Celebrating the Golden Age of detective fiction.
If you love the Golden Age of detective fiction (and who doesn’t?) you’re going to be happy to meet Olive Belgrave, the high society lady detective. This cozy mystery series from Sara Rosett is set in one of my favorite periods in history – between the two world wars. Olive is a young well-bred woman in search of an occupation, not an easy thing for those of the female persuasion to find in 1923.
In this episode Sara reads to us from Murder at Archly Manor to whet your appetite. And then I ask Sara to give us a synopsis of her three other cozy mystery series. They include:
- The Murder on Location series
- The On the Run International mysteries; and
- The Ellie Avery series.
So as the title of this episode suggests, Sara has a cozy series for every taste and you can learn more about all of them at her website (link below).
If you’re looking for new books and authors I’ve got a treat for you. There are over 70 mystery novels available for you to try – for free! – when you go to:
(This offer expires March 31, 2021 so head over there today to take advantage.)
Today’s show is supported by my patrons at Patreon. Thank you! When you become a patron for as little as $1 a month you receive a short mystery story each and every month. And the rewards for those who love mystery stories go up from there! Learn more and become a part of my community of readers at www.Patreon.com/alexandraamor
This week’s mystery author
USA Today bestselling author Sara Rosett writes lighthearted mysteries for readers who enjoy atmospheric settings, fun characters, and puzzling whodunits.
She is the author of the High Society Lady Detective historical mystery series as well as three contemporary cozy mystery series.
Sara loves escaping into Golden Age mysteries, watching Jane Austen adaptations, and getting new stamps in her passport.
To learn more about Sara and all her books visit SaraRosett.com
Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher, Android, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and Spotify.
Excerpt from Murder at Archly Manor
London, Summer 1923
One might suppose a well-bred young woman with a good education wouldn’t have any difficulties finding employment. At least, that’s what I’d supposed, but I discovered those assumptions were wrong—quite wrong.
On an overcast morning in late July, I had stepped off the train from my little village of Nether Woodsmoor into the bustle and busyness of London, confident that within a few days I would be one of that fascinating breed, the working girl, striding off to put in a day’s work, knowing a paycheck was not long off.
My view of the situation had been quickly brought into line. It had been a rather abrupt descent from the heights of my expectations to the depths of reality. I had become familiar with the shallow veneer of apology that accompanied the words, “Sorry, but we don’t have anything for you.”
But today would be different. I was seated on the other side of the desk from a newspaper editor as he looked over my article. His closed office door barely muted the clacking typewriters and the loud conversations from the newsroom. I realized I was twisting my handbag in my lap, causing the decorative beads to strain against the threads that held them in place. I released my grip and pressed my gloved hands against the folds of my skirt.
Mr. Clark, editor of The Express, hadn’t even bothered to perch his pince-nez on his nose to read the sample article I’d labored over the night before. Holding his glasses in the air a few inches in front of his eyes, he skimmed down my handwritten story that described the Duchess of Seton’s ball. The fact that his lips didn’t twitch meant he didn’t even get to the incident involving Barbara Clairmore’s sash, Kippy Higgenbotham’s nearsightedness, and the melting ice sculpture.
He raised his head and extended the paper across the desk. “I’m sorry—”
I scooted forward to the edge of the chair. “I’ll work for you for a week for free.”
He rattled the paper. “The last thing I need is another society girl reporter.”
Despite the mugginess of the day that made the room stuffy, a chill twisted through me. The newspaper was my last resort. I hadn’t contacted Mr. Clark at The Express when I first arrived in London. I’d applied for other jobs. Father would not be too pleased if I became a reporter. And Sonia—I could hear her strident voice. “So unladylike! So unseemly. So beneath one of our class.”Yet, it was work I could do. I could write. If Essie Matthews, who never wrote one of her own essays at boarding school, could write a society column for The Hullabaloo, then I should be able to land a job at The Express.
Mr. Clark shook the paper at me again. “You’ll only clutter my desk.”
I kept my hands in my lap and leaned forward. “A fortnight. Give me two weeks to prove I can do it. You won’t regret it.”
He swept his pince-nez over his desk, nearly toppling a pile of papers several inches high. “Do I look like I need more articles?” His tone became more severe. “I did a favor for Sir Leo. I spoke with you. Now I need to get on with my work.” He tossed down the paper.
I stood. He remained seated, his attention already fixed on a typewritten page from one of the stacks. I was tempted to snatch up my article and tell him exactly what The Express would miss out on, but Mum’s words rang in my ears. “Good breeding always shows.”
I picked up the article and resisted the urge to crunch it into a ball. I folded it neatly. “Thank you for seeing me. I’ll tell Uncle Leo what a pleasure it was to meet you.”
I don’t know whether or not he picked up on the sarcasm in my voice. I didn’t wait to see his reaction. I swept through the racket of the newsroom but slowed when I reached the quiet of the wide staircase. Disappointment weighed down my shoulders and worry gnawed at my insides. I could put on a good show for Mr. Clark for a few moments, but the reality was rather bleak.
What was I going to do? Even with careful management, I could only stretch my funds for a little over another week. Soon I’d have nothing to pay Mrs. Gutler, and she’d been clear—she didn’t provide charity. “That’s for the church, not working women,” she’d said when I’d taken her poky little attic room.
Two men hurried up the stairs to the newsroom, their faces intent. They both raised their hats, and I managed a brief nod as I continued down the stairs. Until I’d seen Mr. Clark’s disinterested face, I hadn’t realized how much I had been counting on working as a reporter. I had canvassed every relative, friend, and acquaintance I could think of who might be able to help me find a job. Since Mr. Clark of The Express hadn’t come up to snuff, I had no other options. No one had inquired about the Position Wanted advertisement I’d been running since I’d realized finding a job wouldn’t be easy. I could only buy a newspaper and scour the Positions Vacant section again, something I’d done without fail for more days than I could count.
As I rounded the landing and continued to the ground floor, I realized I still clutched my sample article in my hand. You could always go home. The thought whispered through my mind. It would be so easy to go back to Nether Woodsmoor. I considered it for two steps, then I stuffed the article into my bag. The beads swayed, and I shook off the thought of returning to Derbyshire.
I wasn’t going home. It wasn’t home. Not anymore, not with Sonia pushing her way in and trying to erase every trace of Mum’s existence at Tate House. I would just have to keep at it. I squared my shoulders and marched across the lobby, my heels clicking over the mosaic of a sunrise. I’d keep at it until my last shilling was gone, at least.
I pushed through the heavy glass door into the stuffy afternoon. A thick layer of dark clouds trapped the heat like a lid on a jar, sealing the humid air around the city. I trotted down the shallow steps and turned in the direction of the tube station, wishing that it would rain even though I’d forgotten my umbrella. A shower would clear the air.
My steps checked as I passed a tea room. A hunger pang twisted in my stomach as I looked through the window at a table spread with scones, clotted cream, little cakes, and delicate sandwiches. I forced my feet to move. Threepenny worth of buns would have to do until the morning, when Mrs. Gutler would serve breakfast and helpfully remind me how many days were left until rent was due.
I bought a newspaper from the boy at the corner, then continued down the street toward the tube entrance, which was several blocks away. A few fat drops of rain plopped onto the sidewalk. Within a few steps, they increased to a patter, and a crack of thunder split the air. The drops became an all-out deluge, and I scurried toward a fruit stand awning, using the newspaper to shield the bit of ribbon and two ostrich feathers on my side-rolled hat. Rain splashed onto the back of my neck, and the white ties on my bow collar fluttered as I ran.
Other pedestrians were also scurrying to cover, and I bumped into a dark-suited chest in the crush as I rushed under the edge of the awning.
“Excuse—” I looked up into familiar gray eyes under hooded lids. “Jasper! I didn’t know you were in London. I thought you were in . . . somewhere foreign. I can’t remember where. Africa? Or was it South America? Don’t you recognize me? It’s me—Olive Belgrave.”
His face cleared. “Olive! I haven’t seen you in an age. You look so different with your hair chopped off.”
We shook hands, and I said, “It’s so good to see you. You’re looking well.”
As more people joined the crowd, I was pushed up next to Jasper with my nose nearly in his chest. I hadn’t seen him for years—not since before the war. When my cousin Peter came home to spend the holidays at Parkview Hall, he’d always brought Jasper along. Jasper’s parents were in India, and Jasper said he preferred Parkview to shuttling between his “various dotty aunts” as long as Aunt Caroline and Uncle Leo didn’t mind him visiting, which they didn’t. When I was fourteen, I’d had a tiny and short-lived crush on him, but he’d treated me exactly like he treated my other cousins, Gwen and Violet.
He’d never given me the easy win when we played croquet on the lawn. He’d never hesitated to cut me out at the tea tray either, snatching the last bit of cake or sandwich just before I reached for it. Worse, he’d mastered the ability to instantly look as innocent as a cherub in a Renaissance painting after swiping it. His wavy fair hair and clear gray eyes had helped create the illusion of blameless innocence, but it was his innate charm that sealed the deal—especially with the women. Everyone from Aunt Caroline down through Cook to the lowliest scullery maid would do anything for him.
But he was different now. Physically, he’d come through the war unscathed. He had rotten eyesight and had been refused each time he tried to join up. He had spent the war working in the depths of some government building for the Admiralty. In one of Peter’s rare bursts of conversation a few years ago, he’d said he’d had a letter from Jasper. Jasper had been demobbed and was now the gent about town.
Even if Jasper hadn’t spent time on the battlefield, he’d changed—not as much as Peter, but lines marked his face around his eyes and mouth, replacing that cherub-like quality with something colder and more distant. From the occasional tidbits of gossip I’d heard, Jasper seemed to be living a bit recklessly, running with the crowd of Bright Young People whose names often turned up in the society pages—and not in a good way either. The papers were all too happy to chronicle their excessive drinking and flamboyant displays of wealth.
A man dashed under the awning and bumped Jasper’s shoulder. We shifted an inch closer to the piles of apples. “Last I heard, you were off in foreign places yourself,” Jasper said. “Your mum’s alma mater in America, wasn’t it?”
“I was. I’m back now.” Mum had been American. She’d attended a women’s college before she visited England and met my father. Her short visit extended to months and eventually a wedding. She returned to the States for visits, but she’d insisted I should have a “real” education after attending finishing school with my cousin Gwen and coming out. Mum was adamant that there was no better place for that education than her old university. I’d always thought it was just a fond idea of hers, so I’d been surprised when Father had told me that she’d set money aside for my education before her death. It had been tucked away for years gaining interest and would be more than sufficient to fund my travel, tuition, and lodging.
The familiar simmer of anger burned in my chest at the thought of that fund. It had been so securely watched over for so many years, and then to have it all gone, whisked away in a foolish “investment.” Despite all the chatter about dividends, potential, and interest, Father might as well have tossed it on a bonfire.
“Didn’t enjoy it?”
Jasper’s words snapped me back to the present. “Oh, yes. I quite liked collegiate life. Suited me down to the ground, but I had to return.”
Rain drummed on the canvas overhead, running in rivulets off the edges and splattering to the pavement. I shifted closer to a stack of cabbages to keep the splashes from soaking my beige stockings and panel skirt.
“Yes, I was sorry to hear about your father’s illness,” Jasper said. “How is he?”
“Quite well, thank you,” I said, glad Jasper thought I was in England because of my father’s health, not because I couldn’t return to America. The truth about my financial situation was out in the little village of Nether Woodsmoor, but apparently the news hadn’t traveled all the way to London. “Father’s still weak and has to take it slowly, but he’s recovering.”
“I’m glad to hear it. And I understand congratulations are in order?” The rain abruptly shifted to a light patter, and a few people darted out from under the shelter of the awning.
I swallowed my true thoughts about my father’s new wife and forced out the appropriate words. “Yes, thank you. I’ll pass your felicitations along.”
The thought of Sonia always caused me to grimace, and I must not have completely succeeded in hiding it. The corners of Jasper’s mouth turned up and the skin around his eyes crinkled as he smiled, which took away some of the new severity of his face, making him look younger and more relaxed. He tilted his head closer to mine. “You don’t have to pretend with me. Familial discord is a subject I have a long acquaintance with.”
“I didn’t hide that well. Must work on that.” I looked around, but no one was paying attention to our conversation.
He saw my glance, and added, “I’m rather good at keeping secrets, too.”
“As I well know,” I said, thinking of a warm summer afternoon, the drone of bees, and the unexpected slap of cold water when I fell into the river.
“I’ll add this one to the list,” he said in a confidential tone, and a familiar twinge of warmth glowed in my chest.
Perhaps I wasn’t completely over that crush. But that was silly. I was a grown woman, not a moony schoolgirl. “It’s not exactly a secret, at least not at Tate House.”
“Ah, I see. Thus, London,” he said. “The grand city called to you, did she?”
“With an incredibly loud voice.”
His eyes, which could be so lazy and reserved, took on a piercing quality as he ran his gaze over me. I was very aware of my mended cuffs and that my Cuban heels had definitely seen better days. I took in the excellent cut of his suit and the quality of his gloves. Compared to his sartorial splendor, I must have looked down-at-the-heels. “I’m just on my way to tea,” he said. “Will you join me?”
“That would be lovely.”
He offered his arm, and we set off down the street. “I passed a tea shop not too far back,” I said.
“Oh, I don’t think so. Far too plebeian.”
“Not your style?”
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “I do have a reputation to maintain.” He smiled. “No, that’s not it at all. Reestablishing an old friendship calls for something a bit grander. The Savoy, I think.”