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Showing posts by: Susanna Calkins click to see Susanna Calkins's profile
Apr 29 2016 1:00pm

A True Account of a Most Monstrous Act, and Other Strange Happenings…

Read this exclusive guest post from Susanna Calkins about 17th-century murder ballads, and then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of Susanna's book, A Death Along the River Fleet!

The murders in my Lucy Campion mysteries are largely described through ballads, broadsides, and other penny pieces, which is how 17th-century Londoners would have learned about crimes within their community.

Long before modern tabloids sensationalized criminal activity, such “true accounts” of murders offered sordid and titillating details of the crime, the victim's last hours, and the murderer’s motivations.

[The National Enquirer of 17th-century murder...]

Apr 13 2016 11:30am

Edgars Talk: Susanna Calkins Sits Down with Duane Swierczynski, Author of Canary

Susanna Calkins, author of A Death Along the River Fleet, and Duane Swierczynski have known each other for a long time. Duane's latest thriller, Canary, has been nominated for an Edgar Award for “Best Novel.” In addition to Susanna's sparkling review of an old friend's work, Ms. Calkins got a chance to sit down with Duane and talk about their time together at La Salle University and its school newspaper, The Collegian, as well as how their education and experiences influenced their writing (including a hilarious account of interviewing Clive Barker—a longtime hero of Duane's).

Read Susanna's review of Canary!

[Who wouldn't gush at the chance to hang out with Clive Barker?]

Apr 10 2016 11:00am

A Death Along the River Fleet: New Excerpt

Susanna Calkins

A Death Along the River Fleet by Susanna Calkins is the 4th book in the Lucy Campion Mystery series (Available April 12, 2016).

Lucy Campion, a ladies’ maid turned printer’s apprentice in 17th-century London, is crossing Holborn Bridge over the murky waters of the River Fleet one morning when, out of the mist, she sees a specter moving toward her. Frightened at first, Lucy soon realizes the otherworldly figure is in fact a young woman, clearly distraught and clad only in a blood-spattered white nightdress. Barely able to speak, the woman has no memory of who she is or what’s happened to her. The townspeople believe she’s possessed. But Lucy is concerned for the woman’s well-being and takes her to see a physician. When, shockingly, the woman is identified as the daughter of a nobleman, Lucy is asked to temporarily give up her bookselling duties to discreetly serve as the woman’s companion while she remains under the physician’s care.

As the woman slowly recovers, she begins―with Lucy’s help―to reconstruct the terrible events that led her to Holborn Bridge that morning. But when it becomes clear the woman’s safety might still be at risk, Lucy becomes unwillingly privy to a plot with far-reaching social implications, and she’ll have to decide just how far she’s willing to go to protect the young woman in her care.

[Read an excerpt of A Death Along the River Fleet here...]

Apr 6 2016 12:00pm

Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Canary by Duane Swierczynski follows Sarie Holland, a freshman honors student caught up as a confidential informant, who is tasked with trying to help take down a drug ring, while keeping on top of her studies. 

When I opened Canary, Duane Swierczynski’s complex Edgar-nominated thriller, I had no idea what to expect. Since I had not even glanced at the jacket copy beforehand, I was completely amused to discover that I had landed squarely at “St. Jude’s,” a college in North Philly remarkably similar to the one Swierczynski and I attended together over twenty-five years ago.  

From the outset, I was immediately drawn into the plight of Sarie Holland, a freshman honors student who went from intellectualizing the best strategies to avoid getting high and drunk at a party to becoming an unwitting accomplice on a drug buy to being recruited as a confidential informant for the police—all within the space of a few hours. 

[Read Susanna Calkins review of Canary here...]

Apr 14 2015 12:00pm

The Masque of a Murderer: New Excerpt

Susanna Calkins

The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins is the third historical mystery in the Lucy Campion series set in 17th Century London (available April 14, 2015).

SEE ALSO: Join Susanna Calkins for a lesson in 17th century forensics!

Lucy Campion, formerly a ladies' maid in the local magistrate's household, has now found gainful employment as a printer's apprentice. On a freezing winter afternoon in 1667, she accompanies the magistrate's daughter, Sarah, to the home of a severely injured Quaker man to record his dying words, a common practice of the time. The man, having been trampled by a horse and cart the night before, only has a few hours left to live. Lucy scribbles down the Quaker man's last utterances, but she's unprepared for what he reveals to her—that someone deliberately pushed him into the path of the horse, because of a secret he had recently uncovered.

Fearful that Sarah might be traveling in the company of a murderer, Lucy feels compelled to seek the truth, with the help of the magistrate's son, Adam, and the local constable. But delving into the dead man's background might prove more dangerous than any of them had imagined.


“Let me tell you!” Lucy Campion shouted, trying to make her voice heard against the rising wind. She scrambled onto the overturned barrel outside of Master Aubrey’s printer’s shop. “Of a murder most absurd!”

[Continue reading The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins...]

Apr 24 2014 1:00pm

Crime Solvers: Forensics From the Past

In writing my historical novels, which are set in seventeenth-century England, I have had to spend a lot of time thinking about the crime-solving methods that would have been available to authorities of the time. In the era before modern forensics, when there was no DNA evidence, blood typing, fingerprinting, math modeling, computer simulating, chemical processing, etc., how were crimes solved anyway?

Well, discounting those crimes solved through witchcraft, magic, fortune-telling, dreams, divine providence and popular beliefs (e.g. the corpse pointing at the murderer, ghostly apparitions who name the murderer, God speaking to people in dreams, a murder suspect being struck by sudden misfortune etc.), many crimes were certainly solved with the use of logic, reason, observation and even a bit of science that foreshadowed modern professionalized forensic methods. Such methods included:  

Autopsies: Dating back to the ancient world, autopsies have long been used to determine cause of death, including that brought on by sickness, injury, suicide or foul play. The ancient Greeks coined the phrase “eye-witnessing” or “seeing for oneself,” but there is evidence that the Egyptians, ancient Romans, as well as the Chinese, were conducting autopsies from 3000 BCE onwards. Indeed, the autopsy of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE may have been the first recorded autopsy used in legal proceedings. And despite popular myths to the contrary, dissection and autopsies continued throughout the Middle Ages.

Reference: Cyril H. Wecht, MD, JD (June, 2005) The History of Legal Medicine. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 33(2), 245-251

[The processes may have changed but the concepts are the same...]

Apr 11 2013 12:00pm

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate: New Excerpt

Susanna Calkins

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna CalkinsAn excerpt of A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, a traditional historical mystery and the first book in the Lucy Campion series by Susanna Calkins (available April 23, 2013).

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone she loves is wrongly arrested for the crime. In a time when the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers are not permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn’t kill them first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never see this person alive again. Unless, that is, she can identify the true murderer.

Chapter 1
London, March 1665

A great pounding at the door startled the chambermaid bending to light the morning hearth. Jerking upright, Lucy Campion swore softly as a bit of hot beeswax stung her wrist. Slapping the taper on the mantel, she sneaked a glance over her shoulder. She could hear Bessie and Cook rattling pots in the kitchen, but the rest of the magistrate’s household was still. Her muttered oath had not carried. Though theirs was not a stringent Puritan family, the magistrate frowned on ill language, and Lucy always took care not to annoy him.

[Read the full excerpt of A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins...]

Apr 8 2013 12:00pm

Anne Holmes: The First Female Sleuth in England?

Fans of Sherlock Holmes may be intrigued to know that the first known female sleuth in England was Anne Kidderminster (nee Holmes), a seventeenth-century widow who tracked down and brought her husband’s murderer to justice thirteen years after the crime. 

Thomas Kidderminster was a gentleman’s son who’d been swindled out of his Hereford estate by his stepmother. Forging his way in the world, he became a steward to the Bishop of Ely, a profitable occupation that allowed him to later lease land from Sir Miles Sandys, a nearly impoverished noble.  

Shortly after, in 1653, Thomas met Anne Holmes, a lady’s maid serving at an estate about six miles away. They married in September that same year.

During this time, Sandys began to run into serious debt, borrowing extensively from Thomas and many others in the community. Sandys’s debts continued to accrue,  until he was finally thrown in Fleet prison, where he died. Unfortunately for Thomas, Sandys’s debtors began to come after him as well, claiming his profits from the land belonged to them.

[Beware the unpaid debt...]