November: A Prologue by Karen Shughart

After my first Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery, Murder in the Museum, was published, I decided to play around with the concept of having two prologues for subsequent books and contacted my publisher to see what she thought. She basically told me to ” go for it”, and in book two, Murder in the Cemetery, that’s what I did: the first to set the historical back story that alerts readers to why the murder may have been committed, and the second to describe the seasonal tone for the crime.

In book two I described the month of May in Lighthouse Cove, with its profusion of flowers and abundance of sun, a fitting backdrop to the crime that’s about to occur. In Murder at Freedom Hill, the third book in the series (now on sale in paperback and Kindle versions at Amazon and other book outlets) the second prologue is entitled “November”. I thought it was appropriate for this month’s blog, so here goes:

  For residents of Lighthouse Cove, NY, November was always a month of mixed emotions.  

There was a yearning for the blazing colors of October, the cool, crisp nights, starlit skies, bright days. For a low-hanging sun that could still warm the bones and ease the joints.  For the farm stands, now shuttered until spring, that had offered up a bounty of ripe produce, local honey, homemade baked goods and jams, fresh herbs.  For the hayrides and bonfires and deer spotting among the apple orchards. For the unbridled joy of chattering, costumed children extending small hands for treats as their parents kept a watchful eye; glowing lights illuminating their way.

There was also the peace that comes with tourists gone for another year and the ease of getting about.  The sound of waves, ambling onto the beach like lazy sloths. The geese and swans gliding effortlessly around the bay, no longer competing for space with boats and bathers, and the eagles soaring silently above on currents of wind. The rumbling and grumbling of street noises now muffled by a thick carpet of brown, fallen leaves.

 There was excitement and anticipation, too, in November.  For a day, later in the month, when families would gather to give thanks and then soon after, start to prepare for the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season. For the hunters who had been looking forward all year to donning their camo, retrieving their guns, and stalking their prey in fields and woods, hoping to bestow upon their loved ones a largess befitting of their labors.

For some, November was also the month of grieving. A month of decay that precedes death.  Where what was past was past and would be no more, and what lay ahead was the chill and dark of winter.

Guest Blogger ~ Heather Redmond

The Story Behind A Twist of Murder

A Twist of Murder is the fifth in my historical mystery series, A Dickens of a Crime. It started in January 1835, when (yes, that) Charles Dickens was a parliamentary reporter, not yet a novelist, and tracks the start of his literary career and his courtship with Catherine Hogarth, his future real-life wife. The first four books were set in London, but I moved most of the action to Harrow on the Hill for book five, set in March 1836, to follow my former mudlark characters who are going to school there.

And what a school it is! Strange goings on indeed. The owner of Aga Academy seems to have sold off part interest to Fagin Sikes, a harsh taskmaster who treats the students like poor orphans, not paying customers. A servant girl is flashing around a treasure map. When a circus comes to town, some of the students vanish and no one looks for them. Soon after, the servant girl goes missing, and people finally start to care. When a coroner’s job includes researching rumors of treasure, that might get the highest priority of all. Charles Dickens and friends are called to the school to find the missing students, the missing servant, and the treasure.

When you are writing an ongoing series, the next story idea appears quite naturally as an offshoot of the characters from previous books. I prefer to hold onto characters instead of dropping them from book to book. I think it makes series richer. Therefore, the missing students and victims in this book have largely been featured in previous books or are related to important ongoing characters. This gives relationships between all my story people room to grow and change. Aga Academy had been mentioned and briefly visited in earlier books, so it was time to feature it as a main location.

Charles Dickens did a little treasure hunting in A Tale of Two Murders, book one, but that was nothing compared to his new adventure. As an ardent follower of the History Channel TV show The Curse of Oak Island, I love to have treasure hunts in my books. This was my first opportunity to create an actual treasure map, though. I confused myself a few times while creating it. I guess I wasn’t a pirate in a previous life, LOL.

This series is loosely based on the novels of Charles Dickens. A Twist of Murder includes elements of his novels Oliver Twist and Hard Times, such as the life of orphans and students, as well as his hatred of the Utilitarian philosophy of education. My conceit for the series is that Charles is having experiences and hearing names that will ultimately appear in his fiction. We know that his novels are far from being fanciful. Modern readers are so far removed from the Victorian era that we often don’t recognize what is in his novels was normal life at the time.

I had a lot of fun writing a book set in 1836 Harrow on the Hill, and I hope you enjoy this adventure hunting for treasure, missing students, and the murderer of a young servant girl.


In Victorian England, aspiring author Charles Dickens is on the case again—in pursuit of missing orphans, legendary treasure, and a cold-blooded killer in the latest installment of Heather Redmond’s charming series that reimagines the famous writer as an amateur sleuth.

Harrow-on-the-Hill, March 1836: In a sense, orphans Ollie, John, and Arthur have always been treasure hunters. The mudlarks have gone from a hardscrabble life scavenging the banks of the Thames for bits and bobs to becoming students at a boarding school outside of London, thanks to the kind and generous intercession of Charles Dickens. But now they’re missing—as is, apparently, a treasure map.

When Charles arrives at the school, he’s hit with another twist—the servant girl who was allegedly in possession of the map has been strangled in the icehouse. Unbeknownst to them on their spirited adventure, his young friends may be in mortal danger. Now Charles and his fiancée Kate Hogarth, who has come to join him in the search for the runaways, must artfully dodge false leads and red herrings to find the boys and the map—before X marks the spot of their graves . . .

A Twist of Murder by Heather Redmond

Heather Redmond writes two mystery series, A Dickens of a Crime, featuring young Charles Dickens in the 1830s, and a Seattle-set cozy mystery series, the Journaling mysteries. Her latest Dickens title is A Twist of Murder, book 5 in the series, and the paperback edition of Tattooed to Death, book 2 of her cozy series, will be available in January. She also writes as Heather Hiestand and lives in Washington state.

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Guest Blogger ~ Dianne Freeman

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.


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 (

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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

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To Prologue or Not to Prologue (#2) by Karen Shughart

I promise this isn’t a duplication of Paty Jager’s blog from last Monday. Paty and I frequently seem to be on the same page when choosing topics for our monthly blogs, and when I read her title, I was terrified that my extremely rough draft had somehow made it’s way into scheduling instead of her very well-written and polished one. Fortunately, my fears were allayed when I saw her name as the author. Whew! And while our titles are the same, we’ve written from our own points of view.

Each of the books in my Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mysteries has an historical backstory that’s related to the crime and provides clues to why the murder was committed. In book one, Murder in the Museum, the prologue introduced a character whose journal, written in 1845, was discovered at an archeological dig in Toronto, Canada. The prologue in book two, Murder in the Cemetery, ties the crime to a battle that occurred in Lighthouse Cove, NY during the War of 1812.

My creative juices really started flowing in book two, and I played around with writing two prologues: the first as described above; the other to introduce the setting, the month of May. You’ll have to read the book to learn why that’s important. My dilemma was which to keep and which to discard. I realized I was emotionally attached to both, so decided to get my publisher’s advice-few books are written with two prologues. Her quick response: “go for it,” and I did.

I’m heading down the home stretch with book three, Murder at Freedom Hill. Yet again, I’ve written two prologues: the first, the historical backstory – it takes place in 1859 in Lighthouse Cove during the abolition movement, when fleeing slaves boarded a schooner to transport them across Lake Ontario to Canada. The second is set in November, the month when the harvest is over, and the chill and frost of winter lurk just around the corner.  

What I love about writing this series is that I don’t have to follow all the rules. It doesn’t mean I am undisciplined; I certainly know how to craft a story from beginning to end, but I enjoy taking liberties with commonly accepted writing practices when it makes sense.

It’s up to us mystery writers to decide how our stories will be written. Some begin with the murder; others lead up to it, it can go either way. It’s the same for prologues. Sometimes a book needs no prologue, but at other times a prologue can set the scene and enhance the plot. And at times, two prologues are even better.

Guest Blogger ~ Kaye George

Where Did Enga Dancing Flower Come From?

I ask myself that sometimes! Her original name, in my mind, was Enga Yellow Flower. Her twin was Ung…some other color of flower. They were either abandoned by their own Neanderthal tribe, or the sole survivors of a catastrophe. However, as soon as I inserted Enga into the tribe who rescued them, in the very first book, DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE, it became clear she was a dancer. The best dancer in the tribe. She wanted to keep the Flower in her name, hence, Enga Dancing Flower.

Maybe I should answer the larger question. Where did the Neanderthal tribe, who call themselves the Hamapa, come from? It is totally my fault that they find themselves in what is now North America. My life-long fascination with all things ancient compelled me to use that setting so I could include the wondrous mega-fauna from that time, about 35,000 years ago. I couldn’t resist the giant sloths, giant beavers, dire wolves, glyptodonts, saber tooth cats, mammoths of course, and many more. (The book, ICE AGE MAMMALS OF NORTH AMERICA: A Guide to the Big, the Hairy, and the Bizarre, helped to make them irresistible.)

Aside from residing where it’s probable that they never did (but it’s also possible, just barely!), this tribe and the others are drawn as faithfully to modern research as I can. It’s hard to keep up, though, because new discoveries are constantly being made, and new theories being posited. Just the other day, a baby wooly mammoth emerged from the permafrost in the Canadian Yukon, almost perfectly preserved!

Enga’s twin eventually became Ung Strong Arm when she turned out to be one of the best spear throwers. The Hamapa are matriarchal and the woman are the spear throwers since they are patient and accurate. The strong males are charged with hauling back the large pieces of the kills. Seems fair to me.

How about the names Enga and Ung? Believe me, everything had to be thought out for these books. I studied linguistics to learn what the easiest sounds are, the least complicated. It was thought, for some time, that Neanderthals had no speech capabilities, but that has been shot down for theories that they probably did. I took the middle ground. They can speak, but rarely do. And when they do, they use the sounds that young children and people with speech problems find easy to make.

That’s where Enga Dancing Flower came from. Where is she going? When the leader of the tribe is murdered in the first book, Enga is clever enough, with the help of a juvenile male named Jeek, to figure out who the murderer is. The tribe values her dancing as well as her problem-solving skills. You know, if you read mysteries, that more people will be murdered, and Enga and Jeek will have to uncover more clues, facts, and culprits.

The second book is DEATH ON THE TREK, and DEATH IN THE NEW LAND is the latest.

Enga Dancing Flower and her tribe have reached a place they can stay in safety. Or have they?

It’s clear the groups of other settlers in the area do not want more neighbors, and this is made even more evident when a male of Enga’s tribe is murdered, and a baby is kidnapped.

The future of the tribe is immediately put into question. Can Enga and her people find the killer and rescue the baby? Or will the security and bright future the tribe has dreamed of fall to pieces?

Buy links

Paperback from Untreed Reads (discounted here)

Ebook from Untreed Reads (discounted here, too)


Barnes & Noble

Also available through Ingram

Kaye George, award-winning novelist and short-story writer, writes cozy and traditional mysteries and a prehistory series, which are both traditionally and self-published: two cozy series, Fat Cat and Vintage Sweets; two traditionals featuring Cressa Carraway and Imogene Duckworthy; and the People of the Wind prehistory Neanderthal mysteries,  Over 50 short stories have also appeared, mostly in anthologies and magazines. She reviews for Suspense Magazine and writes a column for Mysterical-E. She lives in Knoxville TN.

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