Victorian series


Medieval to Modern: Eight great historical mystery shorts

Medieval to Modern: An Anthology of Historical Mystery Stories is available now at all your favorite medievaltomodernonline bookstores.

What will you find in this volume? Three novellas and five short stories, ranging from Wales in 1141 to Dayton, Ohio in the 1930’s. You’ll also get a sneak preview chapter from the first book in each of our historical series. Here’s an annotated TOC:

I. Medieval Wales

Sarah Woodbury gives us a novella, The Bard’s Daughter, in which Gwen solves a crime that threatens her own family. I love the way Sarah takes Gwen one step closer to her true destiny in this perfectly-crafted work.

Then you get chapter one of The Good Knight, the first book in Sarah’s hugely popular Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries. Don’t worry about getting hooked, because there are 10 more in this series to look forward to.

II. Elizabethan England

First is a short story called In Walked a Lady, featuring Francis Bacon’s sidekick, Thomas Clarady, as he takes a case on his own — with mixed results. By moi, Anna Castle.

This is followed by the first chapter of the first book the Francis Bacon mystery series, Murder by Misrule. The fifth book in that series, Let Slip the Dogs, will be out in August.

III. Regency London

Now we leap forward to 1814, for Libi Astaire‘s novella, General Well’ngone in Love. It’s about time! But will he grow too soft to be any good at his job? I hope not.

Next is the first chapter of the first book in Libi’s Jewish Regency mystery series, Tempest in the Tea Room. You’ll meet General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane for the first time, in a tale told in the delightful voice of young Rebecca Goldsmith. I adore this series, which feels like falling into a Hogarth painting, only a few decades later with company that is much more genteel.

IV. Victorian San Francisco

Another turn of the hourglass, and we’re in San Francisco in 1888. The short story Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong is a perfect introduction to M. Louisa Locke‘s gift for peeking into the more obscure corners of San Francisco history and pulling out a delightful tale.

Next comes a novella, Kathleen Catches a Killer, in which the housemaid of series protagonist Annie Fuller helps out a friend in trouble and nearly lands in the soup herself. You’ll have to finish this one before you go to sleep!

Then we get the first chapter of the first book in M. Louisa’s Victorian San Francisco mystery series. You’ll meet ingenious Annie Fuller and her houseful of vivid characters for the first time. Not for the last; they’ll start to feel like family as you read on through the series.

V. Victorian London

First is a short story called The Stockbroker’s Wife, by Anna Castle again. This is a pastiche of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, The Stockbroker’s Clerk. Professor Moriarty must undertake a small fraud in order to expose a larger one — with the help of his wife, of course.

Then comes the first chapter of the first book in the Professor & Mrs. Moriarty mystery series, Moriarty Meets His Match. In my 180-degree twist on the Holmes canon, Professor Moriarty is a man driven to right wrongs even when it’s wrong to right them.

VI. Depression-era Dayton, Ohio

Turn over the hourglass over one last time and land in Dayton, Ohio in the 1930s. First up is M. Ruth Myers‘ short story, The Barefoot Stiff. PI Maggie Sullivan solves a crime the cops get wrong, thanks to her keen eye and her lively fashion sense.

Her taste for life’s little luxuries comes in handy in the next short story, The Concrete Garter Belt. This story proves that Maggie will do anything to solve a case – and I do mean anything.

Last up is the first chapter of the first book in Ruth’s Maggie Sullivan mystery series set in Depression-era Ohio. Maggie is my absolute favorite PI and one heckuva of a snappy dame.

These authors are all members of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, aka Historical Fiction eBooks. This is my favorite place to browse for something new to read. I was honored to receive an invitation to join by M. Louisa Locke in 2014 and continue to be delighted by the quality and diversity of historical fiction created by this group. If you love historical fiction, you won’t find an easier place to stock up on great stories. 

That beautiful cover was designed by the multi-talented Sarah Woodbury.


Behind the scenes: Limelight & lighting effects

Shakespeare’s plays were performed for the public in the afternoon, as they are today at the Globe Theater in London. Private performances might take place indoors at night. But generally, the stage was lit by the sun, however cloudy the day. Even indoors at places like the Blackfriars Theatre, afternoon performances were lit by long high windows, augmented with candles.

When King Charles II restored the theaters of England, he introduced new developments in lighting from the Continent as well. There, theaters relied on huge chandeliers which lit the whole house, not just the stage. The stage was augmented by footlights — candles in sconces — set at the edge of the stage where they cast light up onto the actors’ faces. Wikipedia quotes Frederick Penzel’s 1978 Theatre Lighting Before Electricity: “Candles needed frequent trimming and relighting regardless of what was happening on-stage because “they dripped hot grease on both the audience and actors”.”

How delightful! Especially in the thin fabrics favored during the Regency period, depicted here. Note the chandeliers hanging in front of the galleries and the little rill of footlights at the front of the stage.


Loving the limelight

I expected to find all sorts of pithy quotations using the word ‘limelight,’ but no; nothing but pseudo-self-deprecating blah-blah from modern actors. I expected quotes from eminent Victorians, since the stuff was a major innovation of their era. One of so many, I guess, it wasn’t worthy of special note. So all I can offer you on the quote front is this succinct definition from OED: “1952   W. Granville Dict. Theatr. Terms 111   Fond of limelight, greedy for notice. One who claims the centre of the stage.”dancer univ baltimore

Limelight was discovered in the 1820s by Goldsworthy Gurney, an English chemist. Thomas Drummond gave his name to the lamp he invented for surveying purposes. I’ll give you a whole quote from Wikipedia solely for the pleasure of the quintessentially Victorian word found therein: 

“The earliest known use of limelight at a public performance was outdoors, over Herne Bay Pier, Kent, on the night of 3 October 1836 to illuminate a juggling performance by magician Ching Lau Lauro. This performance was part of the celebrations following the laying of the foundation stone of the Clock Tower. The advertising leaflet called it koniaphostic light and announced that “the whole pier is overwhelmed with a flood of beautiful white light”

Man, that light is like totally koniaphostic!!

Limelight moved quickly into the theaters, whose need for increasing spectacle made producers eager to experiment with new technologies. Covent Garden was the first to deploy the new tool in 1837, bringing yet another spectacularly hazardous device under the theatrical umbrella.

Limelight_burnerThe Drummond lamp is a kind of blowtorch, fueled by a judicious mixture of oxygen and hydrogen. The flame is directed onto a small piece of quicklime (calcium oxide), producing an intense white light that can be projected to form a spotlight on the stage. The light can be colored by positioning a filter, usually made of colored glass, in front of it. Victorian lighting managers would use crimson glass to create the illusion of fire.

They made their own oxygen and hydrogen, if you can believe it, on the premises; in my book, up at the top of the backstage area in the lighting crew’s workroom. I dug into this because I was determined to find ways to murder people that did not involve gas lighting. Too obvious! You make oxygen by burning potassium chlorate. You make hydrogen by dripping dilute sulphuric acid onto zinc. Both gases were stored in caoutchouc* balloons, which the limelight operator will press to feed the flame that burns the lime that shines the light that makes the show a hit.

*Another new word for the word junkies among us! It’s unvulcanized natural rubber.


Now, this is a lovely verb, adapted by unanimous acclaim from the title of George Cukor’s movie, in which the evil Charles Boyer tortures Ingrid Bergman by convincing her she’s going mad, partly by gaslight-1944manipulating the gas lighting in their house! Whoof!

And here’s something that will surprise you: the first supporting quote in OED for this verb comes from a popular TV show: “1965   Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (The Grudge Match) (transcript of TV programme) 12 Nov.   Duke. Maybe..we can get through to the Chief. Frankie. How do you mean? Duke. I mean psychological warfare… The old war on nerves. We’ll gaslight him.”

Who’d’ve a-thunk it?

Gas lighting began spreading rapidly across Europe and America in the from the late 18th century. It reached the top tier of London by 1817, including the Lyceum, Covent Garden, and Drury Lane. Gas entered the building from a single source in the basement, where the flow was distributed into a maze of pipes and rubber tubing controlled by the gas table or gas panel. The pipes and tubes ran throughout the building, lighting everything: chandeliers in the auditorium, smaller lights in the foyers outside the tiers of boxes, rows of lights above the mirrors at actors’ dressing tables, footlights, border lights — strips of lights on bars hanging from the flies… They would run gas tubing across the stage, artfully concealed, to light lamps or fairy wands or spectacular simulations of fires.

Here’s a mind-boggling description from Michael Booth (p. 81): “The fairies of the ‘Valley of Jewels’ scene in Harlequin and Sindbad the Sailor (1881) carried white wands each surmounted by a capital letter in copper spelling out the names of jewels in words of blazing light, such as RUBIES, EMERALDS, and  TOPAZES, each group of fairies being dressed in the colour of its jewel. The gaslightingwords were made of gaspipe plunged into sockets… miles of gaspiping beneath the stage, a thousand holes punched in every letter, with care to ensure each tiny gas jet containing a roll of paper percussion caps to ignite the gas…”

Yes, I’ll carry that prop around for fifteen minutes, says nobody nowadays, ever. I had gas space heaters in my bedroom in the 70s, old-fashioned even then, but you know – cheap student housing. We were always conscious of that open flame, worrying about dog’s tails or shaking out a sheet. Here’s hoping nobody uses those dangerous things anymore.

But oh, all that lovely light! And no need for lightmen to rush about relighting candles. No more hot wax dripping on people. Sure, gas lights generated enough heat to melt the paint off an actor’s face and there was that little problem of explodability, but what glorious, bright, even light! Here’s Wikipedia’s dry take on that issue: “Gas lighting did have some disadvantages. “Several hundred theatres are said to have burned down in America and Europe between 1800 and the introduction of electricity in the late 1800s.”


The first theater to replace gas with electricity throughout was the Savoy Theatre in London, built by producer/entrepreneur Richard D’Oyly Carte and home of Gilbert & Sullivan’s inimitable comic operas. It didn’t take long for other theaters to follow suit. By the end of the century, all but the hopelessly poor or old-fashioned theaters in Europe and America had gone electric.

D’Oyly Carte explained the enthusiastic response thus: “The greatest drawbacks to the enjoyment of the theatrical performances are, undoubtedly, the foul air and heat which pervade all theatres. As everyone knows, each gas-burner consumes as much oxygen as many people, and causes great heat beside. The incandescent lamps consume no oxygen, and cause no perceptible heat.”


You’re wondering, yes, but what about those fairies? Well, electricity improved their lot as well. Now they could dance across the stage with bright wands and brilliant headpieces powered by batteries strapped to their backs.




Booth, Michael R. 1981. Victorian Spectacular Theatre, 1850-1910. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Lauginie, Pierre. 2015. “Drummond light, limelight: A device of its time,” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, No. 127.



This website uses cookies for basic features such as contact or blog comments, but not for anything else. For more information, read my Privacy Policy.