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Leaving Clues In Plain Sight by Andrea Penrose

One of the really fun parts about writing a mystery is creating the tantalizing little clues that challenge readers—along with my amateur sleuths, Lady Charlotte and Lord Wrexford—to piece together the puzzle and figure out who the villain is. So, I thought I’d give you an exclusive inside peek at one of the key clues in MURDER AT KENSINGTON PALACE!

The book is set in Regency England—it’s the era of Jane Austen, and in the fancy London neighborhood where Wrexford lives, it’s a world of fancy mansions and glittering ballrooms. The ladies are aswirl in gowns of sumptuous silk and satin, while the gentlemen are equally eye-catching in  their evening finery. And that sparked one of those wonderful writerly Aha! moments. In thinking about all the gorgeous fashions, I found myself inspired to use an item of clothing as a telltale clue of the cunning killer’s identity.

 

However, rather than use a lady’s handkerchief or fichu, I decided to pick something from the wardrobe of a fancy gentleman. Here’s another little secret—the gentlemen of the Regency were just as fashion-conscious as the ladies. Perhaps even more so! You think it’s modern hipsters who invented the skinny jean to show off their muscled legs? Ha! Regency cavalry officers were known to put on their leather riding breeches, then sit in a bath tub of hot water so that when they got out, the pants would dry and shrink to a skin-tight fit! Talk about fashionistas!

However, I didn’t choose leather pants. I chose a hat. (As you see in the fashionplates here, a hat was de rigueur for topping off a gentleman’s fancy outfit.) And like a lady’s bonnet, a gentleman’s hat came in a vast array of different styles. High, low, curly-brimmed, flat-brimmed, military shakos . . . the choices were endless.

So, how did I choose which style to use? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s take a sneak peek at a snippet from the scene where Lady Charlotte gets her first clue about the hat! (She’s taken two young urchin brothers named Hawk and Raven under her wing, and they now live with her. Clever and streetwise, the boys are helping her search for information to help solve a string of shocking murders. And in questioning the street people around the scenes of the crimes, they make an important discovery.)

“It’s you and your drawings I learned from, m’lady,” said Hawk in a rush. “Y’know, look for the little details—you’re always saying it’s the small bits and bobs that help piece together the truth.”

Charlotte sucked in a breath. She had used the aphorism to explain to the boys why gathering so much seemingly meaningless information was important for her work. Apparently, the boy had taken her words to heart.

She stared down at the grubby piece of paper, which was still clutched in his hand. “And you’ve found one of those bits and bobs?”

“Oiy. When Mary mentioned the cov wuz wearing a hat, Hawk thought to draw a sketch,” interjected Raven. “And Mary gabbled ‘nay’ and ‘yea’ until he got the shape right.”

Charlotte realized her heart had started to thump against her ribs. “May I see it?”

Hawk solemnly unfolded the paper and slid it across the desktop.

Unclenching her fingers, she drew it closer and took a long moment to study the penciled image.

The boy had a real knack for drawing. The lines were quick and simple, yet he had captured the curl of the sides and the jaunty dip of the brim at the back and front. Charlotte recognized the style—it had a name, though she couldn’t recall it—as being popular, but not at the pinnacle of fashion.

Distinctive, but not too distinctive.

“You think it might help in catching the killer?” asked Hawk.

“Yes,” replied Charlotte, still staring at the image. “I think it might help a great deal.”

Could the hat be the key the key to tracking down the killer? Charlotte is eager to show the sketch to Wrexford, and get his opinion.

Unclenching her hands, Charlotte looked down and started smoothing a crease from her skirts. As she did so, her fingers brushed up against paper. Hawk’s drawing, had slipped from the cushions to become tangled in the folds of sprigged muslin.

“What have you there?” asked Wrexford as she carefully cupped the paper in her upturned palm.

“You were not the only one out looking for clues yesterday.” Charlotte quickly told him about her foray to Kensington Gardens, and the inquiries made by the boys.

With his usual scientific detachment, the earl studied the crinkles and smudges for a long moment before taking up the sketch and subjecting it to a more thorough scrutiny.

“Wellington,” he murmured.

Her eyes widened. “The duke?”

“No, no, the hat.” He refolded the sketch. “It’s called a Wellington.”

“I don’t suppose that helps.”

“Not particularly. Any number of hatters make the style . . .”

Logic says he’s right, and yet Charlotte’s intuition tells her that the hat will identify the killer—they just have to keep their eyes open. And sure enough, when it makes an unexpected appearance in High Society, Wrexford has to concede they may be on the right track. The chase is on . . . but the plot suddenly thickens! They spot more than more than one suspect wearing a Wellington hat.

So, let’s return to the question of why I chose a Wellington hat. It’s not as tall as a traditional top hat, and has a jaunty curl to its brim in both the front and back.  And there’s a very special reason the killer chose a hat with these distinctive features. Sorry—I’m not going to give away any spoilers! But now that you know the backstory, I hope you have fun following the Wellington hat through the story and seeing if you can figure out the identity of the dastardly killer before Charlotte does!

In fact, I’ll be giving away a signed copy of MURDER ON BLACK SWAN LANE, my first Wrexford & Sloane mystery, to the first person who e-mails the correct name of the guilty person to andreapenroseauthor@ gmail.com!

 

Wrexford and Sloane must unravel secrets within secrets—including a few that entangle their own hearts—when they reunite to solve a string of shocking murders that have horrified Regency London…

Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter.

Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim . . .


Books We Can’t Wait to Share – Staff Picks

 

Review by Tara

The Other Side is Trice Hickman’s first book after a long hiatus. And it is spectacular! Booklist wrote: “Fans of Mary Kay Andrews and Mary Monroe may enjoy this excellent, dramatic story, featuring three smart women… With an ending that will leave readers wondering what happens next, Hickman’s romance offers plenty of satisfying emotions and surprises.”

I felt that this review hit the nail right on the head. The Other Side is full of emotion, wisdom and it is just plain fun to read. I totally identified with the heroines that Trice created, and went right with them on their roller-coaster ride of romance and life. All three women are different ages, but their characterization and their struggles ring so true for women of any age. I loved the book from the beginning pages, with the description of Bernadette and her mother picking out wedding dresses, right to the end as Arizona finally makes her decision on what to do about her love for Chris. Don’t miss it!

 

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Review by Michaela

October is the month for good spooky fun. What could be better suited to the season than a delightful cozy mystery set on a resort island known for its fudge shops, Victorian hotels, horse-drawn carriages – and murders?

FUDGE BITES is the seventh full-length book in Nancy Coco’s popular Candy-Coated mystery series, featuring yummy recipes as well as plenty of murder and mayhem.  Mackinac Island has been looking forward to its annual Zombie Walk, complete with costumes, treats, and a parade. But there’s something new this year . . . one of the zombies turns out to be an actual corpse! It’s up to hotel owner/fudge maker Allie McMurphy to solve the case – with help from her perky pup and cuddly kitty, of course! I dare you to resist trying one or more of these tempting recipes:

Decadent Dark Chocolate, Cinnamon Chip, Flourless Brownies

Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Fudge

Apple Cinnamon White Chocolate Fudge

Pumpkin Spice Fudge

Butterscotch fudge

Candy Corn Fudge

Chocolate-coated Truffles

Happy haunting!

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Review by Alex

As a self-proclaimed, obsessed, “Hamil-fan”, I’ve spent the last four years devouring documentaries and books on the Founding Fathers. The more I learned, the more I wondered about the role females played in the birth of our country.  So many women have been lost-in, and silenced-by, history. That’s where Susan Holloway Scott comes in.

A gorgeous blend of thoroughly researched fact and fiction, THE SECRET WIFE OF AARON BURR tells the story of Mary Emmons, an enslaved woman and her complicated relationship with infamous Revolutionary War hero, lawyer, and Vice President, Aaron Burr, best known for killing Alexander Hamilton one fateful day in 1804.

Strong, smart, and resourceful, Mary Emmons does what she can to survive in an oppressive world, quickly gaining the trust of her new “mistress” Theodosia Prevost. The bond between these women provides Mary with some comfort and companionship, but more importantly, ensures that Mary will continue to serve Theodosia instead of being sold to new “masters” when Theodosia weds Aaron Burr.

Burr is instantly drawn to Mary. Though the relationship between the two is complicated to say the least, Holloway has a gift for expertly depicting the dynamics of all three main characters, leaving the reader with a better understanding of how the relationships could exist in the first place. As Theodosia’s health fails, Burr and Emmons grow closer, eventually marrying in secret and having two children, who go on to have their own impact on American History.

We may never know more about the real Mary Emmons but The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr gives a voice to Mary and women like her. It’s a must-read for fans of the genre and lovers of all things Hamilton.

Speaking of which, be sure to check out I, Eliza Hamilton, Holloway’s take on the lives of Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton while you’re at it. Do not throw away your shot!

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