The King lecture

Once upon a time there was a man born in India, educated in England, working in Africa, who was hired by a visiting American to help set up a new college and program at the newest jewel in the crown that is the University of California.

When Noel King came to Santa Cruz, most of the UCSC colleges were little more than architectural plans. It was the era of Flower Power, teach-ins, and self-actualization. Life Magazine came to record this peculiar manifestation of the taxpayer’s dollars for the wonder of readers in Dubuque and Amarillo, and included this wild-haired professor on the page.Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 9.23.47 AM

Noel taught undergraduates religion and history until he retired in the early 90s. When he died in 2009, his family—both blood and his university kin—began a series of Noel King lectures with a goal of maintaining the presence of religious studies on campus. The third such was particularly great, a panel of women crime writers talking about how they use religion in their work (slightly ironic, considering how fiction baffled Noel!)—the video of it is on my YouTube channel, here.

This year’s NQK Memorial Lecture will take place at 7:00 Thursday night at Merrill College, UCSC, the college Noel and his first wife helped to found. The topic is as dear to his heart as the venue: African Art and Religion, with Professor Elisabeth Cameron talking about how an artifact speaks of the religious truths of a people.

Come and join Noel’s wide-spread family in celebrating his life of ideas.NQKLecture

Me & Edgar & Agatha & friends

That shriek that rattled the country just before 10:00 pm EST was me reacting to the sound of my name from the podium at the Agatha Awards: Malice Domestic’s choice of Best Historical Mystery is Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King!


I was nominated for an Agatha once before (for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, in 1995) and the convention chose me as their Guest of Honor three years ago, but the award teapot (this convention, after all, focuses on the Traditional Mystery) eluded me until now.

Best of all, I got to sit at a table with the awards of three other friends on it: one each for my friends Barbara Peters and Rob Rosenwald, joint recipients of the Poirot award (for which I got to conduct the conference interview, which ranged over subjects from the state of modern publishing to whether or not they had the requisite RomCom “meet cute”–which, it turns out, they did, over accusations of cheating at cards)LRK, Barbara, Rob

…and also on the table was Margaret Maron’s Agatha for Contemporary Mystery (for the gorgeous 20th and—alas!—final Deborah Knott story, Long Upon the Land.) Here are three of the four of us winners:


In general, Malice Domestic is a really fun conference, casual and filled with dedicated book-lovers. I was pleased this year to hear that Good Friends Alice W. (who took a couple of these pictures) and Merrily T. would be going,LRK, Alice, Merrily

along with more-or-less locals like Bill M. and eminent Sherlockians Peter Blau and his wife Bev Wolov (a Smithsonian lace expert!)

My trip to DC came on the heels of a quick 36 hours in New York, during which I fit in dinner with friends, meetings with Picador (who do the stunning paperbacks of the early books) and Random House’s enthusiastic Team LRK, and the Edgars Awards banquet of the Mystery Writers of America. There I had the honor of giving the Ellery Queen Award (for work in the mystery-publishing field) to my friend Janet Rudolph, whose passion for Crime is exceeded only by the joy she takes in fine chocolates.  I introduced her by saying:

It’s not often a person is given the chance to speak for an entire community.  I am so pleased to be the one to stand up here and say, Janet, we love you. We honor and respect you. We stand amazed at your unflagging energy, your unfailing good will and optimism, and your endless creativity in celebrating the genre.

We, the world’s scribblers, give you our thanks, our affection, our Ellery Queen Award–and, more to the point, our chocolate.

Janet Rudolph.

And then handed her the MWA statue, along with a box of chocolate truffles.

The Edgars banquet also involves, of course, drinks in the bar before and after with friends like SJ Rozan and Dan Stashower and Laura Caldwell and—well, it wouldn’t be a black tie party without Les Klinger.IMG_1365

You can read about MWA’s 2016 awards, here.

And think about joining us for the fun, in New Orleans or Honolulu!

Dressing the part of Murder

One of my favorite times on the recent tour for Murder of Mary Russell was the launch, when friends near and far gathered to celebrate the publication–and to admire the amazing donning of Victorian garb by Caroline Bellios, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Fashion and assistant director of the Fashion Resource Center at SAIC.

I got in touch with Professor Bellios when I was looking for a fun way to launch the book, and a search for Victorian cosplay enthusiasts that began with The Victorian Society of Chicago ended up with a whole lot more.

Professor Bellios started off dressed in her combinations, stockings, and shoes (once you put on a corset, you don’t want to be bending to fasten your shoes…)CB combinations

She laced on her corset with the assistance of her sister, Joanna Bellios Wozniak, playing the role of lady’s maid. First Caroline worked the front hooks of the busk, then let out her breath while the laces in back were drawn tight, after which she could tie the long strings. She noted that those corsets we see in museums, which give rise to the belief that all Victorian women had 20″ waists, would in fact not have been laced all the way together, but instead would be separated by a few inches. (Which may be something of a relief, although that doesn’t account for those tiny shoes one also sees…)

CB corset front fastening

CB corset lacing





CB lacing corset

Then came the petticoat–which in 1879, the year Clara Hudson meets Sherlock Holmes, would have been relatively straight, since the fashion was for the long line rather than the exaggerated hips of the crinoline era.

CB petticoat goind on

CB petticoat

It was followed by the underskirt and the skirt itself, with ruffles (removable for cleaning–the streets were filthy!)

CB overskirt

CB overskirt going on

After the skirts came a many-buttoned bodice

CB fastening bodice

then the jacket with its long, snug sleeves.CB putting on jacket

In 1879, hoops were long gone and even bustles were (temporarily) in abeyance, replaced by ruffles that emphasized the smooth front and dramatic back line of the skirt:CB showing back of skirt

We now added a hat:

..and with a small reticule fastened to her wrist, had the very model of the Victorian lady, out to conquer the world:

CB fully dressed

Professor Bellios even brought a few actual vintage garments, including gorgeously delicate silk 1920s undergarments, and a Victorian corset and pair of bustles, one with wires, the other composed of tightly-stuffed linen rolls (horsehair, probably).bustles

This really was a thrill, and I owe a Victorian boat-load of thanks to Caroline and her sister, to Anderson’s at Naperville, and to long-time friend of Russell and photographic genius John Bychowski, who took all these photos except the last.  (John is also a moderator in the Book Club.)

Finally, if you’d like to add a couple of pages to your meditative coloring book, a page illustrating a lady’s Victorian garments is here, with its 1925 counterpart here.

Happy Birthday, Bill!

Today (or yes, maybe Tuesday…) is the birthday for the man who changed the English language, William Shakespeare.  There’s a fascinating article over on the New York Post about the near-disappearance of all that genius (thanks to The Passive Guy for the link), where only the determination (and financial commitment) of two friends led to the publication of the Folios.

By the 1620s, his plays were no longer being performed in theaters. On the day he died, no one — not even Shakespeare himself — believed that his works would last, that he was a genius or that future generations would hail his writings.

He hadn’t even published his plays — during his lifetime they were considered ephemeral amusements, not serious literature. Half of them had never been published in any form and the rest had appeared only in unauthorized, pirated versions that corrupted his original language.

Sobering, especially for those of us publishing in the digital era, electronics being the very definition of ephemera…

And speaking of The Bard of Avon, many of us in Santa Cruz were saddened when our longtime annual event, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, lost its support and its home at UCSC. And perhaps even more of us were heartened when news came that a new venue had been found, with a new name: Santa Cruz Shakespeare.Build-the-Grove-Header-Image-Hastag

They’re building a new home, deep inside De La Veaga Park, which is only a couple of miles from my front door!  Suitably enough, the first season will be blessed with Midsummer Night’s Dream (always best in an out-of-doors venue) as well as Hamlet and Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending Orlando.

My friend Lisa Jensen (author of the fantastic Alias Hook) has a fuller blog post about the building process, here.  And Santa Cruz Shakespeare will keep us up on their progress here.  Send them a donation, if you’re interested in keeping The Bard in Surf City.

See you in the forest of Athens, with Puck and the wedding-goers…

An everyday god on the road

As you probably know, I’ve been on the road since last Tuesday, talking about The Murder of Mary Russell in a variety of bookstores, tea shops, and even an opera house.
During that time, I’ve also been listening to the talk about it, in person and on Facebook, and I’m so very happy that you’ve been loving it even more than I. A book tour is a strange thing. Airports are diabolical in their ability to play on the nerves, airline apps that work fine one day turn their backs the next. E-boarding passes vanish. One scuffles onto and off of planes, sometimes on the same day–yesterday I landed in Austin at one, did an event for Book People at two, and got back on a plane at five, leaving my poor brain to wonder…What just happened there?
Even stranger is what it does to the self. Fifty weeks a year, I sit in my study and push words around on paper and screen, muttering snippets of dialogue under my breath, breaking off to make a cup of tea or greet the UPS lady in the driveway. I cook dinner, unload the dishwasher, do the laundry, tell myself I really need to mop the floor. Groceries need buying, packages need mailing at the post office, and grandsons demand complicated structures involving pvc pipe and golf balls on the deck.

Then I come on tour, and I’m a god. Beautiful and intelligent young women stand before me with shaking hands and halting tongues, trying to express how much it means to them that I deign to speak my gracious words in their direction. Lawyers and teachers break into smiles and say that they’ve been taking joy in my work since The Beekeeper’s Apprentice came into their hands twenty years before. People at the end of the line bend to unload a vast stack of clearly read and loved books that have been awaiting my signature since the collection began many years before.

And they leave with The Murder of Mary Russell treasured in both hands, as if I’ve given them a gift rather than made them spend $28 for a few hours’ reading.

And all that? It makes the airport hassles vanish in the past.

Yes, that sounds like him

One of the fun parts of The Murder of Mary Russell is that we see a very young Sherlock Holmes.  Even then, he sounds very like himself…

e-card 8 point of knowing


The Murder of Mary Russell can be ordered as:

     A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

     An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

     A UK hardback from Waterstones, or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.

Street Life of London

Parts of The Murder of Mary Russell take place in 1925, but much of it goes back to the mid-nineteenth century.


Isembard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian spirit.

The Victorian era was a time of brilliant light, spectacular technological development, and enormous social development.


For the wealthy.


Gustave Doré

For the rest, it was a time of rotting teeth, foul diseases, hunger, cold, and the workhouse.

Life expectancy was in the low 40s, one in five children died before their fifth birthday, and the Thames in London stank like the sewer it was.

Copyright Ben Cavanna

In 1876, the year young Clara Hudson was returning to London in The Murder of Mary Russell, photographer John Thompson set up his camera tripod and began to record the lives of common people in the capital city. He was joined by radical journalist Adolphe Smith, whose essays describe, in honest and even affectionate terms, the men and women in Thompson’s photographs. Here are the dustmen with their spavined horses, the public disinfectors, the Covent Garden labourers, baskets on head. Men carry advertising boards, men work on the decks of barges.

And the women in their many-layered clothing, their faces worn-down and older than their years, but their eyes gaze into Thompson’s big lens with dignity and strength.An-Old-Clothes-Shop-Seven-Dials

And the children? They look cold and wary even in the photographs of summer.Sufferers-from-the-Floods

You can read Street Life in London online, and there’s a video made from the photographs:

murder of mary russell UK


The Murder of Mary Russell can ordered as:

A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

A UK hardback from Waterstones, or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.

Women’s dress: 1879 & 1925

A key date in The Murder of Mary Russell is 1879, when Sherlock Holmes and his future landlady meet. The other date is, of course, 1925, when Mary Russell…well.

One thing that fascinated me is the difference in clothing between those two periods. Yes, Russell tends to wear her father’s old suits, but she couldn’t have got away with that in 1879.

One doesn’t think of the Victorian era as a time of rapid change, when it comes to women’s clothing, but in fact, even a relative neophyte to the history of fashion quickly begins to spot the differences.


John O’Connor

In the mid-1850s, multiple petticoats were replaced by crinolines, hooped skirts made of various materials but often steel. For a decade, huge and unwieldy skirts reigned supreme. Then in the 1870s, crinolines shrank into crinolettes, then bustles, until in 1879 the fashion was for the so-called “natural form” (hah!) of a long, rigidly corseted torso, a petticoat that emphasized the skirt backs, and a train.

During the 19th century, a woman wore 25 or more pounds of clothing—and that was before she put on her outer cloak. In 1863, at the height of the hoop skirt, 2500 people died in a church fire in Santiago, Chile, when crinolines blocked the way to escape. Throughout the century, women died when their skirts caught flame, or drowned when they slipped into the stream fetching water and their clothing pulled them under.

I was interested in the many and incredibly complex layers of clothing a Victorian woman wore (for an illustration of dressing, click here.)1879 garments (King)

The technology of the corset reminds me of a ship’s rigging, a series of balanced tensions and surfaces—and if I had to put one on every day, I’d probably throttle myself.

Why, even a woman’s drawers were engineered to meet the needs of a woman who couldn’t reach past her skirts, and couldn’t bend her torso.Drawers

Compare with this a woman’s dress in 1925, when The Murder of Mary Russell opens. Perhaps three or four pounds of clothing, half of which is on the feet.1925 garments (King)

I’ve made a handout for stores to give out at my events—you can print them out, and even use them as a two-page coloring book, if you like.  The Victorian page is here, the 1925 version here.


murder of mary russell UK

The Murder of Mary Russell may be ordered as:

A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

A UK hardback from Waterstones or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.


A landlady’s joy

The Murder of Mary Russell: Mrs Hudson encounters the joys [sic] of the Baker Street house.

e-card 7 221A


The Murder of Mary Russell can be ordered as:

     A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

     An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

     A UK hardback from Waterstones, or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.

Mr Holmes’ London

Out today: The Murder of Mary Russell, in which we meet a young Holmes, and also see a much older version of the Great Detective remembering those far-off days.  I hope you enjoy it.e-card 6 architecture

Key to The Murder of Mary Russell is the past of Sherlock Holmes, and especially the Victorian city through which he moved with such thorough and expert familiarity:

If London’s buildings and roads had changed since the days of his youth, even more so had the architecture of crime. Walking through London forty years ago, he could have named every dip, broadsman, and palmer who went by—along with the mobsman who ran him and the beak who’d last sent him down.

It looked like a cleaner city now. The Ripper killings, that bloody spasm that took place seven years after he’d moved into Baker Street, would be difficult today under London’s electric glare—though by no means impossible. And the average citizen was less likely to climb off an omnibus with empty pockets or wake up in an alley with a bloodied head—but it still happened. The dirt remained; it had just got pushed into the corners.

In case you’re visiting London in 1879embankment low res

and you want to just linger in the vicinity of places where Sherlock Holmes or Mrs Hudson might pass, Mr Charles Dickens Jr has some suggestions for you—and a caveat.


The early morning begins with an exercise ride in Rotten-row. In the afternoon, grand parade in the same place, with splendid show of carriages in the Drive. It is here that a stranger will get his best view of the London “world.”



If all you care about is not to be stared at, you may now walk about most parts of London in any ordinary English costume. If, however, you wish to go into the park during parade hours in the season, to the “Zoo” on Sunday afternoons, the Horticultural Gardens, or any other fashionable resort, gloves, chimney-pot hat, orthodox morning coat, &c., are still essential.


From the excellent site Victorian London:


Evening dress is not de rigueur in any part of any of the theatres, though on the whole it predominates in the stalls. Don’t wear a scarlet opera-cloak, however, if you can help it. It is commonly regarded by the initiated as strong evidence that its owner has come in with an “order.” Ladies frequent the stalls as much as any other part. At the Italian operas evening dress is indispensable in every part except gallery. This rule is rigorously enforced to the smallest detail, and it is hopeless to think of evading it.

(Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1879, An Unconventional Handbook, by Charles Dickens [Jr.], here.)

 22-199x300murder of mary russell UK









The Murder of Mary Russell can ordered as:

A signed US hardback from Bookshop Santa Cruz or Poisoned Pen Books

An unsigned hardback or ebook from B&N/Nook or Amazon/Kindle

A UK hardback from Waterstones or hard/ebook from Amazon UK.