Wednesday, May 9, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's May, and my treat for the month is a new Hannah Ives mystery, THE LAST REFUGE, from our Jungle Red friend, Marcia Talley! I'm always thrilled to see what Hannah is up to in a new book--it's like catching up with a great friend whom you've missed. Not to mention that Hannah always seems to find herself in places I'd like to go, and this time she's outdone herself.  But I'll let Marcia tell you...

DEBS: In the last few books, Hannah's been involved in a murder in the Bahamas, been in an Amtrack train wreck, and investigated the death of a medium in Dartmouth, England.  But in THE LAST REFUGE,  Hannah is back home in Annapolis--but in very unusual circumstances.
MARCIA TALLEY: Jud Wilson, a young production assistant Hannah met in A Quiet Death, is now a producer at LynxEntertainment.  One fine spring day, Jud shows up on Hannah’s doorstep with a problem. LynxE is days away from filming a historical reality show at nearby William Paca House and the “lady of the house” has abruptly left the cast.  Would Hannah step into the role?  Hannah is reluctant at first—three months living as if it were 1774 with no electricity, no running water, and the “necessaries” way out back sounds pretty daunting – but after a tour of the Georgian mansion and it’s fabulous garden, she finds herself weakening.  Not to mention that the gorgeous costumes designed for the other woman fit her perfectly and – oh my gawd! – where did she get that amazing cleavage?!

DEBS:  What gave you the idea for Patriot House, 1774?  Is there a real house like that in Annapolis?

MARCIA: Yes, there is a real William Paca House, a classic 5-part Georgian mansion built around 1765 in the style of an English country villa by William Paca, a young lawyer who was one of four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence. It’s been meticulously restored with period furnishings, including the Paca family silver.  I’ve toured the house many times – usually when we have out-of-town visitors – and the house is a popular place for weddings. It’s just half a block away from where Hannah lives with her husband, Paul, on Prince George Street.

It’s not just an interest in the house, though.  For years, I’ve been fascinated with every day life in colonial Annapolis.  My husband is a musician and his doctoral dissertation from Johns Hopkins focused on Annapolis’s historic Tuesday Club, a group of prominent Annapolitans—doctors, lawyers, clergymen, tavern-keepers—who met weekly (on Tuesdays, natch!) to eat, drink, sing, tell jokes and generally carouse. One of their members, Sir Thomas Bacon, also composed the earliest secular music we know of in the American colonies.  Barry found the manuscripts scattered among three archival collections, reunited and restored them for his book, “Secular Music in Colonial Annapolis” which ended up getting published by the University of Illinois Press as part of their Music in Colonial Life series. Sometime after that, a ball recreating one of the Tuesday Club anniversary celebrations was held at the Annapolis State House (where George Washington resigned his commission in 1783) and we were asked to participate.  Barry played harpsichord, there was a violinist (as was the custom) and costumed couples danced minuets and jigs in the State House by candlelight to music that had last been performed in that very spot back in 1750.  It was magic. I was hooked.

DEBS: What kind of research did you do for Hannah's stay in Patriot House? Did you wear the clothes, eat the food--or, oh, my gosh, go without shampoo?

MARCIA:  Or deodorant! Or toilet paper!  LOL.  I did eat the food—Apple Tansy is delicious, but I drew the line at Pig’s Head pudding—and was continually amazed at how l-o-n-g it took to prepare certain colonial staples, like beaten biscuits where you combine flour, water and lard and actually beat it with a stick for an hour or two!  I can tell you from experience that this culinary cardiovascular-aerobic exercise is made bearable only by imagining that the dough is the head of the bitch who married my father after my mother died.  And I tried on the costumes, of course.  In spite of being trussed up in stays like a Thanksgiving turkey, they were amazingly comfortable. I had to practice arranging my skirts, underskirts and hoops so I could actually sit down in a chair, though, and until I got the hang of it, I could sweep a coffee table clean with one pass like an over-enthusiastic collie.

 Seriously, I’d been a fan of those historical reality shows on PBS where they take a dozen or so modern-day people and see how they cope with everyday life in another time and place.  Shows like Colonial House, Manor House, Frontier House and even Texas Ranch House ("110 degrees!  200 cows! 47,000 acres and 15 people!!!") Who could resist that?  I watched them all.  I also paid several visits to Colonial Williamsburg, and I talked to living history specialists and recreationists like Dr Joe Gagliardi who practices medicine both in the past as Dr A. Dobbs and in the present as head of a Maryland detox center.  I borrowed books from my friend, Lucia St. Clair Robson, who writes historical novels—Lucia even keeps a file of amusing colonial ways to die!—and the folks at the William Paca House continue to be amazingly supportive. I got the deluxe tour of the house, including the secret passages! – and they let me wander around and take photographs which are normally strictly forbidden.

DEBS: I think the garden would have hooked me!

It's such an interesting set-up--Hannah isolated in the past, separated from present-day life in Annapolis by a stone wall …

MARCIA:  Yes, but remember there’s a camera team on site twelve hours each day and stationary cameras are running pretty much 24/7!

 DEBS: [laughs] There is that!  One of the things I enjoyed about your book is that each chapter is headed by a quote from one of the “diary cams” that are set up around the house where cast members can record what they’re really thinking. I can just imagine some of the things I'd  have said...

MARCIA:  I loved doing that. One day the housemaid fumes, “I just got my period and they expect me to deal with it by stuffing rags down my panties. It’s totally gross. If you can’t bring me some Tampax, I’m out of here!.”

DEBS: Or when the cook threatens to kill the next cameraman who waltzes through her 18th-century kitchen with an Egg McMuffin!

MARCIA: Exactly.  But Hannah does get out from time to time--with a camera escort, of course—like when she goes to the dressmaker or to the market, or to church on Sunday.

DEBS: So, once you got all these characters together in the house …

MARCIA: It’s like the classic English snowbound in the country house murder, isn’t it, but with a twist!

Patriot House, 1774 is set in the turbulent days leading up to the American Revolution. As I mentioned earlier, Hannah steps at the last minute into the role of sister-in-law to John “Jack” Donovan, as mistress of the historic home.  (In the picture, Hannah’s bedroom is on the second floor, the two windows on the right!)

 While cameras roll, Hannah mothers the Donovan children -- rambunctious young Gabriel and lovesick teenage Melody – and interacts with a cast that also includes Karen Gibbs, an African-American cook and her young son; Michael Rainey, tutor; and Amy Cornell, ladies maid, the young widow of a Navy SEAL. A housemaid, valet, gardener, groom and visiting dancing master round out the cast.  They get their instructions from a mysterious entity called “Founding Father” – think Big Brother meets Manor House—via a daily post rider, so every day is a surprise.

 During a visit to the dressmaker where Hannah is being fitted for the gown she will wear to the gala State House ball that is the finale of the show, an anachronistic (and strictly forbidden) iPhone chimes from its hiding place in the folds of Amy's underskirt, bearing a text message from Amy’s dead husband, Drew. Amy dismisses the message as a cruel hoax. In fact, she’s already moving on with her life: Hannah surprises Amy and Alex Mueller, the dancing master, locked in a compromising embrace on the back staircase. After that … well, as they say, the plot thickens.

 DEBS:  Indeed it does, and much more quickly than the beaten biscuits! Did you come away from this book with a greater appreciation of all things modern? 

MARCIA:  Absolutely.  In modern-day America, we take so much for granted.  Twist a tap and the water comes on—cold or hot!  Take a call on your cell phone pretty much anywhere. For plot purposes, I had to jam the cell phone signal at Patriot House.

DEBS: If anyone offered you a chance to do an historic reenactment, like Patriot House, would you take it? (I don't think you'd catch me signing up for Texas Ranch House:-))

MARCIA:  I like to think I’d be as adventurous as Hannah, but three months living without running water would be daunting – and I know this because we spend time each year living on an island in the Bahamas where power outages occur almost daily.  After several hours without power – which means no running water, no lights, no (gasp!) Internet – I get pretty cranky.  We finally bought a gasoline-powered generator.  You have to shout over the roar, but at least you can flush the toilets.  I guess I’m a spoiled brat.

DEBS: I love the title.  Where did the it come from?

MARCIA:  It's a quote from Samuel Johnson, circa 1775.  "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." 

DEBS: Clever man, that Sam.

REDS and readers, this last wonderful photo is of Marcia and her husband, Barry, in costume for the recreation of the ball at the Maryland State House.   Isn't it fabulous?

And are any of you as adventurous as Hannah (and Marcia?) Marcia will be dropping in today so do say "hi."


  1. Gosh, I love crime writers. Think I need to try this one. The set-up sounds amazing, but it was this partial line from the interview that won me over: "...cardiovascular-aerobic exercise is made bearable only by imagining that the dough is the head of the bitch who married my father after my mother died."
    I love crime writers.

  2. This story sounds fascinating, as does your research. Thanks for sharing it!

    I have lived in West Africa (with two young sons and a now-ex-husband) where power went out regularly, and sometimes water supply, too, and where you had to boil and filter the water and do the laundry by hand. We at least had a part-time cook/housekeeper who washed the clothes for us, but he couldn't help when the fans weren't running and it was 110 out.

  3. The book sounds fascinating. Marcia, is there any part of living in that so-called "simpler" time that appeals to you?

  4. What a story Marcia! you and your hub look like you fit right in...and it's so clever to find such an interesting plot right down the street.

  5. The new book sounds wonderful, Marcia! Scary cover. Those stays are COMFORTABLE? Really??? Gotta ask, they didn't wear bras in those days, did they?

  6. Darlene, I don't think anything that a woman had to do back then was "simpler." LOL. Even with indentured servants and slaves (which Hannah had at Patriot House) she still had a lot of responsibilities -- menu planning, reading the recipes to the cook (who probably couldn't read them herself), shopping, washing up the precious glassware. Mid-afternoon, perhaps she'd sit in the garden with a good book -- THAT hasn't changed, at least. As long as its a real book, one that doesn't require recharging. LOL.

  7. Hallie, no bras, but the whalebone in the stays "pushed up and separated" very nicely, and they were tailored to fit, of course. Even with that Wonder Bra I bought so hopefully back in 2008, I never had such amazing cleavage.

  8. Hi, Marcia! Congrats on the new book. I love the cover.

    Am I adventurous? Hm, I've lived in the Philippines, Korea, and England and traveled widely, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm becoming more comfortable with "comfort" than "adventure" as I age. I still hike a lot, but my daily adventures revolve more around ferrying kids to activities than beating dough into submission or hauling water from a well.

  9. Jack, we crime writers are the nicest people because we get rid of all our aggressions on paper. I've bumped off the aforementioned bitch, former bosses, even my husband a couple of times!

  10. Marcia, I'm not going to tell Barry you said that!

  11. I was definitely born in the right era. It's hard to believe that I once drove cars that did not have air conditioning or power steering - I am spoiled! If I had lived in Colonial times, I probably would have been a servant, NOT
    a pampered" lady of the house". When I visit historical sites,I admire the people who are dressed up in clothing of the era,especially if it's in the summer and hot and humid out. No way do I wish I lived back in those days! (Wonder what things we have today that people one hundred years from now will think of as "primitive"?)

    I will look for this book ASAP. I love history, and I love Annapolis. One of my sisters and her husband lived there for a couple of years when they were first married back in the seventies. i enjoyed visiting and just walking around the streets. (They lived on Prince George St, in fact!) I've been there a few times in recent years to do a day trip while on vacation, and there is just never enough time to see everything I want to see. I definitely want to read your book before my next trip there!

  12. And you're taking me to William Paca House next time I visit, btw, Marcia!

  13. Deb R -- Prince George St is my favorite street in Annapolis, that's why I let Hannah and Paul live there -- at #193 where there is a gap in the street numbering! LOL. I have an actual house in mind, however, although I often wonder how Paul and Hannah can afford it on his professor's salary. Perhaps he has a trust fund? LOL.

    Next time you come to Annapolis, give me a call!

  14. Your latest Hannah sounds delightful, Marcia. I can't wait to read it. And next time in Annapolis, I will have to see the Paca House.

  15. Hi Marcia,
    My brother lives just outside Annapolis and used to work at McGarvey's, so I've spent a lot of time there and can't believe I've never been to the William Paca house, but I can tell you next time I go, I'm going to insist.

    Your book sounds terrific, a really creative idea and a great gift for my brother who is a mystery nut.

  16. Sounds like we need an expedition to the Paca House! Thank God and the tenacity of Historic Annapolis (nicknamed Hysterical Annapolis by some of the locals) for saving the house from demolition. Who knew there were the bones of a fabulous colonial garden under the rubble of the hideous hotel that had been tacked on to the back of the Paca House? It's now a gem -- and beautifully furnished. For my novel, however, I had the production team replace all the antiques with high-quality reproductions built especially for the show in NC.

  17. Hi, Jan! Ohhh, McGarvey's waterside bar! This was Walter Cronkite's favorite watering hole when he sailed into town. I love McGarvey's -- in Occasion of Revenge one of the characters was a shady waiter who worked there, so Hannah had to visit, natch.

  18. Marcia, what a wonderful premise! Another benefit of writing fiction: adventurous living by proxy!

  19. Leslie, and the advantage of writing this kind of "historical" novel is ... if I get it wrong, I can always claim it was the producers of the show who goofed!

  20. What a great concept for this book, Marcia! It goes on my must-read list immediately.

    In my childhood days on my aunt's farm in Oklahoma, I lived without running water (pumps in the kitchen and outside) and with an outhouse. I could live without ever going back to that. But I love to read historical novels, especially those with details of everyday living.

  21. I was fortunate enough to see a portion of this manuscript. The mystery is great and the descriptions and details of colonial life style are fascinating. Especially as the story takes place in the present day giving immediacy to the comparison of then and now.

  22. Stays would give me cleavage? Ok, count me in... I've never had cleavage.. just once, I 'd like some! This sounds like a wonderful read -- I'm off to the bookstore!

  23. Hey, Sasscer! One of the advantages of being in a writers' group is that we get to read each other's work in progress. Love seeing that your "Racing from Death" is getting fab reviews (merited!) and that you'll be signing copies at the Preakness. And in the "fiction imitates life" department, how about the body that turned up at Churchill Downs following the Kentucky Derby? That's right out of Dick Francis or Sasscer Hill! [grin]

  24. I remember when Marcia told me about the idea for this book - as a fan of both Hannah Ives and those PBS/BBC historical reality shows, I was so excited!

    And now THE LAST REFUGE is here! I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on it.

  25. Oh, gosh how wonderful! The photo is astonishing..

    And I love this idea, Marcia. It must make you look at your city in such a different way..Every time you walk down the streets. SO nice.

  26. Marcia, yes, blame it on the producers! (But take credit for all you got right!)

    Sasscer, signing at the Preakness? Go, girl!!!

  27. Marcia, this sounds terrific! I love the cover, too.

    I spent a few years of early childhood in my great-grandmother's camp in the Massachusetts woods. No insulation. No bath. No toilet. Kerosene stove. Kerosene lamps. A sink, but no water. The hand pump was outside. In the winter we had to get a bucket of snow to melt on the kerosene stove. Carry the warm water back outside to prime the hand pump. Then carry the water, one bucket at a time into the house, for all our washing and drinking. I would never choose that for myself or my family.

  28. Marcia,

    I'll join that expedition to the Paca house!

    My sister and brother-in-law lived in a tiny apartment in a three or four family house. It was not a luxury apartment! She was working and he had recently returned to college. It was just a modest neighborhood. (So maybe they weren't far from Hannah!) What I remember about the street is that it was very narrow and it was in a neighborhood that seemed like an interesting one for going for a walk - history all around you, the Naval Academy just about in the backyard, etc.

    You have gotten me excited about taking another trip down there! The Annapolis trip is usually an all-day excursion planned into the middle of a Chincoteague vacation. I would love to go inside the Paca House. I have only seen it from the outside.

    My next trip will be within the next few days, and it will be to the bookstore! So many books to read! Perhaps I should take a speed reading course...

    I do not envy any of you who have lived in primitive conditions!

  29. Just finished reading this book, Marcia. It's your best Hannah yet!
    Highly recommend it.

  30. Hank, I was looking at everything with different eyes. Sounds daft, I know, but I was feeling the ghosts of the past waft by me as I walked the old familiar streets and buildings, many of which were here in 1774. So much fun to dress Hannah up and put her into them.

  31. Reine, your great-grandmother's camp reminds me of my grandparents' "shack" on Lake Eire, except we would spend the summer there, not the winter. Brrrr. My teeth started chattering just thinking about your childhood winters!

  32. Yes, that's exactly what I was wondering. Goosebumps. xooxo

  33. Hi Marcia,

    Yes, the camp was designed for summer use. My great-grandmother had another camp on the property that was closer to the water. I loved it there, just not year round, not with snow coming in through the cracks in the walls... although I seem to recall bragging at about being able to make a snowball from the stuff I'd collected on the crossbeams around the bedroom.

  34. Revolutionary War reenacting has been a boon to me for nearly 15 years, helping me understand the physical limitations of period clothing, the mindset of scarcity, the lack of modern conveniences, etc. for my mystery/suspense series set during the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War.

    I learned to start a fire with flint and steel, an exercise in hyperventilation. I also learned to load and fire a musket and discovered how well musket balls ricochet. And after my petticoat blew into the flames of a cooking fire one night, it underscored the fact that burning was one of the top five ways for a woman to die in the 18th century.

    Upon hearing my experiences with reenacting, one interviewer quipped, "Honey, you really suffer for your art."

    I'm grateful for the hands-on experience of reenacting. It helps me render the time period with so much more accuracy in my fiction. And it's a reminder of how tough our ancestors were -- and how much we take for granted in 21st-century America.

  35. Suzanne! I should have come to you when I was doing my research. :-) Know what you mean about the dangers of fire. I nearly set my hair on fire while trying to read a book by candlelight.

  36. The Hannah books always have the most wonderful settings and premises, this one being no exception! I especially loved reading about Dartmouth ;-)

  37. Gin, Dartmouth ... sigh. One of the few places in the world where the first time I laid eyes on it I thought, "call home, sell everything, I'm moving here!"

  38. I like how the whole exterior has this nice country feel to it. If it has the right country chic on the inside to match, then it would be just perfect.