Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rhys Bowen Serves up "The Twelve Clues of Christmas"

HALLIE EPHRON: I know we've just cleared Halloween but at Jungle Red, it's lookin' a lot like Christmas with Rhys Bowen's newest A Royal Spyness mystery, "The Twelve Clues of Christmas," launching this week! The series featuring impoverished minor royal Georgina has the fun of a 1930's English manor house with the challenge of an intricately plotted mystery, all wrapped up with a good old fashioned love story, and served with a side of roasted chestnuts.

Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch, flat broke and getting by on charm an sheer guts, is such a fun character. What fresh hell is she facing in The Twelve Clues of Christmas? (And PS, congratulations on your **starred** review in Publisher's Weekly!)

Actually Georgie feels that she has fallen on her feet this time. She has managed to escape from her beastly sister-in-law and the drafty Scottish castle to assist the hostess of a posh Christmas house party in a pretty village in Devonshire. Plenty to eat and drink and those she loves best in the neighborhood too (including a certain dark and dashing Irishman).

What she hadn't counted on was a prison break from bleak Dartmoor prison and a series of mysterious accidents that may not be accidents at all. And the village has more than its fair share of folk law, including the Lovey Curse and the local witch. Georgie will need all her detecting skills to sort out this complicated puzzle (and stay alive).

HALLIE: I love the name of the village where the book's manor house takes place: Tiddleton-Under-Lovey. Tell us you made that up. And what other names did you consider?

RHYS: Of course the name Tiddleton-Under-Lovey is a made up name. But England is full of weird and wonderful place names, even funnier than this. How about Giggleswick or Fudgepack-Upon-Humber, or Steeple Bumpstead and next door Helion's Bumpstead. Then there's Aindersby Quernhow and Burton-le-Coggles. Chipping Sodbury is not far from Upton Snodbury. I also like Nether Wallop and Bishop's Itchington. Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter are close to Stow-on-the-Wold and Burton-on-the-Water. Do any British readers have a favorite place name they'd like to share?

HALLIE: Chipping Sodbury sounds like something you could get for lunch at a pub. When we were training about near York I loved the names New Earswick which is near Nether Poppleton

Rhys, what are the requirements of a traditional British Christmas, and what are we Americans missing?

RHYS: Christmas pudding for starters, traditionally with silver charms inside, and each charm with a meaning. If you find a boot in your slice you are going to travel, a pig and you're a glutton, a button and you'll remain a bachelor for life.

Then there are crackers (not the dry kind you eat with cheese but paper tubes you pull). They snap with a small explosion and contain a paper hat, a small prize and a riddle (usually bad although we liked last year's Where do you find the Andies? Answer: On the end of the Wristies.)

HALLIE: (Which reminds me of my favorite ever joke -- as in the only one I can remember: Where does the king keep his army? Answer: Up his sleevie.)

RHYS: Christmas of my childhood included going around the village singing carols door to door, being invited in for mince pies and hot sausage rolls, playing silly family games like charades. As a child I really enjoyed getting a snow-house--a cardboard house decorated with cotton wool snow and containing little presents that one pulled out through the windows.

I guess I could sum up the traditional Christmas with one word NON-COMMERCIAL. Nobody expected a Lexus under the tree.

HALLIE: Sounds perfectly lovely.

Okay, shopping list please. If I want to recreate a traditional English Christmas, what should I go about procuring?

RHYS: You can buy good Christmas puddings, although the traditional kind were made on pudding Sunday, first sunday of November then laced with brandy or rum to help them mature. Jars of mince meat for little mince pies. Sausage meat for the sausage rolls. You can find crackers in places like Cost Plus. Then get a CD of the choir boys from Kings College Cambridge singing all those old traditional carols, have a big yule log roaring in the fireplace and heat up a good wassail punch.

Actually this book comes with a compendium of recipes, games, traditions in the back. All you'd need to recreate the Olde English Christmas.

HALLIE: Any clues on where your book tour will be taking you, and will you be home in time for Christmas?

All in place and ready to go, Hallie. You can find the schedule on my website, www.rhysbowen.com.

I start off with a launch party at Book Passage in Corte Madera (which you know very well!), then on to Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Murder by the Book in Houston, two stores and a TV show in Seattle (where I have to demonstrate sausage rolls and silly games on camera!) Then Powells in Portland and several more stores in the greater Bay Area. And yes, I'll be home for Christmas, and making those mince pies and other goodies while I sing along with my favorite carols.

Thanks, Rhys! Hoping everyone's perfect Christmas includes a copy of "The Twelve Clues of Christmas" under their tree.

So, Reds, what do you miss most about the Christmas memories of your childhood? Rhys is giving away a copy of the new book to the best commenter of the day.


  1. What a nice gift to readers, a new Lady Georgie tale! SO looking forward to her next adventure, Rhys.

    What is in a Christmas pudding? Is it like a fruitcake of sorts, with nuts and raisins and so forth? It's served with a hard sauce, yes?

    My brother-in-law is Welsh, and became a citizen five years ago. But long before that he brought the tradition of Christmas crackers to our family, which we embraced as if we'd done it forever. Now we have lots of photos of all of us wearing silly paper hats 'round the dinner table.

    The tradition I miss most from my childhood is staying up late for midnight Mass with our maternal grandparents (lovely), then waking up the next morning to presents that magically appeared sometime between 1 AM and whenever we all woke up.

    If you asked my girls I think they would say their favorite thing is having cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa on Christmas morning while opening gifts. My oldest daughter also serves mimosas.

  2. Hot cinnamon rolls and mimosas - now there's a tradition I can get into.

    Always an intrepid cook, Karen your comment sent me off to see what a recipe for traditional Christmas pudding looks like. I had a hard time getting past:
    Prep Time: 45 minutes
    Cook Time: 8 hours
    Marinating Time: 12 hours
    Total Time: 20 hours, 45 minutes

    Still, if someone can point me to where I can get "suet" I'd like to try one. Because anything tastes great with hard sauce.

  3. I don't really mind missing the Xmas pudding--and I'd hate to be the one to get the little pig charm, Rhys! But we do listen to the Boys Choir every year--so lovely.

    Heading out to get this book right away--it looks like a comfort read to me! Congratulations Rhys!

  4. Not sure exactly how to link to my blog yet, but I also covered Rhys' book on my Holiday Historicals post on my new blog.


    There are some great reads this holiday season. Enjoy!


  5. I'm with Karen in Ohio (hi Karen! great to meet you at Bouchercon!), my California family sits around the Christmas table with silly paper hats, because my term of study in Edinburgh years (and years) ago left us with an appreciation for Christmas crackers. They're great fun.

    These days Christmas means chocolate and cookies for "breakfast" while enjoying gifts, and then a large, real brunch later. Oh, the sugar overload. Tis the season!

    Looking forward to the new book, Rhys!

  6. Christmas pudding . . . we’ve always gotten Crosse and Blackwell pudding [and hard sauce] at holiday time as it was available in our local grocery store . . . . Christmas memories from my childhood? My mother’s homemade cinnamon rolls [yes, I have the recipe and, yes, I make them every year] . . . hot cinnamon rolls take me right back to Christmas with my mom.

    I always cooked at home when we were growing up but did not necessarily choose the menu; traditionally we had turkey and all the trimmings for both Thanksgiving and Christmas . . . . When I was doing the meal planning and shopping, we began our own tradition of turkey and traditional pies for Thanksgiving . . . lamb, homemade Easter Egg Bread, and cake at Easter . . . prime rib roast and pudding with hard sauce at Christmas.

    Rhys: I can’t wait to read your newest Georgie adventure . . . congratulations on your starred review and best of luck with the launch and book tour.

  7. Hallie, I'm not a big fan of the mimosas, personally, but the rest of the crew enjoys them.

    Suet is easy to find. Ask your butcher; they keep it for people who have suet feeders for birds, and it's quite cheap to buy. Sometimes it's right there in the beef section of the meat case, already packaged up.

    Hi, Tammy! It was great fun to meet you, too. Thanks for remembering me!

  8. Hurray, a new Lady Georgie! And a Christmas book. Thank you, Rhys.

    I used to do an enormous amount of baking for the holidays. My family and my in-laws all used to congregate for Christmas at my house. Now, my family goes to my sister's, and I bake very little for the season since there will be so much around everywhere, and we really don't need the extra calories, carbs, and fat. Sometimes I miss doing all that, but not usually too often.

  9. My childhood Christmas was very "home grown." My mother and I made gifts (fruit cakes, toy animals stuffed with old stockings), and I had one particular decoration that was my specialty.

    We had a plate glass window on which I painted a Nativity scene, using glass cleaner that I colored with food coloring. It looked like a stained glass window from the road!

    My German/British grandmother made plum pudding with hard sauce -- it is a taste memory I have never been able to recapture.

    This book sounds heavenly!!!

  10. SUCH a wonderful book--Rhys, you are a treasureWe always had champagne and oysters Rockefeller...weird, yes, not so Christmassy, but SO festive and delicious!

    We also got big juicy oranges in the toes of our stockings, and a Drostes chocolate apple by our dinner place. Remember those? That you whapped, and they fell into pieces?

    Vote, everyone! I am assigned to Romney Headquarters for the night! That should be prey-ty interesting...

  11. I have been researching "snow houses" -- were they made from cereal boxes & covered with glitter? How big? Any pictures?

    Like this? http://pinterest.com/junkgirl50/christmas-snow-glitter-houses/

  12. Hank--champagne and oysters? I could go for that!

    Denise, the snow houses were bought at local stores, not homemade, and bigger than a cereal box. Also snow toys for boys made in the shape of snow-cars, snow men etc. And with corny little gifts in them, but fun for kids.

    And Christmas pudding is a lot of work. I'll put the recipe on my website once I return from book tour. My s-i-l made one for us last year. So good. Lots of brandy.

  13. Oh Christmas, one of my roommate's is already singing Christmas carols!
    My great-great grandmother was from England and we still make her date pudding recipe (a task that has fallen to my mother, and will fall to me) so that's definitely a fun tradition that always throws a few of my friends off!
    My family is incredibly musical, so the weeks leading up to Christmas there is one thing we are listening to: Handel's Messiah. My high school performs almost the entire work every Christmas and all alumni can come back and sing. This included my dad and his sister's my last year in high school when I got to sing 'I Know That My Redeemer Liveth' Definitely a great Christmas tradition in my family and one that anyone I live with will have to deal with me bringing into our family!

  14. Since I'm sitting in an election boiler room, I will have to wait to start this long-awaited book. As soon as it's available on Audible it'll be on my iphone.

    I miss the gathering of family at Christmas. When my nieces were small we'd get together with sisters and husbands and children. Now each has her own family (one family lives in France) so we don't have the house full of people anymore. It's sad. But time moves on.

    Back to voter protection and turnout.

  15. One of my favorite Christmas memories is having convinced my parents that I didn't need to go to the Christmas Eve service at our church, I, the youngest of six, had the house to myself. We lived in a big, two story farmhouse and each Christmas my mother placed electric candles in all the windows. From the outside, the view was magical and could be seen for miles. Inside, for those few precious hours, I would turn off all the regular house lights and just have the candles and the Christmas tree lights on. Then, I would check out the presents under the Christmas tree. To this day, whether for a birthday or Christmas, I can't open a gift without first giving it a shake, weighing it in my hands, imagining the possibilities. It should be noted, however, that my mother was wise to my ways and would often put marbles or puzzle pieces or even small rocks into the boxes!

  16. Even though I am Canadian I have heard enough about today's presidential election to last me a life time, I most certainly prefer to hear about Lady Georgie and her newest exploits which sounds like so much fun. This makes me look forward to Christmas which hasn't happened much since my mother passed away back in 1983.

    Lady Georgie always brings a smile to my face, GO Georgie!!!!

  17. One of the best parts about Christmas is sharing tradition with my own kids now.

    I love my tried and true traditions I grew up with at Christmas, but hearing words like "Christmas pudding" and "Sausage Rolls" makes me want to try some new things.

    A Christmas around the world dinner would be a fun thing to try sometime this season.

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  20. Ok.... I apologize for all the deleted comments. For some reason I thought the verification was not working and kept trying again. Little did I know I was posting a ton.

    Sorry. :/

  21. Rhys, I had to laugh! We don't have Lexuses (or is it Lexi?) under the tree at our house:-)

    I love a real Christmas pudding but have never made one. No one else in the family likes them, but I usually try to find a Cross & Blackwell just for me.

    We have had Christmas crackers at Christmas dinner since my daughter was a child, a tradition started with her Scottish dad.

    Now, with our family shrinking (my dad gone, my mom in a nursing home) there are just four of us on Christmas morning--Rick and me, and Kayti and her lovely long-time boyfriend. Kayti makes mimosas and cinnamon rolls and we open the gifts under the tree. Quiet, but fun. Usually we go to my aunt and uncle's for Christmas dinner, but last year I was sick with a bug, so we all curled up in front of the fire on Christmas afternoon and watched basketball. Weird, but nice. This year I'm looking forward to the big family get together again.

    Oh, and about Georgie--I LOVE this book! I'm giving it to everyone I know for Christmas. It is the absolutely perfect Christmas prezzie!

  22. "I'm Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, and I approve this blog ..."

  23. We do Christmas Crackers every Christmas Eve - a tradition we started when we took over the holiday from my mom and dad 12 years ago.

    Thanks for warming my spirit with this post - much needed as we move through our 9th day without power from Superstorm Sandy!

  24. Terrific, Andrew. First laugh of the day!

  25. Rhys, reading your new Lady Georgie book will make for perfect Christmas reading. Have a great launch! I'm giving copies of your book for gifts this year. My friends will love it, I know.

    I had hoped to see you in Scottsdale this week but need to stay home with Scout. The Poisoned Pen is one of my favorite bookstores. Kendall and I shopped there as part of our service dog boot camp final exam for Power Paws of Arizona. Other people must love it, too. Look at all the wonderful authors they attract for events... really sorry I can't be there... had to miss Hank last month, too.

    Our daughter Jeanie and I boiled a huge Christmas pudding when she was younger. She had read about in in a book, and we had to make one... It was time-consuming but not difficult at all. We got the suet from the butcher counter at the local grocery store.

    Rhys, I am trying to make Christmas a good day for our family this year. Since we have had so much sadness, including the loss of our Jeanie, my first inclination was to skip it... just seemed too difficult. Now, though, I am seeing it as a chance to redo some of our family traditions and maybe include something new. THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS with its, "... compendium of recipes, games, traditions in the back," sounds like just what we need to get us jumpstarted.

  26. First of all, I'm sooo excited to read the newest Georgie book!! Rhys, your traditional English Christmas sounds wonderful. My favorite Christmas memory is just the sheer excitement of waking up Christmas morning to see if Santa came. Now, I get to see the excitement on my two little boys faces. The simple pleasures of childhood are the best!

  27. Growing up in the South, I never realized some of our family traditions had English roots (silly when you think about it-in my Grannie's youth there were pocket of Appalatchia where Elizabethian English was still spoke and my Grannies expressions of outrage or fustration were "Fie,sir" and "La, Sir!") But we made rich dense fruitcakes on the first day of hunting season while the men folk where out from underfoot, and gave them a "sip" of blackberry brandy every few days until Christmas. My sister brought back the custom of crackers when she returned from doing a residency in Reading years ago. Our family for years always tried to make the journey back to Mother's house for Christmas even as we kids were scattered over many states and occasionally many countries. I dreaded the time when Mother's health would no longer allow her to keep the house.How could we have Christmas without Mother's house? Of course, her health was the most important thing, but I think we all had wobbly lower lips in private at the thought. THen my brillent sister rented a large house in the mountains that could accomodate all the kids, grand kids, assorted pets and even the requirements of Mother's feeble health. We hauled in as much traditional decorations and worked together on cooking old and new family favorites. We even woke up to snow on Christmas morning- a first for most of the grandkids! I think we discovered that Christmas was less about where you celebrate it but with whom and how. Mother joined Daddy years ago, but we still gather in the Mountains and tell family stories and traditions so they won't be forgotten. Family is the best tradition.

  28. Rhys, you're going to be at Powell's! That's great -- I plan to be there, and I'll introduce myself. Fun!

    When I was growing up my maternal grandpa used to make a plum pudding from a recipe that was handed down from the English side of the family. It was TO DIE FOR. He'd send it to us in December and my mom made rum sauce. I miss that plum pudding!

    Apparently, it's a labor-intensive recipe, involving cheese cloth and who-knows-what...Does that sound about right?

  29. Christmas memories, my mother's frosted cutout sugar cookies made from scratch, driving around The Plaza in Kansas City looking at the lights while my father sang Christmas carols, wondering each year if this would be the year I actually got the pony I asked for (we lived in the suburbs), getting to stay up late for midnight mass, and ignoring my dad when he would try to talk me into leaving coffee and cookies for Santa. I figured everyone knew he liked milk and cookies :)

  30. Back in the 40s and 50s my grandmother would send us 2 fruitcakes for Christmas - the traditional dark one and a light one for my mother, which I never cared for. But the dark was to die for! Serve it chilled, sliced thin and slathered with butter. The candied fruit and nuts were bought whole during a special trip to Pittsburgh and then chopped/sliced by hand. Grandpa did the stirring as many large batches were made. No alcohol as grandma was president of the WCTU!!
    I still love fruitcake but few can even begin to compare with grandma's.
    Some years I got lucky and received an extra cake - just for me, but I did share - for my birthday!

    Miss you grandma, grandpa, mom and dad.

  31. The Christmas memory I miss the most from childhood, the one that no longer takes place, is when my father and I would exchange prank gifts.
    We were taught from the very beginning that Santa Claus didn't exist. After a few years, we began opening our presents on Christmas Eve so that my parents could sleep in the next morning. This started a running joke between my father and I; each year he would recieve a naughty gift from "Santa" for not believing and for opening presents before Christmas day. Every year, the schemes grew more elaborate.
    One year, when I was around twelve, I purchased a pair of silk chili pepper boxers for my father and wrote a note from "Santa." In the letter, my father was informed that he was recieving a pair of "hot pants" to remind him to be good. In return I was given an old love letter that had been discovered in a jeans pocket--a letter to a school crush!
    As I look back now, I realize that these memories are far from the traditional Christmas that most people imagine. But they're my memories, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

  32. We always have pizza on Christmas Eve. We've been doing it so long I can't remember how or why the tradition started.

    My mother's best friend made donuts for the holidays when we were kids. I miss being in that big old kitchen with the wood stove pumping out heat, rolling donut holes in sugar and trying to see how many I could sneak without getting caught.

  33. Several years ago, I made quilts for my six nieces and nephews and brought them all down at Christmas time. Youngest Nephew opened his first.

    Youngest Nephew: [opening package] Wow!

    Dad: What is it?

    Nephew.: It's the greatest thing I've ever seen!

    Dad: But what is it?

    Nephew: I have no idea!

    And ever since then, at some point during Christmas Day, someone will open a present and exclaim, "Wow!" the conversation will be reenacted.

    We also have a tradition of hanging up a rather ancient record liner on which my grandfather had written a letter thanking my brother and me for the milk and cookies, and that the reindeer liked the carrots we'd left for them. The note ends with the immortal phrase, "And thank your dad for the Scotch!"

    Ah, memories.

    Laura C.

  34. I'll tell you what I don't miss.....

    being part of a more or less musical talented family we kids always had to play some Christmas songs together... ( I was the one with the flute) and of course every year it was video taped....

    last Christmas my brother gave us all the old tapes converted on dvd as a Christmas gift..... my boyfriend still has sore muscles from laughing....

    so my advice is:

    1. don't try to play an instrument if you're not gifted

    2. if you could'nt help it: never ever let someone
    record or film it

    3. if this doesn't suceed: try to find the hidden
    tapes and immediately destroy them

    4. if all fails: never invite a brother or sister to a
    Christmas party where friends and colleagues
    are present

    5. in the case of emergency: try to provoke a power
    loss or flush yourself down a toilet!!!

    A SILENT and Merry Christmas to everybody....

    best wishes from Switzerland :)

  35. When I was a child, we lived near a huge family - 18 cousins - plus aunts, uncles and grandparents who all went to church on Christmas Eve, and to Grandma's house on Christmas Day. Then, when my children were small and we lived a long distance from family, I started baking fruit breads for all the neighbors, distributing them on Christmas Eve and getting the reminder of that huge Christmas family. And I had already decided that even though this city neighborhood is not as friendly as those in the past, I am baking fruit breads and taking them to the neighbors on Christmas Eve. It is a gift to myself,.

  36. When my girls were small, having both sets of grandparents in the same town, we went to my mother's for Christmas Eve dinner and celebration. The girls got to open presents from my family. Christmas morning both sets of grandparents came to our house to be there for the grand present opening and brunch. Christmas evening we went to my husband's mother's home for dinner and more presents for the girls. Poor little deprived girls, three Christmas present openings. Now both sets of grandparents are gone, and my girls and their families come to our home for Christmas dinner and family time.
    Some of the best memories I have of those earlier days are all of us standing around my Mom's piano while my Mother-in-law played Christmas carols and we all sang with great abandon. I must say some sounded a LOT better than others, my sister can't carry a tune even with a very large bucket, but she loves to sing, so we grin and bear it.
    Rhys, so happy that there is a new Georgie book, I can hardly wait to read it.