and unwilling to be parted from Heath.

The book is part of the Anna Pigeon series, so Anna is the main character. Heath gets a lot of page time though, and is able to help the lost girls both because of, and in spite of, her status as a paraplegic. Her character moves from being angry and bitter almost all the time, drinking and smoking, to fighting for others, working hard, and accepting that her new status doesn’t change who she is. The book included a great passage about her wheelchair going from being “other” to being a part of her body.

There was also a very fine mystery going on. The girls turn out to be part of a religious cult/commune that practices polygamy and child marriage. Their parents are firmly against any psychological counseling. They don’t want the police or anyone else involved in their life. Questions arise about demons; did the girls see one? Is it responsible for the dead animals and strange attacks in the night?

Trigger warning: torture of animals and violence towards women (including rape). While the worst abuse takes place off stage, the story doesn’t shy away from portraying uncomfortable scenes. When I got to the end I was surprised by the depth of the villain’s depravity and unsure that all the characters would recover well. So while it kept me turning pages, this book might not be for everyone.

I was fairly sure I had the mystery figured out at least five times, only to change my mind twenty pages later. I stayed up late reading because I had to know how it all came together. I suspected all sorts of things for the characters, which include a handful of park rangers, a youth pastor, and the girls’ families. Most of what I guessed didn’t come to pass. It was nice to see a book that didn’t rely on the usual tropes.

I’m looking forward to reading more of the Anna Pigeon stories, hopefully they’ll all have characters as good as Heath.

 

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05/20/16

May Reads – Midnight, Texas series

Charlaine Harris writes my kind of candy: small towns filled with weird, diverse characters who have depth and appeal, with an element of the supernatural to keep things interesting. I gobbled down the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series on a gloriously hot Memorial day weekend. I was on vacation in St. Simon’s Island and ended up not seeing much of it.  The shorter Harper Connelly series went by in a flash. I can’t remember when I read it, only that I longed for more. Rumors still fly that it’ll be a series on HBO. I’ve got my finger crossed.

So it’s probably no surprise that her latest series is my May read. The third book came out at the beginning of the month and I’m already scouring the web hoping for rumors of the next one. The series feels like Harris is having fun, collecting left over characters from other books and plopping them down in the improbable small town of Midnight, Texas. Harper Connelly’s favorite psychic friend, Manfred lives on the corner. He’s two doors down from Sookie Stackhouse’s ex-boyfriend the weretiger, Quinn. Somehow a town of less than a dozen permanent residents contains vampires, assassins, witches, murders, angels, and few normal seeming folks who aren’t all that normal.

Each book brings the townspeople together to confront a ‘big bad’. The big bads range from the mundane to the almost unbelievable but the battles and confrontations always ring true. The very small town functions as a sort of extended family – a diverse family with people of various colors, sexualities, and ages who all want to keep to themselves. That never works, and each book shows us another towns-person having to reveal secrets or share parts of their past they hoped would never come to light.

One of the things I enjoy so much about this series is the very different ways everyone has of handling things. When a murderer is discovered in town responses range from ‘call the cops’ to ‘let me get my gun’. Each chapter is told from a different person’s point of view and I enjoy seeing each person thinking through the goings on. The only character who doesn’t enjoy a chapter of is own is the wonderfully grumpy talking house cat (who reminds me a lot of my rabbit editor).

When I ran into another Charlaine Harris fan at my local book store we enjoyed a good long talk about all the hidden references to other books. The stories do stand on their own though. I had no idea the pawnshop owner came from another book series – one Harris wrote that doesn’t have any supernatural aspects. I’d never read any of those books, but the character still felt fully developed.

The books won’t help meet my goal of reading more books about people who have disabilities as I talked about in a previous blog. Everyone is fully able bodied and even the character who endured serious abuse as a child seems completely free of mental issues. These books aren’t going to change the world, but they are fun. I hope I get to read more like them.

05/1/16

Is your hero a jerk?

I’ve found some of my favorite authors by judging a writing contest each year in the spring. I’ve been a judge for several years now, but I’ve never seen this many “jerk” entries. That’s my pet name for romances where the hero is, deep down, a jerk. Thus I give you, signs your hero might be a jerk:

Your hero doesn’t let his heroine make decisions.
It doesn’t matter how he does it, withholding information is just as bad as sharing but ignoring her opinion. In either case, or any other situation you can think of, not letting an adult decide what will happen with their life makes you a jerk. I recently threw a book across the room because the hero refused to share with the heroine what was happening to her. He’d turned her into a vampire, but he wouldn’t say what that meant or how it would happen. While she (literally) sat in the dark wondering, he set up a car accident to fake her death, bought new clothes for her, and generally decided how her life would go. Jerk.

Your hero decides what the couple will do. All. The. Time.
The heroine wants to talk through an issue; the hero wants to have sex. They end up having sex instead of talking. The heroine wants to run errands; the hero wants to go to the game. They go to the game. Partnerships require communication and compromise. The hero picking every activity, meal, and sometimes even the heroine’s clothes isn’t fair. I don’t mean the hero should always do what the heroine wants. In The Mermaid and the Murders, the hero turns down sex, twice. Both times Danika, the heroine, is ready, willing, and excited, but the hero, Sam, isn’t. Now if Danika was a jerk, she’d insist or belittle him. She doesn’t. She’s still frustrated but she talks to him about why he said no, eventually coming around to his point of view. A hero who turns aggressive or pouts when he doesn’t get his way? He’s a jerk.

Your hero plays tricks or tries to catch the heroine in a lie.
People make mistakes and tell white lies. Accepting that and forgiving your partner is part of being in a healthy relationship. Tailing them to confirm they’re going out with who they say they’re going out with, using the “find my phone” feature to track them, or insisting they call you when they reach their destination is a jerk move. This behavior pops up in historic mysteries too. One of the books I judged had a hero who waited in the alley outside the heroine’s, watching her. Another set up a dinner where the guests could test the heroine’s knowledge of India to ‘help her’ prove she had really been there. If you’re hero can’t trust the heroine at all, he might be a jerk.

Your hero shouldn’t rape. Ever.
I hate that this has to be said, but I saw in two books this year. Here’s the deal – rape is an unforgivable crime. I can’t move past it to care for the hero. There are no circumstances where rape is okay. Not if the victim is a prostitute and the hero gives her extra money after the assault. Not if the hero uses supernatural powers to make the victim forget. Not if the hero is part of culture where rape is okay. There are no heroes who rape.

I’m not saying every man in a romance novel must be perfect – flaws make characters real. There’s a big difference between a flawed character and a jerk. A flawed person apologizes when they screw up. They recognize what they did was wrong and try not to do it again. They might not always succeed but their apology is meaningful and sincere. You can see that they’re making an effort to be better. The jerk doesn’t think he’s screwed up. He might apologize but it’s an insincere effort to get something. Maybe he’ll do something the heroine wants, once or twice, but always with the idea of quid-pro-quoi in mind.

I read romance to see a healthy relationship develop over the course of the book. I expect to see the couple talking, considering each other’s feelings, making decisions together, and generally working through their troubles to have a healthy, happy relationship. I don’t need them to be perfect people but I require kindness and respect.

Because at this point in my life, real heroes aren’t the guys with abs or bags of money; they’re the guys who do the dishes, take care of the kids, and remember my favorite flavor of ice cream. I’m more impressed by people who show they genuinely care. Diamonds are lovely, but taking the day off work to sit with me in a doctor’s office when I’m scared is priceless.

Of course not every guy is going to do that. It’s asking for a lot, but at least the guys in romance novels shouldn’t be jerks.

04/20/16

April’s Read: The Haunted Mansion Comic book

Disney’s Haunted Mansion #1, grab it from your local comic book before it disappears forever.

A year ago I committed to sharing one book recommendation a month on the 20th. I tend to read at least a book a week, some weeks I read three. Picking a good book to share wasn’t hard until I discovered Amazon samples for my Kindle.  Samples have changed the way I read.  Each one is free three chapter preview.  I find myself reading more and more samples, but buying fewer books. That’s because good samples end on a hook, leaving me desperate to buy the book while bad samples leave me wondering why anyone would bother.

It’s easy to eat up two or three hours on a dozen samples and not find something to read. Sometimes I read a sample so bad I give up on reading for a couple of days, like the one that claimed to be a ghost story about a teenage heroine who struggled with her father’s alcoholism. The sample turned out to be a historic piece written in archaic language by a girl pregnant with a demonic baby. That one drove me out of the virtual book store.

Haunted Mansion #2, a better story than the last dozen novel samples I read.

Thankfully I found myself in a comic book shop, and thus discovered this month’s read: a comic book. Not a fancy graphic novel with deep meanings and hidden allegories to the current political climate, but an actual slick fronted paper comic book. Despite its penny dreadful trappings the story – a young boy learns to be brave after the death of his grandfather – has really grabbed me.

It’s the Haunted Mansion’s story, and I don’t think you have to be fan of the ride (like me) to enjoy it. The second issue came out on the 20th, but the first is still available in most comic book stores. While the boy and his grandfather don’t come from the ride at all, most of the other characters and a good bit of dialogue do. I can’t wait to see how the story turns out and if the young man can muster up the courage to save his Grandfather’s ghost from being trapped in the Mansion forever.

 

 

03/28/16

March Reads – Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper

Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper cover

My search for books with disabled or minority characters wasn’t doing too well when I stumbled on to the Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series by happy accident. One of the main characters, Calvin, is an ex-homicide cop who happens to use a wheelchair. Calvin is the brains behind the paranormal investigation firm. His wheelchair use is never the most important thing about him, and it never stops him from doing his job. When he drives too fast it’s because as an ex-cop he never worries about getting caught not because he isn’t using the regular gas pedal. Two things made his character great for me: first, how he came to be in a wheelchair isn’t even discussed in the first two books. We learn about him as a person, about his dog, the food he likes, and so on before we learn about his injury. Second, when we do learn about his injury the information is presented as fact, not a tear-jerking story or a reason to celebrate his accomplishments. Instead, the information comes out naturally, as part of the story.

A story I devoured like kettle corn. I’m three books into the series, and I’ve only known about it for a week. The books are filled with old-fashioned ghost stories. Bride ghosts who were wronged at the altar. Abandoned ghosts who have gone mad with loneliness. Addict ghosts who are still searching for a fix. And those none of those are the main ghost stories, they’re just fun side trips on the way to the really scary stuff.

The first novel, Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper, introduces Ellie, Calvin, and the newest recruit to their firm, a young  former beauty queen, Stacy. Stacy acts as a surrogate for the reader, asking all the questions we would want to ask. Ellie isn’t pleased with Stacy’s eager outlook but when what appears to be a simple haunting turns out to be multiple ghosts, including one with nasty ties to the occult, Stacy grows up and stands strong. In addition to the ghost story there’s some great interaction between Ellie and her client’s little girl who is terrorized by the haunting. The girl’s father is written as a jerk, a very believable misogynist sports-obsessed jerk. I give the author huge kudos for writing someone so unlikable and not torturing them. While I hoped the man who get his comeuppance, the more realistic ending was a better choice.

In the second novel, Cold Shadows, a family moves into a house where the toys play with themselves and water drips from dry ceilings.  This story repeated the best parts of the first one: Calvin giving advice, Ellie and Stacy relating to the clients with empathy, and the ghosts turning out to be bigger, darker, and scarier than they first let on. Trigger Warning/Mild Spoiler Alert – the ghosts in this story come with a history of spousal and child abuse. But this is handled well, without any apology or aggrandizing. The ghost family dynamic plays out while the ghost trappers struggle to free the live family from the haunting.

Cold Shadows over

In the third novel, The Crawling Darkness, we learn that Calvin was hurt on the job, shot by ghostly bullets that severed his spine. The ghost that created them is actually a Closet Monster, a literal boogeyman that feeds on fear. By this point in the series Ellie has opened up as a person, learning to trust her team members. She even takes Calvin’s advice to consider getting a personal life. Stacy shares more of her own background, revealing hidden strength and old scars. I was glad Calvin wasn’t magically healed through the battle with the entity. His disability didn’t get “fixed” in the end, just like Ellie didn’t get over her fear of fire.

I’m half-way through the series of six books, and I’m already sad there aren’t more. Set in historic Savannah with characters that feel like real people instead of cardboard cutouts and filled with scary ghosts, these are a fun read. They’re exactly my kind of candy.

02/20/16

February Reads – Timothy Wilde Mysteries

I adore the Timothy Wilde series by Lyndsay Faye. It’s a great set of mysteries that teaches you more than a little about the history of the New York police department. It’s also a wonderful showcase for minorities including a main character with mental health issues. (warning this blog post has all sorts of spoilers for the series)

The first book, The Gods of Gotham, introduces Timothy Wilde, barely survives a great tenement fire and finds himself destitute and without a job. It seems no one wants to buy beers from a bartender so badly scarred they can’t stand to look at him. Without other prospects he joins the Copper Stars, the first New York City Policeman. Timothy is free of prejudice, having listened to the tales of drunks of all kinds, his best friend is black, his brother, Valentine, is bisexual, and there’s Mercy, the girl he loves.

Mercy Underhill is prone to flights of wild fantasy. Most of these can be contained in her writing, a secret career we don’t learn about until the end of the first book but the rest plague her. Her father has similar delusions that he relates to his own career as minister. Before the end of the series Timothy (and the reader) realizes that both of them suffer from mental illness – likely a dissociative disorder or schizophrenia (a breakdown in the logical thought process). But the book surprises by not treating that as the single thing that defines either character. Mercy has plans for her future, makes difficult decisions, and loves Timothy. Her illness is neither the sole focus of her being nor trotted out once and then completely forgotten.

The first mystery, The Gods of Gotham, centers on a series of kidnappings where the victims are Catholic children forced to work as prostitutes. One of the children, Birdie, survives to become a part of Timothy’s life and her past is handled beautifully. In the third book as she starts dating, Timothy acts as an ersatz-father. He behaves exactly as any father would, without ever blaming or shaming her for her past.

The second story, Seven for a Secret, focuses on the horrible acts of slave-catchers who prowl New York looking for escaped blacks and unwary freedmen, who they sell back into slavery. The novel avoids the concept of the great white savior, instead showing a community not interested in outside interference. While the mystery of a stolen black family unfolds Faye explores the idea of justice at a time when the legal thing to do is the most immoral.

The final novel, The Fatal Flame, brings Mercy’s mental illness to center as she and Timothy work together to solve a series of arsons. Mercy has taken in an orphan who is also mentally disabled; despite this the girl might be the key to solving the mystery. More importantly she’s a wonderfully developed character. The book is stuffed with them actually: sex workers who aren’t vilified or defined by their profession, recent immigrants who aren’t stupid despite not being assimilated yet, and as many different ethnicities and religions as there were in New York in the 1840s.

My first read of the series was a protracted thing, a year between novels is a bit long for the dense, rich, historic details. I’m looking forward to reading them again, in rapid succession. Some desserts are best gulped down.