Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Joys of Researching the Gilded Age - Guest Post & Giveaway

I'm pleased to welcome R.J. Koreto to Cozy Up With Kathy today. R.J. writes the Alice Roosevelt Mystery series. THE BODY IN THE BALLROOM is the second book in the series and was released last month.

The Joys of Researching the Gilded Age
 by  R.J. Koreto

Fun Fact: It is widely believed that the Manhattan Cocktail was invented in the late 19th century by Jennie Jerome—the American-born mother of Winston Churchill. Her first cousin was William Jerome, the Manhattan District attorney who later prosecuted the deeply disturbed millionaire Harry Thaw. In the most famous crime of the day, Thaw murdered architect Stanford White for having an affair with Thaw's young wife, the stunningly beautiful Evelyn Nesbit. Mr. Jerome has a cameo in "The Body in the Ballroom." He was a leading Republican figure, like Theodore Roosevelt, father of my protagonist, Alice Roosevelt. In my book, Alice visits a reporter at the New York Herald Building, a Gilded Age gem--designed by Stanford White!

This is my fifth turn-of-the-century historical mystery, and researching these books sends me along wonderful journeys like above. I stop writing to look up one item, and the next thing you know, I've spent an hour along byways of Gilded Age New York, or Edwardian London. I send my sleuths into a taxi in 1902 New York—yes, there were motorized taxis, but they were mostly electric, not gas. Could New Yorkers make phone calls—absolutely, but there was no dial; they had to go through an operator.

I had to figure out where my sleuths, the outrageous Alice Roosevelt and her wry bodyguard, ex-Rough Rider Joseph St. Clair, would send the culprits they caught. Manhattan's city jail is called the "Tombs." Did that term go back to their day? Yes—the original "Tombs" got the name from the 19th-century Egyptian Revival style of the first building on the site. It’s long forgotten, but the name lingers on. (Apparently no one really missed it—Charles Dickens, during an American tour, wrote how much he disliked it.)

In another chapter, Alice and St. Clair track a suspect to a church. What kind of church? New York was home to residents of all kinds of religions. The Catholic community had already built its magnificent St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was of particular interest to the city's large Irish population. But New York also had a fair number of African-American Catholics, and they had their own church named St. Benedict the Moor, after an early African saint.

I was raised in New York and I don't remember a time when I wasn't eating a wide variety of foods from the many immigrant groups that came into New York. When did these various foods arrive in New York, so my characters could enjoy them? It was fun to send Alice and St. Clair to a Lower East Side restaurant where they discover an exotically delicious preserved meat called pastrami. Alice also delights in a potato snack popular in Jewish neighborhoods, called a knish. They were still new in New York. In my previous Alice book, "Alice and the Assassin," St. Clair embarrasses Alice when he tries to dig in to a feast of Chinese food, but there is no cutlery in sight—just a pair of sticks.

But as much as I wanted to send Alice out for pizza, the first pizzeria in New York didn't open until 1905, several years after this book takes place.

Even shaving required research. Safety razors were still new; Mr. St. Clair probably took care of his own barbering needs with a straight-edge razor. (These aren't toys; a hipster friend of mine tried using one and nearly took his ear off.) But what if he wants to "dress to impress"? In the 19th century, rum from the Caribbean was distilled with leaves and berries of the West Indian bay tree for an early aftershave preparation called bay rum, still available today. Mr. St. Clair splashes some on in the final scene of my novel, and a jealous Alice Roosevelt deduces he is spending the evening romancing a special woman. Many things change—but not everything!


The Body in the Ballroom

by R.J. Koreto

on Tour July 1-31, 2018


President Teddy Roosevelt’s daring daughter, Alice, leaps into action to exonerate a friend accused of poisoning a man just about everyone hated.
Alice Roosevelt, the brilliant, danger-loving daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, has already risked an assassin’s bullet to solve one murder. She never expected to have to sleuth another, but she’d never pass up the opportunity, either. Anything to stave off boredom.
And such an opportunity presents itself when Alice is invited to a lavish ball. The high-society guests are in high spirits as they imbibe the finest wines. But one man, detested by nearly all the partygoers, quaffs a decidedly deadlier cocktail. An African-American mechanic, who also happens to be a good friend of former Rough Rider-turned-Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, is suspected of the murder-by-poison, but Alice is sure he’s innocent and is back on the scene to clear his name.
From downtown betting parlors to uptown mansions, Alice and Agent St. Clair uncover forbidden romances and a financial deal that just might change the world. But neither Alice nor her would-be protector may survive the case at hand in The Body in the Ballroom, R. J. Koreto's gripping second Alice Roosevelt mystery.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: June 12th 2018
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 1683315774 (ISBN13: 9781683315773)
Series: Alice Roosevelt Mystery #2
Purchase Links: Amazon  | Barnes & Noble  | Goodreads 

Read an excerpt:

President Roosevelt and I were just finishing out talk when A moment later, the office door opened, and Mr. Wilkie, the Secret Service director, walked in. I stood to greet him.
“St. Clair. Glad to see you’re back. Very pleased with the way it went in St. Louis.” He turned to the president. “Have you spoken to him yet, sir?”
“Yes, and he’s agreed.” Wilkie looked relieved, too.
“Very good then. If you’re done, sir, I’ll take St. Clair to her. My understanding is that arrangements have been made for Miss Roosevelt to leave tomorrow afternoon.”
“Exactly. We’re all done then. St. Clair, thanks again. And I’ll be up in the near future, so I expect to see you again soon.” We shook hands, and I followed Mr. Wilkie out the door.
“Is she smoking on the roof again, sir?” I asked. That’s what happened the first time I met Alice in the White House.
He grimaced. “No. My understanding is that she is in the basement indulging a new hobby of hers. But you’ll see.” He led me downstairs, and that’s when I heard the unmistakable sounds of gunfire. Mr. Wilkie didn’t seem worried, however. “Miss Roosevelt somehow got hold of a pistol and has set up her own private firing range in a storage room. We launched an investigation to figure out how Miss Roosevelt obtained such a weapon but were unable to reach a formal conclusion, I’m sorry to say.”
No wonder they wanted me back.
And just as when Mr. Wilkie had sent me to get Alice off the roof, he once again cleaned his glasses on his handkerchief, shook my hand, wished me luck, and departed.
I heard one more shot, and that was it. She was probably reloading. The sound came from behind a double door at the end of the hallway. I carefully opened it, and she didn’t notice at first.
I watched her concentrating on the pistol, her tongue firmly between her teeth as she carefully focused on reloading. It was an old Smith & Wesson single-action, and she was damn lucky she hadn’t blown her own foot off. She was shooting at a mattress propped against the far wall, and from the wide scattering of holes, it was clear her marksmanship needed a lot of practice.
“A little more patience, Miss Alice. You’re jerking the trigger; that’s why you keep shooting wild. And that gun’s too big for you.”
It was a pleasure to see the look of shock and joy on her face. She just dropped the gun onto a box and practically skipped to me, giving me a girlish hug. “Mr. St. Clair, I have missed you.” She looked up. “And I know you have missed me. They say you’re back on duty with me. We’re heading to New York tomorrow, and we’ll have breakfast together like we used to and walk to the East Side through Central Park and visit your sister Mariah.”
I couldn’t do anything but laugh. “We’ll do all that, Miss Alice. But I’m on probation from your aunt, so we have to behave ourselves. You have to behave yourself.”
“I always behave.” She waved her hand to show that the discussion had ended. “Now there must be a trick to loading revolvers because it takes me forever.”
“I’ll teach you. Someday.” I made sure the revolver was unloaded and stuck it in my belt. Then I scooped up the cartridges and dumped them in my pocket.
“Hey, that’s my revolver,” said Alice. “It took me a lot of work to get it.”
“You’re not bringing it to New York, that’s for sure, Miss Alice.”
She pouted. “I thought you’d relax a little after being in St. Louis.”
“And I thought you’d grow up a little being in Washington. You want to walk into the Caledonia like a Wild West showgirl? Anyway, don’t you have some parties to go to up there?”
“Oh, very well. But promise me you’ll take me to a proper shooting range in New York and teach me how to load and fire your New Service revolver.”
“We’ll see. Meanwhile, if you don’t upset your family or Mr. Wilkie between now and our departure tomorrow, I’ll buy you a beer on the train.” That made her happy.
We walked upstairs as she filled me in on White House gossip.
“Oh, and I heard you were in a fast draw in St. Louis and gunned down four men.” She looked up at me curiously.
“A little exaggeration,” I said. I hadn’t killed anyone in St. Louis, hadn’t even fired my revolver, except for target practice.
“You didn’t kill anyone?” she asked, a little disappointed.
“No. No one.”
But then her face lit up. “Because your reputation proceeded you, and they knew there was no chance of outdrawing you.”
“That must be it,” I said.
“But look on the bright side,” she said, still full of cheer. “New York is a much bigger city. Maybe you’ll get a chance to shoot someone there.”
Excerpt from The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto. Copyright © 2018 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

R.J. Koreto has been fascinated by turn-of-the-century New York ever since listening to his grandfather's stories as a boy.
In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He’s a graduate of Vassar College, and like Alice Roosevelt, he was born and raised in New York.
He is the author of the Lady Frances Ffolkes and Alice Roosevelt mysteries. He has been published in both Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also published a book on practice management for financial professionals.
With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Catch Up With R.J. Koreto On: Website , Goodreads , Twitter , & Facebook !


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  1. Very interesting post...really enjoyed learning the research that went in to it.

  2. I do love reading about all the background information behind great series. This makes history come to life.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. I love learning about the little historical details!