Hank Phillippi Ryan: Okay, cutting to the chase. Isn't this a great cover? It's instant suspense, and you know there's a dilemma, a major choice, a desire, and whoever it is--is trying to find an answer through magic.
I am so happy to see this! I critiqued Holly West's manuscript at CrimeBake ( I have no memory of what I said, specifically, but I know I liked it, a lot!) and now her debut MISTRESS OF FORTUNE is now out from Harlequin's Carina Press! Hurray!
She has an incredibly interesting take on a certain group of women--in fact, she wonders if they might be
The First Feminists?
HOLLY WEST: My debut historical mystery, Mistress of Fortune, is set in late 17th century London and features amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller.
(HANK: Ooh. See?)
In truth, she’s a more of a charlatan.
(HANK: Ooh, even better, right?)
In her world, women have few enough advantages and she’s more than willing to make the most of those that she has; namely, cleverness, beauty and good intuition.
I chose fortunetelling as her profession, not because of a personal belief that fortunetellers and the like possess a supernatural ability to predict the future or see the “other side,” but because I’m fascinated by the cultural traditions of soothsayers and healers, particularly “wise women.” During a time when medical science was in its infancy and only the rich could afford a physician, wise women were a valuable source of knowledge for the 17th century housewife, especially in rural areas.
They acted as doctors, midwives, counselors, and caregivers. They were, in many ways, feminists before their time.
Though Isabel Wilde isn’t exactly a wise woman, she does recommend various healing herbs and concoctions to her customers and offers sincere, practical advice when she can.
If most women came to these professions with honest intentions, there were some whose motivations were not so pure. In my research, I came upon a French woman named Catherine Monvoisin (c. 1640-1680), nicknamed La Voisin. When her husband’s career as a jeweler went south, she turned to fortunetelling to support her family. While her paranormal abilities as a soothsayer might have been in question, her business acumen was not; she paid strict attention to her visitors’ requests and expanded her offerings to take advantage of their desires.
She sold amulets filled with such mystical items as bones of toads, the dust of human remains, teeth of moles and Spanish fly. She prescribed “magic” rituals and arranged black masses so that her customers could worship the devil. She practiced medicine and midwifery, and performed abortions. Eventually, she began peddling poison.
La Voisin’s predecessor, Guilia Tofana, had perfected the science of poison twenty years earlier. She was an Italian woman who developed an odorless, tasteless poison (likely a solution of arsenic) labeled Aqua Tofana to sell to women who wanted to murder their husbands. Perhaps her conscience was eased by the fact that her customers were mainly women ensnared in abusive marriages, but when she was finally apprehended, she confessed (under torture) to killing more than six hundred men with her poison.
Both La Voisin and Tofana were immensely popular, so much so that when the papal authority called for Tofana’s arrest, a local church granted her sanctuary. La Voisin had many members of the aristocracy among her clients and became very rich as a result of her business. In the end, however, both women were executed; Tofana was put to death in the Campo di Fiori in Rome in 1659 and La Voisin was convicted of witchcraft and burnt in public at the Place de Greve in Paris on February 22, 1680.
Wicked as they may have been, these women were savvy and made their way in a society that often treated females no better than livestock. Given the circumstances, I’m not sure this is something to be celebrated, but their stories are interesting.
My heroine, Isabel Wilde, isn’t based on either La Voisin or Guilia Tofana, but the soothsayer who trained Isabel in the art of fortunetelling, Mary Bixby, is. But at heart, Isabel and Mary are both good people. It’s just that they understand their lot in life and can’t help pushing against their constraints. And, as crime fiction aficionados like us know, sometimes, that leads to murder.
HANK: And now you're hooked, right? And what're your thoughts on "women's intuition"?
A copy of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE to one lucky commenter! (US only, please.)************************************
Holly West is the author of the Mistress of Fortune series (Carina Press). The first in the series, Mistress of Fortune, was published in February 2014 and the second, Mistress of Lies, will be released in Fall 2014. She’s currently writing her third book, a stand-alone crime novel set in 1948 Philadelphia. Holly lives, reads, and writes in Los Angeles with her husband, Mick, and dog, Stella.
Mistress of Fortune Synopsis:
Until magistrate Sir Edmund Godfrey seeks Mistress Ruby’s counsel and reveals his unwitting involvement in a plot to kill the king. When Isabel’s diary containing dangerous details of his confession is stolen, she knows she must find it before anyone connects her to Mistress Ruby. Especially after Sir Edmund’s corpse is discovered a few days later…
Isabel is sure that whoever stole her diary is Sir Edmund’s killer—and could be part of a conspiracy that leads all the way to the throne. But as she delves deeper into the mystery, not even the king himself may be able to save her.