No Way to Die: A Ming Dynasty Mystery by P.A. De Voe
Author Guest Post
I am often asked about how I write. That is, where do I get my ideas and what’s my process?
I write Chinese historical mysteries set in the early Ming Dynasty (late 1300s and early 1400s), so the first thing I do is read through various Imperial China legal cases to get an idea of what was going on and how the court dealt with the problem. I am usually looking for a case that would highlight a particularly interesting cultural/legal element. For example, how the severity of punishment for a crime depended on the person who committed the crime as well as who his victim was. That is, was the perpetrator and victim of the same social status, what was their gender. Also, when a crime is committed, it’s not just an offence against one person, it’s a breakdown in the moral order, and therefore involves the whole community. This essential concept of a disrupted moral order lays behind early Chinese law and creates interesting dilemmas in developing a story.
The next thing I do is decide what the crime is and who’s the criminal. I need to think about gender, position in his/her family, and social class; why they broke the law; and who else would be held responsible for that person’s crime. In No Way to Die, the second book in A Ming Dynasty Mystery series, a stranger is found murdered.
Of course, the protagonists are critical to a successful tale. They add dimension and texture to the story. A Ming Dynasty Mystery series has two main characters, a male and a female. I needed two because Imperial China was a highly gendered world. There was a strict division between the sexes. I needed characters who could get around as they investigated the crime. After some thought and research, I found the perfect duo: Shu-chang, a male teacher in a small clan school and Xiang-hua, a young, female women’s doctor. Shu-chang could move easily through wine houses and public spaces. Xiang-hua, as a women’s doctor, had access to the world of women, which would be closed to the teacher. By working together, this intrepid duo come together to find the murderer and bring the moral order back in balance.
But—as important as the two main characters are, they can’t carry the whole story by themselves. Secondary characters are also needed to populate their world. They shouldn’t be stick figures, but should also have interesting personalities. They can be used to create dilemmas which fill out the story as well as complicate the story line. Red herrings and real clues are more easily spread throughout the mystery once all of these secondary characters are established.
Finally, I start plotting the mystery. I plot, outline, in order to have a road map for my story. Once I’ve completed my outline, I start writing. As with any road map, I still have flexibility to make changes, to delete a scene or even a character, to add a scene or chapter.
About No Way To Die
No Way to Die: A Ming Dynasty Mystery Historical Cozy Mystery 2nd in Series Drum Tower Press, LLC (April 18, 2019) Paperback: 210 pages ISBN-10: 1942667116 ISBN-13: 978-1942667117 Digital ASIN: B07PWJ715D
Through mystery and intrigue, No Way To Die transports the reader into the complex and engaging world of early Ming China.
When a peddler finds a partially mutilated body of a stranger, the unlikely duo of a young scholar and a local women’s doctor once more join forces to discover who killed him and why. In probing the highly gendered world of early Ming China, unanticipated questions surface, complicating their investigation.
As their case rapidly transitions into the unexpected, they find all roads leading away from the victim, forcing them to consider alternate routes. Was the death the result of inexorable bad karma and beyond their purview, or merely the result of mortal foul play? Was the murdered man the intended victim? If not, who was and why? The investigation leads to a growing list of potential suspects: a lustful herbalist, an unscrupulous neighbor, a vengeful farmer, a jealous husband, a scorned wife, and a band of thieves. Who is innocent and who is the culprit? To solve the murder and bring peace to the victim’s spirit, the duo must untangle the truth and do it before the murderer strikes again.
About P.A. De Voe
P.A. De Voe is an anthropologist with a PhD in Asian studies and a specialty in China. She has authored several stories featuring the early Ming Dynasty: The Mei-hua Trilogy: Hidden, Warned, and Trapped; the A Ming Dynasty Mystery series with Deadly Relations and No Way to Die; Lotus Shoes, a Mei-hua short story; and a collection of short stories: Judge Lu’s Case Files, stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China. Warned won a Silver Falchion Award for Best International Mystery; Trapped was a finalist for an Agatha Award and for a Silver Falchion Award. Her short story, The Immortality Mushroom, (a Judge Lu story) was in the Anthony Award-winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks edited by Art Taylor.
In 1929, Mrs. Shackleton is one of only two female private detectives in London when a Body on the Train is found murdered.
Mrs. Shackleton is called in by Scotland Yard to investigate a man found dead in a potato sack on a train. The man was only wearing underpants. He was accompanied in the sack by two potatoes and two English coins. The train was a regularly scheduled nightly rhubarb run from rural England to London. In a parallel case that occurred on the same night, Mrs. Shackleton agrees to help a young man who is accused of brutally murdering his landlady.
The author, Frances Brody, does a great job creating this historic mystery in the mode of Agatha Christie. The addition of a possible Russian spy angle adds authenticity to the 1920s plot. The denouement was unexpected but looking back I clearly see the clues laid out. Overall, the Body on the Train is an enjoyable neo-Golden-age mystery. 4 stars!
Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Dr. William Abbey’s trouble is threefold. First, he is a mediocre doctor at best in 1884. Much better at diagnosing disease than curing it. Second, he falls in love with a woman above his station, leading to debts and eventually exile to South Africa. While there, he watches the execution by fire of a young native boy, without comment. The boy’s mother curses the doctor for not stepping in to save her son. This leads to his third trouble, the Pursuit of William Abbey by the shade of the murdered boy. When the boy touches the doctor, one-by-one those the doctor loves most are killed. Dr. Abbey also now has the ability to read the inner thoughts of other nearby men. This ability attracts the attention of the British government, who have found others with his affliction and see him as a useful asset—rather than a broken man.
The Pursuit of William Abbey is a thought-provoking historical fiction slash horror slash espionage thriller. It is definitely a plot you have not seen before. The language used is perfect for this slow-boil of a novel moving steadily to an unknown conclusion as the boy chases the doctor around the world. My only complaint was that it had some parts in the middle where the pace might have been a bit too slow. Otherwise, if you are looking for something completely original, this book is a great choice. 4 stars!
Thanks to Orbit Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
You don’t have to have lived in the 1950s to enjoy The Man that got Away. However, it is eminently easier to understand if you’re from England.
There is a murder, a con man, and a criminal mastermind in Brighton, a beach town on the English coast in1957. Only young Constable Twitten has a chance to solve the crime if his bungling co-workers don’t stop him.
I read many British mysteries. But this series continues to confuse me with Briticisms and product names available only in England. Possibly only in the past. My Kindle dictionary doesn’t even know what they mean. I also don’t like or relate to the bumbling policemen. They have an office cleaner who is really a master criminal. Their chief didn’t notice he was being conned by the local wax museum. Reading The Man that got Away forces the reader to totally suspend disbelief.
While I enjoyed this entry, the second, more than the first, I still believe it was only good—not great. Still the mystery itself was entertaining. Plus I enjoyed the delights and surprises of an English beach town. 3 stars.
Thanks to Bloomsbury USA and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
The game is afoot in the excellent Sherlock Holmes tale of spies and revolution, the Adventures of the Peculiar Protocols.
Sherlock Holmes’ brother Mycroft enlists Holmes’ help with a mysterious French manuscript. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is ostensibly a book recording a conference of Jews describing their plan of world takeover. However, Holmes believes it is a fraud. Confirming the Jewish connection, the Home Office spy who died protecting it was killed with a knife bearing a Jewish star. Does the manuscript’s sudden appearance relate to the nascent Russian revolution? Is it an attempt to blame the entire revolution on the already frequently scapegoated Russian Jews?
The author’s Seven-Percent Solution is my favorite neo-Holmes tale so I snatched this one up as soon as I saw it on NetGalley. And I wasn’t disappointed. This book is equally good and feels like it was written by Doyle himself. The level of detail that matches the original stories is excellent! I most highly recommend the Adventures of the Peculiar Protocols for every Holmes fan. 5 stars!
Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Gallows Court is an atmospheric homage to British golden age mysteries.
Cub crime reporter Jacob Flint is trying to get an interview with the rich and enigmatic Rachel, who has recently solved the chorus girl murder and is working on a new serial killer case. Rachel is the daughter of a hanging judge. She has a mysterious Irish past involving Juliet. Juliet’s life on the island with her cousin Rachel, while the judge slowly descends into madness, is detailed in her diary entries from years earlier. Juliet is convinced her parents have been murdered by one or both of them.
First of all, I love reading the author’s scholarly introductions to, and books about, the British golden age of mysteries. I haven’t read any of his modern mysteries. I respect that Gallows Court is his take on a golden age mystery. However, the book seemed overlong and kind of lost my interest somewhere in the middle. I stuck with it and the conclusion was good. If you don’t mind taking your time reading, this book will reward you with some surprising twists and turns. It feels genuinely like it was written in the 1930s. 3.5 stars!
Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Take one part Benjamin Button, one part Age of Adaline, and one part a history of Grand Central Station. Stir together and you have Time After Time.
Joe is a leverman in 1937 in New York’s Grand Central Station. When he meets Nora, a confused young lady without either luggage or coat, he offers to walk her home. Along the way she vanishes. A year later, they meet again. She is still wearing the same tattered blue dress. Once Joe and Nora discover the restrictions of Nora’s universe, they begin to fall for each other. But Nora doesn’t age and Joe was already ten years older than her in 1937 making their future together uncertain.
I liked the three main characters of this novel: Joe, Nora, and most of all Grand Central Station. The history of the Station drew me in even more than the plot. As a frequent reader of thrillers, Time After Time seemed to move at a snail’s pace in the middle third. However, that may just be me. I also didn’t enjoy the ending of Joe and Nora’s love story. For literary or historical fiction readers, the pacing will probably be fine. In the author’s Q&A at the end of the book, the author explains that most of the story is based on true stories merged together. If you are a fan of historical romance, this is a good choice. 3 stars!
Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Set at a National Beagle Association event, Whiskers in the Dark is another satisfying entry in the Mrs. Murphy cat cozy mystery series.
Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, crime solving cats, plus Tee Tucker, a Corgi dog, and Pirate, an Irish Wolfhound puppy, get clues to two mysteries from a ghostly beagle only they can see. In current day, a man is found murdered before the annual Hounds for Heroes benefit hunt. Then, a woman’s skeleton from the 1780s is found with a broken neck and wearing an expensive necklace. What is her story?
I enjoyed the past mystery the most. It tells a story of slavery and freedom. The current day mystery seemed to be a little rushed to make room for the historic one. However, it is always a pleasure to spend a few hours with Harry and Mrs. Murphy. Whiskers in the Dark is no exception. 4 stars!
Thanks to Bantam Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
The Girl with Sweetest Secret is an American brought over to London by her family to use their money to capture a title.
American Frances “Frankie” Bumgarten is surprised by a stranger in her family’s kitchen late at night. After almost braining the stranger with an old bread paddle, Frankie is embarrassed by her lack of a robe or any covering other than a thin nightgown. Frankie recognizes Reynard Boulton, aka the Fox, who is an heir to a Viscount and collects gossip as his trade. He is helping her Uncle Red return home from a long evening of gambling and drinking. The Fox has agreed to watch over Frankie and her sister in her brother-in-law’s absence so he was unable to use the gossip he acquired against Frankie and her family.
Later when the Fox and Frankie meet at a dance, they both feel a connection. Unfortunately, Frankie’s mother wants her to marry high in the aristocracy and a Prussian Duke is interested in her. When later, the Fox is almost ensnared in a family’s marriage trap, Frankie saves him from immediate shame. However, the Fox must have a duel with the family’s father. While Frankie, dressed as a boy, is watching, the duel is held. The action just escalates from there.
The Girl with Sweetest Secret is an action-packed and enjoyable Victorian historical romance. It is highly recommended for readers of that genre. 4 stars!
Thanks to Zebra Books and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Escorting the body of the first federal judge in Montana home for burial in Delaware, Deputy US Marshal Page Murdock runs into some Wild Justice.
It’s 1896, and the country is changing. With his job as a Deputy Marshal certainly over, the long train ride gives Page time to reflect and reminiscence about his time in Montana.
Wild Justice is a beautiful historical Western. Not much action until close to the end. However, the stories are so good, you won’t care. This book is recommended to historical fiction fans of all ages. 4 stars!
Thanks to Forge Books and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
A long-dead body is found in the captivating, and true, Lady in the Cellar.
In London in 1879, many people were looking to make their fortune by living together in boarding houses. In one, at Number 4 Euston Square, a well-to-do older woman’s body is found in the coal cellar. Her putrefied skeletal remains are clothed partially in silk along with a clothesline tied roughly around her neck. Though her time of death is years before, the London constabulary discovers through extremely thorough detective work her identity. The victim was Matilda Hacker. She was a wealthy heiress that never married. Despite being in her sixties, she dressed as a young girl. When her sister died, she seemed to have increasing mental issues. Convinced people were stalking her, she frequently used assumed names and moved around England. One such place she moved was Number 4 Euston Square.
I loved the great descriptions of how police work was done in England in 1879. Victorian England was a time of significant change in policing. Investigations were beginning to use the scientific method rather than intuition to solve crimes. The setting in London is vivid and makes the reader feel that they are there. However, the plot takes many wrong turns following what the police probably did at the time. It is disconcerting to spend fifty pages on a potential suspect only to have him eliminated in a few paragraphs. Also, the resolution was not what I expected. Some of my hesitancy in recommending Lady in the Cellar for its plot is perhaps my issue with being used to clear conclusions in fiction. I do recommend this book for writers setting their story in the same location and time. 3 stars!
Thanks to White Lion Publishing and NetGalley for granting my wish for an advance copy.
The Way of All Flesh emphasizes the historical while leaving the mystery almost as an afterthought.
In 1847 Edinburgh, medicine is rudimentary and painkillers were thought to be against God’s will. When Will becomes the apprentice of Dr. Simpson, an obstetrician, he sees some horrific things.
In the mystery, Will finds the dead body of his friend, Evie, who is a prostitute. He enlists the help of intelligent housemaid, Sarah, to find Evie’s killer. As other bodies pile up, Will and Sarah continue to investigate.
Atmosphere and medical research are favored over the mystery in the Way of All Flesh. The book seemed to drag a bit in the middle for me. However, it is recommended for historical fiction fans especially those who liked the television show the Knick or historical medical practices. 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Canongate US, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
A beguiling mystery, unique romance and dynamic characters make the Hollow of Fear a perfect readcation for female Sherlock Holmes fans.
Set in Victorian England, the Hollow of Fear follows Charlotte Holmes and Mrs. Watson. Looking for her half-brother, Charlotte runs into Moriarty’s handiwork. Also, when Lady Ingram turns up dead, Lord Ingram is suspected. Charlotte must find the real murderer to clear his name while her relationship with the Lord takes an unexpected turn.
The use of Victorian language and plot devices (hidden tunnels and a multitude of disguises) matches the original Holmes atmosphere well. I especially liked the unusual romantic dynamic between Charlotte and Lord Ingram. Despite swapping genders of some characters and a very 21st century feeling to Charlotte, the mystery felt like it belonged in the Sherlock Holmes canon. It definitely wasn’t easy for this armchair detective to solve.
This is my first book in the series. While understandable as a stand alone, I felt the tale would have been more enjoyable if I had read the two previous books first. Regardless, it is a solid 4 star read!
Thanks to the publisher, Berkeley, and Edelweiss+ for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is a clever reinvention of an iconic 1960s cartoon character.
Snagglepuss was originally a pink swishy wannabe actor and actual mountain lion in the Yogi the Bear cartoons beginning in 1959. This comic, set in 1953, casts Snagglepuss as a successful playwright caught up in the McCarthy Congressional hearings looking for communist sympathizers within the show business community.
I wasn’t expecting such a serious comic based on such a silly character from my childhood. However, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles won me over. Even though this is set during the 1950s, it brings with it the more accepting mindset of 2018. Snagglepuss is married to Lila Lion, who both has a beard and is a beard for Snagglepuss’ gay lifestyle with boyfriend Pablo. Pablo escaped from Baptiste’s Cuba after his friend is murdered by government thugs for being openly homosexual. Many famous icons from the 1950s appear: Dorothy Parker, Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Joe Dimaggio, Clint Eastwood and Arthur Miller. Huckleberry Hound is also out of the closet and a novelist. Even the iconic Stonewall club is featured.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is not a comic for everyone. It is a deep dive into mid-century politics from a modern viewpoint. I would recommend it to readers of historical fiction and fans of thoughtful movies like Hidden Figures and the Imitation Game. Since I embrace both of those categories, 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, DC Comics, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Set in Europe in the 1600s, The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of Rene Descartes is an overlong but enthralling mystery.
Told from the point of view of Adrien, a Jesuit sent by his church to investigate Descartes’ death. As the amateur sleuth finds a multitude of suspects, the book quickly becomes a mystery set in an unusual environment, the court of Sweden’s Queen Christina.
Most thrillers are relatively short around 350 pages to keep the action exciting. The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of Rene Descartes is much longer at 508 pages. Adding in all the historical details takes a few pages, I get it. However, once past the length, the story draws the reader into a different time and place. There are few books so good at making you totally forget your own problems (and occasionally to eat). In addition, you will learn quite a bit about history and philosophy though I don’t know enough to know what is fact and what is fiction. This book is highly recommended to historical fiction fans. For thriller fans, probably not as much. It would make a good public television mini-series. 4 stars!
I received an electronic copy of the book from Online Book Club but that in no way impacted my honest review.