Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I'm tired of looking at that Penguin Twitter giveaway post, but the plotting of Who Buries the Dead is giving me fits and I can't focus enough to write anything coherent, so... Here's Whiskies!

Whiskies is one of a litter born three years ago to a pregnant stray rescued by my daughter. The mama cat evidently decided she was too malnourished to support all of her kittens and was going to let one die. The chosen sacrifice was Whiskies. By the time my daughter (sitting beside the laboring cat in the backseat of a car barreling down the I 10) realized what was happening and tore open the membranes, Whiskies was suffering from oxygen deprivation. In other words, this is one retarded cat. Sweet, but dumb, dumb, dumb.

Now, you might think, how smart does a cat need to be? Well, he needs to know that it is not sufficient to stick his head over the poop box. His failure to grasp this concept has earned him a place on our screened-in porch with another cat suffering from "improper elimination issues" (as our vet calls it).

And yes, I know he's obese; unfortunately, also affected by the lack of oxygen was the part of the brain that should tell Whiskies to stop eating. And since his fellow improper-elimination-issue screened-in porch resident is a geriatric female, we really can't restrict his food. So he just keeps getting fatter.

I've come to the conclusion every cat should have access to a screened-in porch; they love watching the bugs and birds, and smelling all those lovely smells, and the birds and lizards love being safe from pounces (not that Whiskies could catch anything even if he wanted to). Their life is not hard; Steve and I both try to spend time out there with them every day; they have heated cat houses and cooling pads and bamboo shades, and if the weather gets really nasty, they come inside...all of which is probably more than you ever wanted to know.

So if my daughter is the one who rescued the cats, how is it that I ended up with the retarded one? Isn't that what mothers are for?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Penguin Giveaway on Twitter

Penguin is doing a Twitter giveaway today, March 22, between 10 AM EST and 3 PM EST on (at?) @penguincozies. There will be three winners, with winners given a choice between a copy of WHEN MAIDENS MOURN or WHAT DARKNESS BRINGS.

Personally, I have a hard enough time doing Facebook; Twittering (or is it Tweeting?) is beyond me. But if you're on Twitter, be sure to head on over there!

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Here's the cover for the audio version of What Darkness Brings; I always find it interesting to see the different decisions made by different art departments. Davina Porter is once again the narrator.

I understand Recorded Books has plans to go back and produce all of the earlier books in the series that have not yet been done as audio books, although they will be releasing them slowly.

Update: I just looked at the covers for the audio versions of Where Shadows Dance and When Maidens Mourn; notice an interesting progression?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

House of Cards

It's that time of year again--when I'm plotting a book, and our dining room table disappears under lines of index cards. My technique is always evolving, but generally involves some combination of color-coded cards and flags. The yellow cards across the top are labeled "Part One" through "Part Eight," since when I'm plotting I find it helpful to divide the book roughly into 50 page chunks. If you see the line of cards closest to the camera, you'll realize that I have the ending of the book plotted out already, along with the beginning; now I'm working out where things will fall in the middle.

The working title of this book--which will be number 10 in the series--is WHO BURIES THE DEAD, and I may actually get to keep that one since my editor has already told me she likes it.

And yes, that is a coffee cup sitting there; my attempt last year to give up caffeine did not work!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Kirkus Reviews occupies a special niche in the publishing world. They're known for flaying authors unmercifully, for being cantankerous and curmudgeonly, but also for being that rare, lone voice that will dare to say the emperor has no clothes. A lot of authors cheered when the publication almost went under three years ago, but I've always liked Kirkus, perhaps because they gave When Gods Die a star (a starred Kirkus review is truly a rare thing). Their reviews often make me laugh out loud--even when they make me wince. So here it is:

Napoleon and Prinny, England’s Prince Regent, both lust after a 45-carat blue diamond.

After Daniel Eisler, a gem merchant with a fascination for the occult and a sideline in blackmail, is shot dead in his untidy house, magistrate Bertram Leigh-Jones catches Russell Yates, a homosexual profligate, standing over the deceased and whisks him off to Newgate to await trial. Sebastian St. Cyr, still devoted to his first love, Kat, now in a marriage of convenience with Yates, steps in to prove him innocent. This noble decision not only endangers his own pregnant wife, Hero, but pits him against her father, Lord Jarvis, half the cutthroats skulking around Haymarket, and certain French agents Napoleon sent across the channel in pursuit of a diamond looted from the French crown jewels during the Revolution and thought to have been in Eisler’s possession. Was Eisler killed to retrieve the magnificent blue diamond? Was he slain by someone so in debt to him he had to let Eisler debauch his wife as partial repayment? Or did the Prince Regent himself target Eisler to reclaim the diamond that had been pawned by his loathed wife, Caroline? Jenny, a doxy who was hiding in a priest’s hole during Eisler’s demise, knows whodunit. But can Sebastian locate and save her from assassination and Yates from the gallows before it’s too late?

A lively foray into early-19th-century politics, treacheries and moral indiscretions, though fans of the series (When Maidens Mourn, 2012, etc.) will lament Hero’s relegation to a back seat this time around.

from Kirkus Reviews.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Sebastian and Hero's London: St. Botolph-Algate and the Minories

The first murder in What Darkness Brings takes place in an ancient lane just off the Minories in St. Botolph-Aldgete. So where exactly is that?

St. Botolph-Aldgate was a long, thin, irregularly shaped parish stretching from the Thames and the Tower of London, in the south, up to Houndsditch in the north. In Sebastian's day, it was peculiar in that it straddled the boundary between the City of London and Middlesex, which created all sorts of administrative issues we don't need to worry about. A densely populated, poverty-stricken area of London, it was home to a few rich and middle class people and a lot of laboring poor involved mainly in food provisioning, warehousing, craftwork, and a variety of trades connected with the river. Whitechapel Road and Ratcliff Highway ran through it; this is also the site of Rosemary Lane, where Sebastian buys the old clothes he uses in his disguises. Here's a rough map that will hopefully help orientate you; it's hand drawn because I don't want to fall afoul of anyone's copyright. If you click on it, a larger image will come up which will be easier to see.

The Minories is the major street running from the Tower up to Whitechapel. Its name comes from the Abbey of the Minoress of St. Mary of the Order of St. Clare, which was dissolved by good old Henry VIII back in the 16th century. The chapel of the former abbey became the parish church of Holy Trinity, while some of the old abbey buildings were used as an armory for the Tower. The area escaped the Great Fire of London, but most of the abbey's surviving buildings had to be torn down after a 1797 fire hit the area between Church and Haydon Streets. Also late in the 18th century, the East India Company started tearing down great swaths of old buildings in this area to make room for their vast warehouses.

"Fountain Lane" is my own invention, although the name is a hat tip to an ancient inn in the area called "the Old Fountain," demolished in 1793. The church of the Holy Trinity was eventually decommissioned, then destroyed in World War II; the street known as the Minories is still there, but Sebastian would never recognize it today. Pay attention to the area to the east of the Tower called St. Katherine's; this will be the site of the murder that opens book #9, Why Kings Confess.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Pub Day! WHAT DARKNESS BRINGS Hits the Shelves

Today is the official publication day of What Darkness Brings, the eighth in the Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series. I'll be spending the day wrestling with the plot for book #10, which at this point involves the head of Charles I and a certain authoress visiting London for the publication of her second novel.

Those of you who've finished the book, feel free to use the comments section as an open thread to discuss it; those who haven't read it yet should probably avoid the comments section in case of spoilers!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

WHAT DARKNESS BRINGS Coming Tuesday, March 5th!

What Darkness Brings, the eighth book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, will be released this Tuesday. I thought you might like a sneak peek at the first chapter, so here it is....

Chapter 1

London: Sunday, 20 September 1812

The man was so old his face sagged in crinkly sallow folds and Jenny could see pink scalp through the thin white hair plastered by sweat to his head.

“The irony is delicious; don’t you agree?” he said as he slid a big, multi-faceted piece of blue glass down between the swells of her breasts. The glass felt smooth and cool against her bare skin, but his fingers were as bone-thin and cold as a corpse’s.

She forced herself to lie still even though she wanted desperately to squirm away. She might be only seventeen, but Jenny Davie had been in this business for almost five years. She knew how to keep a smile plastered on her face when inside her guts roiled with revulsion and an exasperated urge to say, Can’t we just get this over with?

“Think about it. ” He blinked, and she noticed he had no lashes fringing his small sunken eyes, and that his teeth were so long and yellow they made her think of the ratty mule that pulled the dustman’s cart. He said, “Once, this diamond graced the crowns of kings and nestled in the silken bosom of a queen. And now here it lies…on the somewhat grubby breasts of a cheap London whore.”

“Go on wit’ you,” she scoffed, squinting down at the pretty glass. “Jist because I’m a whore don’t mean I’m stupid. That ain’t no diamond. It’s blue. And it’s bigger than a bloody peach pit.”

“Much bigger than a peach pit,” agreed the old man as the glass caught the flickering light from a nearby brace of candles and glowed as if with an inner fire. His dark eyes gleamed, and Jenny found herself wondering what he needed a whore for, since he seemed more excited by his big chunk of blue glass than he was by her. “They say that, once, this stone formed the third eye of a heathen—”

He broke off, his head coming up as a loud pounding sounded at the distant front door.

Before she could stop herself, Jenny jerked. She was lying on her back on a dusty, scratchy horsehair sofa in the cavernous, decrepit parlor of the old man’s house. Most men took their whores in the back rooms of coffeehouses or in one of the city’s numerous accommodation houses. But not this man. He always had his whores brought here, to his spooky, cobweb-draped old mansion in St. Botolph-Aldgate. And he didn’t take them upstairs either, but did his business here, on the couch—which suited Jenny just fine, since she never liked being too far from a way out of trouble.

He muttered something under his breath she didn’t understand, although from the way he said it she figured it was some kind of curse. Then he said, “He wasn’t supposed to be here this early.”

He reared up, straightening his clothes. He’d had her strip down to her stockings and shift, which he’d untied so that it gaped open nearly to her waist. But he hadn’t taken off any of his own clothes, not even his fusty, old-fashioned coat or shoes. He glanced around, the blue chunk of glass held tight in one fist. “Here,” he said, gathering her stays, petticoat, and dress, and shoving them into her arms. “Take these and get in—”

The knocking sounded again, louder this time, as she slid off the couch with her crumpled clothing clutched to her chest. “I can leave—”

“No.” He moved toward the looming old-fashioned chimneypiece that stood at one end of the room. It was a fantastical thing of smoke-darkened wood carved into tiers of columns with swags of fruit and nuts and even animals. “This won’t take long.” He pressed something in the carving, and Jenny blinked as a portion of the nearby paneling slid open. “Get in here.”

She found herself peering into a dark cubbyhole some six or eight feet square, empty except for an old basket and a couple of ironbound trunks lined against one wall. “In there? But—”

His hand closed around her bare upper arm tight enough that she squealed, “Ow!”

“Just shut up and get in there. If you let out a peep, you won’t get paid. And if you touch anything, I’ll break your neck. Understood?”

She supposed he saw the answer—or maybe her fear—in her face, because he didn’t wait for her reply but thrust her into the little room and slid the panel closed. Whirling around, she heard a latch click as a thick blackness swallowed her. She choked down a scream.

The air in here was musty and old smelling, like the man and the rest of his house, only nastier. It was so dark she wondered how the blazes he thought she was going to steal something when she couldn’t see anything but a tiny pinprick of light about level with her head. She went to press one eye against the speck of light and realized it was a peephole, contrived to give a pretty good view of the room beyond. She watched as he nestled his pretty piece of glass inside a velvet-lined red leather box. Then he shoved the box in the drawer of a nearby console and yelled, “I’m coming, I’m coming,” as the knocking at the front door sounded again.

Jenny took a deep, shaky breath. She’d heard about hidden cupboards like this, in old houses. Priests’ holes, they called them. They had something to do with Papists and such, although she’d never quite understood what it was all about. She wondered what would happen to her if the old goat never came back to release her. And then she wished she hadn’t wondered that, because it made the walls seem to press in on her, and the blackness became so thick and heavy it felt as if it were stealing her breath and sucking the life out of her. She leaned her forehead against the wooden panel and tried to breathe in sucking little pants. She told herself that if Papists used to hide their priests in these cubbyholes, then they must have contrived a way for the panel to be opened from inside. She began feeling around for the catch, then froze when she realized the voices from the front hall were coming closer.

Pressing her eye to the peephole again, she watched as the nasty old codger backed into the room. He had his hands raised funny, sort of up and out to the side, like a body trying to ward off a ghost or something. Then she saw the pistol in the hands of the old man’s visitor, and she understood.

The old cove was talking fast now. Jenny held herself very still, although her heart thumped in her chest and her breath came so hard and fast it was a wonder they couldn’t hear it.

Then she heard a new pounding on the front door and someone shouting. The visitor holding the gun jerked around, distracted, and the old goat lunged.

The gun went off, belching flame and pungent smoke. The old man staggered back. Crumpled.

Jenny felt a hot stinging gush run down her legs and realized she’d just wet herself.