Posts Tagged ‘Rivals in the City’

Reading ahead, reading abroad

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 7.41.42 PMHello, friends. I had SUCH a lovely batch of unexpected mail this week! First came Candlewick Press’s spring/summer 2015 catalogue. Its cover (right) is based on the cover of the new Kate DiCamillo novel, Raymie Nightingale, which will be published in April. Hurray!

IMG_20151110_142228210I had more personal reasons for reading the catalogue, too. It feels like the March publication of Jessica Spotswood’s A Tyranny of Petticoats is one step closer because it appears in these pages. I’m lucky enough to have an ARC and while I haven’t yet read all the short stories (I’m trying to eke them out), some of my favourites so far are the ones by J. Anderson Coats, Elizabeth Wein, and Saundra Mitchell. They’re so great, you guys. SO GREAT! It’s extra-exciting because while my Code Name: Verity obsession is quite well documented, I’d never read anything by either Coats or Mitchell. Now, I’m off to devour their back catalogues.

And then I flipped over a few more pages and had the oddest feeling. You see, the Agency novels will also be re-released this spring. But… I’d forgotten. I really had. So when I turned over to this page, I actually dribbled coffee down my shirt.


So… it’s true. Candlewick will be re-releasing all four books in the quartet with the gorgeous covers first used in the UK and Australia. This is going to sound absurd and implausible and disingenuous, but I also didn’t know that The Traitor in the Tunnel was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. It’s possible that I’ve taken my decision not to obsess about sales/awards/stats too seriously. Or maybe not. After all, it was the best kind of surprise to read about it in the catalogue.

But my week of postal delights was not yet finished! A smallish, heavy box from Korea also arrived, and I wondered why my Korean publisher was sending more copies of their edition of A Spy in the House. But I was wrong.

The Body at the Tower, Korean edition

You guys, you guys, you guys! Mary Quinn is cross-dressed! She’s holding a model of the clock tower with a little man dangling perilously from it! It’s the Korean edition of The Body at the Tower, and it’s so much more beautiful in the hand than on the screen!

I am not ready to pretend to be calm and dignified. Here are a few more shots.


The spines and the embossed abstract-mechanical motifs on the cover!


The inside cover. The little image of the hat she’s wearing also appears throughout the book, to mark scene changes.


And ohhhhh, those endpapers. I would like to cover the world (or at least everything in my study) with that brick-printed paper.

The rest of the mail this week was the usual mess of bills and dental appointment reminders and subscription offers for magazines we’ll never miss. Pah. If you need me, I’ll be sitting in my study, drinking tea and petting my stack of books and catalogues.

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Cover story: Rivals in the City

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Hello, friends. Happy Canada Day, and Happy Fourth of July this weekend!

This week, I’m very excited to bring you some behind-the-scenes images from the cover photo shoot for Rivals in the City.

These pictures were taken in New York by Candlewick Press designer Heather McGee. As you can see, Candlewick used the same model, Amber Ahlquist, to represent Mary Quinn on every cover in the series. What might not be so obvious is that they’re also working with the same costume stylist, makeup artist, and photographer! I’m so grateful for Candlewick’s consistent attention to detail. It makes such a huge difference in the final product.

Here’s a shot of Crystal Thompson (stylist; behind model) and Souraya Hamdi (makeup artist) at work.

photo 1

Victorian dresses often came in two pieces: a shirtwaist (ie, a blouse) and a skirt. As you can see here, this one is a single garment. It fastens at the front because, as a woman without a ladies’ maid, Mary Quinn would have to dress herself. Dresses that buttoned down the back were a sign of social status: the lady who wore those would have a maid who helped her to dress and undress.

photo 2

Here’s photographer Scott Nobles checking light exposures. Models seem to spend a huge amount of time getting prepped and waiting around, and a relatively short time actually being photographed.

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A few minor costume adjustments, between shots.

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And makeup, too. Perfectly historically accurate Victorian makeup, of course.

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I love the juxtaposition of jeans and pocket-cameras with 1860s costume!

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And there we are. I know I’m biased, but I love seeing how much effort goes into the creation of a book cover. Thank you, Candlewick!

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Two Truths and a Lie

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Dear reader, would I lie to you?

Indeed, I would. I’m going to lie to you today, as part of The YA Dash.

This is the YA Dash first prize: 14 new-release suspense novels!

This is the YA Dash first prize: 14 new-release suspense novels!

With debut novelist T. A. Maclagan as our ringleader, 11 authors of YA suspense novels are teaming up to give away some great prizes. (The graphic says 10 authors, but Elizabeth Wein has just joined the gang!) For the rules of engagement and prize descriptions, click here.

Are you ready to play?

Below, you’ll find three statements about my fiction or me. Each statement contains a number (expressed as a numeral). Two of these statements are true; one is a lie.

Read through my website to deduce which is the lie. Make a note of the numeral in the lying sentence. Then click to the author team’s other websites and figure out their truths and lies. Add up all the numerals in the lying statements to get your grand total, and use it to unlock the rafflecopter!

Here we go…

Two Truths and a Lie

Truth or Lie? The first Agency novel, A Spy in the House, won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

Truth or Lie? The Agency series was intended to be a trilogy but I added a 4th novel, Rivals in the City, to make it a quartet.

Truth or Lie? The Agency novels are published in English and 5 other languages: French, Spanish, German, Italian and Korean.

There are your three statements, and only one of them is a lie.

Remember to check in with Mary Elizabeth Summer, Valynne Maetani, Laurie Stolarz, Susan Adrian, Lindsay Cummings, Diana Renn, T. A. Maclagan, Lee Kelly, and Elizabeth Wein for other truths and lies.

If this is your last stop, here’s the rafflecopter entry form:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck to you, dear reader! I hope it’s a blast.

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A History of Violence

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

A couple of months ago at the launch party for Rivals in the City, I read aloud a scene that takes place in front of Newgate Prison. The year is 1860. A wooden scaffold has been built outside the prison gates, as it was before each public execution. The hangman, William Calcraft, is testing the gallows and trapdoor to ensure that they work. And the crowd is eagerly, boisterously, anticipating the day’s entertainment. All this is historically attested.

The public face of Victorian executions, William Calcraft (c. 1870). Image via wikipedia.

The public face of Victorian executions, William Calcraft (c. 1870). Image via wikipedia.

In the scene, I add a detail featuring ragged children “playing Calcraft”: taking turns pretending to be executioner and condemned. I invented this game, and have never formally researched “macabre children’s games, past and present” (although now that I’ve typed that phrase, it sounds like a fascinating topic). But the idea of the game rings true for me. Games of the imagination are how children process the world around them, and how they imbibe their culture. In my novel, the game of “Calcraft” has several functions: it’s a means of including children in the Victorian streetscape; a way of shifting and blending perspectives of the execution-day milieu; and, of course, a comment on the idea of a public execution in general.

Newgate Prison, mid-nineteenth century. Image via wikipedia.

Newgate Prison, mid-nineteenth century. Image via wikipedia.

After I’d read this scene aloud, one of my listeners expressed concern about the scene. Was it, he asked, appropriate to explore violence and death in a book that was written for children? Didn’t it glamorize violence and death, to see it represented in fiction? He was talking about the contemporary young adults to whom my book is marketed, but I wonder if the presence of children in the Newgate scene is what triggered his very real anxiety. It was an earnest question and I attempted to answer it with the seriousness it deserved. The party was hectic, though, and I compressed my response into a couple of brief points. Now, I think it’s time to answer the question more fully.

So is it, in fact, appropriate to explore death and violence in children’s literature? My first instinct at the party was to cite historical realism. During the Victorian era, people were much more pragmatic about death and suffering. Infant mortality was much higher than it is now; adult life expectancy was shorter. A death in the household also meant a corpse laid out in the parlour or spare bedroom. And in many cases, the women of the family washed and dressed that corpse themselves. The Victorians were less squeamish about death in general. People didn’t spay or neuter their pets; they simply drowned the unwanted litters. In Wuthering Heights, Hareton Earnshaw famously “hang[s] a litter of puppies from the chair-back in the doorway”. The shocking part of the scene is not the puppies’ deaths, but the fact that their suffering is a form of entertainment for Hareton. But remember: in Emily Brontë’s vision, even Hareton Earnshaw, Animal Sadist, is redeemable. With Cathy Linton’s love and support, it becomes possible to imagine a somewhat happy ending for Wuthering Heights.

Still, the defense of historical realism only takes us so far. After all, history contains an endless amount of truly gruesome detail. How do we decide which of those bits belong in historical fiction for young people? Let’s go back to human developmental principles. Children learn about death in bits and fragments, starting in toddlerhood. By the time they are eight years old, they are “consistent in showing adult ideas of death”. So the idea of death – with variations according to age and circumstance – is a normal part of children’s understanding. I’d go a step further, here: if a novel like Rivals in the City deliberately downplays the existence of death, it’s insulting the intelligence of its readers.

Knowing this, perhaps we can agree to acknowledge historically realistic deaths. But what about violence, and the much-feared “glamorization” of violence? Once again, let’s think about real, present-day children. Children understand violence because they are human beings. They negotiate conflict from toddlerhood. They can act violently towards others. They hear about violence on the news. They see instances of injustice all around them. The real question here is, What do they do with all this experience and all this unformed knowledge?

At this point, we must return to the specific scene or image that prompts the question. Is it an image or description of violence on the news, presented without context or consequence? I imagine that would be haunting, confusing, and possibly traumatic. Is it a video game, in which the hero-player is rewarded for acts of violence? In that case, I see how that trivializes the gravity of violent acts. In my novel, however, the threat of violence is mediated by a heroine, Mary Quinn. She is a former victim of violence who understands its impact. She has strong feelings about the uses and abuses of power. She offers readers a thoughtful perspective on the violence of her culture, and how to resist it.

If anything, I’d argue that this kind of ethically grounded violence is essential to children’s literature, and to the project of learning about the world and about oneself. I’m proud to be part of a long tradition of children’s authors who imagine the world as fully as possible, as humanly as possible, as respectfully as possible.

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The Victorian tattoo

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Hello, friends. Today is April Fool’s Day and I feel a certain amount of not-so-subtle cultural pressure to write a gag post. I believe I ought to document a Shocking Truth about the Victorians, or similar, which I later reveal as – surprise! – a prank. Joke’s on you, sssssuckers.

However, I’ve always felt a strange resentment of April Fool’s jokes and, for that matter, practical jokes in general. (Practical jokes rely on a few people being insiders, and laughing, while others are outsiders, and laughed at.) Also, our images and preconceptions about the Victorians are crude and hazy enough that I don’t think we need to cloud the atmosphere any further. So today, I’m going to write about something that sounds like it should be an April Fool’s Day gag, but isn’t. I’m going to write about Victorian tattoos.

In Rivals in the City, James jokes about body art: “‘Perhaps I’ll have your name tattooed on my arm so there’s no doubt as to whom I belong’, he said, tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow and resuming their steady walking pace. ‘What would you say to your initials in Gothic letters, surrounded by scrolls and hearts?'” I loved being able to include this moment of dialogue because it’s such a familiar cultural motif for us now. It’s another way of bringing the Victorians closer to us, one of the projects at the heart of my fiction. But it’s also rooted in a fairly well-documented tradition.

There are brief mentions of tattoos in Victorian literature. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Sybil Vane’s brother, James, is identifiable as a sailor because of his tattoos. I believe Sherlock Holmes notices and assigns tattoos the same kind of cultural value. According to wikipedia, it was during Captain James Cook’s voyages to Polynesia from the 1760s to the 1780s that the idea of tattoo (from the Tahition word, tatau) was introduced into English culture.

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Apparently, the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, a member of Cook’s expedition, came back to England with a tattoo. (portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1773)

By the mid-nineteenth century, tattoos were firmly established as the domain of seamen and soldiers – working-class Englishmen who had travelled widely and come into direct contact with tattoo culture.

Tattoos, however, were about to make an interesting social transition. In 1862, when the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) toured the Middle East, he acquired a tattoo of the Jerusalem Cross.

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The Prince of Wales in Constantinople at the end of his Grand Tour (1862). Somewhere on his body, there is a fresh tattoo. (image via the Royal Collection)

By 1870, the trend had spread not only amongst the English aristocracy, but into the courts of Russia, Germany and Spain. And beginning in the 1880s, upper-class women also began to sport discreet tattoos. One of the most celebrated was Lady Randolph Churchill, who had a “dainty” and “elaborate” tattoo of a serpent entwining her left wrist.

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Lady Randolph Churchill, with her signature bracelet. (image via NYPL)

She frequently covered it with bracelets, but it was described in the New York Times in 1906. Tattoos were fashionable enough that Country Life magazine featured them in an article dated 27 January, 1900 – as if to kick off the new century. As you might expect from Country Life, it described “one of the most popular Masters of Foxhounds in England” who had “tally-ho!” tattooed on his forearm along with a fox’s head and brush and a hunting crop.

Like all fashion trends, however, tattoos were fairly swiftly brought down by mass imitation.

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Nora Hildebrandt claimed that she was forced by Indians to receive hundreds of tattoos. The truth was more mundane: her father was a tattoo artist. (image via the Human Marvels)

Once performers like Nora Hildebrandt began displaying her hundreds of tattoos for the horror and delectation of the masses (she travelled as part of P. T. Barnum’s American circus), aristocrats promptly lost interest in tattoo art.

I haven’t. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a tattoo, yet never been able to choose a single motif or image that I’d want to wear on my body forever. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading. May I suggest Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo? To start you off, there are some amazing images pulled from Mifflin’s book right here.

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Rivals in the City: the launch party

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Hello, friends. It’s March, which in our family tradition means that we’ve all fallen to a succession of viruses. There’s something about pausing for March Break that seems to invite All the Germs to trample our immune systems, and this year is no exception.

Happily, I remembered that I haven’t yet posted photos from my recent launch party. So while I currently feel like the punchline of a Kate Beaton cartoon, here are some shots from a livelier day. All photos were taken by my friend, Christine Fader. Thank you, Chris!


Chris is a strong believer in the importance of matching one’s book cover. She thoroughly approved of my (accidental) colour-coordination.






Thank you VERY much to everyone who came out to celebrate with me! You all made it a terrific and busy afternoon, and I’m so grateful for your support.

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Writing Diversity in Dialogue

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Hello, friends. I hope you have a celebratory libation in hand. I certainly do, because today is Rivals in the City‘s birthday! As many of you know, this has been a long time coming, and there were definitely times when I feared it would never happen at all. But March 10 is here, and Rivals is now on sale in bookstores across Canada and the U. S.

Rivals in the City, by Y S LeeDespite the jubilation, this is also a bittersweet day for me. The publication of Rivals also marks the end of the Agency quartet – the last Mary Quinn adventure, the last time I write dialogue between Mary and James, and probably my last romp through London, 1858-1860.

Don’t worry: I’m not finished writing novels! I’m just ready to try a new setting. Despite the fact that I’m eager for change, though, it’s hard to leave this world behind. It feels like a second home to me (a family cottage?), and I’ll miss it dearly.

To mark this special week, I wrote a guest post called “Writing Diversity in Dialogue” for Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo’s very fine site, Diversity in YA. If you read it first there and are just finding your way here, welcome! I’m re-posting it here this week, though, because there’s no comments section at DiYA, and my desire is to start a conversation about this sticky subject. So please, let me know what you think, either in the comments below or on Twitter (I’m @yinglee). I’d love to discuss this to the next stage in good company.

Writing Diversity in Dialogue

One of the delights of the written word is the power – in fact, the necessity – of creating your own mental pictures and soundtrack. Only you know just what the heroine looks like when she’s angry; only you know the precise music of her nemesis laughing. Setting plays a huge role, too: contemporary America vs. medieval France vs. a planet far, far away. As readers, we are our own casting directors, cinematographers, and composers. I’m here today to argue that we should be our own dialogue coaches, too.

As a genre, historical fiction – which I love, and which I write – is prone to spelling out accents. Often, it’s not enough to mention in passing that a character is a stableboy or a visiting German aristocrat; the characters’ words are spelled out so that we can see, on the page, just how outlandish their pronunciation is. And that’s not all. The real problem is that historical fiction is especially prone to spelling out lower-class accents.

See the bias here? Everybody has an accent; that much is obvious. But in novels where lower-class accents are spelled out, the upper-class accents are rendered in standard English spelling. The not-so-subtle subtext is that upper-class accents are “normal”, while lower-class accents deviate from an invisible, correct norm. Add to this the fact that working-class accents are most frequently used to provide comic relief or create pathos, and what we have is proud and unexamined social snobbery written openly on the page. We should be embarrassed. We should repudiate this. We should complain, bitterly, so that writers and editors re-think assumptions about class, accent, and the ways we report speech.

When I wrote the Agency novels, I solved the problem by representing dialect (irregular grammar) but not accent. I might write a character who says, “I don’t know who done it.” I might even write, “Dunno” instead of “Don’t know,” on the grounds that everybody, across the social spectrum, uses contractions in speech. But I assume that my readers can imagine what “I don’t know who done it” might sound like, spoken aloud. I won’t write, “I daown’t knaow ‘oo dunnit!” It’s patronizing, it’s ugly, and it’s an invitation to readers to feel superior to that character.

But whether they were mudlarks or monarchs, all these characters of mine were native speakers of English. When writing Rivals in the City, I found that I had a fresh problem: how to write dialogue for a character who speaks imperfect English. A character, in fact, who spoke only Chinese until a couple of years prior to the action of the novel, and who speaks with a distinct Chinese accent.

I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of spelling out his pronunciation. Still, I felt stuck as to how to convey his accent. Stereotypes of Asian accents in English are usually patronizing and ugly. While French accents are heard as charming, and British accents register as classy, Asian accents are fodder for the unfunniest kinds of jokes. How many times have you heard a French or British person congratulated on speaking “without an accent”? Yeah. Asian accents are the stableboys of the accent hierarchy.

In the end, after a lot of deliberation, I wrote this Chinese character’s dialogue as I would that of any other. His vocabulary is more limited, because he’s relatively new to the language. Figures of speech perplex him. But for me, the clearest and most respectful way of signaling his difference was in giving him words, hearing him speak, and having him articulate his confusion and discomfort with London life in the year 1860. I think that was enough.

I’m curious, though: have you tried or run across other respectful, effective strategies for signaling difference through accent? I’d love to hear them. With any luck – because we’re going to keep reading and writing about diverse casts of characters, right? – this problem will be with us for a long time yet.

(This post was also published earlier this week at Diversity in YA.)

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Author Math

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

One of the things I find consistently surprising in historical fiction is how very long it takes to get from one place to another. The Agency novels are set in London between 1858 and 1860. They’re too urban to make use of the railways that criss-crossed England and a shade too early for the first intra-city underground trains (the steam-powered Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863). Most of the travel in my books takes place either on foot or by horse-power: carriages, cabs, and of course, simply riding on horseback. By 1858, there were also horse-drawn omnibuses that, like our present-day buses, plied regular routes through the city.

An early omnibus (image from wikipedia)

An early omnibus (image from wikipedia)

The climax of Rivals in the City features a fair amount of running around between locations in central London. One of the first things I did when plotting it was create a chart showing the different sites, the distances between them, and how long it would take to move from one point to another. In order not to spoil the plot (Rivals will be published next week in the U. S. and Canada; it’s already available in the UK), I’ve renamed the locations after four of my favourite North American cities. This, of course, is a fiction upon a fiction; the real locations are London landmarks. Otherwise, here’s what my chart looks like:

Timing the final action

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 2.41.39 PMI assumed an average running speed of about 6 miles/10 km per hour – a pretty fast clip for a woman burdened with heavy clothes on slick, inconsistently paved, and poorly lit urban streets (it’s after dark). But I’m talking about the women of the Agency, an elite detective firm. Not only are they are in excellent physical form, they are responding to an emergency.

I assumed a horse trot of 7-8 mph, since poor road quality and night-time visibility again make it impossible to canter. With horseback, I also needed to allow tie-up time and the need to rest or change horses. Riding turned out to be not much faster than running, but riding made it possible for a character to arrive at an important location looking respectable.

As it worked out, the time elapsed for a series of important messages to be relayed was:

– 57 minutes: for a character to run from Vancouver to Toronto and back again

– 41 minutes, plus delays while tying-up a horse: for a character to ride from Toronto to New York, and then from New York to Montreal

– 30 to 35 minutes, plus time for marshalling and instructions: for a large group to walk quickly from Montreal to Vancouver

Rivals in the City, by Y S LeeThis left me with a space of 2 ¼ hours, the minimum period of time my heroine, Mary Quinn, would be alone in “Vancouver” after sounding the alarm. It turned out to be the perfect window of time to allow her to take action, imperil herself, yet receive help at just the right moment.

I love this kind of concrete plotting, and wonder if any of you do the same. How do you work out timelines, near-misses, and rescues?

(This post was also published yesterday at The History Girls.)

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Rivals in the City is almost here!

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Hello, friends. It’s official: we have a launch party for Rivals in the City!

launch invitation

The specifics, if the image is hard to read:

When: Saturday, March 7, from 3 to 5 p.m.

Where: Novel Idea Books, 156 Princess St., Kingston, Ontario

Yes, the launch party is happening before the official pub date of March 10. What does this mean? Why, it means that at the party, you’ll be able to buy Rivals in the City 3 days before it’s officially published!

There will be wine and nibbles. I’ll be there reading, signing, and almost certainly talking at warp speed. And I really hope you’ll come, too.

Until then, you can read the first chapter for free, as well as a deleted scene. And in less than two weeks, the whole novel will be here.

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Rivals in the City: a deleted scene

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Hello, friends. This post starts with a quantity of self-promotion but I’ll make it up to you with a deleted scene from the final Agency novel, Rivals in the City. In just four weeks, Candlewick Press will publish Rivals in Canada and the USA, and some very nice things are happening as a result!

To begin with, you can pre-order Rivals from your local independent bookseller, or through IndieBound, or B&N, or Amazon USA, or Chapters/Indigo, or Amazon Canada, or anywhere at all, really. It will have this glorious cover.

Rivals in the City, by Y S Lee

A Kingston launch party is in the works, with date to be confirmed.

Kirkus likes it, wooo! The highlights: “Intrigue, romance and the rich details of Victorian life are the focus in the fourth installment of this mystery series featuring a complex female detective. … As with the previous volumes, the elements of Victorian life are well-drawn, adding rich texture to the storytelling. … Readers of the series will find this addition deeply satisfying as both a mystery and a historical romance.” Here’s a link to the full review at Kirkus.

Over at Bustle, they included A Spy in the House in a listicle called “If ‘Agent Carter’ Is Making Your Life Amazing Right Now, You Must Read These 12 Books”. It’s such a rush seeing my book mentioned in the same breath as those by Robin LaFevers, Elizabeth Wein, and Sebastian Faulks. Oh, I’m going to be insufferable.

Bookriot’s Amanda Nelson is reading The Body at the Tower and you can, too! E-Volt is currently offering a substantial free sample of Mary Quinn’s second outing.

If you didn’t already know, the first chapter of Rivals in the City is already up, right here.

And finally, here’s another taste of Rivals in the City – a deleted scene that didn’t make the cut, but I still wanted to share with you.

The Background

Rivals in the City went through a huge number of revisions, so I had a lot of deleted scenes to choose from. My favourite, though, might be this one. It’s a scene I wrote in order to take the emotional temperature between Mary and James, eight months after Mary achieves financial independence – an event that entirely transforms her understanding of life.

I was reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens, at the time, and was thrilled to learn that Dickens regularly dined with his mistress, the actress Nellie Ternan, in restaurants. Sometimes they had friends with them, but sometimes they appear to have been alone together. I’m not sure what they called it, but to me it sounds just like a date.

I couldn’t resist taking Mary and James on a date, too. I cut the scene – didn’t even finish it properly – because it contributes nothing to the actual plot. But the scraps remain. And because I spend so much time propelling Mary and James from one peril to another, sometimes it pleases me to imagine them doing something as mundane as going on a date. In Dickens’s favourite restaurant.

— The Deleted Scene —

When her bell rang that evening at a perfectly punctual five minutes before eight o’clock, Mary checked her appearance in the hall mirror one last time. It was quite a transformation from her usual minimal toilette. She was fragrant with her favourite soap and wearing, for the first time, her only evening gown. She’d taken care with her hair. She only half-recognized the young lady in the mirror: a thought would have amused her, had it not also made her uneasy.

After securing her cape over her shoulders, she carefully descended to the front door on a staircase suddenly made steep and narrow by her large crinoline. Anticipation and unease united to make her fingers stiff and awkward, and she fumbled with the doorlatch for a moment. At last, though, it opened to reveal James on the step, freshly shaven and wearing an evening dress coat.

“Good evening, Mr. Easton,” she said to James, in her most demure tones.

“Good evening, Miss Quinn.” After the briefest of hesitations, he bowed and kissed her hand. “I’m afraid our conveyance isn’t quite up to our gorgeous behaviour.”

Mary glanced past his shoulder and grinned at the sight of a hansom cab waiting at the curb. “I wondered how you’d escort me, under the new rules,” she confessed, slipping her hand into the crook of his arm. “A closed carriage is clearly indecent.”

“The streets are far too filthy for walking.”

“And I never learned to ride a horse,” she confessed.

“Plenty of time for that,” he said, offering a hand to help her into the cab. “I’ll teach you.”

She smiled at that. “By that time, we’ll be able to ride in all the closed carriages we want.”

“I can’t wait.” He stroked the inside of her wrist, finding the fraction of bare skin between her glove and sleeve, and she shivered.

Despite the hansom’s open design – they were clearly visible to anybody in the street who cared to look – it retained an air of privacy: a small space in which they fit together neatly, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. James took both her hands and smiled when she interlaced her fingers with his. Even through two pairs of gloves, his and hers, this felt indescribably intimate.

The cab turned with a creaking of leather and springs, and set off at a leisurely pace. “How was your meeting with the new client?” she asked. The question itself made her smile slightly, with its overtones of wifely concern.

He squeezed her hand, clearly hearing the same domestic notes. “Quite long, in the end. There’s talk of building a second railway line, to allow a fast train directly from the ferry port in Gravesend to London. They wanted my opinion.”

“That sounds promising.”

James made a non-committal face. “Possibly.” He was always guarded, pessimistic, about new business. “How was your day?”

Mary considered this invitation to change the subject. Anne Treleaven’s visit weighed heavily on her mind but she shied away from introducing threat and tension so early in the evening. Why shouldn’t she and James enjoy the novelty of dining together for once, free of threat and tension? They could discuss the case after dinner. “Varied,” she said, eventually.

A half-smile. “Sounds exciting.”

“It never quite seems to be a simple case of ooh-I-ordered-a-new-hat-and-had-luncheon-with-Miss-Smith.”

“If you ever said that, my first instinct would be to call a physician.”

“You have very strange taste in young ladies.”

He squeezed her hand again. “Someone’s got to.”

Verrey’s shone like a beacon in the fog, a miracle of gleaming plate-glass, burnished brass, and gaslight. A doorman in gold-braid opened the door with an obsequious bow, and Mary and James entered the building arm-in-arm. To all outward observers, they were just another rich young couple going to dinner. Privately, Mary hoped the shaking of her knees wasn’t also making her skirts tremble.

An attendant showed her to the cloakroom, relieved her of her cape, and indicated a small table at which she could make any last-minute adjustments to her hair and gown. Mary stared at her reflection, rendered unfamiliar by the blazing lights and plush furnishings. She didn’t look like an interloper; she was entirely plausible here, in this elegant setting. A good detective ought to be a chameleon, but the realization was startling nonetheless.

When she rejoined James in the dining-room, escorted to her table by yet another lackey, he was already seated. He glanced in her direction, looked away, then did a sudden and distinctly comic double-take at the sight of Mary in an evening gown, neck and shoulders on rare display. His eyes flashed with surprise and he half-stumbled to his feet. A sudden smile curved his lips. He pivoted slightly, until he stood between her and the attendant, and murmured, “Stunning.” Though his voice was nearly inaudible, his admiration rang in her ears, making her giddy.

It was a relief to sink bonelessly into the drawn-out dining chair. As James slid her chair towards the table, he stroked her spine with the gentlest of fingers, sending a powerful shiver down the length of her body. Speech was impossible. After a few moments, she remembered to breathe.

He sat down across the table and gazed upon her for a long minute. “Well,” he finally murmured, “if there are rumours flying about town tomorrow about my involvement with a young actress or dancer, you’ll know who she is.”

She smiled. “Outrageous flattery. I think, however, that I see a genuine celebrity in the far corner. Over your left shoulder, is that not Mr. Dickens?”

James craned his neck and was met with a frown of reproof from the eminent gentleman. He turned back to Mary with a small smile. “Indeed. Dining with a genuine actress, Miss Ternan.”

Mary met his gaze with a wicked smile. “Tell me again why you’re so set on perfect propriety when all the world knows about Mr. Dickens’s highly irregular domestic life?”

James swallowed his riposte as a waiter glided up to their table. Their meal was a beautifully cooked affair, accompanied by good wine and capped with French cheeses. As they dined and talked, Mary thought she would always remember this evening with perfect clarity. There was something about the exquisite staging of the restaurant, the dazzle of lights and elegantly pitched conversation. Perhaps it was knowing that this artful serenity existed within a dark, fog-choked, raucous city. For the first time that she could recall, Mary gave herself up to decadence. She felt nearly at home amidst such luxury.

— End of Deleted Scene —

And that’s my week, friends. What are you all up to?

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