Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Random Bits of Research - Guest Post, Review, and Giveaway

Random Bits of Research
By Edith Maxwell
Thanks for having me over, Kathy! My new historical mystery will be shelved as just that – but it’s really a cozy!
I’ve done a lot of research while writing Delivering the Truth and I thought I’d share some of it today. Life in 1888 was pretty different than it is now. I decided that my Quaker midwife would live in the house I live in now, and many of the buildings in my historic town of Amesbury, in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, still stand. But those are just buildings. Everyday customs, prices, and expressions have changed considerably.
So I’m going to open several of the books on my historic research shelf and give you random bits.

First up is Miss Parloa’s New Cook Boko and Marketing Guide (1880). In the introduction - “Food, Working Appliances and Sanitation,” I read this: “Starchy foods, fats, and sugar, also mineral matter and flavors are essential to a well-balanced diet.” Wow. Starch, fats, and sugar are all things many modern dieters are cautioned to avoid. I randomly opened to later in the book and find a recipe for Curry of Lobster. Who knew they made curry back then?

Now for The Massachusetts Peace Officer: a Manual for Sheriffs, Constables, Police, and Other Civil Officers (1890). Page 94 reads, “[The officer] has a right to detain a prisoner a reasonable time while making a bona fide effort to find a magistrate to hear the cause. If the officer takes the defendant to the place where the magistrate resides and the magistrate is not accessible, he has a right to place the prisoner in jail over night for safe keeping.” That’s rather different than police procedure today.

One of my favorite books is How to Live Like a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. On page 282 she writes, “Another popular drug was cocaine.... [In the 1880s] it became particularly favoured for use in tonic wines, recommended as giving a general ‘lift’ to those who were feeling tired, lethargic, nervous, or depressed.” The ad for Coca Wine is particularly delightful.Imagine having a little cocaine in your glass of wine for dinner!
The Sears, Roebuck, & Company Consumers Guide (1894) and the Montgomery Ward & Company Catalogue and Buyers Guide’ (1895) are invaluable resources. You could get a road wagon for $31, a double-breasted black leather men’s coat for $5.25, or an open face ladies’ Chatelain watch for $11.50.  

And then there’s language. In Marc McCutcheon’s Everyday Life in the 1800s, a Guide for Writers, Students, and Historians, I find shut pan, meaning to shut up. “I shut pan on the subject, and fell to eating my dinner.” Peart meant fresh and happy; sprightly, as in, “The boys from being starved, wretched, and dull, grew quite peart under Eliza’s care.” And then there was cut up didoes: “Must all the world know all the didoes we cut up in the lodgeroom?”
Readers: What old phrase or custom are you fond of keeping alive? Do you have any good resources for life a hundred and thirty years ago?
Book blurb: For Quaker midwife Rose Carroll, life in Amesbury, Massachusetts, provides equal measures of joy and tribulation. She attends to the needs of mothers and newborns even as she mourns the recent death of her sister. Likewise, Rose enjoys the giddy feelings that come from being courted by a handsome doctor, but a suspicious fire and two murders leave her fearing for the well-being of her loved ones.
Driven by her desire for safety and justice, Rose Carroll begins asking questions related to the crimes. Consulting with her friends and neighbors―including the famous Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier―Rose draws on her strengths as a counselor and problem solver in trying to bring the perpetrators to light.
Bio: Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her short story, “A Questionable Death,” is nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The tale features the 1888 setting and characters from her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series, which debuts with Delivering the Truth on April 8.
Maxwell is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site, edithmaxwell.com.


The First Quaker Midwife Mystery

The year is 1888 and Amesbury, Massachusetts is a thriving town home to many carriage factories and other businesses. Rose Carroll is the town's respected midwife who visits women in their homes as well as her office, the front parlor of the house she shares with her brother in law and his five children. When a fire destroys most of the carriage factories, killing many workers trapped inside, the town is in shock. What's worse is that the fire is deemed to be arson! Who could have caused the blaze? When factory manager and son of the Perry Carriage Factory's owner is murdered shortly after the conflagration tensions rise higher. Who is the killer among them? Although Rose is a Quaker, patience is not one of her virtues, though seeking justice is. Keeping her eyes and ears open Rose tries to find the culprit even as she helps the town's new and soon to be mothers. Seeking counsel of Quaker elder and poet John Whittier and her friend and colleague Dr. David Dodge Rose begins to piece things together, but will she become a victim before she can identify the villain?

Edith Maxwell knows her material. The historical detail in DELIVERING THE TRUTH is impeccable from the new safety bicycles to the treacle cake. These little details give the verisimilitude so necessary in a historical mystery. I admit to some difficulty getting into the book at the start. Rose, as well as many other characters, belongs to the Society of Friends and as such uses plain language. It took me a while to acclimatize to the "thees" and "thous" and I felt distanced from the flow of the story. Still in all, it was imperative that plain language be used, else the truth in the novel would go right out the window! By the end of the book I was simply swept away by the story.

Although this is a historical novel, set in 1888, many modern societal issues can be found here including postpartum depression and bipolar disorder. Maxwell is able to shed light on these oft shunned subject. The mystery here is as complex as its characters; multilayered, multifaceted, written with both subtle nuances and broad brushstrokes. DELIVERING THE TRUTH requires a degree of diligence, but the rewards and satisfaction it gives readers is well worth any effort expended.

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  1. I have never read a historical cozy. Just added this to my TBR list.

  2. I was intrigued from the start but now I really must bump this up on my tbr list.
    I genally love old recipes but...yikes! Not that one!

  3. I'm looking forward to read "Delivering the Truth". This sounds like a very interesting book. I enjoy reading historical books because I like to learn how people lived back then.

  4. Thank you Kathy for being on the blog tour and offering up the chance to win Edith's newest!

  5. What a fascinating post. And after reading your short story I can't wait to read this book. I have a copy of The Delineator Cookbook from the 1920's. Love browsing, and finally learned that The Delineator was a magazine of the time. Thanks for the giveaway.

  6. Looks like a lot of interesting facts and fun!