Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's About Time

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN?  Do you recognize this woman? She’s Emmeline Pankhurst. leader of the British suffragette movement. I hear Meryl Streep is playing her in an upcoming film! And I had to think--mightn't she make a great character in an historical mystery?  

I love when Jungle Red weeks take on themes–themes that weren’t planned. (I once heard David McCullough speak, and someone asked him—do you have themes in your books? And he said yes, and I write the books to discover what they are.)

This week is turning out to be about imagination, and history, and time. About turning characters from one place onto characters from another. You’ll see as this week’s blogs unfold.

So as I was reading D. E. Ireland’s new book (more about “her” in a minute), I was not only humming “I could have read all night” and loving the brilliant idea of having Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as sleuths (whoa) I also thought about the imaginations of the two friends (Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta) who make up the moniker DE Ireland.

How did their brains work? And it turns out they get inspiration—from the past—the real past, and the fictional past.   They’re making history come alive. (Kind of like—Pygmalion.)

Which, of course, is loverly.


SHARON: It was the era as much as the characters that intrigued us in our series based on Shaw’s Pygmalion. The years between the official end of the Edwardian era in 1910 and the outbreak of WWI, served as a bridge to our modern world.

Violent protests by suffragettes, the popularity of the cinema and motorcar, and the growing emergence of middle-class women in the workplace helped usher in the 20th century.

Eliza Doolittle might not have had such an easy time of it had she tried to transform herself from a Cockney flower seller to an elocution teacher during the reign of Queen Victoria.

MEG:  So for Jungle Red, we challenged each other to think of a stand-out historical mystery book or series that also prompted us to write our own.

I chose Kate Ross’s series set in Regency England. All are marvelously complex mysteries that mesmerized me and whetted my dream of writing my own mystery one day.

 Even though I’m not a true fan of the Regency period, I was intrigued by Ross’s unusual amateur sleuth, Julian Kestrel--a new style Sherlock Holmes.

He has a keen intelligence, an uncanny ability to assess others, and varied skills in weapons and stealth that served him well in investigations.  His valet is a former cutpurse, loyal unto death, and the dandified Kestrel wears his clothing and manners like a cloak to hide his real persona.

In Ross’s books, all the lush period details I loved in historical fiction came in spades; the witty dialogue, the cultural and class distinctions between ladies and gentlemen versus servants.

SHARON:     I love historical mysteries that shed new light on an old era. My favorite example is Margaret Lawrence’s superb Hannah Trevor mystery series set in the aftermath of America’s Revolutionary War. Her rendering is historically accurate and all the more eye-opening because of it. Lawrence’s books don’t feature any cheery fife and drum corps, or stirring patriotic speeches by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Instead we are introduced to a burgeoning nation mired in debt, and struggling to recover from the Loyalist and Patriot divisions that tore communities and families apart.  

In Hearts and Bones, one of the best-written debut books in the genre, midwife Hannah Trevor is abandoned in 1786 Maine after her Loyalist husband flees to Canada. When a townswoman is murdered, Hannah learns the victim had also been raped by men in the Rufford Patriot Division.  Lawrence’s post-American Revolution world is filled with despair, uncertainty and poverty. In such a time, fear and suspicion run high which often lead to events spiraling out of control. In other words, a perfect setting for a mystery series.

MEG: Like Hannah in 1786 Maine, Kestrel in 1820 and Eliza Doolittle in 1913 London, historical characters need to find themselves in the era best suited for them.

SHARON: Twenty – or even ten – years earlier or later can make an enormous difference to both the novel’s characters and storyline. As in life, so it is in literature. Timing is everything.

HANK: Of course, My Fair Lady is based on Pygmalion, but it’s impossible not to envision Audrey Hepburn, right?  Let’s think of other musicals that might contain good amateur sleuths. Oliver? Annie?  (Oh, I am laughing now…)

What do you think, Reds?

And Meg and Sharon have a copy of their new book to give away to TWO lucky commenters!

D.E. Ireland is a team of award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. Long time friends, they decided to collaborate on this unique series based on George Bernard Shaw’s wonderfully witty play, Pygmalion, and flesh out their own version of events post-Pygmalion.

WOULDN'T IT BE DEADLY   -Following her successful appearance at an Embassy Ball—where Eliza Doolittle won Professor Henry Higgins’ bet that he could pass off a Cockney flower girl as a duchess—Eliza becomes an assistant to his chief rival Emil Nepommuck. After Nepommuck publicly takes credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, an enraged Higgins submits proof to a London newspaper that Nepommuck is a fraud. When Nepommuck is found with a dagger in his back, Henry Higgins becomes Scotland Yard’s prime suspect. Eliza realizes the only way to clear the Professor’s name is to discover which of Nepommuck’s many enemies is the real killer.


  1. I think the best historical books are the ones that get the period right and then seamlessly fit their characters into that world.
    Timing is indeed everything; I think it might be time for me to search out your “Wouldn’t It Be Deadly;” it sounds quite intriguing . . . .

  2. You ladies are so clever--and I love the show and characters you chose. And the title too!

    How about my favorite, Camelot? Guinevere as sleuth from the nunnery? I don't know, don't think I have your touch!

  3. Love your plot synopsis... 'enry 'iggins accused of murder! And his 'creation' has to come to HIS rescue. Neat.

    Let's see, musicals with amateur sleuths. Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls? Perpetually sneezing sniffing into tissue. No, that would get old fast. Annie Oakley from Annie Get Your Gun?

  4. Maria Von Trapp! The era was just right, and she already had the intrigue and steely resolve going on. Plus, many minions, between all those kids and the nuns.

  5. Welcome, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta! The book sounds absolutely loverly.

    Karen, yes! Maria von Trapp and the nuns at the convent could have been spies and resistance fighters! LOVE IT!

  6. Oh, now, that is brilliant, Karen! (I'm actually considering this now...wonder what the Von Trapp family estate would think? We'd have to get big permission, right?

    I'm still loving the YA "Annie" mysteries--girl of the depression, grows into a WW2 spy.

  7. Alas, another series for the TBR pile! One that sounds charming and fun--especially welcome!

    Hmmm, what about Anna from the The King and I? Lots of intrigue at that period and in that setting and Anna is a strong female character. Or closer to modern times, Tracy Turnbled from Hairspray? Or Danny and Sandy from Grease? Both could be fun to write--snappy dialogue and the kids gotta have something to do in their 'happily ever afters'!

  8. I'd love to see Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian on the case. Can a con spot another con, and foil his plans? I'm sure with Marian's help (and reference library) he could! :)

  9. Having read Pygmalion in college (my professor was a huge Shaw fan and hated My Fair Lady, "that cute little musical"), I started this blog having a hard time imagining Eliza as a sleuth. But it's a snappy blurb. I like it.

    I have such a hard time imagining characters/people as sleuths, but I can see a YA series with Annie and the crew on the case.

  10. OMG, this book sounds so good! I adore the concept. Definitley added to my TBR stack. And @Shelly, I LOVE the idea of Harold Hill and Marian as sleuths! Set in that small town, they'd make great cozy mysteries!

  11. It's About Time sounds very interesting, exactly the kind of book I like.
    I love historical mysteries. What I'm reading right now is historical, a mystery, and also has vampires and witches.
    Now I'm going to have to read the Hannah Trevor mysteries too.

  12. Anne Bradstreet . . . Puritan poetess takes on the establishment . . .
    I want to read the Eliza Dolittle mystery . . .

  13. Wow, what great ideas. I love the idea of SHOWBOAT - solving mysteries on the river! And thanks to Hank for hosting my partner and me on the blog today!

  14. These are SO great! Harold HIll would be so perfect--he's such a fast talker! And smart Marian.

    I'm all about the Annie mysteries. With her pack of orphan pals to help, a la Oliver? And she can be a spy later, with her Warbucks and FDR connections. I'm gong to stop talking about it now.It's too good an idea.

    Let's see...I think the idea of Danny and Sandy is BRILLIANT. Very Hart to Hart, right? Or how about Frenchie (was that Stockard Channing's name?) as detective? (Or maybe she's already Stephanie Plum.)

  15. Mary Sutton, your professor was a Debbie Downer! I loved My Fair Lady (and can sing--albeit not very well--every line of every song), except for the very last scene. I was so disappointed that she fetched his damn slippers. My grandmother took me to see that movie in the theater when I was about six or seven, so it was my first experience going to the "show", and it holds a special place in my heart.

  16. Oh, I can certainly see Shaw's Eliza and Higgins as detective partners. NOT married to each other as in My Fair Lady and the 1937 film. Or, as Shaw told us in the postcript to the play, with Eliza married to Freddie.

  17. Karen in Ohio that scene was exactly why he didn't like the musical. He said Eliza had more backbone than that. =)

  18. Hank--I could see see Sandy and the Pink Ladies (Frenchy included) and Rizzo, giving Danny fits as the ladies come up with the goods on the mob!

  19. I'm actually not a fan of My Fair Lady, but I love Pygmalion. Why? Because I don't like Henry Huggins as a love interest for Eliza. I like him as a character, but she deserves better (or he needs to change drastically).

    And I don't think I'd heard of the Revolutionary War series. Another book to add to my TBR list. Like I need more. (But please, I'd like to win your book. It really does sound good.)

    What about Maria and the Captain from Sound of Music? World War II fascinates me, and I think a murder or two on the way to America plus setting into their new life could be very interesting.

  20. Alva Vanderbilt. She wasn't just a vacuous social climber. She was a fierce feminist, a cunning politician and, had things been different a hundred years ago, she might have been the first female President of the US.

  21. Hi, Meg and Sharon! Karen Ross was a friend of mine and I adored her books. They have a special place on my shelves, and maybe it's time I pulled them out and reread them. I haven't read Margaret Lawrence's books but will put those AND yours on my list. I love the idea of Eliza as a sleuth, and an Eliza based on Shaw's character rather than the musical.

    If we're going for musical sleuths, I want to see Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood and Debbie Reynold's Kathy Selden. Imagine them investigated murders as Hollywood goes to the Talkies. What fun!

  22. Oh, PERFECT, Debs!

    I always thought she would never marry Freddy. :-)

  23. You will have to read our series to find out what happens to Higgins and Eliza - but as a hint, yes she has backbone.

    I LOOOOOVE the idea of Don/Kathy! Omg, that would be so good and the era is perfect - Hollywood, silent vs. talkies, etc. And there is a cozy series with the Vanderbilts, altho Alva is not the protag - by Alyssa Maxwell.

    Our next book, MOVE YOUR BLOOMING CORPSE, takes place at Ascot - coming out in 2015.

  24. Good grief! My reading list is already rolling out the door, and now I will have to add more. Henry Huggins and Eliza Doolittle post-Pygmalion with Huggins accused of murder and Eliza being his champion this time. Well, that's definitely appealing! Your two heads have certainly come up with one great idea. Then, you have to go and mention two more intriguing series that capture my attention. Will the madness ever stop? Not if I'm lucky.

    I am a sucker for historical fiction mystery, and imagining well-known people or literary characters having an extended effect on the world around them is titillating indeed. This post has set my mind whirling around possibilities for such stories. In the realm of musicals, I think Auntie Mame would be delicious.

  25. I've loved the idea of this series since I first heard about it. Like Sherlock and his irregulars, Henry and Eliza can move through all strata of society--high and low.

    Best of luck to Meg and Sharon. I can't wait to read this.

    (I'm with Hallie on Annie Get Your Gun. A travelling Wild West show is a fantastic milieu and we can right the terrible injustice of Annie having to lose a shooting match to get her man.)

  26. Oh. Auntie MAME! I adore it. Perfect. (Maybe one of the Upsons will be the first victim...)

    Isn't it funny? This started as a kind of lighthearted question..and now, it's seeming like a pretty great idea..

  27. One of my favorite musicals, My Fair Lady, and the characters are going to be sleuths? Love it! Can Mary Poppins be incorporated in there? She was there during the suffragette movement. Her skills could be extremely helpful in sleuthing.My idea for musical turned mystery, how about Dream Girls? They could be solving mysteries in gritty Motown. I envision lots of smoky nightclubs and evil doings.

  28. This sounds good. Just like everyone else, it goes on my TBR list. (I have both a list AND a pile!!)
    PS- I love that teapot. :)

  29. Barbara, I was JUST thinking of Mary Poppins! But then it would have to a little paranormal, right? Which would be practically perfect in every way.

  30. It was lovely meeting you Monday at the Coop. I love this site and read as many books as I can of the authors here.
    I think the idea of making Eliza and Henry sleuths is just brilliant. This is another book on my wish list for sure.

  31. I love Karen's idea of Maria von Trapp, only I would have her spying after she leaves the convent and spies on the outside pursuing her new career all the way to Vermont with her strategically placed ski lodge as a cover.

  32. SO great to see you, Pat! What a treat! And it's very rare that so many Reds and FORs will be in one place..so, fabulous that you came! oxo

    Maybe the Reds can write the "How Do You Solve" mysteries...starring Maria VonTrapp!

  33. So many great ideas - I love the premise! Most od my favorite musicals have already been suggested, but you all forgot Gigi - wouldn't she and Gaston, in 1900 Paris, make a great era and story? And now my TBR pile (already over the top!) is growing exponentially!

  34. " Which would be practically perfect in every way."

    I see what you did there, Hank!

    You will NOT believe this, but my Captcha is "Mary tessaw". Scout's honor.

  35. Okay, I love all the suggestions, but I've been pondering the possibilities for a while now and I can't decide between
    Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha [tilting at all those windmills]
    Matilda and Miss Honey in Matilda
    So I'm simply going to suggest them both . . . .

  36. OH! Gigi! Trudi,that is wonderful!! (Thank heaven for your suggestions, no matter where no matter who..)

    (Thank you, Karen. xo You make it all worth it..) (and SCOUT!)

    Joan! You are rocking this!

  37. Mary Poppins, LOL -- well, in our 2nd book, MOVE YOUR BLOOMING CORPSE coming next year, we do have several suffragettes! And it's set at Ascot.

    Thanks again for hosting us, Hank! We sure do appreciate your kind words about our debut novel.

  38. The book sounds good. I looked at the excerpt on Amazon. Yes, I've heard of Emmeline Pankhurst, probably first in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. She may have also been mentioned in Anatomy of Death by Felicity Young. I love Victorian stories.

  39. Just finished WOULDN'T IT BE DEADLY -
    Professor Higgins certainly has an interesting secret.

  40. Mame, yes!! And I’m also all for the Upsons being the first victims. I’d also love to see Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Janet and Brad solve some crimes. And how about the Marx Brothers as investigators, with Margaret Dumont as their sidekick? Oh, this is fun!! I think another great series could be the women from How to Marry a Millionaire - Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, with William Powell as their Bosley.

    And of course, now I have more books to add to my TBR list, too.