by Sunny Frazier
This week we have a review of an interesting historical mystery by Holly West, Mistress of Lies. We also have an interesting interview with Holly. At the end of this post find details on how to enter to win an e-book copy of Mistress of Lies, and a link to purchase the book where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Mistress of Lies By Holly West
Set in London during the mid-60s (of the 1600s), Lady Isobel Wilde is sought out by 12-year-old American Susanna Barber. Barber claims to be her niece, daughter of Isobel’s dead brother, Adam. Not only is Isobel surprised to find her brother had married, she is shocked when her niece says Adam didn’t die of the plague but was murdered.
Respectable by day, at night Isobel disguises herself as Mistress Ruby, fortune teller and healer to the elite. This produces an income to afford her the lifestyle expected of her as former mistress to King Charles II. Through this incarnation she is privy to the secrets of her noble peers.
Now on a mission to discover the murderer of her brother a dozen years ago, Isobel visits the hospital where Adam supposedly died. While he did contract the plague, he recovered and was taken away by a woman. According to his niece, Adam was murdered at the shop where he worked as a goldsmith.
(Interesting note: in those days, goldsmiths and jewelry shops were also bankers. People trusted them with their money and were given notes, somewhat like a checking account.)
Author West takes us on an interesting journey through London, complete with brothels, bear baiting and a corrupt mayor. Plus, throughout the investigation, King Charles is beckoning her back to his bed, much to the chagrin of current mistress Nell Gwynn.
There are many references to book one in the series, Mistress of Fortune. It’s hinted that Isobel acted as a spy for King Charles, her lover at the time. Looks like Lady Wilde has quite a career as a sleuth—plus she has experience in undercover work as a gypsy fortune teller. Author West will no doubt continue Lady Isobel’s “wild” and exciting adventures.
Interview With Holly West:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Holly: Off and on, I’ve written throughout my life. I have a bachelor’s degree in Screenwriting, which I consider my first “real” writing, though I’ve never had a script produced. I’ve also published non-fiction books about the educational systems of several countries–in a previous life I worked as a foreign credentials analyst. But I didn’t get really serious about writing until I turned forty, about six years ago. That’s when I decided I’d write a novel (which eventually turned into Mistress of Fortune, my debut).
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Holly: Mistress of Fortune came out in February 2014. It’s the first in my historical mystery series set in 17th century London featuring Isabel, Lady Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. The plot is based upon the real life unsolved murder of a magistrate named Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey in 1678. At the time, the killing caused a serious political crisis for Charles II and threat to the future of the English monarchy. When I read about it I thought it would make a good mystery.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Holly: I mentioned above that I’ve written non-fiction and screenplays. But crime fiction is what I love to read most so I think I’ll be writing it for a long time to come.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? And can you tell us a little about it?
Holly: My latest book is Mistress of Lies, the sequel to Mistress of Fortune. It takes over where MOF leaves off–my heroine, Isabel Wilde, is at a low point and wondering if her days as a fortuneteller might be over. The King, with whom she’s been involved in an affair for over ten years, asks her to move into apartments at Whitehall Palace. She loves him, but their relationship has been fraught with betrayal and she’s reluctant to rely on him for her livelihood. She’s distracted from these worries when a beggar girl claiming to be her niece appears on her doorstep and reveals that Isabel’s older brother, Adam, did not die of the plague as she’d previously thought, but was instead murdered. Isabel must investigate his death twelve years after it happened.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Holly: I like to say that I write solely to entertain, but that’s not exactly true. There are themes that come out–primarily the role of women in 17th century London and the lack of choices they had–that I hope 21st century readers can take with them–especially since women today still face obstacles in their fight for equality.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Holly: When I’m on schedule, I usually write 500 words before I do anything (except have a cup of coffee). Then I allow myself to eat breakfast, look at email, and tend to a little business. Then I write an additional 500 to 1000 words until my word goal is finished. The key are those first 500 words. They propel me forward for the day.
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 when you are writing it?
Holly: I’m kind of all over the place. For Mistress of Fortune, I numbered chapters 1 – 20 and recorded what I thought might happen in each chapter. My finished first draft was about twenty thousand words to short, but dag gum it, I had a finished first draft and that meant something. It took quite awhile to revise it into something publishable (four years, to be exact) and with book two, Mistress of Lies, I didn’t have that luxury. It was under contract and I had a deadline to meet. After a couple of months of wasting time, trying to figure out what the story was, I finally sat down and wrote a detailed outline and wrote the first draft from that. That worked extraordinarily well, so you’d think I’d be using that method again. But my current work-in-progress is not under contract and I’ve pretty much been writing it by the seat of my pants, as they say. I know the first draft will require loads of editing, but so far, this process is working. All that to say I get the writing done by any means necessary.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Holly: Morning is the best for me, even if I don’t always feel like it. If I don’t do it then, I find the day slips away and it never gets done.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Holly: Getting published in the beginning was extremely difficult and frankly, I expect it to remain difficult until I become firmly established. While I realize that might never happen, I work every day as though I’m a well-established writer who never has trouble getting anything published. It might sound idealistic but I try to focus on producing my best work rather than fretting over whether it will get published.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Holly: In traditional publishing, the usual path is to write the book, query agents, then acquire an agent who will peddle your work to editors in the hope that they’ll publish your book. In my case, I’d queried dozens of agents and there was interest, but no one made an offer of representation. At that point I decided I’d put Mistress of Fortune in the proverbial drawer and get to work on a second book. But before I did that, I submitted to a few more agents and to Carina Press, the digital imprint of Harlequin who accepted un-agented manuscripts. They made an offer a couple of weeks later. At the time, a few agents had my manuscript and when I let them know an offer was on the table, one of them, Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron and Associates offered representation.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Holly: At Left Coast Crime in Monterrey this past spring, I sat at the “signing table” for the very first time after my panel. As it turned out, Sue Grafton, my writing idol, was at one end and I was on the other. In all the fantasies I’d ever had about being a published writer, it never occurred to me that I’d ever sit at a signing table with Sue Grafton, even if there were ten other writers between us. It was a great feeling.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Holly: Mainly to keep on going. I’d like to challenge myself to write novels that feel beyond my capability–to write the books that only I can write because of my unique take on life. But writing isn’t easy. Finding the right words takes practice and sometimes my confidence wanes. I want to push through that and write phenomenal books.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Holly: Sue Grafton, of course. Lawrence Block. David Liss. Tana French. Donna Tartt. Truman Capote and Erik Larson. These authors are my biggest influences.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Holly: Much of my research is on the internet, of course. But when the first draft of Mistress of Fortune was complete, my husband and I took a research trip to London. We walked from one end of the city to the other, visiting locations that appear in the book. I’d been to London several times previously and knew the city fairly well, but after that trip, I felt like I knew it intimately. While before I was just infatuated with London, afterward I was completely in love with it.
KRL: What do you read?
Holly: Mostly crime fiction. There are a few series I’ve read every book of: Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series, Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Megan Abbott’s books, Dare Me and The Fever and I can’t wait to start Tana French’s latest, The Secret Place.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Holly: Oh wow, this list could go on forever. But in the interest of brevity, All About Eve, The Godfather, and most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films are among my favorites. This might come as a disappointment for crime fiction television lovers, but the Mary Tyler Moore Show might be my all time favorite.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Holly: Write. That’s the only thing you have any control of. And never doubt that you won’t eventually be successful. If I’d had any doubt that I’d eventually get published, I probably would’ve stopped trying at some point.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Holly: Since my books are e-books only, I feel pretty great about it! But to be honest, nearly 100% of the books I read are digital. I often buy both the print version and the digital version of books, especially if it’s written by an author I love and I want a signed copy. The copy that actually gets read is the e-book and the print version goes into my collection.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Holly: I’d like to thank you for interviewing me and to thank the readers for buying my book!
KRL: Thank you for chatting with us! What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Holly: My childhood dream was to be a Mouseketeer.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win an e-book copy of Mistress of Lies, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Mistress,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 4, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.