Whilst I was participating on The Spoils of Avalon blog tour on behalf of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, I was meant to post this lovely conversation I had with Ms. Burns on behalf of her series and the genre at large. It sparked a conversational thread as well, which I have included below our main conversation as I had not realised no one was addressing the parallels and the changes within the Mystery & Suspense genre as I have started to observe a Renaissance of a new style emerging out of the gate when there is such an overflow of lighter cosies being marketed in today’s fiction.
I personally applaud the authors, who like Ms. Burns are taking the extra step towards ensuing the legacy of Agatha Christie and others like her; who are not only upheld in voice or style but are carried forward — where they are seeking out new timescapes inside the historical past to carve out their own cosy niche and elevate the cosy to a new level of immersion. I love sophisticated comedies and dramas, but this also parlays into my appreciation for a sophisticate cosy!
Cosy to me, first and foremost references the direct correlation between the crime itself and the level of intensity of the nature of the crime; either through descriptive narrative or through visceral imagery. I may watch certain hard-boiled crime dramas on television (the ones most addictive by far have been NCIS and Castle) but when it comes to curating a list of next reads and favourite cosies in print — alas! This is where I become quite particular in my choices and my penchant for a well-conceived mystery and/or suspense within the pages is put centerpoint. If I can help bridge the gap between where the cosies of the past and the cosies of the modern world are merging and re-defining themselves, then I consider myself blessed to be a book blogger who can showcase the differences.
Secondary to the first declaration on behalf of cosies, for me, are the realism of character, setting, era, and the plausible circumstances stitched around the mystery itself. I even like a light suspension of reality if bits and bobbles of fantasy elements are explored (those based on mythology, lore, or fable); but truly what I am seeking is a well-conceived idea which sparks such a joy to devour the story itself, I lose myself in the pages and never notice fully the dissolvementof time off the clock!
The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different—the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.
First in a new series of historical mysteries, <em>The Spoils of Avalon</em> introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends—beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.
Friends from the age of ten, Paget and Sargent frequently met in the popular European watering places and capitals, frequenting the same salons and drawing rooms in London, Rome, Paris, Florence, Venice, Vienna and Madrid. Both were possessed of keen minds and bohemian tendencies, unorthodox educations and outsized egos (especially Paget). Their instant, natural bonding led them to address each other as “Twin”, and they corresponded frequently when they were apart.
Henry James once described Violet Paget as having “the most formidable mind” of their times, and he was an active fan and patron of John Sargent, introducing him to London society and his own inner circles of literary and artistic genius.
I agree with what you revealed about taking an cosy historical mystery arc of narrative and fusing it directly into the heart of a well-respected historical figure by presenting the person and the era of the series setting in a believable series of circumstances that honour the person. What originally led you to realising you had a golden opportunity to bring forward John Singer Sargent & Violet Paget as crime solving partners?
Burns responds: I am a long-time fan of ‘historical’ amateur detectives (Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen) as well as purely fictional ones (Max Liebermann, Charles DuLuc), and have written some mysteries long ago. However, I had fallen so much in love with both Sargent and Paget while I was writing my “regular” historical Portraits of an Artist that I simply couldn’t let go of them, and I wanted readers to see how fun and interesting they are. I struggled with the challenge that Sargent isn’t all that well-known and that Violet Paget (aka Vernon Lee) is completely obscure these days, so who would want to read about them? But I decided it was worth the risk—I would write them so well that people would love them as I do! It seemed to me that the historical mystery genre was the perfect medium to bring out their mischievous and interesting characters, both serious and humorous at the same time. Read More