Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: the seven-book contemporary suspense series, The Jessica James Mysteries; the three-book middle grade kid’s series, Pet Detective Mysteries; and the soon to be seven-book historical cozy series, The Fiona Figg Mysteries.
Kelly is currently President of National Sisters in Crime.
When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emerita at Vanderbilt University. To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to www.kellyoliverbooks.com.
Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie in this charming historical cozy. “A delightful English countryside mystery with two handsome suitors and twists and turns worthy of Agatha Christie herself!” – Amanda Flower, USA Today Bestselling Author.
London, 1918 –
Fiona Figg finds herself back in Old Blighty, saddled with shuffling papers for the war office. Then, a mysterious card arrives, inviting her to a fancy house party at Mentmore Castle. This year’s Ascot-themed do will play host to a stable of animal defense advocates, and Fiona is tasked with infiltrating the activists and uncovering possible anti-war activity.
Disguised as the Lady Tabitha Kenworthy, Fiona is more than ready for the “mane” event, but the odds are against her when both her arch nemesis, dark-horse Fredrick Fredricks, and would-be fiancé Lieutenant Archie Somersby arrive unexpectedly and “stirrup” her plans. And when a horse doctor thuds to the floor in the next guest room, Fiona finds herself investigating a mysterious poisoning with some very hairy clues.
Can Fiona overcome the hurdles and solve both cases or will she be put out to pasture by the killer?
Today and every day, I’m grateful for writing. Writing enables me to live. It’s a necessity and not an option. Because of that, I’m especially thankful for readers. At this point, having readers respond to my writing is the most gratifying part of my life.
I began my writing career as a philosophy graduate student and then as a philosophy professor. I wrote nonfiction and scholarly works for decades. I wrote my first fiction, a mystery novel, almost ten years ago. Last December, I retired from Vanderbilt University to write novels full-time. I loved my philosophy career. But I was ready for a new challenge.
One of the greatest joys and challenges of my current writing projects is writing historical characters. I have three mystery series, and only one of them is historical. While I enjoy all of them, writing characters based on real-life people is especially fun.
For example, many of the characters in the latest Fiona Figg & Kitty Lane Mystery, Arsenic as Ascot—out next Tuesday and available for pre-order now—were inspired by real people.
Emilie Augusta Louise Lind af Hageby, known as Lizzy Lind, was a Swedish-born animal activist who founded the Purple Cross for horses and started the first veterinary field hospitals for military animals. She did enter medical school at the University of London to expose their vivisectionist cruelties. And she co-founded—with Lady Nina Douglas, Duchess of Hamilton—the Animal Defense Society with an office on Piccadilly. Nina used her estate at Ferne as a sanctuary for animals abandoned during the war, especially World War II, when food was in such short supply that many pet owners could no longer afford to feed themselves and their pets.
The character of Dr. Sergei Vorknoy is inspired by Dr. Serge Voronoff, known as the “monkey gland expert” and the “monkey gland doctor.” The real Dr. Voronoff, a Russian immigrant, grafted tissue from chimpanzee testicles onto wealthy men and their horses. He claimed the operation would restore youth and vitality and boost intelligence. He performed his operations mainly in France but also in England. This “side hustle” made him rich. Seems lots of wealthy men were ready to give it a go.
The novel Lady Sybil is loosely based on Lady Sybil Grant, daughter of Lord Archibald Primrose, Earl of Rosebery, who served as the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1894–1895. He did close the gates to one of his estates, The Durdans when his son left to fight and never again reopened them. And after his wife, Hannah de Rothschild, died, he wore mourning for the rest of his life. He was also an avid horse lover and owned several stables and racehorses. He did not, however, hide horses from the War Office, and neither did his groom. Lady Sybil was known for her unconventional ways, including climbing trees, issuing orders with a bullhorn, and traveling with the caravan of Romani she allowed to camp on the estate. Don’t you just love this?
My recurring baddie, Fredrick Fredricks, is inspired by real-life spy Fredrick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne, the South African huntsman who escaped from prison several times in outrageous ways, adopted several personae and generally charmed his way through high society posing as a New York journalist, a British army officer, and a Russian duke. One of his aliases was indeed Fredrick Fredricks. He was also the leader of an infamous Duquesne spy ring in World War II until his capture in one of the largest espionage convictions in United States history. Fredrick Fredricks is a fan favorite and one of mine, too!
Some of the joys of writing historical characters is learning about fascinating people like these. For a writer, their stories provide built-in plots, which is nice. The challenge is finding an appropriate voice and fleshing them out. Research only gets you so far. Sure. You can learn facts about someone’s life. But that doesn’t tell you who they were. Taking a journey into the head of a historical figure is both exhilarating and an enormous responsibility.
My goal is to tell a good story inspired by real-life characters and true events. Creative license is key to both starting and finishing any project. Without it, I would be paralyzed. Thankfully, at the end of the day, mine are fiction, not history books.
I love historical mysteries because I can learn about history while enjoying a rip-roaring good story.
What do you love about historical mysteries?
Arsenic at Ascot LINKS
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CD3N2XSH/