Fiction Review

In Front & Behind The Scenes

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What really goes on  at The Poisoned Pen? You’d be surprised when the authors come to visit.

Here’s Randy Wayne White with Barbara Peters, the store owner.

PP Barbara and Randy Wayne White

He was in town to discuss and sign the 23rd Doc Ford book, Deep Blue.

PP Deep Blue

Author Matthew Betley was here promoting his new book, Overwatch.

PP Matthew BelleyPP Overwatch

We previewed Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele, “A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer. She joined us to talk about her book.

PP Jane Steele

PP Lindsay Faye

And, here’s what happens when you ask an author to come to the backroom to sign their books. Jacqueline Winspear was pleased to see all the copies of her latest Maisie Dobbs book. Journey to Munich is the 12th in the series.

But, authors are readers, just like the rest of us. Jacqueline soon found a few enticing books in the backroom.

PP - Jacqueline reading

Whether you come to visit The Poisoned Pen, or visit us online, we hope you, too, will be enticed by some of the books.

A “March Madness” Teaser for “Game of Thrones”

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A “March Madness” teaser for the sixth season of Game of Thrones “includes new footage and dire warnings,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote, noting that the clip “catches up with Daenerys, who is being led into Vaes Dothrak, and includes a brief glimpse of Ramsey Bolton before showing Sansa on the run with Theon Greyjoy after their daring escape. Turning its attention to King’s Landing, the rest of the Lannisters are seen while the High Sparrow narrates: ‘We are sinful creatures. We deserve death. We all do.’ Jaqen H’ghar ends the teaser with an ominous note to Arya: ‘One way or another, the gift will be given. One way or another, a face will be added to the hole.’ ”

Entertainment Weekly unveiled a gallery of Game of Thrones season six photos. The series returns to HBO April 24

Tessa Arlen, Back in the Hot Seat

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Tessa (better)

Since Tessa Arlen will be at The Poisoned Pen for an Afternoon Tea on Wednesday, April 6 at 2 PM, we thought it would be fun to ask her about Edwardian life. Her mysteries, Death Sits Down to Dinner, and Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, are set in Edwardian England. Yesterday, I posed five questions to Tessa. Today, we have the second five.

  1. Tell us about a couple of your favorite Edwardians.

I am going to quote from the third book in the Lady Montfort series, as Mrs. Jackson ponders on the eccentricities of the aristocracy and two of my favorite Edwardian women:

“At least Lady Montfort did not involve herself in the outrageous antics of the suffragette movement like the untoward Lady Constance Lytton, the middle-aged, unmarried daughter of the Earl of Lytton.  Lady Constance had spent the last five years escalating her fight for the franchise from setting light to the occasional post-box to instigating a one hundred woman strong hunger strike in Liverpool Prison; bringing untold humiliation to her family, and if this wasn’t enough had proudly published a book about her experiences in His Majesty’s more unattractive prisons.

And neither did Lady Montfort design highly unsuitable underclothing like that embarrassing Lady Duff-Gordon with her fancy London salon, Madam Lucile, in Hanover Square. Everyone knew it was improper for the wife of an aristocrat to earn her own living –a fact made quite clear by the Court of St. James when Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon was informed that he may not present his new entrepreneurial wife at court.”

Both Lady Lytton and Lady Duff-Gordon are great examples of independent women who lived rather unconventional lives in England at this time; one as a deeply committed and extremely aggressive leader for the women’s franchise and the other as a very successful entrepreneur who not only survived the sinking of the Titanic, but had fashion houses in London, Paris and New York. Nothing about them sounded particularly likeable –but they were very interesting!

  1. Can you describe yourself in 5 words or phrases as Lady Montfort might see you?

“Perhaps after luncheon I will invite Mrs. Arlen to walk around the rose garden with me and pick her brain about Damask and Noisette roses –she is such a keen gardener and so willing to instruct.”

  1. Now, describe yourself as Edith Jackson might.

“Mrs. Arlen? Yes, she is a nice enough little woman, somewhat outspoken and informal in her manner, but then no one is perfect.”

  1. You live in Washington. What or where is your favorite place to take a visitor?

To Bloedel Reserve –Bainbridge Island’s stately home. A lovely house built by a lumber baron in the 1950s with the most wonderful gardens and views of the Puget Sound. Luckily now open to the public and so beautifully maintained.

  1. Can you tell us what we can expect from the English Tea at the Poisoned Pen?

Afternoon tea is such a civilized affair. And once we have all said hullo and eaten a cucumber sandwich or two then I would be quite happy to join in a conversation aboutthe fascinating early decades of the 20th century and about Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson in their latest adventure.

Death Sits Down to Dinner

I hope you can join Tessa Arlen on Wednesday, April 6 at 2 PM at The Poisoned Pen. And, while we spent the last two days discussing her latest book, Death Sits Down to Dinner, congratulations are in order dealing with the first book in the Lady Montfort series. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a nominee for this year’s Agatha Award in the category Best First Novel. One more reason to attend the tea, so you can ask Tessa about her first book and the nomination.

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman


Tessa Arlen, In the Hot Seat

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Tessa (better)

It may seem unusual for The Poisoned Pen to host an author at 2 PM on a Wednesday. But Tessa Arlen will be here for an Afternoon Tea on April 6, and she will also discuss and sign her latest mystery, Death Sits Down to Dinner.

I had the chance to ask Tessa about her Edwardian mysteries. This is a fun interview, split into two days of Q&A.

  1. Your mystery series is set in the Edwardian period before the Great War. I’m sure you could write a book about the history, but would you give us just a little background about those years? What should readers know?

The Edwardian era spans from 1901 with the coronation of King Edward VII and runs through to the beginning of WW1 in 1914, despite the fact that Edward VII died in 1910 and was succeeded by his son George V.  Edward VII or Bertie has he is still affectionately known began his reign at the start of a new and exciting century full of innovation in transportation, communication and manufacturing but also in the arts.

There was a Liberal government hell bent on social reform and taxing the landed classes to provide funds for those reforms. The power of veto in the House of Lords had been broken for the first time in history simply by flooding the house with newly appointed peers of the Liberal persuasion. The age of the motor car and the fast train had contributed severely to suburbanizing the countryside around major cities, and an ever-increasing middle class enjoyed a standard of living unknown in the previous century.

In the coronation year of 1911 when George V succeeded his father as king and emperor the British Empire had already reached its zenith forty years before. It was not the end of Britain’s world power –but America was already emerging as the next economic world leader and life was still remarkably good for the rich and most of the landed aristocracy. 1911 was one of the hottest summers on record. And it almost seems as if this un-English weather fermented trouble: there was a dock-workers strike that caused havoc throughout the country which spurred on other trade unions to support strike action for better pay and working conditions; the Irish were demanding home rule; the rich had never been richer and the poor more desperate. And on top of that the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (Suffragettes) fight for the franchise under the leadership of the Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia had turned decidedly nasty. A perfect time in which to writer about murder!

  1. You have two amateur sleuths in the Lady Montfort series. Would you introduce them, and tell us why you have two?

Clementine Elizabeth Talbot, the Countess of Montfort is a mildly eccentric aristocrat’s wife with a good deal of vitality and a husband who admires her quick and energetic mind. She was brought up in India, the daughter of the Governor of Madras, and married the most eligible bachelor during her first London season. It is possible that her Indian upbringing made her a little less conventional than most women of her time. In 1912 she had just celebrated her fortieth birthday. She is tall with rich bay brown hair and blue eyes.

Mrs. Edith Jackson is Lady Montfort’s housekeeper and holds a very senior position in the Earl of Montfort’s country house, Iyntwood. She is single, housekeepers were given the title Mrs. out of respect even if they were spinsters. She was raised in a parish orphanage and was a working kitchen skivvy at fourteen. She taught herself to read and write and is naturally reserved. Mrs. Jackson is as circumspect as Lady Montfort is outgoing, and even though she can be quite severe she has a well-developed sense of humor and an interesting inner-monologue. She is extremely conscious of her position as senior servant to a family of consequence and is probably a far greater snob than her mistress. Like her mistress she is a tall woman with russet brown hair and large gray eyes, she is about thirty-five.

There are two of them because I wanted them to represent opposite ends of a society that held fast to the traditions of class and hierarchy that the English are famous for in this time. Without an army of well-trained and inexpensive servants the Earl of Montfort’s  large, luxurious country house would not have been possible to maintain to the high standard it enjoyed. In the first book: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman Mrs. Jackson is definitely Lady Montfort’s Watson. But as the series emerges this demarcation becomes more blurred as to two women form a sort of friendship within the constraints of the social positions.


  1. Would you tell us just enough about Death Sits Down to Dinner to whet our appetite?

It is November 2, 1913 with Lord and Lady Montfort attending the 39th birthday party of Winston Churchill, who is First Lord of the Admiralty, in the house of an old family friend Hermione Kingsley who runs a very large and prestigious charity called the Chimney Sweep Boys. After dinner the dead body of one of the guests is found in the dining room. At this time England is in the grip of spy mania and considerable anxiety about the very real possibilities of being drawn into a war with Germany and the investigation of the murder is kept hush-hush because of Churchill’s very senior position in government. Being the woman she is Lady Montfort cannot help but involve herself in her own clandestine inquiry and she sends to the country for Mrs. Jackson to join her at Montfort House in Belgravia. Lady Montfort is so well connected that she is invited everywhere: to the ballet, to the opera, to dinners and dances. It is against this sparkling and sophisticated backdrop populated with several real Edwardian characters that she and  Mrs. Jackson winkle out the identity of the murderer.

  1. What would we be served at an Edwardian dinner?

Eight courses would be served when one was entertaining guests. If King Edward was a guest, he expected to be served with at least twelve. He also liked his dinners to be leisurely affairs and so three hours were usual for dinner. The English loved their roast mutton and beef, but the well-off usually ate French cuisine and often employed a French chef.  Dinner would be served by footmen who offered food to the guests from the left side.  Here is a sample menu for a very formal dinner –it sounds like a vast amount of food but each course would be taken by guests in a “restrained” manner. I hope you like rich food!

  • Orkney oysters on the half shell
  • Veal consommé with leeks
  • Grilled Turbot with a cream sauce
  • Rolled veal breasts stuffed with foie gras and truffles
  • Roast mutton or maybe roast suckling pig or a roast goose with a red-current glaze with roast potato
  • An entremets of creamed spinach, asparagus and glazed endive
  • Cheese soufflé
  • A moulded primrose jelly (with edible flowers in it) and decorated with whipped cream –these were exquisite affairs that were very decorative and made wonderful centrepieces     
  • Hot-house fruit
  • Biscuit à la crème    
  1. Your history teacher said history was simply “very old gossip”. Dish, please. What’s your favorite piece of old gossip?

So much gossip! I promise you my history teacher’s gossip was political and not racy. Upper-crust Edwardians had considerable time to devote to the leisurely art of flirtation and romantic assignation. Married women might take a lover or two after they had produced an heir and a spare, and her husband might have a mistress tucked away in Maida Vale. The country house Saturday to Monday, as Edwardians referred to a weekend, was a great opportunity for romantic liaisons BUT discretion was key! Divorce was out of the question, and there must be no letting down the side with untidy love-affairs.

Maud, Lady Cunard, wife of Sir Bache Cunard of the famous shipping line had a long love affair with Sir Thomas Beecham. One morning they were tucked up in bed together at Sir Bache’s magnificent country estate, Nevill Holt, when the closed bedroom curtains blew aside in the wind and an estate worker who was working on the roof saw them. He must have shimmied down that ladder at top speed in order to catch a train to London so he could sell the story to the newspapers. But not quite quickly enough; he was bought off by Sir Bache who most certainly did not want his wife’s love affair broadcast to the world. Country house shenanigans was a fashion set by dear old “Bertie” (King Edward VII) who slept with all of his compliant male friend’s wives if he found them attractive. Hence the witticism: Greater love hath no man than to lay down his wife for his king.

On that racy note, we’ll end today’s interview. Stop by tomorrow for the second part of the interview with Tessa Arlen. If you’re intrigued, you might want to plan now to attend the Afternoon Tea at the Poisoned Pen on Wednesday, April 6 at 2 PM.

Death Sits Down to Dinner


Leftover Easter Chocolate

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Do you have leftover Easter Chocolate? Janet Rudolph’s Dying for Chocolate has suggestions as to what to do with all of it. Check it out!

Hats Off to Jenn McKinlay

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Jenn McKinlay

Hats off to Jenn McKinlay as we congratulate the prolific author. Readers may know Jenn as the author of the Hat Shop mysteries, the Cupcake Bakery mysteries set in Old Town Scottsdale, and the Library Lover’s mysteries. Jenn is also a friend of the Poisoned Pen who has appeared here numerous times.

Jenn recently signed a contract for a three book deal for a women’s fiction series, beginning with ABOUT A DOG, which will be published in June 2017. The series is “about best friends, going home, shenanigans, stray puppy dogs, mischievous elderly aunts, big laughs, shared tears, hot sex, and falling unexpectedly in love”. Set in Maine among high school friends “the Maine Crew”, book one opens with a woman returning to her Maine hometown, the scene of her disgrace years before, for the wedding of her best friend in which she’s paired with the one-night stand who soothed her broken heart—who also happens to be the bride’s off-limits brother.

McKinlay’s cozy mystery fans don’t need to worry, though. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER is book 7 in the Library Lover’s Mystery series, with book 8 to follow.  CARAMEL CRUSH, book 9 in the Cupcake Bakery mystery series, is due out in 2017and there’s already a deal for book 10. The latest Cupcake Bakery mystery, Vanilla Beaned, is due out in just a couple weeks.

Fans will get a chance to ask Jenn McKinlay about all of these books, and her new series, at our Cozy Con on May 7. Watch for further details about that event. In the meantime, stop in and pick up a cozy mystery or two!

Vanilla Beaned



John A. Connell, Back in the Hot Seat

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John A Connell

Look at that face. Does that look like someone who would be described as having his head in the clouds? When you read the conclusion of the interview with John A. Connell, you’ll find that his wife describes him that way. Today’s our day to learn a little about the personal side of the author of Spoils of Victory.

  1. You’re an American who has lived in Paris and Madrid. Tell us where you would like to live next, and why.

I never imagined actually living in Paris or Madrid before that prospect was staring me in the face. And if someone had told me that I would be moving to Paris six months prior to doing so, I would have called them crazy. I had a good job as a camera operator on NYPD Blue, my wife and I had just bought our dream house in Los Angeles (at least as dreamy as we could afford), and I spoke almost zero French. But when my wife was offered an excellent opportunity in Paris, I said yes with little deliberation. For years I had wanted to devote more time to writing, and I had always toyed with the idea of living in Europe. What better place to try both than in the City of Lights? 12 years later, we made the move to Madrid—another place I never imagined living. Oh, and I don’t speak Spanish—though I’m working on it.

So, who knows where I might end up next! I think it would be fun to try Rome or Munich. Rome for the history and the food, and after spending a lot of time in Munich during my research, I really fell for the city and the people. And France keeps pulling at us. There is so much history, beauty, and culture (not to mention great food and wine!) packed into a country the size of Texas, that it’s hard to resist. Especially since I’m such a history buff—my wife says I like old stones…

  1. Readers who want to be writers are always curious about the writing process. When and where do you write? Computer, pen and ink? Do you outline or are you a pantser, writing by the seat of your pants?

I write my first draft in longhand. I write in notebooks, leaving wide enough margins to jot down notes, revision suggestions, etc. Not very efficient, but it helps keep the thoughts flowing. And when I’m writing that first, rough draft I usually sit on my bed, legs up, with the shades closed. The darkened room helps me stay in the story moment.

I’m a hybrid—part outliner, part pantser. I don’t plan out the entire book. I have the beginning, some major plot points I want to hit along the way, and a sense of the ending, but beyond that, I write as I go. I’ve tried to start with a detailed outline, but I just couldn’t make it work. I like the spontaneity of it, though it is like writing without a net. I’m like the detective in my stories, assimilating information and deciding on the next step. That spontaneity of the story is part of the joy I get out of writing. As a matter of fact, for SPOILS OF VICTORY I didn’t really know who was the main antagonist until near the end!

  1. Tell us something about yourself that readers don’t know.

From a very young age and up to my mid-20s I had dreamed of being a music composer. I had a gift for performance and composing, but I lacked the passion and discipline to master the craft. And at that young age, if whatever I wrote didn’t come out as instantly brilliant then I abandoned it, which was all too often. When I finally walked away from music, I was crushed, and as a consequence I haven’t returned to keyboard since. Looking back, I realize that music was my outlet for a driving urge to create, and camerawork in film and TV served that same purpose, until I discovered my true passion—writing.

  1. What are you working on now?

I’m working on book #3 in the Mason Collins series. I hesitate to say anything about what’s next for fear of introducing a, well, spoiler for the end of SPOILS. I can say that my plan with each book is to pick up Mason’s journey weeks or months after the last, with Mason, like that wandering samurai, getting into trouble in some of the most volatile places in Europe and the Mediterranean.

  1. Describe yourself in five words, as you think your wife would describe you.

I decided to simply ask my wife. Is that cheating?

I had to use phrases rather than five single words. I know, another cheat.

  • keenly perceptive of people
  • “dans la lune” which I roughly translate as “head in the clouds.”
  • attentive listener
  • maniac for details (I tend to need to know everything, much to her consternation)
  • adaptable to changing situations

Now, of course, my wife is prejudiced. I can agree that I do have my head in the clouds most of the time…


Fortunately, John A. Connell is able to adapt to changing situations. That means he’ll be here on Wednesday, March 30 at 7 PM, instead of in Spain. He’ll talk about Spoils of Victory, and sign it. He’ll be joined by Philip Kerr.