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.

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.

 

 

 

03/1/17

Timelines and the Next Mallory Story

Fire in Her Blood released on February 15. While I’m spending a lot of time obsessively clicking on Amazon to see if it gets any reviews, I’m also at work on the next book. I’m afraid written myself into a bit of pickle.

Fire in Her Blood was meant to have a subplot with Indigo, my favorite werejaguar. Werejaguars came into my life through stories my father gathered in his travels in Central America (Mesoamerica). The powerful, protective jaguar-spirit wove itself into Indigo’s appearance in Under a Blood Moon. When Indigo saves the day and provides a bit of light hearted fun, I’m recreating the balance of scary, blood thirsty animal, and lovable, caring cat god. I wanted to explore more about Indigo, working the stories I knew into his (only hinted at) complicated, dark history.

The jaguar cards from Dad’s tarot card set.

Which is how I ended up with way too many words in Fire in Her Blood. Ultimately, I decided to focus on the serial arsonist and revealing more about how vampire culture worked. When I edited Indigo out I knew his story had to go into another book. But at that point, the draft of the book that should have the third in the Death Witch series was already finished. And edited. Twice.

Which left me written into a corner.

The would-be-book-three starts during a rare February snow storm in Baton Rouge. Fire in Her Blood ends on Halloween. Unless this new Indigo-focused book ended up a Christmas story there wasn’t any room in the timeline for it.

I mean, I could have moved would-be-book-three to the next year, and put Indigo’s story in the center of the second year? But then I would need to add more books to explain what Mallory did with her year. And then there’s Amadeus…

When the spotlight wasn’t on Indigo, Amadeus really shined. His cocksure attitude and the way he enjoyed shocking everyone by proudly being a vampire sex worker created some of my favorite scenes. The dynamic between Mallory and Amadeus was fun, but the tension between him and Jakob was priceless. Would-be-book-three gave Amadeus a new role, forcing both of those relationships to grow.

I don’t want to wait to explore those relationships.

Which leads me back to Indigo’s story. It will now be book three. The would-be-book-three will need to be re-written a bit. The snow storm can’t be moved, so Indigo’s story is going to fit into a tight timeline from mid-November until early January. Amadeus is going to be forced into a supporting role somehow (he’s a difficult character to rein in). In his place are a collection of new characters and mythological creatures.

Aside from Anubis (Egyptian god of the afterlife) and a very scary wraith, Laumės (woodland spirits from Lithuanian mythology) make an appearance in the SIU squad room. They traditionally have a bad relationship with men so Mallory’s usual partner, Danny, can’t work the case. That gives me a chance to add a very tough female cop to the SIU, Kaniesha King. She’s used to working with the Muslim communities of Detroit, wears her hair natural, and takes no shit. You can see reference photos for her and most of the characters on the Pinterest board for this book: https://www.pinterest.com/GravesRachel/death-witch-book-3/

You’ll also find the Ursuline nun (a vampire from the 1600s), Charlotte (the girl the Laumės discover), and the biker bar from Fire in Her Blood (it’s quickly becoming my favorite place to leave a body). I’m having a lot of fun writing and adding reference photos as I go. I know the path to publication is long, but if I’m lucky you’ll be able to read this one by the end of the year.

That is assuming, of course, that I can come up with a title.

01/15/17

Better Used and Destroyed than Unused and Perfect

I don’t talk much about my halcyon days at Flagler College. I cherish them, but keep them close. My best friend from school, Donalyn Frank, died in 2010. The Mermaid and the Murders is actually all about Donalyn, but I keep that close too. When hurricane Matthew ripped through Saint Augustine, I searched out news of the place where I finally fit in, the school where I learned so much, and the hometown I’ll always miss. Pictures of sharks swimming over the sidewalk where I used to walk and my precious college drowning left me filled with a sense of fealty, even as I knew my ties to that idyllic place were slipping. After all, my Flagler College mug is fading.FullSizeRender

About twenty years ago, every Flagler College graduate got a mug with their graduation date written in gold script, beneath our lion mascot. I kept it safe through my many moves, wrapping it in a dishtowel, then putting it in the plastic box – not trusting bubble wrap and cardboard. When it got unwrapped it went on a shelf to be admired, or in one very small apartment, on my writing desk to hold pencils. In nineteen years and nine moves I never drank from it. It was too special.

After a trying day I found myself wishing for a drink. Unfortunately, I wished out loud and an amazing waitress offered to get me one. When I explained that I can’t have alcohol and shouldn’t have caffeine, she summoned the bartender, Patrick, who took my problem as a challenge. He customized not one, but two ‘mock-tails’, cocktails without a drop of alcohol, and sent them to the table. One of them turned out to be bliss in a glass, a nirvana of sweet but not too sweet, garnished with a Luxardo cherry.

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As rare as they are wonderful Luxardo cherries come from one place in the world, a lucky town in Italy. Dark, sweet, and tart without a hint of bitter, there’s no good way to explain the bliss of savoring a Luxardo cherry. The juice is just as impeccable. Before I left the restaurant that night, I’d written Patrick into a novel (he’s on page 68 of Fire in Her Blood), christened the drink a Rachel, and bought my first jar of Luxardo cherries from Amazon. They aren’t cheap – twenty-five dollars gets you about thirty-five cherries – but mixing the sweet cherry syrup-juice they come packed in with club soda is my favorite way to turn a bad day around.

Which brings me back to my Flagler College mug. I reverently wrapped it again for our third move in nine months (2016 had a lot of moves even for me) put it in a box and promptly forgot it existed. I didn’t have as much counter space for knickknacks in the new place. I expected it to stay in the box until the next move. But my cherry cocktail needed exact measurements, a ratio of cherry syrup to club soda that produced the perfect blood red drink sensation, and all my glasses were opaque. The Flagler College mug was unwrapped at Halloween, and ruined by Christmas.

It seems the oh-so-carefully preserved mug was better as a pencil jar than an actual mug. Washing it chipped the gold enamel finish, and after one particularly hot bath of suds, the proud Flagler loin was wiped away by my dishcloth. Gone. The lettering has made it a bit longer, you can still my graduation date but the year is fading. I suspect it will be a nothing but a glass mug in another few months of service.

And I’m glad.

I’ve had more joy using that mug in the last three months than I did carrying it for nineteen years. In all that time it could have been lost or shattered, but instead it remained pristine but spiritless. When I unknowingly began its destruction, I made it part of a ritual to bring comfort on bad days. Happiness has a price, I guess, and I’ll only get to use the magic of my Flagler College memories a little longer. Not using the mug might have preserved it, but I realize now, preservation isn’t the always the best way to honor a thing you love. Sometimes using something up, hugging the stuffing out of the teddy bear, staining the quilt with picnic dirt, and loving something so hard there’s nothing left to love, is the best thing you can do.

09/15/16

Oakland Cemetery mysteries

One of the things I love about the Halloween season is the way cemeteries open up to the public. While the Victorian cemeteries were parks for playing in, and other cultures gather as a group in cemeteries, most Americans only visit cemeteries when someone dies. That’s a mistake. There’s a huge amount of history and some great stories to be found. As a bonus, cemeteries tend to be a green space even in very urban areas.

That’s definitely the case in Atlanta, where the “in town” neighborhoods with their small parks are nothing compared to the 48 acres of pleasure gardens and trees that comprise Oakland Cemetery. The space is a certified wildlife habitat, with special bird friendly and butterfly friendly designations. On top of that it’s rather people-friendly with benches, level walking spaces, and very well kept gardens.

Not to mention some interesting headstones.

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Rosemary bushes and pomegranate trees heavy with fruit were planted by cemetery volunteers who recreated the Victorian look from the cemetery’s first years. While there are always tours, Halloween season brings a special batch. Careful planning netted me tickets to the sold out Capturing the Spirit tours, but some beautiful weather last weekend meant I took the tour of the day. It happened to be right up my alley: “Murder, Mysteries and Mayhem”.

Some stories were not so mysterious but definitely sad, like the playhouse fire that killed several young performers acting as angels. Their paper wings caused the conflagration, so they remained angels forever.

An angels surrounded by rosemary

An angel surrounded by rosemary

Others lived up to the title, like the grave of a maiden aunt who dreamed she would drown the night before taking a boat tour. She claimed to have written a will in her sleep, but insisted on going out on the boat. There was indeed an accident, and her family buried her dress, the only remains ever found, in Oakland. The promotion seems a little suspect, and finding another dress makes me wonder – the garments of the 1890s weren’t exactly easy to get out of. It’s easy to imagine the aunt running away with a lover under the cover of an elaborate plot.

A less elaborate but equally mysterious burial was an unnamed man found after a tornado hit the cemetery in 2008. While his body was found in an above ground vault filled with members of the Holland family, he wasn’t a Holland. No records existed of him ever being buried, and his clothes were modern. More telling of hasty burial, his shoes were facing west. In Christian cemeteries, bodies are almost always buried facing east so they can rise up on Judgment Day.  The cemetery sexton is still hoping someone will claim the poor fellow.

He was found in the upper right most shelf, in case that helps you remember his name.

He was found in the upper right most shelf, in case that helps you remember his name.

The tour ended with a few short ghost stories. There’s a shadowy visage who haunts the bell tower. Maybe he’s waiting for the bell ring again? In days gone past, cemeteries rang the bell to chase away the sins of the dead. Twelve rings for men, eight for women, and only six for children, who were presumed least sinful of all. Down another path over three thousand unnamed soldiers from the Civil War supposedly rise up to a ghostly roll call each Confederate Memorial day.

I’ll be back to Oakland for another tour or two at least. The 5k “Run like Hell” sounds like fun too. If you get a chance, take a walk through your local cemetery this fall. I’m sure the folks there would love a visit.

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08/1/16

Night Vale Community Radio

Night vale cosplay

A member of the Night Vale City Council

I’m not sure when I got hooked on the Night Vale Community radio hour, the fictional radio broadcast that serves as entry into the world of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I’m sure I’ve only been listening for a few years. I caught on late, and Welcome to Night Vale didn’t start broadcasting until 2012. Somehow it seems like it’s been around much longer, like I’ve been listening forever.

Things like that happen a lot in Night Vale.

Night Vale cosplayer

One of the best Carlos the scientist costumes of the night. His clipboard was filled with actual science!

It’s like any other town, except that there’s a dog park that might be a portal to another dimension, and the secret police have outlawed learning. Or maybe learning is allowed again but wheat isn’t. In either case, the library is a dangerous place and the government keeps track of all middle school secrets. Oh, and there’s a five headed dragon running for mayor. So like any other small town, but not in most of the ways you think.

Narrated by Cecil, a wonderful radio host whose thoughts turn out to be deeper than you’d think, each week’s story is an encapsulated plot broken up by “the weather” – a single song by little known independent groups. It’s an example of the slow pay off of a story so strange it takes a minute for you to realize it. I can never tell how much of an episode is real and how much is story. I’m not alone.

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to see the live show entitled “Ghost stories”. Before the doors opened, fans showed off costumes and argued plot lines. (Is the whole show set in the afterlife?) With all its oddness, Night Vale celebrates scientists, like Carlos, Cecil’s boyfriend, and the group was happy to scientifically pick things apart. When the story started though, all that ended. Enraptured silence fell over the audience.

There are many different types of ghost stories in the world. Welcome to Night Vale’s ghost stories were about the ghosts of who we could have been if we’d done the right thing. Ghosts of people who weren’t addicted, who parented well, and who made good choices paraded across the stage in the final minutes. Those last stories hit somber notes, leaving the audience moved and maybe saddened. Normally I avoid moments like that, life has enough trouble on its own, but after all the joy I’ve found in the off-kilter town of Night Vale, the bittersweet didn’t bother me.

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07/15/16

My blog so far…

I started this blog in November of 2010, eager to share a thousand things with the world. I blogged without a schedule, telling myself I’d get a great post out each week. Some weeks were more of a struggle then others but I made my goal. My plan included at least one short story each month. Inspiration didn’t always come when I needed it but I wrote some stories I dearly love on this blog.

Then in 2012 my writing life took a hard sideways turn I hadn’t expected. Somehow my blog became the only writing I did for a year. I succeeded at blogging but failed at actually writing and editing, not to mention the business side of authorhood. In 2013, I decided it was time to focus on those things more. When I did (predictably) the blog suffered. My posts followed a haphazard schedule, coming in between giant writing jags that produced two competed manuscripts. One of those was the Mermaid and the Murders, which is now published, so while I regret that blog neglect, I don’t regret it too much.

Still I came out of 2013 well aware that I needed structure, something to keep me on track with the blog.  I switched to blogging on the 1st and the 15th of each month. The hard deadline kept my blog going but I found that short story ideas melted away from me like a ghost in moonlight. My blog turned more toward writing and my experiences, places I went and things I did. It’s a change I’m comfortable with.

About a year ago now, I added monthly book reviews on the 20th of the month. Like my early blogging days that started out easily enough. I read about eight books a month, sometimes more, so I picked the best ones and dashed off a few excited sentences about the story.

But my reading habits have changed. I’m reading more samples and fewer complete novels. It takes a lot to wow me enough that I want to recommend a book to the world. So, from here on out, my reviews won’t come on any set schedule. When I’m wow’ed by a book I promise to share it, but the regular review posting on the 20th is over as of last month.

If I’m brutally honest, part of this blog reflection is because I’m in edits on the sequel to Under a Blood Moon. The working title is “Fire in Her Blood” and I’m enjoying polishing it for publication. I really love writing, crafting a story, researching a setting, and editing it until the manuscript shines. But while I’m happy to give up writing reviews on my blog for the chance to do more of that, at the same time I’m not willing to give up on my blog. It’s brought me too much joy to walk away.

05/15/16

Renaissance Festival Fun

I use reenactments and historic society gathering as research.  When I’m writing about WWII era life or fourteenth century Germans I find reenactors give me a more real life perspective on the time. It’s the difference between knowing people wove cloth and seeing someone weave cloth on a reproduction loom. Reenactments are a great way to see a fairly close to realistic piece of history.

Renaissance festivals are the opposite. They’re not concerned with realism or even getting things pretty close to right. You’ll pass a tent set up as a Victorian tea shop on your way to one selling medieval garb made of rayon and nylon. Ren Fests, as they’re lovingly called, are all about having a good time. Most Fests pursue this with abandon, setting up multiple drinking areas, usually in the shade of a large tree. A band will play, and the songs may stray into bawdy drinking ballads. It’s probably the closest thing you’ll find to live Dungeons and Dragons game – assuming you’re not into LARP (Live Action Role Play). When the Georgia Renaissance Festival opened back in April I took advantage of the first cool sunny day to check it out.

I was stunned by how very anachronistic and clearly out-to-have-a-good-time the Georgia Renn Fest was. The Fest holds a series of themed weekends – pirate weekend, Celtic weekend and so on. My visit fell on pet weekend, which also happened to be time travelers’ weekend, which I’m sure explains (some how) the Batmobile parked out front:

It played a series of audio clips from the 1970s Adam West Batman tv show. For a small fee you could get your photo taken inside.

It played a series of audio clips from the 1970s Adam West Batman tv show. For a small fee you could get your photo taken inside.

Pets were on display, but not the type I expected. I imagined large dogs like dire wolves, parrots on pirates’ shoulders, and maybe a well placed iguana or two. Instead, I saw all sorts of fairy dogs wearing wings. There were scary fairy dogs with gargoyle-like wings and pretty princess pugs with light gossamer wings.

Bat Dog on the right, winged-something dog on the left.

Bat Dog on the right, winged-something dog on the left.

And then there were the Ghostbusters:

 They brought their dog too. He’s in a Ghostbusters uniform, but couldn’t sit still for the photo. I couldn’t blame him.


They brought their dog too. He’s in a Ghostbusters uniform, but couldn’t sit still for the photo. I couldn’t blame him.

The Fest offered an array of distractions, like any sort of food you could imagine served on a stick. My favorite was the macaroni and cheese on a stick. Deep fried cheesy nuggets of pasta skewed and served up hot is my new favorite once a year indulgence. On the other side of a grassy area a unicorn waited for someone to purchase hay for a dollar. Feeding the majestic white pony with a wooden horn attached to its head felt like an act of kindness. Not petting the bunnies next door in the petting zoo felt equally compassionate. A reptile group displayed a menagerie of rescued animals, including a tortoise who plodded about with a bucket on his back accepting tips.

Fire eaters, mud throwers, and a belly dancer who danced on a bed of nails rounded out the entertainment. I skipped the jousting match, but enjoyed the glass blower demonstration, as well as the women spinning wool. I almost came home with a wicked looking dagger, but the “Made in China” sticker stopped me at the last minute. If you’re in the area, or if you’re lucky enough to have a Ren Fest in your area, I heartily recommend spending an afternoon as part of the foolishness. It’s a good time, even if it isn’t realistic or really educational.

 

02/29/16

My Blue Couch

In 2005, Tiger carried me over the threshold of our first single family home. The rental was small, and at $2450 a month it didn’t leave much for furnishings. We picked up a couch at Ikea, I don’t even remember the name of the style, just that we couldn’t pronounce it.

A little more than a year later I had a stroke on that couch. A few months after that I began writing a novel in the same place. In February of 2007 I wrote “The End” propped up against the couch’s cushions. It became a favorite place of mine. The marshmallow-y blue pillows held my laptop perfectly. Eventually, my rabbit editor learned that treats came more readily when he joined me on the couch. I wrote in the mornings, usually with a warm but unattractive robe over my pjs and the rabbit by my side.

An author and her editor (post breakfast)

We moved. We moved again. We moved again and again. We took the couch with us. When we finally bought a house we splurged on grown-up furniture. It didn’t come from Ikea. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as my blue couch. I wrote there, but I found myself back on the blue couch, now regulated to a rarely used room.

The cushions tore, but I was superstitious and kept the couch. Our last move came in the middle of my embrace of minimalism. I got rid of antique family photos, heirlooms, and art. I kept the couch. It went back into the most used room, and I went back to writing on it each morning. But one tear made another, and I knew the couch would fall into piece during the next move, one that would take it several states away.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

I posted it on craigslist, free to a good home, expecting no one would reply. I steeled myself to face facts, cheap couches don’t really last more than a decade. It needed to go to the dump. Instead last week a family came. They recently made America their home, traveling from the war-torn Middle East. They took a table and two chairs, a TV stand, an arm chair, and the blue couch. The torn cushions didn’t bother them, they were happy to cover it with a sheet. They thanked me for helping their family. I welcomed them to our country and wished them the best.

I miss that couch. Not going to lie, I was up at 5:41 this morning and knowing I didn’t have a blue couch with a rabbit sitting on the end made it harder to pull myself in front of the laptop. But the rabbit was there in the living room, happy to sit next to me on the newer, but still not-quite-comfortable, couch. I wrote, because couches aren’t magic, hard work is. But I’ll always smile when I think about the twelve books that came from ten years of good writing on that couch.

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.