Thursday, April 9, 2015

Kate Charles--The Dead King and I

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Do you mind if I start on a personal note? At my very first Malice Domestic, which was somewhere in the... mumble mumble... early nineties... mumble mumble... I saw a name among the authors on the program that made my heart go pitter pat. Kate Charles! I'd read the first of her Book of Psalms mysteries, A Drink of Deadly Wine, and absolutely loved it. From that moment, I was determined to meet her, and I asked everyone I ran into if they knew her. Finally, someone pointed her out. I introduced myself, gushing fan and newbie author that I was, and she was as gracious as I would have imagined.

Kate Charles and I have now been friends for more than twenty years, and the only thing that gives me more pleasure than the chance to introduce her here on JRW today is the fact that there is a new Kate Charles book, False Tongues, featuring her curate detective Callie Anson, out this week!

But as long as we've known one another, there were parts of the story she's going to tell you today that I didn't know. I was riveted, as I am sure you will be.


             The (Dead) King and I: A love story with a (sort of) fairy-tale ending

Like many other mystery readers, especially those with an Anglophile bent, I was introduced to the story of Richard III by the inimitable Josephine Tey in The Daughter of Time. What a wonderful book! Through the clever device of a-story-within-a-story, Tey explores the life and times of England’s most controversial king, examines the evidence provided by contemporary sources as well as human psychology, and leads the reader to the inevitable conclusion that he was a man much maligned by history – not to mention by Thomas More and Shakespeare! I was a teenager when I first encountered The Daughter of Time, and I was totally convinced by it. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that I fell a little bit in love with Richard III, but I certainly developed an interest in him which has had lasting consequences.

I read all of the novels about him, and many of the factual accounts of his short life and reign. I joined the Richard III Society, took university courses in English history, and bought extra copies of to give to my friends for proselytising purposes.

1983 marked the 500th anniversary of Richard’s accession to the English throne, and it also marked my 10th wedding anniversary. To celebrate the two events, I persuaded my husband to travel from the US to England, where we joined the commemorations arranged by the Richard III Society. I had a booklet called ‘Ricardian Britain’,  published by the Society, which determined the itinerary of our trip. It wasn’t the usual tourist trail by any stretch of the imagination: instead of London-Cotswolds-Oxford-York-Edinburgh, our stops included Gloucester (as in Duke of), Leicester (as in car park), and a charming little town in Shropshire called Ludlow, which possessed a castle where Richard had lived as a child. We made a return trip two years later, in 1985, for the Society’s solemn commemorations of the Battle of Bosworth, ending up at Bosworth Field on the battle anniversary, 22 August.

A year after that, I had managed to achieve my life goal of living in England, and began to discover – to my amazement – that most British people I encountered knew next to nothing about Richard III, and if they knew anything, it was likely to be the old hunchback-who-murdered-his-nephews chestnut.

My, how that has changed.

In August 2012, when those bones were dug up in that Leicester car park, suddenly the whole world became interested in Richard III. What an incredible story it was: due to the intuition and steely determination of one woman, Phillipa Langley, an archaeological dig was conducted on a site in the vicinity of where Richard was presumed to have been buried. On the first day, the very first trench uncovered the skeleton, and it had a markedly crooked spine. The latest advances in DNA technology made it possible to establish his identity beyond doubt. The timing seemed uncanny: had the discovery been made a few years earlier, technology would not have been advanced enough to do the DNA testing, and a few years later, the last surviving inheritors of Richard’s mitochondrial DNA, a Canadian cabinet-maker and an Australian woman, might not have been alive to confirm the match. Too bizarre for any writer to make up – a king in a car park, lost for centuries but now miraculously found.

Once the skeleton had a name, the wrangles began over the King’s final resting place. Westminster Abbey, where so many generations of royalty are entombed? Gloucester, from whence he derived his title? York Minster, where he wished to be laid to rest? Or Leicester, which had the bones and wasn’t about to give them up without a fight? My personal preference was for York Minster, not least because if the funeral had been held there, I would have had a pretty good chance of getting in; as a much larger building, it has far more than the 200 seats which were available for members of the public in Leicester Cathedral, and I have Friends in High Places at York Minster upon whose mercies I could have thrown myself. But that was not to be, and Leicester won out.

Of course I put my name in for the ticket lottery, and of course I was unsuccessful. But the king was to lie in repose in Leicester Cathedral for three days for the public to pay their respects, and that was something I wasn’t going to miss.

We decided to go on the first day, on the assumption – which proved entirely correct – that once people started seeing it on the news, the crowds would only increase. So on the Monday morning we drove to Leicester and joined the queue several blocks away from the cathedral. Someone came along to tell us that we could expect to spend about 4 1/2 hours in the queue; no one was discouraged into giving up. The weather was overcast and cold, but the atmosphere in the queue was extraordinary. It was by no means a festival atmosphere – people were respectful and a bit subdued, and everyone seemed to share the sense that they were taking part in history in the making. As we all shuffled along, there was quiet conversation, strangers becoming co-pilgrims for just a few hours. Volunteers passed along the queue giving out bottles of water and wrapped sweets, sharing leaflets and information. Photographers and video camera operators were everywhere. Though we didn’t know it, as we stood by the ‘Waiting Time: 2 hours’ sign, someone from a national newspaper snapped our photo and it appeared the next day. It’s an iconic image – me looking sad, resigned and cold; my husband, with a Union Jack bag, appearing a bit more cheerful.

In under two hours we were in the cathedral, standing beside the coffin of Richard III. I can hardly  
describe the feeling of the weight of history at that moment. I said a prayer, shed a tear, and we were back outside again.
About 20,000 people filed past the coffin during those three days. I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t been one of them.

The funeral itself was broadcast live on television, and I found it intensely moving. The re-uniting of the king with his own prayer book. The lowering of the coffin, bare now of its sumptuous velvet pall, into the ground. The poem, written for the occasion by the Poet Laureate and read by Benedict Cumberbatch: ‘Grant me the carving of my name … Lost long, forever found.’

It was an extraordinary event in every sense. The king – my king – was laid to rest at last, with honour and dignity. Josephine Tey would have been very pleased.

And the fairy-tale ending?

Because of Richard III, and the travels I undertook in his footsteps, I now live in Ludlow, that beautiful town in the Welsh Marches where he spent the early years of his life. His life may have ended brutally, but for myself I couldn’t have written a better ending if I tried.

DEBS: I have goose bumps. What a moving and momentous occasion. I wish I had been there.

How about you, REDS and readers? Have you followed the story of the discovery of King Richard's remains? Do you believe that Tey was right, and that Richard has got his due at last?

Here's more about Kate's new book, False Tongues
The Reverend Callie Anson should have learned her lesson by now: revisiting the past is seldom a good idea. But she succumbs to peer pressure and attends a reunion at her theological college in Cambridge, where she is forced to confront painful memories – and the presence of her clueless ex, Adam.

Meanwhile, in London, police officers Neville Stewart and Mark Lombardi are involved with the latest stabbing of a teenager. Was the victim – gifted, popular schoolboy Sebastian Frost – all he seemed to be, or was there something in his life that led inevitably to his death? The police find themselves plunged into the queasy world of cyber-bullying, where nothing may be as it seems.

While they're apart, Callie and Mark's relationship is on hold, and his Italian family continues to be an issue. Will Mark realise, before it's too late, that while his family will always be important to him, he is entitled to something for himself?

Kate Charles, a past Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association and the Barbara Pym Society, is American by birth but has lived in England for almost thirty years. She is co-organizer of the annual St. Hilda’s Crime and Mystery Conference and a member of the prestigious Detection Club. Her books, including the Callie Anson series and the ‘Book of Psalms’ series, are set against the background of the Church of England.


  1. As I imagine is true for most people, I only heard the bits and pieces of all this that were offered on the evening news broadcasts; thanks so much for providing all the details that fill out the story.
    Honor and dignity for the king . . . it's a good thing.

  2. Such a pleasure to "meet" Kate Charles... like her my first encounter with Richard III was through Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time, still one of my favorite mysteries ever. And what a tour de force: the sleuth spends the entire novel in a hospital bed! Haunting image, those little boys, the princes in the tower.

    I have been following the discovery of RIII's remains and the rehabilitation of his reputation. Fascinating.

  3. More books to be read--especially want to find a copy of Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time and will be looking for your latest, Kate.

    As an archaeologist, I am often harangued by strangers: "What good is archaeology?" The idea being that doing archaeology holds up business and development. Ha! I say--look what one dedicated archaeologist has done!

    One of the reasons I went into archaeology is that it provides a means of solving mysteries--who were these people, this person, what happened to them, what do these things they left behind tell us? And although our 'truth' can be skewed by our interpretative frameworks, as scientists, we understand this and welcome and seek out new means of learning more from what we find. Like using DNA on ancient human remains. It has brought this story to life vividly for us--and I can understand why present day, ordinary people felt the need to pay their respects to a lost king.

  4. I know I'll be coming back to re-read this piece several more times, and I know it's going to move me each time. Kate, what a wonderful story, and how lovely that you were able to be a part of it. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. I followed the bits and pieces in the news, like Joan. Fascinating from a historical perspective. I think, especially as time progresses, people are neither as good or as bad (usually) as the societal memory makes them out to be.

  6. A very moving story.

    It's funny, I just started False Tongues last night and was wondering if Kate had ever been on JRW. I knew that she and Deb were good friends, so I suspected she must have been. Log-on today and THERE she is. Whoo Hoo.

    I first discovered (and briefly met) Kate at the Baltimore Bouchercon, where I promptly purchased every book I could find in her first series. I was an instant fan, as they say.

    I just love the viewpoints she presents in her clerical mysteries. Look for a review of False Tongues on BOLO Books next week.

    And Kate, if you are reading this, please come back to the States for a conference. I would love to get to know you better!

  7. First, I have to say I loved FALSE TONGUES - not a surprise, because I've loved everything Kate has written, going back to her Psalm series. When readers ask, "I like you, who else should I read?" I always point them to Kate Charles.

    Second, I have long been a big Richard III fan. I, too read THE DAUGHTER OF TIME at an early age, and am an Anglophile, and majored in history in college - specifically 16th and 17th century English history, but I've always been passionate about the War of the Roses as well. It astounds me that so many Britons wouldn't have known anything about Richard other than the hunchback and maybe the Princes in the Tower, but I suppose most Americans don't know anything about Benjamin Franklin other than the fact he had something to do with the Declaration of Independence and flew a kite in a storm.

    The restoration and rehabilitation of Richard III was a long time coming. His demonization has been the most bitter example of history being written by the winners. He was a man of his time; he did some brutal, violent things to secure his throne. But he was a strong, diligent king in a time when England was desperate for stable leadership.

    Here's the link to Benedict Cumberbatch reading Carol Anne Duffy's poem at the funeral, courtesy Channel 4:

    I wonder if I can pre-book him for my own funeral?

  8. Kate, thanks for sharing your experience with us. I would love to have been with you in that line; we might have had a spirited conversation about "whodunit" while we waited. :-) I too thoroughly enjoyed Tey's book as a mystery reader; as a medievalist, not so much, but that's a discussion for another day. I am happy that he was found finally and given a proper burial, even over 500 years later. My copy of False Tongues is on the way, and I am so looking forward to it!

  9. How have I missed your books? I will correct my oversight ASAP. I'm another Josephine Tey fan who was enthralled by Daughter of Time. As we know, the winners write history to their advantage and the losers are villainized or forgotten. I was thrilled when Richard III was found and impressed with all the pomp and respect given his burial.

  10. I read The Daughter of Time as a teenager, too, and was enthralled. So interesting what fires our imaginations, isn't it? My first UK pilgrimages included Glastonbury and Cornwall (The Once and Future King) North Yorkshire (James Herriott), Oxford (Sayers, Tolkien, and Lewis.) Oh, and 110A Piccadilly--Sayers again.

    Kate, I didn't realize Richard III had lived near Ludlow! (Which is a gorgeous town--you all should visit!)

  11. Pat D, Kate's Book of Psalms series is being reissued, which is so exciting. Hopefully she will be here to tell us about it.

  12. Thanks, Debs, for the lovely intro, and thanks to all for your interesting and kind comments.
    Julia, thanks for the link to the poem at the funeral. It leaves me in tears every time I watch it.
    I do hope you'll all enjoy 'False Tongues' - it's been a long time coming. More good news, at least here in the UK: the 'Book of Psalms' series is being re-published as paperbacks and e-books this summer.
    Now I'm going to re-read 'The Daughter of Time'! Carefully - my copy is so old that the pages are falling out.

  13. I'm so excited to hear that the Book of Psalms series is being reissued. Everyone really should check it out.

    When I first read Julia's work, I was immediately enthralled because it reminded me of Kate's clerical aesthetic.

    I'd love to have you over on BOLO Books to discuss the Book of Psalms reissue as well, Kate. If you are interested.

    I will certainly be ordering a new set, since mine have seen better days.

  14. Debs, did you ever read 'The Sunne in Splendor' by Sharon Kay Penman? That was another Ricardian favourite of mine, post-Tey. It starts in Ludlow, in 1459.

  15. Julia, thanks for the link to the Cumberbatch reading. How lovely. Gave me chills.

    Kate, I didn't! (As far as I know, The Sun in Splendour is the pub at the top end of Portobello Road...) But I'll look it up.

    And Kristopher, yes, so excited about the Book of Psalms reissues. I have all my signed copies, but would love to have the new issues as well. And such a great chance for new readers to discover these wonderful books.

  16. Thanks, Kristopher! I'd be delighted to discuss the Book of Psalms re-issue. I've written new introductions for each of the books. They're being published by SPCK, the venerable publishers of theological books, as they've recently embarked upon fiction for the first time.

  17. I look forward to reading Daughter of Time and to discovering Kate Charles' books. Oh, the joy of starting a new and wonderful series I wasn't aware of!

  18. GOosebumps! Me, too. Oh, this is the best story ever, and I was fascinated from moment one. The documentary is so amazing, it's hard to believe it ha happened that way!

    SO interested to read this--thank you so much.

    And yesterday on Jeopardy, Richard III was the final answer!

  19. Julia, I mentioned your idea of booking Cumberbach for your funeral. He had a very smart thought. Book him for something that you will be able to enjoy! Maybe a benediction at your kids' weddings.

  20. Oh Kate, I really enjoyed reading this personal account of you and Richard. Thanks for sharing it.

    My personal (well, very distant) link with RIII is this:

    Back in Wales around 1902, my grandmother, Florence David, was one of 7 children of a widowed mother who ran a boarding house. Quite often the people with travelling theatre companies stayed there, and sometimes they needed local children to fill in for children's part.

    Which is how my grandma, the landlady's daughter, played the role of one of the Princes in the Tower on stage. (One of those revised versions, I gather)

    (She told me she also appeared in something called Daredevil Dorothy.)

  21. Tey convinced me years ago. The Bard was shilling for the Tudors and the Stuarts.

  22. One of my favorite aspects of this page is discovering new people of like minds. Of course, the Reds and all the regulars here have long been treasures of that sort. My introduction to Richard III was also through Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time, and what an impression it made. I became an ardent supporter of Richard III, and more aware of what negative publicity can do to obliterating the facts. I try not to be too hard on Will Shakespeare, as I know that his plays had to please Elizabeth I, of the Tudors who replaced the Plantagenets and whose goal was to besmirch Richard III's reputation. However, that play has colored too many opinions of King Richard.

    How wonderful, Kate, that you got to view the casket with Richard III's bones. And, I love the story of your first trip to England being one focused on this king. I find it fascinating that your path in life, geographically especially, has aligned itself with Richard III, and that you found your home in Ludlow as a result. Just so inspiring!

    I am delighted to meet you, Kate Charles. I admire you following your dreams and Anglophile leanings to move to England. I think I would have enjoyed such a move, although I am quite happy where I am now. My ancestors are from Stoke Canon, right outside of Exeter, and my goal is to visit there in the next few years.

    Kate, I had to click over to Amazon and take a look at your books, and they all sound fantastic. Don't know how I've missed them. Like Kristopher, I would love to see you at a gathering here in the States, hopefully Bouchercon.

    Oh, Julia, I enjoyed reading your passion about Richard III, too, and thanks for the Cumberbatch link. Debs, Kate asked you about The Sunne in Splendor book. I bought that book right after reading Daughter of Time, but I still haven't gotten to it. Kate, is this a book we really should make the time for? (It is a rather lengthy one)

  23. Kathy, 'The Sunne in Splendour' is indeed a long book. At the time I read it, I would definitely have said it was worth the time. Not sure whether I'd feel the same now.

  24. Excellent, Kate. I sent you an e-mail via your website contact link.

  25. Kate, welcome! What an incredible story, all the way from beginning to end. Love the photo of you and your hub too.

    I'm so curious about what made you feel you wanted to move to England?

    FChurch, did not know you are an archaeologist! Perfect explanation of why that field is important.

  26. Lucy, I grew up feeling I'd been born in the wrong country! Partly to do with reading habits, I suspect.

  27. Kate, what a fantastic blog! You brought tears to my eyes. Like you, I have been an Anglophile, like, forever! My first-ever trip to the UK is the one my husband refers to as the "Masterpiece Theater UK Tour." Had to go to Castle Howard simply to gaze down upon the roof where Sebastian and Charles lay naked. {fanning myself} Visited the towns where All Creatures Great and Small (the TV show) was filmed, where the movie was filmed and where James Harriott actually lived (Thirsk). Stayed in the Cavendish Hotel in London (Duchess of Duke Street) although it had been thoroughly remodeled into one of those modern monstrosities Prince Charles likes to refer to as "carbuncles." LOL.

    Daughter of Time by Tey is at the top of my list of favorite mysteries; I reread it every two or three years. Every time I see a copy, I buy it b/c I have given so many away saying, "You HAVE to read this!" Tey convinced me that RIII had been maligned by the Tudors and that the likely culprit was Henry VII. How I wish the royal family would grant permission for the bones of the two boys (girls?) that were discovered so long ago in the Tower to be analyzed by modern DNA techniques.

    I will be attending the St Hilda's Crime and Mystery weekend in Oxford again this August -- wouldn't miss it -- and the #1 item on my post-conference agenda is to visit Richard's tomb.

    Speaking of which, if you haven't seen the documentary that was made about the search and discovery of RIII called "The King in the Car Park" narrated by Simon Farnaby, you must. So suspenseful as every step of the way they had to ask, "Is he, or isn't he?"

    Right now I'm reading (recommended by Kate) an interesting book by a retired policeman, Mark Garber, called "Cold Case: Reopened: Princes in the Tower."

    Again, thanks for a great blog!

  28. Thank you, Kate, for a beautiful and memorable essay! And thanks all for your comments. This day has been a delight. (And I'm digging out my copy of The Daughter of Time. Or buying a new one:-))

  29. Such an interesting story. thank you for telling it. And I am fascinated by how many responders read and loved Daughter of Time. count me in. It's been a long time; I"m inspired to re-read it now.

  30. Debs! That must be where my last copy of DoT went! LOL.

  31. Thanks, Kate! Me too...Daughter of Time as a young teen introduced me to the story, & following that, because I was a studious child & loved history, my parents bought me the Richard III bio by Paul Murray Kendall. Hooked! What a great book. I've been following the story and reading every Richard book published, ever since. I lived in England for a total of 8 years (as a teenager & again in my late 20s), & I was lucky to get to see almost all of the sites associated with Richard III. In 1985 I did the "Richard tour" including the 500th anniversary at Bosworth. I was not able to get over to England this year from the US, which made me a little sad, but the miracle of Internet means I've seen most of what has been going on this year! I know I'll get back to England someday & one of my first stops will be Leicester. Thanks for sharing!

  32. What a wonderful account of such an amazing event. Thank you for allowing me to live vicariously through you for a brief time. I wish I could've attended. Congrats on the new book. May it gain the recognition it deserves.

    Gin Price

  33. Jennifer, amazing to think that we were at Bosworth together in 1985! Did you include Ludlow on your Ricardian tour?