Interview with Historical Author Susanna Calkins about her 17th Century London Mystery Series

Today, I have an interview with historical mystery author Susanna Calkins, after previously publishing a review of her third novel earlier today! To read my review of The Masque of the Murderer, which releases mid-April 2015, read HERE.


Hi Susie, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Always a pleasure to have you here with us! This time, you’ve recently had your second historical mystery book, From the Charred Remains, publish in paperback (3/17/15) and your third book, The Masque of the Murderer,  is about to release! You’ve come a long way fast since we first featured the first book in your Lucy Campion Mystery Series! How does it feel to have a third book coming out?

Susanna: Thank you so much for having me! These last few years have been such a blur, but it feels wonderful to see my third Lucy Campion mystery out and about in the world.

Erin: Yes, you are a very busy woman! We are fairly close in proximity, with you in Illinois and I in Ohio (though I know you are native Pennsylvanian!) so I thank you for blowing in from the land of the Windy City and into chilly Ohio. Let’s put on a pot of tea, let’s do something English? I might have some English Breakfast tea today. What would care for? Sugar and cream?

Susanna: Delightful! I’ll take mine with a little honey, if you have any.

Erin: Wonderful! I’ll pour right after I bring in some fresh baked mini-almond cakes! And now, we’ll have a seat and chat for awhile together. Let’s get started!

Susanna: Alright!

Q: You debuted as an historical mystery author in 2013 with A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, first in the Lucy Campion Mystery Series set in 17th Century London.  How does that first launch (in terms of nerves and know-how), and that first book (in terms of writing), compare with your third year of publishing and the upcoming third novel/writing the fourth?

Murder at..

A: That is a great question. I wrote my first novel in a little cocoon for years and years (well, let’s be honest, essentially a decade) just as my own personal pleasure.  So it was extremely nerve-wracking when I put my book out into the world.  Even my second novel, From the Charred Remains, was written in a little bubble, because I completed it before anyone had read the first. This third novel, The Masque of a Murderer, was the first one I wrote while actively promoting the first two. So some things are easier now, because I understand the process, and some things are more challenging, in terms of timing.

Q: What has been the best thing, or most useful thing, that you’ve discovered over these last several years of experience in writing a mystery series?

A: This probably seems obvious, but I never understood until From the Charred Remains came out that I am always promoting my first book.  And that makes complete sense—most people wish to read a book from the beginning of my series. Although I did write each book so that it could be read separately, I can see why people like to see how Lucy’s story began, and how she has grown over the first three books.

Q: When you first wrote A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, were you planning to create this series with Lucy at the helm? Can you explain, either way, about the process?

A: No, I didn’t even really understand the concept of “series potential,” because I was so new to publishing. So I did write the first book as a standalone, but I was quite sad when I finished because I wanted Lucy’s story to continue.  What happens after the Great Fire anyway…?

Q: In the second book, From the Charred Remains, I particularly liked the apprenticeship/assistant job that you created for Lucy, primarily since I love journalism and print publishing so much. I have a penchant for the history of print news and books. How did you research this particular business of the time, from the intricacies of the printing press to its role in society? What did you learn that intrigued you the most?

Charred Remains

A: When I was a graduate student in history, and later as a historian, I spent a lot of time reading through the cheap print of the 17th century—the strange and odd things that people wrote (“Strange News from Kent!” “A True Account of a Most Cruel Murder!”; “The Monster from York,” etc).  Additionally, I was intrigued by the print-making and bookselling trades—which actually were two separate trades, which I collapsed into one. When I started to read about how printing presses actually worked, I was fascinated by the way printers actually regarded the presses, almost as their wayward children or servants. They “bled” ink, they sometimes stopped working like recalcitrant servants etc.  So I found that pretty interesting.

Q: I’m assuming it would be terribly hard to find a way for a woman of the 17th century to not only be allowed to roam around single, but also to be privy to enough news to investigate anything more easily! In Sam Thomas’s books, he used a midwife, you’ve chosen to my delight to make Lucy a printer’s apprentice, allowing her to know all the latest news as well as be able to move around the streets on writing missions or selling of books. Do you feel it was important for a female to be featured as the lead amateur detective in your novel, why or why not?

A:Well, as a historian of women’s history, I’ve long been astounded by how women were so easily written out of history. Even if found a way to transcend the constraints around them, their accomplishments were often dismissed as unimportant. So, yes, to me, I wanted my lead to be female. And women who were servants or in trade actually had more freedom than gentlewomen and noblewomen.

Q: I think your characterization of Lucy was so well-done. I feel so connected to Lucy and am excited to read more of her adventures. She seems authentic and inquisitive. How did you construct her character? What personality traits did you intended for her to have as you wrote her onto the page?

A: I wanted Lucy to be curious about the world, and inquisitive in nature.  I also wanted her to be someone who sought to improve herself, by learning to read and write, which then opened her mind to bigger questions about bigger issues in the world. Throughout time and across the globe, there have always been people who managed to overcome humble beginnings, and I thought Lucy could be one of those people. I had to give her enough agency as well that if a murder happened and someone she knows is accused of the crime that she wouldn’t just say, “Alas, that’s a shame. But there’s nothing I can do.” It wouldn’t make for a very fun sleuth! 😉

Q: Is she destined to be single, or is romance coming within book three or four? Why or why not?

A:I have struggled with this a bit. Lucy does have two potential love interests—Adam Hargrave, the son of the magistrate, and someone whom I introduced more fully in book two, Constable Duncan.  Adam—her first love—is a bit above her station, which she clearly understands, while Duncan is a bit more at her level.  However, despite popular perceptions to the contrary, people in the laboring class and those of the “middling sort” actually did not get married until they were closer to age 25, because they needed time to establish themselves.  Only people of the upper class married when they were younger. So it is actually not that strange that Lucy would wish to hold off. She also knows that if she married Adam, she is likely to have to give up her occupation as a printer, which gives her pause as well.

Q: The 17th Century, and Restoration England/London, was a time and place dealing with much social, political, and religious upheaval. How did this play into your novel? Were there any lessons you hoped readers would pick up on in regards to social injustices, or did you just intended it to be more of an overall education of the time period intermixed with your mystery plot? These questions pertain to all or any of your books.

A: Another great question! I did deliberately bring in these larger social-cultural themes because I have always been interested in how those forces play out in the everyday lives of real people. Even though I am an educator, I did not mean the books to be textbooks, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised when readers say they have learned from reading my book.

Q: By the third book, The Masque of a Murderer, does Lucy decide that she enjoys figuring out these crimes or does she still feel like they keep falling into her lap? How or why?

02_The Masque of a Murderer_Cover

A: Lucy has been characterized as a “reluctant sleuth” by others, and I think that is an accurate depiction. She’s not hanging out the proverbial shingle as a detective; I’ve tried to design the mysteries that come her way as personal—she needs to become involved because someone she loves might be injured or blamed for a crime.

Q: How does The Masque of a Murderer differ from From the Charred Remains? This could be in historical foundation, characters, plot, etc.

A: The Masque of a Murderer is set a few months after From the Charred Remains leaves off. I set this one in the midst of a Quaker community, so I may have emphasized the ongoing religious tensions even more in this book. All of my books seem to bring in the idea of identity theft—because the communal ties were so disrupted by the plague and the Great Fire, that people could say they were someone else, and their neighbors are no longer around to deny or confirm their claims.

Q: I know there is a fourth novel on the way. What kind of historical research, if more, will you be doing for this novel in the series? What will be happening in London during the plot of book four?

A: I am currently writing A Death along the River Fleet. It is going to deal with madness and witchcraft. Yes, I always do a lot of research, reading books, and reading primary sources to support the fictional parts.

Q: Will there be more books in the Lucy Campion Mystery Series beyond book four that you are presently writing? Will you take on the 18th Century in London?

A: Fun question! I’ve decided that each book will only cover a few months of Lucy’s life at a time now. At this point I’m not contracted for books beyond A Death along the River Fleet, but I have a number of ideas that get me through the 1670s.  I’m not sure I can bring Lucy up to the 18th century or not…

Erin: Of course she may not, but you never know when a family member might come along and continue the legacy!

Q: Do you hope to write anything beyond this mystery series? What other times and places, or types of books, do you think about writing on? Pirates, maybe? 😉

A: I had actually thought about pirates, since I was a pirate in 16th century London. (well, I served aboard a replica of the 16th century Golden Hinde, which is currently dry-docked in the Thames. We were tour guides during the week, and pirates on the weekends. Not a bad gig. But I digress). I was interested in real pirate Mary Reed. However, I did write two other books, temporarily in the drawer, one set in 1930s Chicago, the other set in the sewers of Paris, set in late 19th century.

Q: Who is one of your favorite women, or role models, in history? Why or why not?

A: While I admire women like Queen Elizabeth and Eleanore Roosevelt, I really just admire lesser-known women who managed to write books even when people said they shouldn’t.  Like most of the Quaker women I studied in graduate schools.

Q: If you could travel this summer, where would you go and what kind of food would you beat the pavement to enjoy?

A: While I always enjoy travelling in England, Ireland and Scotland (and there are many places I’ve never been, like Wales, which I’d like to go), I have to admit everywhere I go after trying the local cuisine, I usually seek out an Indian restaurant, as that is my favorite cuisine. One day I am hoping to travel to India as well.

Q: I know you’ve been shortlisted for several awards for your books, which must feel tremendous! What an achievement! What do you feel is another success story for you?

A: Thank you. It has been such an honor to be nominated for a few historical mystery awards.  I guess as an author with a traditional press, I will view another contract as a huge success. I would, at some point, love to see the other books I’ve mentioned published as well.

Q: I’m glad to see historical mysteries of the rise. Do have any classic favorite mystery writers? Any current ones? What do you love the most about writing mysteries?

A: I grew up on Agatha Christie, so she is a personal favorite. But Anne Perry, Rhys Bowen, Charles Todd, Tasha Alexander, and Charles Finch all inspired me to write historical mysteries. And I have to say, its been such an honor and privilege to have met them all.  As for writing mysteries, I just love the puzzle of it all. Writing itself is a bit of a puzzle, and thinking through a mystery in particular, is my favorite type of puzzle.

Erin: Susie, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself, your work, and your time with me! It’s always a joy to have you stop by. I wish you much success with entire series! 🙂

Susanna: You’re wonderful! Thanks for all you do for readers and authors alike.

Erin:  My pleasure!

02_The Masque of a Murderer_Cover

The Masque of the Murderer, Synopsis~

Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Pages: 323

Series: Book Three, Lucy Campion Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery


In Susanna Calkins’ next richly drawn mystery set in 17th century England, Lucy Campion, formerly a ladies’ maid in the local magistrate’s household, has now found gainful employment as a printer’s apprentice. On a freezing winter afternoon in 1667, she accompanies the magistrate’s daughter, Sarah, to the home of a severely injured Quaker man to record his dying words, a common practice of the time. The man, having been trampled by a horse and cart the night before, only has a few hours left to live. Lucy scribbles down the Quaker man’s last utterances, but she’s unprepared for what he reveals to her—that someone deliberately pushed him into the path of the horse, because of a secret he had recently uncovered.

Fearful that Sarah might be traveling in the company of a murderer, Lucy feels compelled to seek the truth, with the help of the magistrate’s son, Adam, and the local constable. But delving into the dead man’s background might prove more dangerous than any of them had imagined.

In The Masque of a Murderer, Susanna Calkins has once again combined finely wrought characters, a richly detailed historical atmosphere, and a tightly-plotted mystery into a compelling read.

Lucy Campion Mystery Series Titles

Book One: A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
Macavity Award Finalist Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (2014)
Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Selection (“Mystery Pick” and “Featured New Arrival”)
Chicago Book Review – Best Books of 2013

Book Two: From the Charred Remains (Paperback release on March 17, 2015)
Short-listed for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award (2015)

Book Three: The Masque of a Murderer (coming April 2015!)

Praise for the Lucy Campion Mystery Series~

“…the high-quality writing augurs well for future outings.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“Calkins makes Lucy’s efforts to find the real killer entirely plausible, leading to a nail-biter climax with London in flames. This history-mystery delivers a strong heroine making her way through the social labyrinth of Restoration London.” -Booklist

“Calkins’ debut mystery places her unusual detective in a world rich in carefully researched historical detail.” -Kirkus

“A historical mystery with originality and great attention to detail. Readers are transported to 17th century England, a time when social classes were just beginning to change. The characters are multi-dimensional–including the smart, adventurous Lucy Campion–and the mystery will keep readers turning the pages, and they’ll eagerly await the next book in the series.” RT Book Reviews (4 Stars)

“…an intricate tale of fraud and blackmail, leavened by a touch of romance. Calkins, who holds a doctorate in British history, puts her knowledge to sparkling use in this intriguing mystery, which combines a gripping plot with rich historical detail and one of the most admirable protagonists in the genre.” -The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Calkins is able to seamlessly weave this romance into the story without making it the main plot line, and keeping the mystery the main focus of the story….The puzzles, anagrams, and many secrets combine to make intertwining plot twists that keep the pages turning. FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS is an exciting, secret filled, historical mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.” –Fresh Fiction (Reviewer’s Pick)

“A good yarn and a fascinating look at life in England in a time when things began to change…social classes, positions, servants’ rights…all because of plague and fire.” -Book Babe Blog

“For me, this book was more than a mystery. It was an eye-opening look at what London was like in the mid-1660s, including the plague and fire that ravaged London, class struggle, the plight of women, and the laws of the time. The author’s engaging writing style made it easy to slip back into the past and experience these things with Lucy.” -Book of Secrets

“A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is Susanna Calkins’ absorbing debut novel. Just a warning that time WILL easily slip away as you become engrossed in this historical fiction mystery.” -1776 Books: A Philadelphian’s Literary Journey

Pre-Order the Book~

Barnes and Noble
Book Depository

Author Susanna Calkins, Biography~

calkinsBorn and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives in Highland Park, Illinois with her husband and two sons, where she is an educator at Northwestern University.

With a PhD in history, her historical mysteries feature Lucy Campion, a 17th century chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice. Her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was a finalist for the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (Macavity).

The second in this series, From the Charred Remains, is currently a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Her third, The Masque of a Murderer, will be released in April 2015.

For more information and to subscribe to Susanna Calkins’ newsletter please visit her website. You can also follow her blog, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule:

Hashtags: #TheMasqueofaMurdererBlogTour #HistoricalMystery #History #SusannaCalkins

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @scalkins3 @MinotaurBooks

04_The Masque of a Murderer_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Leave a comment

Filed under Q and A with Authors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s