Murder on the Minneapolis by Anita Davison


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Murder on the Minneapolis – the Flora Maguire Mysteries by Anita Davison

I often read how most writers, even established ones, find it hard to change genre. For historical fiction authors this is especially challenging. How difficult is it to switch your author voice into that of another time in history?

Once, I couldn’t imagine writing about anything but 17th Century England. I immersed myself in the history, the clothes, habits, manners and sometimes even the speech of how the court went about its daily business. How they moved from place to place, what they ate, the subjects they talked about over the dinner table and how they functioned in society.

Unfortunately for me, the English Civil War is not the most popular era for historical novel readers, so I decided to try and attract a wider readership and move into a genre I enjoy reading myself –historical cosy mysteries. A sort of Edwardian and much younger Miss Marple.

For inspiration, I trawled through Newspaper reports between 1890 and 1900 in search of atmosphere, current politics and events – you can glean a great deal from newspaper advertisements too, when quite by accident I came across an article published in the New York Times dated December 1899 on which I could base my story.

I then found a fascinating website The Atlantic Transport Line which contained a wealth of information on steamships of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. I chose the SS Minneapolis, an American registered trans-Atlantic steamship whose maiden voyage left New York for London in March 1900.

I found the more I read about the age of ‘Belle Époque’ , the more fascinated I became. Unlike the 17th Century, photographs, maps and even videos exist for this era showing exactly what buildings and streets actually looked like.

When ‘Murder on the Minneapolis’ was accepted for publication, I was asked to reduce the manuscript by several thousand words. I soon discovered that reducing the word count of a story that holds, clues, red-herrings and false trails throughout the manuscript, is incredibly difficult!

Characters tell each other things in the wrong order, recognise people they have not yet met and reveal stuff they shouldn’t know – fortunately my lovely editor pointed the glaring errors I made so I was able to put them right.

Next time – if there is one – I’ll write a shorter story.

I won’t reproduce the newspaper report here, as that would reveal too many clues, however one coincidence I can mention, is that during the WW1 Centenary celebrations this summer, I visited the Tower of London Poppy Installation. Inspired, I decided to delve into fragmented family records including my grandfather’s service record.

Amongst the snippets of information, was one saying that his regiment were sent to France in October 1914 and fought at Ypres. The ship was the SS Minneapolis – something of which I was completely unaware when looking for a steamship on which to base my murder mystery. Cue the ‘Twilight Zone’ music, and for anyone born after 1980, I don’t mean the vampire movie.

Anita’s Blog 

The Atlantic Transport Line 

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Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey



Floats the Dark Shadow had a long gestation.  I tried writing a different Belle Époque novel for about a year. I had a heroine I liked and kept telling her she was an artist.  As an artist myself, I knew I could bring Paris of that era to life through my heroine’s eyes. But this character kept telling me she was a journalist. My perfectly serviceable murder plot wouldn’t take off and my characters wandered around aimlessly.  Writing about that era was what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t working.

Thrashing about, I asked myself what else I could do, and I remembered an earlier fascination with Gilles de Rais because of the extremes of his life – the inspiration that Jeanne d’Arc could at least be presumed to have been, followed by the descent into bestial cruelty dressed up in cloth of gold. But I really didn’t want to write about that period. Then my brain went Copy Cat!  Everything fell into place like dominoes.

The former hero and heroine became secondary characters, then vanished. I needed a cop and still wanted my artist heroine. I’d started a romance that was essentially La Femme Nikita in Elizabethan England. I took those characters but had to find new lives for them because they weren’t in thrall to Walsingham’s spy system. I wanted a conflicted hero who was shut down on some level and saw that his history was woven with the Commune. While she’s lived rough and tumble for a while, Theo has a certain inherent innocence and optimism that made a great counterpoint to the fin-de-siècle European sensibilities of the other characters. And as for the villain – Gilles de Rais, though he could be totally crass and brutal, he could also be an artist of evil, staging his murders, staging his whole life, which made him the perfect inspiration for my killer.  I brought on my suspects—an absinthe addicted poet, a failed priest, an anarchist and an aristocrat, a sadistic doctor and a Satanist.  And so my novel came to life.

Floats the Dark Shadow was published by a small San Francisco Press, BearCat.  Several of BearCat’s publications were up for Indie awards and Floats the Dark Shadow won four Indies in mystery and history, including a Silver Ippy in the Best Mystery of the Year category.

Yves Fey ‘s website 

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