Monday, March 28, 2016

DEATH SITS DOWN TO DINNER: Q&A with Author Tessa Arlen

Filled with deceptions both real and imagined, Death Sits Down to Dinner is a delightful Edwardian mystery set in London.  

Q&A With Tessa Arlen

Please join me in welcoming historical mystery author Tessa Arlen to Books & Benches as we talk about her newest book, Death Sits Down to Dinner along with the fascinating Lady Montfort.

Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen
Will you share with us three things people may not know about you?
I am English –but have lived in the U.S. ever since I was thirty and even though I am a US citizen now, married to an American with children who are undoubtedly American I still  feel more English than American.

When I was in my late teens I lived with my parents until I went to university in England for about a year at the British High Commission –my father was a diplomat - in New Delhi, India. Anyone of any importance to the British government were entertained at the British High Commission, so I very briefly Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret, and some very dull British cabinet ministers when they came through India. But to my absolute joy I also met the Beatles or at least George Harrison and John Lennon when they arrived in Delhi en route to Rishikesh to the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. George Harrison was a delightful individual, very gentle and awfully shy and John Lennon the reverse! I was about 17 and completely in awe of them.

Also while I was in India I was in an amateur dramatic production of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde. (The Brits love to do amateur theatricals). The woman who played my mother in the production was Stella Rimington, a close friend of my parents, who went on to become the first woman Director General of MI5. She was a very quiet, ordinary woman which is why she probably made such a good spy. Ever since she retired Stella has written novels –about a woman spy of course.

Do you share any personality traits with Lady Montfort?
I have two main characters and so I will take Lady Montfort for this question. And say that both of us are gardeners, very keen ones and are never happier than when we are pottering about with a pair of gardening gloves on –time  simply flies by! The difference between us is that she has masses of professional help in her very magnificent gardens, whereas I have a reluctant husband who will turn out occasionally if he is worried that I am going to really injure myself transplanting a rose bush.

Both Clementine and I are very energetic, outgoing women, curious about people and what makes them tick. Neither of us are particularly impressed by people who like the outward show of wealth, or are dismissive of those who do not have the advantages and luck of a good start in life. Both of us have lived in India, Clementine was raised there, I only lived there for a year. She has a wonderful open-mindedness, for her generation, about different cultures and religions, whereas this was not unusual nature in girls of my generation. The biggest difference is that she is more physically courageous than I am, I would never put myself in danger by investigating a murder, I prefer to stay at home and write about her adventures.

Can you tell us a bit more about her? What does she do that is so special?
Death Sits Down to Dinner with Tessa Arlen
My other main character is Lady Montfort’s housekeeper Mrs. Edith Jackson and she assists her ladyship in her inquiries. Becoming an amateur sleuth did not come easily to Mrs. Jackson. She was horrified when she was first dragged into the business of clandestine investigations by her ladyship. She is naturally reserved and a little bit of a snob about things like class, and conventional behavior. But what I most admire about her is that once she developed a taste for the challenges of who did what to whom with a lead pipe in the Library, she really came out of her shell, despite her natural inclination to avoid gossip and interfere in other people’s business. 

This rigidity of temperament was not easy for her to overcome, as she was orphaned at any early age, raised in a parish orphanage and was an illiterate working skivvy at the age of fourteen. But she didn’t let these considerable obstacles stand in her way. She taught herself to read and write, and with hard work and her natural intelligence rose to a very senior position as an upper servant to a family of consequence. All of this was a considerable achievement back in the England of the late 19th early 20th century. I have tremendous respect for her moral courage and her great loyalty to Lady Montfort and her family. I have even greater admiration for her overcoming her distaste for stepping outside the bounds of duty to help Lady Montfort when she rashly gets herself involved in yet another adventure.

What has been your greatest pleasure in writing Death Sits Down to Dinner?
I spent so much time researching the late 19th and early 20th century and discovering the wonderfully eccentric characters that populated the time that I decided to include several of them in this book. As soon as I introduced these ‘real’ people into the plot and involved them in Lady Montfort’s life it really made the period come alive for me, in more ways than I would have imagined.

When Lady Montfort sits next to Winston Churchill at dinner she does so, fully aware that her husband, the Earl of Montfort dislikes the rather bombastic First Lord of the Admiralty, as Winston was at the time of the story. She is quite surprised when she finds she is enjoying his company as she discovers how charming and witty he can be, but not so charmed that she doesn’t see him for the awfully bombastic man he often was. Conversely when she is invited to join the Marchioness of Ripon in her box at His Majesty’s Theater, she is very aware that Lady Ripon is very much the grand dame of society, and as their conversation continues off and on through the ballet at which Nijinsky is the soloist she discovers just how truly terrifying the Marchioness can be in little matters of social obligation. Having Lady Montfort interact with the redoubtable Edwardians of the time who were known for their eccentricities really helped me add another dimension to both the story and my characters. It was also fun to include the current gossip about these characters too!

What appeals to you most about writing historical mysteries?
The history! I have always loved modern English history. Writing a novel set in the early decades of the 20th century allowed me to concentrate very fully on all aspects of society back then: the huge change in the political climate, the innovations in communication, transportation and manufacturing not to mention the arts. The wonderfully diverse interests that the people held, and then of course the gorgeous architecture of those colossal country houses and the glorious neighborhood of Belgravia before it was entirely ruined twenty or thirty years ago. Not to mention the gardens! It also gave me a chance to write about the exquisite English country side that has suffered suburbanization and the other more unattractive needs of our fast-moving restless 21st century.  But I also love the mystery–that is a huge part of my enjoyment in this genre. I am a great fan of the Golden Age of mystery when the writer traps a number of eccentrics in a country house, stirs things up with a murder or two and then let everyone revert to type, as skeletons tumble out of closets and dreadful secrets are revealed. But it is the history that I enjoy the most.

Death Sits Down to Dinner

02_Death Sits Down to Dinner

(Lady Montfort Mystery #2)

Publication Date: March 29, 2016 Minotaur Books Hardcover & Ebook
320 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Lady Montfort is thrilled to receive an invitation to a dinner party hosted by her close friend Hermione Kingsley, the patroness of England’s largest charity. Hermione has pulled together a select gathering to celebrate Winston Churchill’s 39th birthday. Some of the oldest families in the country have gathered to toast the dangerously ambitious and utterly charming First Lord of the Admiralty. But when the dinner ends, one of the gentlemen remains seated at the table, head down among the walnut shells littering the cloth and a knife between his ribs. 

Summoned from Iyntwood, Mrs. Jackson helps her mistress trace the steps of suspects both upstairs and downstairs as Hermione’s household prepares to host a highly anticipated charity event. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson unravel the web of secrecy surrounding the bright whirlwind of London society, investigating the rich, well-connected and seeming do-gooders in a race against time to stop the murderer from striking again.  



Advance Praise

“Despite Clementine’s luxurious lifestyle, she’s got a head on her shoulders . . .and is as cagey as she is charming. A neatly crafted whodunit dripping with diamonds, titles and scandal . . .” —Kirkus Reviews 

“The close, mutually respectful partnership between Clementine and Edith will remind Dorothy Sayers’s fans of the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter, his manservant. Arlen does a good job of depicting a period when class distinctions have become blurred by new money and more-relaxed manners. The plot, which includes a slew of red herrings, builds to a startling denouement.” —Publisher’s Weekly 

“VERDICT Real-life Edwardian personalities abound in this period historical, and the upstairs/downstairs focus delivers a clash of temperaments. This title is bound to appeal to fans of historicals set in this period and of such authors as Rhys Bowen and Ashley Weaver.” —Library Journal   

About the Author

02_Tessa ArlenTESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington. 

For more information please visit Tessa Arlen's website. Read Tessa Arlen's blog at Redoubtable Edwardians. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Subscribe to Tessa Arlen's Newsletter.   

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Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 28 
Review at Laura's Interests 
Interview at Books and Benches 

Tuesday, March 29 
Review at A Book Geek 

Wednesday, March 30 
Interview at AustenProse 

Thursday, March 31 
Review at Buried Under Books 
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More  

Friday, April 1 

Monday, April 4 
Review at Reading the Past 

Tuesday, April 5 

Wednesday, April 6 
Review at Luxury Reading 

Thursday, April 7 
Review at A Chick Who Reads 

 Friday, April 8 
Review at A Holland Reads 

Monday, April 11 

Tuesday, April 12 
Interview at The Absurd Book Nerd 

Wednesday, April 13 
Review at Room With Books 

Thursday, April 14 
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation 

Friday, April 15 
Review at Jorie Loves a Story 

Monday, April 18 

Tuesday, April 19 

Wednesday, April 20 

Thursday, April 21 
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past 

Friday, April 22 
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books 

Monday, April 25 
Review & Giveaway at Brooke Blogs 

Tuesday, April 26 
Review at Book Nerd  

Wednesday, April 27 

Friday, April 29 

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