We’re happy to have Jeanne Matthews join us on the blog today for #writerspotlightwednesday!
Tell us about your new release, Devil By The Tail.
In post-Civil War Chicago, the audacious young widow of a Union soldier defies social customs and sexual stereotypes when she joins forces with a former Confederate prisoner of war to form a detective agency. Quinn Sinclair, who uses the name Mrs. Paschal professionally, and her partner Gabe Garnick get two cases on the same day – one to help a man prove he didn’t kill his wife, the other to help a lawyer find reasonable doubt that his client murdered her lover’s new bride. As the detectives delve into the lives of the victims, they unearth facts that tie the cases together in disturbing ways.
The murdered bride had a secret suitor who became enraged when she jilted him or, in the parlance of the time, “gave him the mitten.” Her father had a suspicious business arrangement with the city council, and the charming widower strikes Quinn as a fortune hunter who’ll stop at nothing. The investigation leads the detectives into the city’s most notorious brothels and embroils them in the complicated lives of “fallen women” and mercurial madams. But as Quinn and Garnick follow a trail of dirty money and devious motives, they discover that innocence is no more at home in high places than in low. Bedeviled by a scandal-mongering press and threatened by a corrupt city hall, they pay a high price for their determination to bring the murderer to justice. Ultimately Quinn is forced to fight for her life and justice takes an unexpected turn.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I worked for lawyers for twenty years and seldom a day went by that I didn’t fantasize about murder. My first novel had a dead lawyer on every page, each killed in a more gruesome way. It was great therapy, but a little too over-the-top to ever get published. Eventually I calmed down and wrote a lighthearted, five-book series featuring Dinah Pelerin, a wannabe anthropologist who travels the world immersing herself in local politics and mythology and solving murders. Devil By The Tail is my first historical mystery and the beginning of a series. I’m working on a sequel that will involve the Garnick & Paschal Detective Agency with more of Chicago’s colorful 19th Century residents.
What kind of research did you do to bring this book to completion?
In addition to reading histories of Chicago, I searched old newspapers of the period, many of which are archived online. The penny press played a major role in American journalism and the telegraph made news travel faster. Sensationalism, especially when it came to reporting scandals and murders, sold more papers and journalists of the day wrote in a flowery, dramatic style to titillate their audience and increase readership. The Chicago Tribune ran stories about “Gentle” Annie Stafford, the bawdyhouse madam who horsewhipped her lover through the streets, and Mollie Trussell, “drunk and dressed for a ball” who shot her faithless Casanova dead in a saloon on Hair-trigger Block. The all-male jury acquitted Mollie on the grounds of temporary emotional insanity, not to mention a shapely figure. Gentle Annie married the man she horsewhipped and everyone who was anyone attended the wedding. Chicago has always been a “toddlin” town – perhaps back then even more so than today.
Have you gone on any literary pilgrimages lately?
It wasn’t exactly a pilgrimage, but I flew to Chicago a few weeks ago to attend the Printers Row Litfest, the largest open-air book fair in the Midwest. Meeting and talking with readers in person again after so many months pinned down by the pandemic was exhilarating and it was a lot of fun swapping tales of Old Chicago with the natives. They weren’t exactly flabbergasted when I mentioned the fact that their fair city has a reputation for crime.
How can people learn more about your book and follow you?
The book is available for purchase in all the usual places and if not currently in stock at your favorite book store, it can easily be ordered. Information about Devil By The Tail and all of my books is available on my website, https://www.jeannematthews.com/ and I post links to all of my blogs there, as well. You can find me on Facebook as @jeanne.Matthews3 and follow me on Twitter at @JMmystery.