Award-winning author Alice Duncan lives with a herd of wild dachshunds (enriched from time to time with fosterees from New Mexico Dachshund Rescue). She’s not a UFO enthusiast--her mother’s family settled in
fifty years before the aliens crashed.
It’s our great pleasure to welcome
as our guest blogger on Author Expressions today.
Before I get into Thanksgiving Angels, the book, it might be a good idea to recount how the Mercy Allcutt historical cozy mystery series began.
You see, I love the 1920s as a decade. The ‘twenties were such a time of grief, astonishment, PTSD, change, outraged sensibilities, and befuddlement, the era is, in a word, fascinating. The War to End all Wars had ended to be followed by an influenza pandemic that wiped out nearly a quarter of the earth’s population. This, following a war that killed almost an entire generation of young men. Small wonder people were wandering around confounded and wondering what the heck was going on, you know?
Well, I decided I’d write a series of historical cozy mysteries set in a place I knew well (
Southern California, where I was born and
grew up) in an era that had me mesmerized, the 1920s. First of all, during that
decade you had parents who’d seen their sons die only to then see their
daughters begin to do things that were unheard of in the parents’ younger days:
wearing short skirts, smoking (!), going out with boys alone and in automobiles
(!), necking, refusing to follow their parents’ rules, drinking alcohol (and
this, in spite of Prohibition, for the love of heaven!), enthralled by motion
pictures and the “stars” thereof, and generally behaving as if there were no
tomorrow. There was a good reason for that. After the Great War and the
influenza pandemic, lots of people decided there truly was no tomorrow, and they might as well live it up while the earth
So Daisy Gumm Majesty appeared in my head, pretty much fully formed, as a fake spiritualist-medium (spiritualism was all the rage because of the ravages of war and illness) with a war-injured husband to support. I wrote the first two Daisy books (Strong Spirits and Fine Spirits) thinking they’d be my historical cozy mystery series set in the 1920s.
Boy, was I wrong. Kensington, my publisher at the time, told me there wasn’t enough mystery in the books (probably true) and that I should take out the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance (because Daisy was already married) and they’d publish them as romance novels, which they weren’t. Naturally, they tanked. Also naturally, I was devastated. Daisy was me, with a few notable differences. For one thing, Daisy had a supportive birth family, and for another, she had none of my crippling neuroses. But Daisy, as nearly as I could tell, was lying dead, belly-up in the goldfish bowl of publishing. The late, great Kate Duffy actually called and apologized to me for mis-marketing Daisy’s books, but that didn’t appease my grief. I had to take yet another pseudonym and write a series of historical romances set in the days after the Titanic disaster. So I did, but I hated every moment of the first book. The second and third books in the series weren’t so difficult to write, but I still missed Daisy.
So, what the heck, thought I: what was wrong with
Los Angeles in the 1920s? Not a
darned thing. So Mercedes Louise “Mercy” Allcutt was born. Mercy is the product
of a staid, sober, stuffy, intolerant, overbearing couple of Boston Brahmins.
Mercy, a modern young lass, although far from being a “flapper,” looks at her
parents’ lives and the lives of the rest of the folks in the world, decides
there’s too great a disparity between the rich and the poor (sound familiar? It
should, since the same thing’s going on today), and determines to become a part
of the vast worker proletariat, those people who struggle to survive on their
own resources in a world geared to keep them downtrodden. Therefore, Mercy, at
her sister Chloe’s invitation, moves to , and actually searches
for a job! No female in Mercy’s
entire family has ever actually worked
for a living. Her parents are appalled. Chloe is tolerant. Mercy is delighted,
both for putting a couple of thousand miles between herself and her parents,
and for beginning to achieve her life’s ambition: writing gritty, true stories,
about life on the streets of a big city. Los Angeles, California
Of course, Mercy knows nothing about the gritty side of life, but she’s game. She’s thrilled to be hired by a jaded ex-cop, P.I. Ernie Templeton, who takes one look at Mercy and pegs her for a rich girl. Mercy doesn’t understand how he did that, but she can’t deny the truth. However, she vows to be the best secretary she can be, and she’s thrilled to have a job with an honest-to-God private investigator. As luck would have it, her employment, which starts out depressingly boring, takes an upturn when murders crop up. In spite of Ernie’s best efforts, Mercy gets involved in the solutions to the various crimes, and her career as a private investigator’s assistant—oops. She means P.I.’s secretary, begin to thrive.
In Thanksgiving Angels, Mercy is depressed as all get-out because her Boston parents have bought a second home in Pasadena, California, a lovely community about twenty miles away from Los Angeles. Although she wishes he wouldn’t, Ernie gives Mercy Thanksgiving week off to visit her parents. Mercy’s stuck. Her mother has demanded her presence in the family’s new home for Thanksgiving, and Ernie refuses to cooperate with her own desires, and lets her have the week off.
The only bright spot Mercy can think of in this week of familial torture is that her sister and brother-in-law, Chloe and Harvey Nash (
Harvey’s a bigwig in the motion
industry), will be there, too. Mercy also brings along her dog, her adorable
miniature poodle, Buttercup, so named because she’s apricottish in color. Her
parents are disgusted. Mercy doesn’t care.
And then, lo and behold, Daisy Gumm Majesty shows up to perform a séance in the Allcutt’s
Pasadena mansion. Mercy can hardly
believe this, since her mother, Mrs. Albert Monteith Allcutt, known to her
friends as Honoria and to her children as the Wrath of God, has never shown the
slightest interest in spiritualist matters before. Mercy can only shake her
head, take Buttercup for walks, and talk to her sister, who understands Mercy’s
plight even though she can’t quite understand why Mercy wants to work for a
And then, after the séance, a woman is murdered, shoved from the ornate upper hallway’s banister railing to fall, splat, on the parquet flooring below.
Mercy is thunderstricken when her mother demands Mercy call her employer, Ernie Templeton, to investigate the crime. However, she does as asked, and she and Ernie join Daisy Majesty and Detective Sam Rotondo, from the Pasadena Police Department, and help solve the crime. In doing so, Mercy herself if almost done to death, but she survives to tell the story.
What’s even better, she slithers out of her parents’ grasp and actually spends a delightful Thanksgiving Day at Daisy’s home in
Pasadena. Her parents are livid.
Mercy is happy as a lark.
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