And Now for Something Completely Different @JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews is happy to announce the arrival of a new historical mystery, Devil by the Tail, scheduled for release in July 2021.  Jeanne has a yen for travel and a passion for mythology, which she works into her novels whenever she can.  Originally from Georgia, Jeanne lives in Washington State with her husband, a law professor, and a Norwich terrier named Jack Reacher.  Information about her books, including the Dinah Pelerin international series, can be found on her website.  

I set my first book in Australia, the second in Hawaii, the third in the Norwegian Arctic, the fourth in Greece, and the fifth in Berlin.  In my new mystery, I travel back in time to 1867 and the city of Chicago.  My protagonists are Quinn Sinclair, the young widow of a Union soldier, and Gabe Garnick, an ex-Confederate prisoner of war who lost his wife while incarcerated in that city’s disease-infested Camp Douglas.  Quinn’s husband died without having made a will, leaving her homeless and dependent on the grudging charity of in-laws.  Her emancipation comes when she forms her own detective agency with Garnick as an equal partner.

According to the Illinois Supreme Court of the day, “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.”  Quinn could not disagree more fiercely, but it takes nerve and inventiveness to defy prevailing social attitudes.  To maintain a vestige of respectability, she uses the alias “Mrs. Paschal” and Garnick has to assume the role of frontman to lend credibility to the new agency.  Garnick and Paschal have a natural gift for solving crimes and in the years following the Civil War, there is no more crime-ridden place on the planet for them to hang out their shingle than the Windy City.

Post-war Chicago was a boomtown – a tumultuous mix of commerce and industry, wealth and squalor, political corruption and cultural aspiration.  Its waterways and rail system made it the transportation hub of the nation.  Impressive engineering feats transformed its water and sewer systems.  New businesses produced fortunes.  Theaters, fine hotels, and dining establishments flourished.

Men poured into the city to fill jobs of processing grain, meat, and lumber and saloons and gambling parlors sprang up to relieve them of their hard-earned wages.  Irish and German immigrants arrived by the thousands, intensifying anti-immigrant prejudice.  Ramshackle shanties occupied certain quarters while mansions arose in others, but the stink of pollution was impartial and universal.  For all its achievements, the city was dangerous, dirty, and beguiling – especially for women.

“Nice women” didn’t work outside the home.  Poor women had no choice.  Immigrant girls took jobs in cigar factories and laundries. Destitute girls from outlying prairie towns drifted into town looking for any way to support themselves and their families back home.  Too often these vulnerable young women were seduced and abandoned.  Circumstances forced some into prostitution to make their living.  Others, penniless or pregnant, ended up in the almshouse or threw themselves in the Chicago River.

In January, 1867, the Opera House staged a production of a play about Medea, the mythical Greek sorceress who was the wife of Jason.  After she saves Jason’s life and helps him acquire the golden fleece, he casts her aside in a foreign country so he can marry the daughter of the king.  Devastated by his betrayal, Medea wreaks vengeance by burning his bride and her father to death.  But the playwright portrayed Medea in a sympathetic light – as the victim of male arrogance, false promises, and cruelty.

The woman who was to become Quinn’s and Garnick’s client attended the play with her own faithless lover who soon thereafter deserts her to marry a rich woman.  Without money or friends, she seeks refuge in a brothel.  Later, when a mysterious arson fire kills her former lover’s new wife and her father, sensationalist news stories liken the murders to those committed by Medea.  It seems a simple case of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  But Quinn is convinced there’s a man behind the curtain, a cunning manipulator intent on making her client the scapegoat.

Chicago owes its reputation for corruption in large part to its lurid history of prostitution, a vice from which many in the police department and the city council also profited.  The detectives’ investigation leads them into some of the city’s most notorious brothels, introduces them to shameless madams and embroils them in the complicated, precarious lives of so-called “fallen women.”  But as Quinn and Garnick soon discover, respectability isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Everyone has a guilty secret – the smooth-talking lawyer, the urbane mayor, the charming widower, the murdered wife.  Even Garnick has his secrets.  In a town where innocence is a matter of degree, Quinn can take nothing for granted, least of all her own safety.

Researching and writing about a time when women had so few rights and faced so many obstacles was a completely different experience from my previous books.  Even so, I still managed to work in a bit of mythology while gaining a greater appreciation of the price paid by females of the 19th Century who refused to conform.

Devil By The Tail is currently available for pre-order from the publisher at a 30% discount.

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