Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Nancy Herriman to Reade and Write. Besides being a great singer, Nancy is a fabulous mystery author who pens the “A Mystery of Old San Francisco” series and the Bess Ellyott Mystery series. She’s joining me here today to talk about her upcoming release, No Darkness as like Death, book 4 in the ‘A Mystery of Old San Francisco’ series.
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you might remember that Nancy has been here before. She talked about the third book in the San Francisco mysteries, No Quiet Among the Shadows, here. And I highly recommended the first two books in the series, No Comfort for the Lost (here) and No Pity for the Dead (here).
I think it’s obvious that I love Nancy’s books. I’ve preordered No Darkness As Like Death and I’m looking forward to its arrival on my ereader on April 6, 2021.
The books in your ‘A Mystery of Old San Francisco’ series takes place during a specific time period in San Francisco’s history (late 1860s). Why did you choose this particular period? Were there other time periods you considered? Why did you decide not to go with one of those?
The specific year my books are set in—1867—happened by chance. I’d been researching various events during the Victorian era and came upon an article about the beginnings of the anti-Chinese movement. The article gave me the idea for the murder that occurs in Book 1, No Comfort for the Lost, and dictated the year.
Can you give us a quick recap of the first three books in the series?
I’ll try! My main sleuth is Celia Davies, an English nurse who has taken over the care of her orphaned niece. Celia’s husband has left her to find riches elsewhere, and she turns to running a free women’s clinic in the city. She becomes involved in solving murders when one of her Chinese patients is found dead in the bay. She expects the police won’t be interested in discovering who killed the young woman, given her ethnicity. Surprisingly, Detective Nicholas Greaves is keen to see justice done. After that murderer is uncovered, Celia has no plans to continue sleuthing. But when a dead body is found in the basement of a close friend’s business, and the friend is suspected, she insists on getting involved in the case. In the next book, the private investigator she’d hired to locate her husband is killed, an investigation that entangles both her and Nick in the world of spiritualism and seances.
What kinds of resources did you use to research this book?
Fortunately for me, there is a great deal of reference material available online for San Francisco in specific and California in general. I’ve used archived newspapers, digitized books—especially when researching some of the details about the ‘water cure’ and how photography was practiced at this time—online maps and miscellaneous other items. Research has become much simpler in the internet age, that’s for sure.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned while doing the research for the book?
I chose a water cure facility as the location for the crime in No Darkness as like Death and enjoyed learning about them. These institutions touted their ability to cure all manner of ills through cold (or steam) bathing, drinking fresh cold water, massages, and strict diets. Which is not the craziest of treatments for that time period, and to me sounds rather modern and even sensible. These facilities promised greater curative results than they could actually deliver, though.
What are some of the things you learned that didn’t make it into the book?
I’d intended to include some research I’d done on medical batteries. This treatment involves having a ‘practitioner’ give you a series of shocks over different parts of your body, depending on what’s being ‘healed.’ It was quite the rage in the 19th century, but the practice ended up not working for this particular book.
Do you have a special connection with San Francisco that made you decide to write about the city?
Nothing more than a love for a city I’ve often visited and find endlessly fascinating. Besides its great history, San Francisco has always been filled with a host of interesting characters and makes for a great setting.
Do you read a lot of historical mysteries? If so, can you recommend some of your favorites?
My favorites are the Falco series by Lindsey Davis and the late Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books. I’ve recently taken up reading novels by authors who wrote in the 1920s and ‘30s, and currently have a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery on my bedside table.
Do you think your background in engineering helps your writing at all?
At the beginning of my career, I think my background was a bit of a hindrance. I kept imagining I could plan my way into a completed novel. I’ve had to learn to limit my pre-planning and plotting and basically just let the process happen.
Many authors have a character “bible,” or a history/biography of a character’s life that helps the author maintain consistency for that character throughout a series. Most of the things in a character bible never make it into a book because they’re for the author’s use only. Do you use a character bible? Can you tell us something about Celia or Nick that no one else knows?
My character ‘bible’ might be more aptly described as a character notecard. I admit that I’m not the best at keeping track of everyone’s characteristics or back-stories. That said, I did develop a rather thorough background for both Nick and Celia that I’ve only touched upon. I would like to more deeply explore the death of Nick’s sister Meg in a future book. There is a mystery to it I’ve not previously mentioned.
What’s next for Celia and Nick?
I’m presently working on the next book in the series, title not yet decided upon. It is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2022.
To visit Nancy’s website, click here. You can learn more about her, her books, and order them for yourself!
Nancy Herriman’s bio
Nancy Herriman retired from an engineering career to take up the pen. She hasn’t looked back. Her work has won the Daphne du Maurier award, and Publishers Weekly has said her ‘A Mystery of Old San Francisco’ series “…brings 1867 San Francisco to vivid life.” Her most recent release is NO DARKNESS AS LIKE DEATH. She is also the author of the Bess Ellyott Mystery series set in Tudor England. When not writing, she enjoys singing, gabbing about writing, and eating dark chocolate. She currently lives in central Ohio.
Thanks for being my guest here today, Nancy.
Until next time,