by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of No Refuge from the Grave by Nancy Herriman along with an interesting interview with Nancy. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
No Refuge From the Grave: A Mystery of Old San Francisco By Nancy Herriman
Review by Kathleen Costa
It’s November, 1867, San Francisco. Celia Davies came to the city with her husband, yet for three years, she’d thought herself a widow. She worked hard to be a well-respected nurse servicing the needs of a diverse community at her free clinic. Through happenstance, she also became known as a detective, of sorts, partnering with Detective Nick Greaves with whom she found she was attracted and free to foster a nice friendship. It is, unfortunately, complicated now that her husband Patrick unexpectedly returned. It turned out there’d been an incident of mistaken identity he refused to amend. Now, owing money, he expects Celia’s help, and she reluctantly finds the requested funds. But, enough is enough and she tells Patrick there will be no more. As an afterthought, she warns him not to trust the local loan shark, Caleb Griffin, telling him Griffin is a scoundrel and dangerous to boot. Too late!
No Refuge from the Grave Earns 5/5 Friends & Foes…Engaging Gem!
The weather is cold and another storm is approaching, and with the departure of the regular investigator, Nick is the detective in charge looking into the latest suspicious fire. Another small business, one Celia often visited, has been seriously damaged, and it appears not to be an accident. Nick’s first “outrageous idea” is that the intentional fire is a way to defraud the insurance company, but the agent he wishes to interview, Mr. Edward Pierson, is no longer an employee. However, Greaves’ young assistant, Officer Taylor, discovers the other fire being examined had different coverage, so connections, motives, and the arsonist remain a mystery.
Celia Davies has in the past been a positive asset to Detective Greaves, but a prominent mention in a front-page news article has resulted in unwanted notoriety. This precipitates Mrs. Georgiana Pierson to seek Celia’s help with a sensitive matter, and although reluctant to get involved, the details of her request are curious enough for Celia to agree to a meeting. However, Celia doesn’t believe the missing item, the story behind it, the need for secrecy, and Georgie’s rationale for Celia’s involvement rise to a critical level. Still, she recognizes the woman’s angst and agrees to look into the theft.
The two points of interest (Greaves’ arson investigation and Celia’s search for a missing locket) merge into a murder mystery when Celia and Georgie find Caleb Griffin’s body outside the Pierson’s home. There are many avenues to explore, suspects to interrogate, a killer to arrest, and a different kind of relationship for Cecilia and Nick to navigate.
Mystery Gem! I love historical mysteries, and Nancy Herriman’s fifth book in A Mystery of Old San Francisco has two of my favorite elements: a familiar setting like San Francisco and an upstairs/downstairs era. The murder investigation is complex with many important to peripheral characters involved in different social circles throughout the city, yet it was easy to read, well-paced, and culminated in a surprise, yet satisfying twist. There were several possible scenarios raising issues about money to earn or money to pay back, a secret business opportunity, possible fraud, a racetrack scandal, and multiple murders, of course. The professional dynamic between Greaves and Celia is one of respect and mutual caring, and Celia’s access to many social circles is valuable since, as a detective, Nick finds it a challenge. The side stories incorporated into the book (the clinic, Celia’s home life, Greaves’ boarding house situation) are just as fascinating and do well to illustrate class struggles and living conditions of post-Civil War. The series is filled with several strong women who, before any real women’s rights were achieved, are able to assert themselves but still limitations do exist. A well-described environment and era, cleverly devised crimes, realistic methods of investigation, well-developed characters, some nail-biting,and a strong female lead…Superb!
A Mystery of Old San Francisco
No Comfort for the Lost (2015)
No Pity for the Dead (2016)
No Quiet Among the Shadows (2020)
No Darkness as Like Death (2021)
No Refuge from the Grave (2022)
Be a Big Fan of Nancy Herriman!
Nancy Herriman is the author of two engaging historical mysteries hundreds of years and an ocean apart. The Mystery of Old San Francisco follows a “courageous nurse [Celia Davies] and a war-scarred detective [Nick Greaves]” in 1860s San Francisco. The Bess Ellyott Mystery series follows Bess Ellyott, a young herbalist widow, and Kit Harwoode, the town’s constable, in Elizabethan London. Extraordinary worlds with strong females ahead of their time…must read series!
Interview With Nancy Herriman:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Nancy: Since my kids were little, which makes it nearly 25 years now. Hard to believe! I started out slowly with writing classes and some first stabs at a book. After almost 10 years of attending conferences, learning from other writers, and improving my craft, I managed to land an agent. My first novel was sold and published four years later. It’s been a long journey.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Nancy: My first mystery novel, No Comfort For The Lost, was published in 2015. It’s the first in my current A Mystery Of Old San Francisco series. Here’s a brief blurb:
“In gritty 1860s San Francisco, nurse Celia Davies and Detective Nicholas Greaves try to identify who murdered one of Celia’s Chinese patients. But as their inquiries take them from the Barbary Coast’s violent streets to the city’s gilded parlors, Celia and Nick begin to suspect someone close to them holds the key to a deadly conspiracy. One that might get them both killed.”
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Nancy: My first published novel was not a mystery, but a sweet historical romance set in 1830s London. I also have a second historical novel set in 1880s San Francisco.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Nancy: When I was doing research for my 1880s San Francisco book, I realized how much I loved the city, and how fascinating and vibrant it’s always been, as much in the 19th century as it is now. It seemed the perfect place to return to for a mystery series. I chose the particular year in which “No Comfort For The Lost” is set, when I happened upon a story about the ominous beginnings of the anti-Chinese movement in California, which occurred in early 1867. It was the perfect backdrop for a crime and the pair of sleuths I’d chosen. In my most recent release, “No Refuge From The Grave,” arson and insurance fraud form the background of the crime. An article in an 1868 San Francisco newspaper, which discussed a spate of arsons in the city, gave me the idea.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Nancy: A mix of both. I always hope, since I write historical novels, to provide some insight about the time periods in which my books are set, and to share what my research has uncovered about the lives that people led. We can learn from the past, if only we try to.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Nancy: I stick to a schedule in order to make sure the writing gets done. If I didn’t, I’m afraid I might never get words on the page.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Nancy: I tend to write between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Early afternoon is the best time for me. The mornings before I write are usually spent catching up on mail and social media or exercising.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book while you are writing it?
Nancy: I begin with a loose outline of the first half of the book, which I don’t expect to stick to. I try to get enough of an idea down, however, so that I’m sure I have a viable story. Once I’ve written about three or four chapters, I set up a summary table of all the scenes, which I update as the book progresses. This allows me to have a quick look at how the story is going, as well as an easy way to indicate what edits I’m going to need once the first draft is finished.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Nancy: Yes. As I’ve mentioned, I spent nearly ten years learning craft, attending conferences, entering contests to get some feedback, doing NaNoWriMo, and submitting to agents before I landed the agent who sold my first novel. This business requires patience and perseverance and, often, a thick skin.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Nancy: Aside from receiving those dreaded generic ‘Dear Writer’ rejection cards when I first started submitting to agents? ?
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Nancy: I don’t have a particular story, but I must say that, over the years, I have been fortunate at book events to be seated next to so many generous fellow authors who’ve shared their wisdom and friendship. Invaluable.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Nancy: I am contracted to write three more books in the San Francisco series, so I’m busy with that. Also, I would like to write a contemporary cozy series and have been noodling ideas for that while I’m working on my Celia and Nick books.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Nancy: Victoria Thompson is one, for her ability to write such a fabulous and long-standing series as her Gaslight Mysteries. Plus, she’s just an incredible person. Also Amanda Flowers. There might be authors out there who work as hard or harder than she does, but I’ve never met them. I have many more heroes, too many to list here, but those are two that come to mind.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Nancy: Since I’m now in the middle of writing the sixth book in my San Francisco series, the research has become more focused on details for the particular story, such as the description of a venue I’ve chosen. For example, the race track that is a setting in Book 5, No Refuge From The Grave. Or the specifics of an event I want to make use of, like the 1867 California state elections in Book 4, No Darkness As Like Death. Much like now, there was plenty of animosity between the political parties, which can make for great motives to kill. I did far more research for the initial book of the series, though. I studied maps and read memoirs describing life in San Francisco in the late 1860s. I examined old photographs to get a feel for what the city looked like at that time, and I collected law books and medical books from the period, since my sleuths are a police detective and a nurse. It took quite a while to compile enough information before I felt prepared to begin writing.
KRL: What do you like to read?
NH: Historical novels, mostly, along with history and science magazines. And of course, the books of fellow historical mystery authors like Alyssa Maxwell and Rhys Bowen.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
NH: I always love a good cozy-ish mystery series. Only Murders in the Building is a favorite along with the British mysteries on PBS. (Yum, Grantchester) I don’t watch too many movies these days, unless it’s an Agatha Christie remake, because I’m not into superheroes or horror stories, which seem to dominate Hollywood lately.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Nancy: Read widely, even outside your specific genre, and absorb how published authors perform their craft. The first draft of a book does not have to be perfect; do not expect it to be. And dive into the writing community. Make friends with your fellow writers and learn from them, their experiences. I’m convinced that good writing cannot be done in a vacuum.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Nancy: I fronted a rock cover band in college when I was studying for my Engineering degree.
To enter to win a copy of No Refuge From the Grave, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “refuge,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 6, 2022. US only, and must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win-it will be deleted after the giveaway. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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