Andrea here, and I'm excited to announce that today is Release Day for A Question of Numbers, the latest book in my Lady Arianna Regency mystery series. I've had such fun writing these characters and their adventures, so I thought I'd share a bit of backstory about why I love writing the mystery genre, as well as a bit about the inspiration behind this latest story.
I began my career as a published author (don't ask about the old manuscripts squirreled away in a desk drawer) writing traditional Regency romances for NAL. I loved the era—and that's stayed with me to this day—and after glomming a number of books in the genre (including Wenches Mary Jo, Pat and Jo Beverley) I buckled up my courage and took a try at it, and to my surprise and delight . . . I got a contract. When the publishing world changed, I moved to sexy Regencies, which were fun, but I came to realize that my heart really lay in writing mysteries.
Why? Traditional publishers at the time were demanding a LOT of "between the sheets" scenes (in fact, it got to the point where I was told how many were expected in the book.) Now, physical attraction is a wonderful chemistry, but I find exploring the cerebral intricacies of my characters give me a chance to "flesh out" an even richer and more nuanced stories within stories. A traditional mystery (hard-boiled crime has different tropes) begins with—well, a mystery! It's often a murder. The protagonists who take on the challenge of solving the murder then begin a journey to find the truth. This is where it gets fun. As an author you get to delve into what makes a character tick. What are their strengths, their fears, their weaknesses? In seeking the motivations beyond the crime, they need to understand their own actions. Trust is a huge element of solving a mystery—who do you trust and why? Secrets can unravel . . . often in unexpected ways.
Because of my romance background—I do love creating the chemistry of attraction, but as one of the plot points, not the only one. It adds yet another layer of tension as each character tries to deal with all the forces in play. That's why I choose to have a man and women as my main protagonists. I find that thread helps weave complex—and interesting—characters, which I hope helps make the book even more engaging for readers.
Lady Arianna and Lord Saybrook, the heroine and hero of my series, both have personal demons in their backstory, and how they come to grips with them on a personal level, is a subplot as they work on solving the main mystery in each story. (Shown above are two paintings by Regency artist Sir Thomas Lawrence that I think capture my vision of Arianna and Saybrook)
Now, on to the inspiration behind A Question of Numbers! Many of you know I'm a history nerd, so the chance to set a mystery in Brussels right before the Battle of Waterloo was a special allure. The timing worked very well for the series arc, and given that Arianna and Saybrook are often involved in helping the government resolve threats to Britain, it was too alluring to resist! Wellington, the Duchess of Richmond's Ball, the specter of Napoleon and his advancing army (the previous book had Arianna matching wits with Napoleon on Elba) and other little historical details, like Napoleon's real-life jeweled talisman that is said to have been recovered near the battlefield. (You can read about the talisman in one of my earlier blogs) Those things all provided inspiration for intrigue and mayhem. And then I threw in a mysterious lady from Saybrook's to ramp up the personal stakes.
Here's an excerpt:
A bit of moonlight dribbled through the leaves, illuminating the man’s pale-as-death face. The fine-boned features had a certain feminine delicacy to them—a fact he tried to disguise with a luxuriant blond mustache, upturned at the ends with a twist of wax.
She instantly recognized the distinctive curl.
He sucked in a breath, but the next sound died on his tongue.
Arianna felt for a pulse. Finding none, she gave a short whistle, the signal agreed upon with Saybrook. In a few moments he was there, his dark coat melding in with the leafy shadows. He, too, smelled the blood, for he let out a low oath.
“Is he still alive?”
“I’m not sure. He’s been stabbed in the chest.”
“I’ll get a light. Try not to disturb the scene.” The earl returned quickly with one of the lanterns.
“He’s gone,” she said, watching the lamplight play over his sightless eyes. Grunwald had, she recalled, been very fond of Shakespeare’s play, especially A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Funny what little details one remembered about a person.
Lord, what fools these mortals be.
“It’s a wonder he didn’t die instantly,” observed Saybrook. “The blade must have just missed his heart.” Unfastening the buttons of the dead man’s coat, he began a thorough search of his clothing for any sign of documents. “Do you recognize the fellow?”
“Yes, it’s Count Grunwald,” she answered. “I did spend some very pleasant hours with him in Vienna while you were in meetings. He was fond of all things British. We had some interesting discussions on Shakespeare’s plays, but why he would choose to trust me . . .” She found it puzzling. “It makes no sense.”
“We both know the patterns of intrigue never do when the first few strands spin around you and draw you into the web.”
Arianna felt a chill slide down her spine.
“Nothing,” muttered the earl, after finishing with the outer pockets. He slid his fingers into the right boot, but sounds from the terrace caused him to abandon his probing and blow out the lantern.
“We can’t linger here.” He rose and offered Arianna a hand up. “I must alert Charles. He needs to send word to Horse Guards and then make sure that no one enters the garden until the powers-that-be decide on how to handle the situation.”
She was under no illusion as to whom he was referring.
“And I must get a message to Henning.” Their friend, a former military surgeon, was very skilled in dissecting the secrets of violent death. “I’d like him to examine the body as soon as possible. As for you . . .” He eyed her evening gown. “You’ve bloodstains on your skirts. Wait here—when I return, we’ll leave through the back gate.”
As he slipped away, Arianna watched the shadows tangle with shadows, their dipping, darting shapes moving too quickly for the eye to discern. And all at once, the soft swish of the leaves took on a more menacing rustle.
And to think that Saybrook and I had imagined a summer of quiet contemplation.
“Damnation,” she whispered. “It seems there will be no peace in our lives while Napoleon’s arse is perched on a throne.”
So, that's a small glimpse at how the book came to life! You can read more about it on my website, and under the "Diversions" section are a number of illustrated blogs related to all my books. Happy Reading!
So, do you enjoy the mystery genre? What's your favorite genre? And do you like when an author weaves a story around a real historical event? Please share! I'll be giving away an e-book of A Question of Numbers to one reader, chosen at random from those who leave a comment here between now and Wednesday!