We had just come off our over-the-top event with Louise Penny (cupcakes! poutine!), and I was chatting with Sarah, the publicist at Minotaur. She suggested I host Tasha Alexander for her new book, Behind the Shattered Glass on the launch date, October 15.
Unike Louise Penny, we didn’t have the track to pull off a great event. In fact, I didn’t have Cara Black numbers or George Pelecanos numbers or even James Benn numbers. I had no numbers. This would not be the launch party of Tasha Alexander's dreams!
So I replied, “Oh, Sarah, not only are we booked (and we were completely booked for October, as all of you have well noticed), but I just don’t know how I’d even get five people to this event. I have no track at all. I have no reads. I don’t know what the talk is like. I just don't know how to make this event work."
But the story wasn’t over yet. I went to Austin for a book conference and wound up spending a lot of time at the host store, Bookpeople. How could I not? The store is legendary. Great events, great blog, great marketing (they pretty much invented the shop local movement with their “Keep Austin Weird” campaign, and really great people, from the top down. More on that in another post.
And look at that, Tasha Alexander was on the schedule. It seemed like an odd time for an event, Sunday at 4 pm, but I know how these things are, having hosted Alice McDermott on a Saturday at 11—you take what you can get. And anyway, it was convenient for me. And it just seemed like a sign.
The host, Scott, runs a store within a store called Mystery People. He's one of those folks who knows everyone and everything about mysteries. Alexander came with her husband, Andrew Grant, who has his own series of special agent mysteries. He was famous for publishing his newest on Createspace. I asked him about that experiment, and it turns out it was a one off (booksellers breathe a sigh of relief here). His next book is an everyman thriller and is under contract with Ballantine. Quite the personable guy, and speaks quite eloquently on the subject.
But I came for Tasha Alexander. What would she talk about? Could I sell this? And the answer is yes! The series is set in Victorian England and the heroine is a young woman of the upper classes with a knack for solving crimes. The series starts off with a bang, with her husband being murdered. The new mystery, Behind the Shattered Glass, turns on the death of a neighbor, the Marquess of Montegu. It turns out that there’s some complication about how the estate is being passed on, and several folks are under suspicion. I jumped right into the book and devoured it on my plane ride home.
Here's the thing. The whole book has a Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey vibe, set in the period just between the two. The class system is still in full force. The series chronicles the intellectual awakening of Lady Emily, and the changes that are coming to British life. It’s a fascinating period—these folks don’t know that their way of life is not long for this world. And of course Lady Emily is enlightened in some ways but not others. It reminds me of that line from of Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone, which I quoted in this blog: “To someone who grows up by the stockyards, that smell just smells like the air."
So you’ve got the Upstairs/Downstairs things going on with every chapter divided into Lady Emily’s point of view and the servants, and you’ve also got some period detail, but not too much to overwhelm the story, and you’ve got a little Austen style romance too. I assume that every entry in the series has at least one pairing.
So I immediately wrote to our resident JASNA-ian Jane with a message that she had to read this. And then maybe Anne, our mystery fan. And who knows, perhaps Sharon? And then we’ll be all ready for Tasha Alexander’s next tour. She talked about the plot twist, which uses as a jumping off point, the story of Huguette Clark, who was in the inspiration for the bestselling Empty Mansions.
For now, I recommend either starting with the first book in the series, And Only to Deceive (if you are the kind of person who starts at the beginning) or jumping right in with Behind the Shattered Glass, which I can vouch is well done.I lean towards the latter, because like many authors, Alexander could well be getting better with each book.
Don't forget the advice of Carole E. Barrowman in the Journal Sentinel: "Behind the Shattered Glass is another smart, stylish and witty period mystery. In this book, more than the others I've read from the series, Lady Emily's spunk and spirit remind me of Harriet Vane, Dorothy Sayers' feminist sleuth. And that's a splendid thing."
Note: this blog was written on my trip to Austin, but got posted late, due to life getting in the way. I'll be doing some catch up over the next few days.