An Inspirational Feud
My Countess of Harleigh series takes place among the aristocracy of late Victorian London. That era and group of people provide an endless supply of situations on which to hang a murder mystery. The inspiration for my latest book was an unusual feud between two millionaires of the Gilded Age—John MacKay and Charles Bonynge.
The men had quite a bit in common. John MacKay came to the US from Ireland. In 1851, at the age of twenty, he made his way to California where he worked as a miner for eight years. Tired of mining, he began a mine-servicing business. As mining expanded, his business boomed. He continued to maintain ownership in a few mines as he was sure there was more silver to be found. He was right. One of his mines hit the Big Bonanza, the greatest mining strike in the history of the American West, and made him a millionaire many times over. He and his wife relocated to San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Charles Bonynge immigrated to the US and headed west. He worked in San Francisco in a livery stable while speculating on the stock market. In the 1860s he too moved to Nevada, where he worked in the mines and traded in mining shares. After a while, he quit mining to set himself up as a stockbroker and met with great success. Bonynge, along with his wife and step daughter, moved to San Francisco, where Mackay became one of his clients.
Bonynge and MacKay had a business relationship that appeared to be cordial and lasted for several years. Then Bonynge retired, but not before he made some public comments about MacKay’s unethical business practices.
So began the feud.
Both families had homes in London and they all showed up for the social season of 1886. On the same day, Mrs. MacKay and the Bonynge family were meant to be presented to Queen Victoria at one of her Drawing Room afternoons. Unfortunately for Mrs. Bonynge, a newspaper ran a story revealing that she had been divorced, which made her ineligible to meet the queen. Mr. Bonynge and their daughter attended without her. Only the MacKays could have provided that tidbit to the papers. If this was the opening salvo in the feud, they were happy to fire back. They revealed to a reporter that when MacKay met his wife, Louise, she was working as a washer woman in mining camp.
Despite their wealth and class, the feud, which carried on for four years, was every bit as dirty as the Hatfields and McCoys and far more public. Enough so, that I had to wonder what would happen if one of these men was murdered? Wouldn’t the police immediately suspect the other party in the feud? And if someone else wanted to murder one of these men, what better time than when he was involved in an openly hostile feud with someone else? It was the perfect time. And that’s where A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder begins.
A BRIDE’S GUIDE TO MARRIAGE AND MURDER
On the eve of her marriage to George Hazelton, Frances has a great deal more on her mind than flowers and seating arrangements. The Connors and the Bainbridges, two families of American robber barons, have taken up residence in London, and their bitter rivalry is spilling over into the highest social circles. At the request of her brother, Alonzo, who is quite taken with Miss Madeline Connor, Frances has invited the Connor family to her wedding. Meanwhile, Frances’s mother has invited Mr. Bainbridge, and Frances fears the wedding may end up being newspaper-worthy for all the wrong reasons.
On the day itself, Frances is relieved to note that Madeline’s father is not among the guests assembled at the church. The reason for his absence, however, turns out to be most unfortunate: Mr. Connor is found murdered in his home. More shocking still, Alonzo is caught at the scene, holding the murder weapon.
Powerful and ruthless, Connor appears to have amassed a wealth of enemies alongside his fortune. Frances and George agree to put their wedding trip on hold to try and clear Alonzo’s name. But there are secrets to sift through, not just in the Bainbridge and Connor families, but also in their own. And with a killer determined to evade discovery at any cost—even if it means taking another life—Frances’s first days as a newlywed will be perilous indeed.
You can find links to all Dianne’s books here: Dianne Freeman | Historical Mystery Writer (difreeman.com)
Dianne Freeman is the acclaimed author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. She is an Agatha Award and Lefty Award winner, as well as a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award. After thirty years of working in corporate accounting and finance, she now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Visit her at www.DiFreeman.com.
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