Tag Archives: Susanna Calkins

Murder and Survival in 17th Century England

CBR_Logo2A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
by Susanna Calkins

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susana Calkins, set in the distant, violent world of seventeenth-century England, triggers thought-provoking comparisons between the violence and prejudices of that era and those of twenty-first-century Chicago.

The story covers the efforts of Lucy Campion, a chambermaid forced to venture outside the strict rules of her position in order to prove the innocence of her brother. He is wrongfully accused of murdering a girl who was a good friend of Lucy’s and worked for the family that employs Lucy. Her brother is in imminent danger of being tried and hanged before Lucy finds the evidence she needs. Her journey takes her into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and into the horrifying Newgate prison. Her path toward solving the murder is complicated by two great English disasters: the plague that killed thousands of people and, before the residents could recover from that, the Great Fire of London, which swept through much of the city. Running through all this are the stirrings of romance and Lucy’s dreams of what she would like to do in life if she were not just a chambermaid.

Murder_at__Rosamund¹s_Gate_revised_2Lucy is fortunate that the family for which she works is that of a magistrate who appreciates and encourages her questions and interests, which do not fit her lowly station in life.

Today’s Health Police would probably be upset by the magistrate’s enjoyment of wine with his breakfast kippers. Today’s legal thriller fans will be interested to find out that in Lucy’s day lawyers were not allowed to question witnesses directly. The accused had to ask the questions. These legal thriller fans will also notice that occasional attorney violation of this rule could go unpunished and that backstage activities sometimes helped influence the outcome of a trial. That’s familiar to twenty-first-century Chicagoans, right?

Historians report that religious and political upheaval, civil strife, and class and gender conflicts were rampant in seventeenth-century England. Sounds a lot like 2013.

SC-5 bmp (9)

Author Susanna Calkins

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is Susanna Calkins’s first novel. Calkins is on the faculty at Northwestern University, associate director, Faculty Development, with doctorate and master’s degrees in history. She became fascinated with the seventeenth century while living in London and working on her doctorate.

Writing historical novels so the tone of the narrative is consistent with its time period throughout the book requires great focus and skill on the part of the author. Calkins does this extremely well, both in the way she handles the dialogue and how she moves the story forward. There are, though, a few instances in which the reader might wonder whether a particular incident would actually happen as Calkins describes. On the other side of that question, where is the evidence? Because all the action in the book takes place a few centuries ago, this is really a cold case in which many “facts” are difficult or impossible to confirm. They might all be true. But the book is such an entertaining read that an occasional quibble like that is no big deal.

Finishing A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate leaves the reader curious about what Lucy Campion will do next. An answer is available. Susanna Calkins’s second novel chronicling the adventures of Lucy Campion, Charred Remains, is expected to publish in April 2014.

Three-Star Review

April 2013, Minotaur Books
$24.99, hardcover, 352 pages
ISBN: 978-1-2500-0790-2

Learn more about author Susanna Calkins.
Read more about the author.

—Reviewed by Betty Nicholas

Leave a comment

Filed under fiction

Local Author Spotlight: Susanna Calkins—Engaging from Evanston to England

CBR_Logo2Susanna Calkins wears a lot of hats. As a wife, mother, educator, faculty developer, researcher, blogger, and—now—novelist, Calkins performs a daily juggling act that sometimes leaves her writing in some of the strangest places.

In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to find the Evanston-based writer working away in the wee hours of the night, wrapping up editorial revisions on her forthcoming second novel, penning a blog entry, or otherwise trying to meet some kind of deadline. When it comes to writing, Calkins will work just about wherever and whenever possible.

“I’m not one of those people who needs five hours of untouched time,” she says. “I’ll write a scene on the bus. When I’m waiting for a doctor’s appointment, I might write a scene. I just try to seize the few minutes I can.”

SC-5 bmp (9)

Author Susanna Calkins

Switching gears seems to come somewhat easily for Calkins. Whether focused on family, her job as associate director of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching at Northwestern University, or her burgeoning career as a writer, the charming brunette seems comfortable in just about any hat, in just about any location, and in just about any era.

Calkins’s debut novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (Minotaur, June 2013), is set in 17th century London, a place Calkins has lived in—though, of course, in a different time. The London Calkins more recently spent time in found her pursuing her PhD in history while working and researching aboard The Golden Hinde, the reconstructed galleon of Sir Francis Drake.

That experience—and her love of history as well as her self-confessed “morbid curiosity” with murder—played a hand in setting the stage for A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, in which Lucy Campion finds herself in the midst of a mystery. Living and working in London for a spell helped provide Calkins with information and details that have made her book come alive.

Murder_at__Rosamund¹s_Gate_revised_2In fact, Calkins’s first novel has earned all sorts of praise from readers, fellow authors, and reviewers. “Terrific,” “high-quality,” “believable,” “engaging,” and “absorbing” are just a few of the terms used to describe her freshman effort.

Part of that praise comes from the carefully drawn world Calkins has created, a world that readers will get to visit at least once more: The second Lucy Campion book, tentatively titled From the Charred Remains, is scheduled to publish in 2014.

Publishing her second novel seems to have Calkins just as excited as she was with her first (though her first novel wasn’t her first book: Calkins earlier coauthored a professional reference guide, Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Reflective Professional). Honing details, getting the flavor of the era just so, developing characters from minor players into major players—all of that has Calkins excited about From the Charred Remains.

While the forthcoming release of her second novel certainly has her excited, Calkins also is happy about yet another hat she gets to wear: panelist. Or, rather, fellow panelist. Upon learning that she would be sharing a dais later this month at the 44th Bouchercon with some of her favorite mystery authors—among them Anne Perry and Caroline Todd—Calkins barely knew what to do with herself.

“When you meet someone who inspires you, it’s like ‘Oh, my gosh!’” she says, noting that she’d be happy to just listen to Anne Perry during the entire conference session. “I think I’ll just be glad to have her talk. I really want to ask her questions.”

At the rate she’s going, Calkins likely soon will—if she hasn’t already—inspire a generation of up-and-coming mystery writers herself, just like her real-life heroine Anne Perry has. With one highly praised novel under her belt, her second book in the works, and a few manuscripts waiting in the wings, Calkins may well find herself wearing yet another hat: bestselling author.

Learn more about Susanna Calkins.

—Kelli Christiansen

1 Comment

Filed under feature