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:

History, Fantasy, Mystery- why can’t you have it all? Barbara Barnett

As I’ve said before, what qualifies as historical fiction is open to debate. For some writers it’s slavish devotion to the facts. For others it’s a setting that opens up room for the thousand “what ifs?” that make a great story. In the case of Barbara Barnett it’s kind of all of the above. Her newest book, The Apothecary’s Curse checks the “all of the above” box.

Barbara Barnett
Barbara Barnett

So Barbara, is a busy, busy girl….

She is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics Magazine, 
( an online magazine of pop culture, politics and more, She has published more than 1,000 in-depth interviews with writers, actors and producers, as well as essays and criticism. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras: THE Unofficial Guide to House, M.D. is a critically-acclaimed and quintessential guide to the hit show. She is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA’s HalloWEEM convention (author’s note… Cool. Also, showoff!), where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as “The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture,” “The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes,” “The Hidden History of Science Fiction,” and “Our Passion for Disaster (Movies).” This autumn, she will reprise her MENSA appearance with “The Conan Doyle Conundrum.” She is a member of SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association), and is current president of the Midwest Writers Association.

So give us the Readers Digest version, what’s the book about?

History meets fantasy meets science meets Arthur Conan Doyle.  The Apothecary’s Curse weaves Celtic mythology, the science of genetics, alchemy, life in early Victorian London, and the world of Arthur Conan Doyle into a historical fantasy-mystery, steeped in an apothecary’s cauldron.

The Apothecary’s Curse moves between early Victorian medical society (and the dregs of London’s worst neighborhoods) and a modern North Shore Chicago community, as a gentleman physician an enigmatic apothecary try to prevent a pharmaceutical company from exploiting an ancient book of healing that made them immortal centuries ago.

There’s a lot going on there, and purists might cringe a bit (screw’em). What inspired the story?

History, fantasy, mystery all merge in The Apothecary's Curse.
History, fantasy, mystery all merge in The Apothecary’s Curse.
I’ve always been fascinated by British history, especially where the lines between legend and reality blur. So many of the supernatural ballads of the British Isles seem to have the grain within them of real history, like the story of  Thomas the Rhymer, a real Scottish Laird and confederate of William Wallace who’d been (according to the legend) abducted by the queen of Elfland to be returned with the gift of prophecy and then some. I explored a few “what ifs” with the myth of the man, connecting him with the Tuatha de Danann—again a real people of the 12th Century, who were said to have magical healing powers, so much so that they became to the Irish, Celtic deities.
I brought into the early Victorian era another period that fascinates me; the story of Thomas’s descendent, a brilliant apothecary and the inheritor of Airmid’s (the Celtic goddess of healing) magnificent book. But use of the book, with its powerful medicine, has rendered my poor apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune with curse of immortality.  It is in Victorian London, in the squalid neighborhood of Smithfield Market that my apothecary meets gentleman physician Dr. Simon Bell (a relation of Joseph Bell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical mentor), It is here that 19th Century British medicine as practiced by gentleman clashes with the practical, earthier medicine of the brilliant Erceldoune.
Without giving the game away, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

It takes place in Bedlam in 1842. Simon is seeking insight into his own mortality when he learns of a prisoner in the infamous asylum who, like him, seems to be indestructible (at least physically). Arranging to see this prisoner, who has for five years been tortured and has been the subject of medical experimentation by a proto-Mengele figure—a “mad” doctor, Simon discovers that it is Gaelan, who had supposedly been executed five years earlier at Newgate Prison for murder.

The reunion, fraught with tension and bad feelings is a pivotal moment in the novel. (I can’t say more than that without spoilers 🙂 )

Fair enough. Now that we’ve baited the hook, where can people find your work?

The Apothecary’s Curse will be available October 11 at most online and brick and Mortar bookstores. Here are the pre-order and information links. City Lit Books in Logan Square is hosting a launch party of the book on October 20. If readers are interested in receiving an invitation, they can email me at


Goodreads page:

Amazon page:



19th Century Scottish Mysteries with Lexie Conyngham

One of the beauties of historical fiction is finding yourself in a different time and place and totally making yourself to home. Just like in life, that rarely involves huge battles and famous people, sometimes you’d just like to live in a time when people don’t tread across your yard staring at their phones while looking for invisible creatures. A good writer can make you feel at home anywhere, even in a Scotland older than Sean Connery.

Lexie Conyngham, What’s the deal on you and the Letho of Murray series?

A very old photograph of Lexie Conyngham, apparently
A very old photograph of Lexie Conyngham, apparently

I’m a historian living North East Scotland, in the shadow of the Highlands. My Murray of Letho novels are born of a life amidst Scotland’s old cities and universities and hidden-away aristocratic estates, but I’ve been writing since the day I found out that people were allowed to do such a thing.

Beyond teaching and research, my days are spent with wool, wild allotments and a wee bit of whisky – and I’m fitting this interview in after a morning baking multiple batches of muffins for a church sale! (Editor’s note… that may be the single most Scottish sentence written since Robbie Burns declined killing that mouse.)

In a nutshell, what’s Death in a Scarlet Gown about?

It’s set in 1802. St. Andrews in Fife, an ancient Scottish university, is
wracked by murder. A vindictive professor, an uncouth student, and a man seeking ministry lie dead, but who wanted to kill them? Charles Murray, a student with enough problems of his own, is drawn into the mystery, where neither innocuous accidents nor good friends are all they seem. Death in a Scarlet Gown is the first in the Murray of Letho series, set in Georgian Scotland.

As a graduate of St. Andrews myself, I loved going back through the history of
that little grey town by the cold North Sea which its alumni miss so much.
Though the university is much bigger now, the centre of the town has not really
changed much in two hundred years! The later books are mostly set in Edinburgh and other parts of Fife, and in one case my hero heads off for India, but in the next Murray book I hope once again to return to St. Andrews (which of course is an excuse for  a ‘research’ visit).

Whatever you have to tell yourself, Lexie. What is it about this time period that fascinates you?

I was living in Edinburgh when I first started to write the series, and working
in Edinburgh’s New Town which is a Georgian architectural wonderland. I’d had a Georgian dolls’ house when I was a teenager for which I tried to make furniture, and the styles and fashions had always fascinated me. When I started to look into the people of the period I was hooked: think somewhere between Jane Austen, Walter Scott and (the much-later of course) Dorothy L. Sayers for culture and manners. There was so much going on, too: the Napoleonic Wars, the aftermath of the Jacobites, massive advances in science and medicine, the British involvement in India, the madness of King George III: there’s almost too much!
Without spoilers, what’s one of your favorite scenes in the  book?

About halfway through there’s a nice little fist fight, which like all

Death in a Scarlet Gown is the latest in the Murray of Letho series.
Death in a Scarlet Gown is part of  the  the Murray of Letho series.

unprofessional fist fights does not go smoothly. Writing action scenes doesn’t
come naturally to me, and I greatly admire those who can convey the detail of a
fight without losing the force of the action, but I think this one went quite
well in the end. Though the conflict is based on a massive misunderstanding, it
says a good deal about the characters involved without much in the way of
dialogue, and is, I hope, also quite funny, though I don’t generally do much
slapstick! I prefer one-liners. There’s one terribly sad scene, too, and while I
was quite pleased with it, it is too sad to be a favourite. It still makes me

Where can people find you and the Murray of Letho series?

Where can people find you and your book (links to Amazon page, Goodreads,
Twitter, Blog whatever)
You can find the books on Amazon

on Smashwords:

and on Kobo:

I have pages on Goodreads and Facebook:

Find my blog at, and there’s a Pinterest page
for each book in the series, too: