Anne here, and today I have the very great pleasure of interviewing Mary Jo about her new book, just published, ONCE A SPY, the fourth book in her "Rogues Redeemed" series. I thoroughly enjoyed it — so much so that I ripped through it the first time, just to gobble up the story, then had to read it again.
It's getting some lovely —and well deserved — reviews. Publisher's Weekly said: "Putney’s dramatic historical is filled with scintillating romance and tense danger."
Kirkus reviews called it "equal parts adventure and romance."
Reviewer Barbara Rogers said:"I loved that this book wasn’t about insta-lust. I loved that the love and intimacy grew over time until they were both ready for it. That made the romance so very believable."
ONCE A SPY is about a Frenchwoman, Suzanne, the young widowed Comptesse de Charbon, and Simon Charbon, half French, half English, her late husband's cousin.
When the story opens, Suzanne is living in a boarding house in a poor part of London, trying to earn a living by sewing. Simon, having heard from a friend that his late cousin's widow, a woman he'd heard was dead, is now living in London, calls on her. And in a very short time he proposes marriage — a marriage of friendship and companionship.
Both hero and heroine are worn down by their experiences, and believe any sexual life is behind them, Simon because he's tired and disillusioned by years at war, and Suzanne, because after a brief, unhappy marriage, she was captured by corsairs and sold into a Turkish harem, where her experiences have put her off sex for life.
Readers might remember Suzanne from Once A Scoundrel where she helped to rescue the heroine, Lady Aurora Lawrence, from the harem in which they were both imprisoned.
Anne: Mary Jo, Suzanne has been through so much, and yet she does not come across as a victim. What qualities do you admire in Suzanne?
Mary Jo: She's so very resilient. Rather than curling up in a ball and bewailing her fate, she makes the best of what life sends her—and also has the courage to take chances. In Once a Scoundrel, she took the risk of freedom, and in Once a Spy, she has the courage to marry a near stranger.
Anne: As for Simon, I think readers will fall in love with him for his patience and kindness, as well as his cool-headed courage. Tell us about Simon.
Mary Jo: He first appeared in Once a Soldier, Rogues Redeemed #1, when he is one of five men imprisoned in a cellar in Portugal and condemned to be shot at dawn.. The other four men are British and Simon claims to be a French royalist. The men work together through the night and bond in the process, making a pact to keep in touch and get together if they survive the wars. That's the premise of this series.
But Simon has been enigmatic up until now. He was in the cellar, then appears later in that book as a British intelligence officer. Now, finally, it's his turn in the spotlight. When we first meet him, he's selling out of the army after Napoleon's abdication. He's exhausted to the bone and lonely, with little surviving family. Then he finds Suzanne, whom he met when she was a very young bride marrying Simon's cousin. They liked each other but were going on different paths. Now when they meet up, it's different, and in her he sees the remedy for his loneliness.
One of the things I like best about their relationship is how they're always honest with each other. They're mature and have seen a great deal of life, and they both realize that their marriage needs honesty if it is to have a chance to succeed.
Anne: Amelia from Goodreads (who gave it a 5 star rating) said: "While many storylines with a Regency setting are centered on attending balls and staying respectable, the fourth book in the Rogues Redeemed series is focused on relationship challenges and political turmoil." That was a good description, because the novel really has two storylines — the unfolding story of two friends healing each other's wounds and falling in love, and the action-packed story of spies, Napoleon's escape from Elba, the search for a long-lost relative, and . . . Waterloo.
What challenges did you face in weaving these very different threads together?
Mary Jo: About the same as any book where one is weaving the romance and the plotline together! In this case, the research on intelligence gathering during Napoleon's Hundred Days and the march to Waterloo was very complex. In an earlier book, Shattered Rainbows, I did a head on approach to Waterloo, from the social life of Brussels to the battlefield and beyond.
The timeline of the Rogues Redeemed series had brought me to Waterloo again, but I couldn't do another book centered on the actual battle. Since Simon had been an intelligence officer, it made sense for him to be involved on the spying end. (And no, I wasn't planning that from the beginning of the series! I'm not that organized. <G>)
Waterloo and the events around it are very well documented, so I did a lot of reading to find bits and pieces that would fit into Simon and Suzanne's story. I did find some very good bits, but you're right that it was complicated weaving them into their story.
Anne: I really enjoyed learning that part of the history. I liked the historical notes at the end, too. You wove in a number of other threads to the rich tapestry of the story — which did you enjoy most?
Mary Jo: There ended up being family issues for both of them, which again, I hadn't planned, but I think they enriched the characters and the stories. And there was a cat, of course. Little Leo is a young gray tabby who attaches himself to Suzanne (almost literally!) He's my Smokey, who also appeared under the name Sombre (Shadow) in Once a Soldier. He's living a full vicarious life. <G>
Anne: Yes, cats have that tendency. I really liked the way the family issues were resolved, too.
Could you give us a little taste of ONCE A SPY please?
Mary Jo: Here's a snippet from the first chapter, when Simon and Suzanne first meet up"
"Very prudent of your mother and her family." She cocked her head to one side. "Are you here only to look up a distant family connection? Perhaps you are bored now that you've sold out of the army?"
"Not bored, though I am rather at loose ends," he admitted. "But as soon as Hawkins mentioned you, I wanted to see if you were the right Suzanne Duval, and if so, to learn how you are faring."
Mr. Potter returned, a tea tray in hand. The tray was dented pewter and there was a chip in the spout of the teapot, but her landlord presented the refreshments with the air of a duke's butler. There was also a dish of shortbread.
"Thank you, Mr. Potter!" Suzanne said warmly. "You and your wife have outdone yourselves."
"The pleasure is ours, my lady." He inclined his head and withdrew from the room.
"My lady?" Simon asked as she poured tea for them. "He knows that you're an aristocrat?"
"He was just being polite, though you might have changed that." She sipped her tea, then offered him the shortbread. "Have a piece. Mrs. Potter is a wonderful baker."
He followed her advice and murmured appreciatively after he bit into it. "She is, and she doesn't stint on the butter." He finished his tea in a long swallow and set the cup down with a clink. "I wonder if I might find old friends or relations in the émigré community. Have you found your compatriots welcoming even though your relatives have returned to France?"
Her mouth twisted. "The grand émigrés in Soho will have nothing to do with a woman who was a whore in Turkey."
He winced. "Surely no one said such an appalling thing!"
"The aristocratic ladies did. Their husbands tried to corner me in empty rooms," she said tartly. "I decided I would be safer among my more humble countrymen here in St. Pancras."
He bit off a curse. "You deserve so much better than this, Suzanne!"
She sighed. "If there is one thing I have learned, it's that no one 'deserves' anything more than the right to struggle for survival. I'd rather be here altering gowns in a cold room than living in luxury in a Turkish harem and wondering which night might be my last, so I think I am doing well." She raised her teacup in a mock toast. "Will you drink to my survival, Simon?"
"I can do more than that," he said, his gaze intense. "Marry me, Suzanne."
Mary Jo also has a novella that's out today. Seduction on a Snowy Night is a trio of Christmas novellas, with Madeline Hunter and Sabrina Jeffreys. Kirkus reviews said: "One Wicked Winter Night by Putney (Once a Spy, 2019, etc.) is, by far, the standout of this trio, with a lovely second-chance romance as lovers reunite at a magical costume ball."
Mary Jo will be giving away a copy of Once A Spy to someone who leaves a comment, or answers these questions: Do you like friends-to-lovers stories? What do you like (or dislike) about them?