Chicago History and Mystery with Michelle Cox

One of the things I love about living in Chicago is the insane pride people take in the history of this city. Not just the big things; the fire, Capone, blues music, but the growth of the town from lonely fur outpost to whatever it is today (Carnage Central, Hub of the Midwest, the City that Works… pick one.)

Today’s author, Michelle Cox, writes romance mysteries set in Depression-era Chicago.

So, Michelle, what’s your deal?

Hi, Wayne!  I write the Henrietta and Inspector Clive series, the first installment of which, A Girl Like You, debuted last April.  Book two of the series, A Ring of Truth, is publishing in April.  Besides working on the manuscripts for the series (I’m currently toiling over book four!), I also write a weekly blog about Chicago’s forgotten residents, entitled “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” and another blog that pokes fun at the publishing industry called “How to Get Your Book Published in 7,000 Easy Steps – A Practical Guide,” both of which can be found on my website.  I live in the Chicago suburbs with my Liverpudlian husband and three kids.  Oh, yeah, and I have a BA in literature from Mundelein College in Chicago, if that matters to anyone!

I’ll swap you that for my Associates Degree from BCIT any day. What’s your series about?

A Girl Like You is the start of a historical fiction series, set during the Depression era in Chicago.  It’s a mystery, really, but there’s a pretty strong romance thread running through it, too.

Essentially it’s about a young woman, Henrietta Von Harmon, who has to provide for her mother and siblings when her father kills himself after losing his job due to the Depression.  The book starts off with her working as a 26-girl at the local tavern.  She’s not making enough, though, so she is persuaded by a friend to become a taxi-dancer at one of the big dance halls.

Not long after she starts there, however, the floor matron is murdered, and an investigation led by the aloof Detective Inspector Clive Howard begins.  Impressed by Henrietta’s beauty, Inspector Howard convinces her to go undercover for him as an usherette in a burlesque house, where he suspects the killer is lurking, all the while not realizing that Henrietta is much younger and more innocent than she pretends.

Henrietta quickly gets absorbed into the seediness of the place, meeting all sorts of strange characters, as she attempts to discover the secret behind the “white feather club,” which she believes is connected somehow to the murder and the disappearance of young women.  So that’s the mystery part.

Meanwhile there’s a little bit of comic relief in the character of Stanley Dubowski, the love-struck neighborhood boy who thinks of himself as Henrietta’s protector and continues to follow her around, annoyingly popping up at rather inconvenient moments.  Not only is he worried about Henrietta working at such a dangerous place, but he’s threatened by what he sees as a growing attraction between the Inspector and Henrietta.  And that’s, of course, where the romance part comes in, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

What’s your fascination with that time period in Chicago?

I’ve always been very drawn to the ‘30’s and ‘40’s—the music, the clothes, the cars, the Great Depression, the wars.  People lived through so much in such a short period of time and there’s so much there to write about – drama, intrigue, romance—you’ve got it all!

In the early 1990’s I found myself working at a nursing home on Chicago’s NW side, and I heard literally hundreds of these types of stories from that era.  So when I decided to write a book, I actually picked out one woman’s story, let’s call her Adeline, and used some of the details of her life to create the character of Henrietta.  There are many parts of the book, then, that are actually true:  Henrietta’s extreme beauty, all of the strange jobs she procures, the family history of the Von Harmons, the character of Stanley, and, believe it or not, the lesbian characters that befriend her at the burlesque house.

Of course, I had to fictionalize most of the book, including the murder mystery and all of the other characters, but it gave me a great foundation to start with.  Adeline was quite a character, and she used to follow me around the nursing home, telling me – frequently – that once upon a time, she had had “a man-stopping body and a personality to go with it!”  That’s classic!  So I tried very hard to capture that same spunky spirit and give it to Henrietta.

I know you love all your children equally, but do you have a favorite scene in the book?

There’s so much going on in Chapter 7.  We’ve got a little comedy with Stan roughly being escorted out of an abandoned apartment, the building suspense of the mystery as Henrietta and Clive discuss certain chilling aspects of the case, followed by an unexpected scene of domesticity as Clive sits quietly musing and watching Henrietta sew.  He takes the opportunity to ask her more about her sad story, and they both become a little more vulnerable.  This naturally lends itself then to a sort of sexual/romantic tension as they realize that they’re alone in an empty apartment without a chaperone.  Clive is obviously attracted to her, but it torments him, as he sees himself at thirty-five years of age as being much too old for this young girl of eighteen.  Henrietta, for her part, is also attracted to this older man, whom she possibly sees as a father figure, but doesn’t believe anyone so good as the inspector would ever be interested in “a girl like her.”

So as you can see, there’s lots of drama and intrigue and romance going on in this scene, and it’s deliciously fun to see what unfolds, not just in this chapter, but the whole book, if I do say so myself!

Anything you want to say to the giant throng of people reading this?

I hope you’ll check out the next book of the series, A Ring of Truth, due out in April!  It picks up right where the first book ends.  You can read more about it (including the whole first chapter!) on my website:

You can also connect with me on Facebook: or Twitter:

Troy Kechely- A Man, A Dog and The Great Depression

Historical fiction takes many forms. In this case, the story of a dog on a ranch in 1930s Montana

When I think of Historical Fiction, a couple of things come to mind. The first, are great events in history and epic time periods. Second, I think about tales of great passion: war, or romance, (and whether those are the same or different, you may discuss among yourselves) but they paint with a broad brush. Yet there are quieter stories as well. Troy Kechely has taken a fascinating period of American history (The Depression of the 1930s) and a great setting (the mountains of Montana) for an intimate story of a man and the healing powers of a dog and brought them together in Strangers’s Dance


Okay, so what’s the Troy Kechely story?

Most people  like to use the word ‘complex’ to describe me.  This is because how I came to be who I am is not a simple tale but I’ll summarize as best I can.  I was conceived out of wedlock to a young woman in Elmira, New York.  She left the U.S. to study for a semester in West Berlin, Germany (yes back in the cold war days).  She was unaware that she had a stowaway but learned quickly after arriving.  While carrying me she looked into having an abortion but was turned down because it was illegal after a certain stage of  pregnancy.  She instead chose to put me up for adoption by a U.S. Army officer and his wife who were stationed in Germany.  So by God’s grace I grew up not in upstate New York or Germany but on a ranch at the base of the Continental Divide west of Helena, Montana.  Something I am very thankful for. 

Troy and one of his rottweilers, Bradum
Troy and one of his rottweilers, Bradum

My day job is  a CAD manager for an engineering firm.  On the side I’m a canine behavior instructor and author as well as the founder and current board member for a non-profit rescue group dedicated to finding loving homes for Rottweiler’s.  What sets me apart from some is that I have no college degree and only nine fingers after an accident four years ago. This resulted in me having to relearn typing so Stranger’s Dance was a big test for me and my editor.  

Sounds like that’s a pretty good story waiting to be told. What about Stranger’s Dance?

In 1930s Montana, no one kept dogs as pets.  Unless a dog happened to be a darn good herder and happened to wash up on a sheep ranch, dogs were pests.  Chicken killers that ought to be shot. 

Who could afford to give scraps to a stray?  The high ranchlands were spared the worst of the Dust Bowl, but most families still had to take work off the ranch to make ends meet.  That’s why Frank Redmond carved tombstones on the side.  Even with such work—both lucrative and in steady supply—he and his small family struggled to keep up with their loans.  Frank was ready to call it quits, walk away from the ranch, his wife, his father, the creditors.  Then the dog showed up. 

Stranger’s Dance is a novel about death and infidelity and how people learn to strike truce in the presence of hard things.  That stray dog, the one Frank wanted to shoot, eventually endears himself to Frank’s father, then to his wife, and slowly to Frank.  Over time, the land and its creatures bind the frayed human relationships.

What is it about this story that intrigued you?

Our world is so full of technology and distraction, the simplicity of rural ranch life in that era appeals to me.  Having grown up in the region and on a working ranch I know how hard it can be to keep a ranch running and the idea of doing the same work but without the luxury of tractors and electricity made it a good setting for the story. It allowed me to focus on true life struggles that people faced every day. Unlike now where we worry about our WiFi connection, people in that time often lived hand-to-mouth.  Given that animals were rarely viewed as pets but as coworkers or pests to be shot, the involvement of a dog in that struggle allowed for a unique perspective and window to that time.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to interview people who were alive back then and living at the location of where my book was set so I got firsthand knowledge of what it was really like. This definitely helped with solidifying my decision on the time and location of the story.

Not to make this about me, but I had a farm dog, Rover, get shot for sucking eggs when I was a kid, so I know what you mean. Where can folks learn more about you and your writing, as well as your work with dogs?

The best place is my website:

You can find me on  Goodreads

or on Amazon

And on Facebook