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Where Did You Get That Character?

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Miss Fisher meets Downton Abbey in A Secret Never Told, the fourth installment in the critically acclaimed mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble.

Shelley joins us on the blog today to talk about where she gets the ideas for her characters!


As a mystery writer, I’ve written many fictional amateur sleuths, both contemporary and historical. My characters are generally compassionate, serious seekers of justice in their own non-professional, and sometimes bumbling ways. I try to leaven my mysteries with at least one character with a sense of humor, but murder is serious business. In a small town or big city, friends, family, neighbors, even strangers are irrevocably changed by the actual death and by the distrust caused by not knowing who is the murderer in their midst.

Amateur detectives have come a long way from Miss Marple and even Miss Fisher. These days, our female sleuths tend to be more independent, more decisive, more physically able, more like …Wonder Woman.

So when I decided to write the Lady Dunbridge series about a widowed young countess who comes to America to make her fortune without having to remarry, I dropped her firmly into 1907 and the culture of the “Modern Woman.” And I looked for my inspiration in the Dime Novel characters of the time.

I found a watershed of female characters, from accomplished young ladies fallen on hard times to the lowliest street urchin on her way to a better life. And though often overshadowed by a male colleague—after all, these stories and characters were all written by men—these “lady” detectives made their mark on the reading public.

Their potential grew and flourished and though the dime novel went through the cyclical whims of the reading public, there’s no doubt that our current super heroes and heroines have a distant, tiny beginning in this group of intrepid detectives of the late 1800s.

There were plenty to chose from: 

Lady Kate Edwards (Lady Kate, The Dashing Female Detective by Harlan P. Halsey, The Old Sleuth). Born an orphan, Kate ran away from the orphan asylum and raised herself in New York, becoming a self-made woman and detective. She possesses “nearly” the same skills, intelligence and strength of her male counterparts.

Kate Goelet (The Great Bond Robbery -1885) “a rare beauty, with a most graceful figure, a sweet, pleasant voice, and at three and twenty, is possessed of the courage, cunning, patience and endurance and sagacity of the most experienced officer on the whole detective team.” She is also a master of disguise, skilled in tailing suspects, and a proficient burglar. 

Cad Metti (Cad Metti, The Female Detective Strategist Or Dudie Dunne Again in the Field -1895) is relegated to the role of sidekick for most of her career, but “She can sing or dance, she can fence or wrestle like a man. Her strength is extraordinary, and as a pistol shot she is the champion woman of the world.”

Hilda Serene (The Actress Detective or The Invisible Hand: The Romance of an Implacable Mission (1889) is a twenty five year old actress, adept with both pistol and eight inch bowie knife as well as good with her fists. She isn’t squeamish, she can run after culprits, drink without getting drunk, and can see in the dark like a cat. She overpowers the criminals, “though she is a woman.”

Loveday Brooke (The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective -1894) is a well-read but poor young woman who becomes a detective rather than be tied to more acceptable work as a governess or lady’s companion. Like the others, she is a genius at disguises and can analyze clues and make brilliant deductions from her analysis.

But I don’t want to give the heroes short shrift.

Nick Carter, the private detective appearing first in 1886 (Four Scraps of Paper, A Dangerous Woman) had a hundred year career. He is a smart, methodical sleuth who uses his brains as well as his fists and is an upright upholder of justice.

Old King Brady (The Mystery of the River Steamer, A House in the Swamp) an investigator who started out as a police detective, who solves crimes through a lot of doggedness and legwork, is not the best shot, not very adept at disguise and isn’t even handsome. And yet he carved himself a space in the pantheon of dime novel detectives.

Character types abound in these novels: boy wonders like Frank Merriweather and his daring feats; inventors of fantastic things a la Frank Reade. Outlaws and cowboys, pirates and working girls. The stories were fun and affordable and filled the newsstands and piled up on nightstands across the country.

There was even a Mr. X. who I use shamelessly in the Lady Dunbridge series.

And who was this enigmatic Mr. X? Only The Shadow Knows.

Pre-order a Copy of A Secret Never Told—available November 23rd!

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Excerpt: A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble

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Miss Fisher meets Downton Abbey in A Secret Never Told, the fourth installment in the critically acclaimed mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble.

Philomena Amesbury, expatriate Countess of Dunbridge, is bored. Coney Island in the sweltering summer of 1908 offers no shortage of diversions for a young woman of means, but sea bathing, horse racing, and even amusement parks can’t hold a candle to uncovering dastardly plots and chasing villains. Lady Dunbridge hadn’t had a big challenge in months.

Fate obliges when Phil is called upon to host a dinner party in honor of a visiting Austrian psychologist whose revolutionary theories may be of interest to the War Department, not to mention various foreign powers, and who may have already survived one attempt on his life. The guest list includes a wealthy industrialist, various rival scientists and academics, a party hypnotist, a flamboyant party-crasher, and a damaged beauty whose cloudy psyche is lost in a world of its own. Before the night is out, one of the guests is dead with a bullet between the eyes and Phil finds herself with another mystery on her hands, even if it’s unclear who exactly the intended victim was meant to be.

Worse yet, the police’s prime suspect is a mystery man who Phil happens to be rather intimately acquainted with. Now it’s up to Lady Dunbridge, with the invaluable assistance of her intrepid butler and lady’s maid, to find the real culprit before the police nab the wrong one . . .

A Secret Never Told will be available on November 23rd, 2021. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


1

Philomena Amesbury, Countess of Dunbridge, sat on the veranda of the Manhattan Beach Hotel, sipping a glass of champagne and looking out at the dark ocean. To her right, the rowdy display of lights from Coney Island beckoned the masses.

But on the veranda of this jewel of beach hotels, the diners were enjoying a quiet decorum—some more quiet than others, depending on their losses and wins at the Brighton Beach track that afternoon.

Phil and her friend Bev Reynolds had been here for nearly a week. Bev, who had had two horses running, spent her mornings at the stable, then joined Phil for a day of sunbathing and dipping their feet in the ocean. They’d spent one day discovering the wonders of nearby Coney Island amusement parks. They’d drunk lemonade and hiked up their skirts to ride the Steeplechase, a mechanical  wooden  racehorse  ride.  Neither of them won.  They’d screamed delightedly as they rose to dizzying heights for a trip on the revolving airships. They’d even managed to cling to the Human Roulette Wheel as it revolved faster and faster, throwing off passengers without regard to gentlemen’s hats or ladies’ skirts.

They attended the races at the Brighton Beach track. At night, they rubbed elbows with members of the Jockey Club and danced with dashing men in the moonlight to the hotel orchestra.

And yet Phil felt an overwhelming, enervating sense of . . . ennui.

There, she’d admitted it. The fact of the matter was, the Countess of Dunbridge was bored.

Sea bathing, horse racing, even amusement parks didn’t hold a candle to uncovering dastardly plots and chasing villains. And there had been very little of that lately. She hadn’t had a big challenge in months. And not a major one since New Year’s Eve. But that had been 1907. Now it was June, and 1908 had so far been very unproductive.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a boisterous crowd carrying one of their members on their shoulders bursting through the doors of the veranda restaurant.

They gained more than a few disapproving looks. This was not the behavior considered de rigueur by the exclusive Manhattan Beach Hotel. But it was also the hotel of choice of the Brooklyn Jockey Club, whose largesse was important to the hotel’s success, and so a little leeway was accorded.

Bev Reynolds led the way, looking resplendent in a teal-blue gown, trimmed with silver spangles and sporting a train of black tulle. The ocean air had wound her blond hair into tight curls, barely restrained by a sequined bandeau.

Since they’d both given their maids a holiday, Phil had opted for a fitted silver sheath made from one of the new stretch fabrics and an organza midlength jacket, both designed for easy dressing. She didn’t mind “living rough,” as Bev delightedly called anything that didn’t include “a retinue of people telling you what to do and when to do it.”

Bev saw Phil, held out both hands in greeting, and made a beeline for the table. “A celebration and a wake,” she proclaimed.

“A celebration of Devil’s Delight winning me an obscenely large purse this afternoon. And black,” she added, twirling to show off her train, “since the antibetting law has just passed and this will likely be the last week for gambling. Legal gambling, anyway. How will anyone make a living?”

She sighed, snatched up an empty glass, and poured herself champagne from the bottle chilling in the ice bucket. “I’ll be forced to take the horses to Texas and Arizona and those other places out there.” Places she dismissed with a flick of her fingers and a shudder.

She turned to her motley entourage, most of whom stood barely over five feet tall, being jockeys and not exotic entertainers from the Coney Island amusements a few blocks away. They crowded round the table; waiters appeared immediately with trays of champagne.

Bobby Mullins, Bev’s stable manager—formerly her deceased husband’s right-hand man, now Bev’s—stepped forward.

Stocky and medium height, Bobby was a former boxing champion, reformed denizen of the city’s underworld, and unapologetic lover of chorus girls. He dragged his derby from his head, unleashing a mass of untamable orange-red hair that, Phil noticed, was now laced with silver.

“To Miz Reynolds!” he exclaimed, and lifted his glass. “To Miz Reynolds,” they all agreed, and drank her health.

“To Holly Farm Stables,” Bev returned. “And to all of you.” They drank again. Glasses were hurriedly refilled.

“To Devil’s Delight,” yelled one of the crowd. “Devil’s Delight!”

“And Johnny D!”

The little man, who still sat astride a set of brawnier shoulders than his, bowed to his fellow revelers and waved to the other astonished diners.

“And to Madame Zhora!” Johnny added. “Madame Zhora!” they chanted.

“Okay, you lot,” Bobby said. “Off you go. They’ve got a fine dinner waiting over at the Pabst for you. Curfew is extended until midnight, but don’t forget, there’s another big race tomorrow.”

With a final cheer, they emptied their glasses and took themselves off, noisier, if possible, than when they entered.

The restaurant sighed into quiet conversation.

“Sit down, Bobby, and have some more champagne,” Bev said.

Bobby chewed the inside of his cheek, looking like he wished he could join his men in a boisterous dinner and evening on the town, but he sat.

“Congratulations,” Phil said, rousing some enthusiasm. “Devil’s Delight was certainly a delight today. And Juan”—the Johnny they’d just been toasting—“rode him perfectly. Kudos to you all. But who on earth is Madame Zhora?”

Bobby scratched his head, unleashing even more unruly wires of hair. “She has a place over at Steeplechase Park. The boys go to her to have their fortunes told. You know, predict how they’ll do in the coming races. If they’re gonna be rich or find themselves a wife.”

“Really?” Phil asked. “What happens if she predicts a loss?” “Gawd, your-ness.”

After a year of knowing her, Bobby still had never figured out exactly how to address her. And she was too entertained by his attempts to correct him.

“She don’t never give them a bad fortune. She tells ’em they’re gonna win, make lots of money, and marry a beautiful wife. In return, I drop her the occasional betting tip. Everybody’s happy.”

Phil laughed. “Well, in that case . . .”

A bellboy paused at their table. “Telephone call for Lady Dunbridge.”

A ripple of excitement coursed through Phil that had nothing to do with winning horses. At last . . .

“I’m Lady Dunbridge.” Dowager, if Phil was truthful, but she saw no reason to announce it—ever. It wasn’t her fault that the earl dropped dead shortly after her twenty-sixth birthday.

Bev frowned. “I hope it isn’t bad news.”

“Oh.” Phil hadn’t thought of that. Preswick and Lily? She’d left them both in the city to have a few days off. What if something had happened to one of them? They might be servants, but she didn’t  know  what  she  would  do  without  them.  And  here  she’d been selfishly hoping for a murder.

“Surely not. Excuse me.” She hurried after the bellboy.

She returned a few minutes later. Not grieving, thank heaven. And not excited, but perplexed. She sat down and reached for her champagne.

“Who was it?” demanded Bev.

Bobby’s eyebrows made question marks over his eyes. “It was Godfrey Bennington.”

“Godfrey Bennington—the aeroplane enthusiast?” Phil nodded.

“The richer-than–J. P. Morgan Godfrey Bennington? The Godfrey Bennington who has the ear of every major politician and industrialist in the country? That—?”

Phil nodded. “That one.” “What did he want?”

“He needs me in the city—immediately.”

Bobby groaned. “Oh, your lady-ness, what are you up to this time?”

“Absolutely nothing.” At least not yet. She couldn’t wait.

“You think it’s a      ” Bev looked around at the other diners and

leaned closer. “A case?”

“No, of course not. Just because I happened to be a friend of a friend of his when that poor young man was killed, and just happened to be able to help in the ensuing inquiries, that’s no reason to think that he thinks Though he did say it was urgent.”

What could he possibly want? Did this mean that he was part of the “team,” that of her as-yet-unknown employer, who paid for her suite of rooms at the Plaza Hotel, kept her in ready cash, and required only that she do what any self-respecting modern countess would do: prevent criminals from getting away with murder? She knew Godfrey was appreciative of her part in extricating his friends from a volatile and rather scandalous murder, but they had never discussed her actual role in solving the case, nor why she was able to do so. In fact, she’d gotten the distinct feeling that

he was glad to see the back of her.

She was fairly certain he had no idea of the extent of her involvement. She was very discreet. Something she had learned— but rarely practiced—in the ballrooms of England, but had made a strict habit of—thus far—in the New World.

“He’s sending his automobile to take me back to the city in the morning. I suppose I must go.”

“Maybe he wants to take you flying,” Bev said hopefully. “Immediately?”

“A sudden whim?”

“I don’t believe men like Godfrey have sudden whims.” “Maybe it’s a government matter. He does something with the

War Department, doesn’t he?”

“I believe he mentioned that.”

“Something top secret,” Bev continued, her eyes growing round. “I hardly think  ”

“A spy ring…. ” Bev sucked in her breath, amazed at the pos-

sibilities she imagined.

It was possible, Phil thought. And to be honest, the idea sent a ripple of excitement through her that even the Loop the Loop hadn’t managed.

“But how did he know where you were and that you didn’t bring your own auto?”

How indeed, Phil wondered.

Pre-order a Copy of A Secret Never Told—available November 23rd!

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Every Forge Book Coming Fall 2021

Fall is almost upon us, which means we have a new season of books coming your way! Don your flannel shirts, grab your spiced drinks, and take a look at what Forge has to offer this fall.


September 7th

Poster Placeholder of - 51An Irish Country Welcome by Patrick Taylor

In the close-knit Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo, it’s said that a new baby brings its own welcome. Young doctor Barry Laverty and his wife Sue are anxiously awaiting their first child, but as the community itself prepares to welcome a new decade, the closing months of the 1960s bring more than a televised moon landing to Barry, his friends, his neighbors, and his patients, including a number of sticky questions.

A fledgling doctor joins the practice as a trainee, but will the very upper-class Sebastian Carson be a good fit for the rough and tumble of Irish country life? And as sectarian tensions rise elsewhere in Ulster, can a Protestant man marry the Catholic woman he dearly loves, despite his father’s opposition? And who exactly is going to win the award for the best dandelion wine at this year’s Harvest Festival?

But while Barry and Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly and their fellow physicians deal with everything from brain surgery to a tractor accident to a difficult pregnancy, there’s still time to share the comforting joys and pleasures of this very special place: fly-fishing, boat races, and even the town’s very first talent competition!

Now available in paperback!

September 14th

Placeholder of  -80Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Everyone knows Lily Atwood—and that may be her biggest problem. The beloved television reporter has it all—fame, fortune, Emmys, an adorable seven-year-old daughter, and the hashtag her loving fans created: #PerfectLily. To keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret. Her own.

Lily has an anonymous source who feeds her story tips—but suddenly, the source begins telling Lily inside information about her own life. How does he—or she—know the truth?

Lily understands that no one reveals a secret unless they have a reason. Now she’s terrified someone is determined to destroy her world—and with it, everyone and everything she holds dear.

How much will she risk to keep her perfect life?

October 12th

Place holder  of - 8An Irish Country Yuletide by Patrick Taylor

December 1965. ‘Tis the season once again in the cozy Irish village of Ballybucklebo, which means that Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, his young colleague Barry Laverty, and their assorted friends, neighbors, and patients are enjoying all their favorite holiday traditions: caroling, trimming the tree, finding the perfect gifts for their near and dear ones, and anticipating a proper Yuletide feast complete with roast turkey and chestnut stuffing. There’s even the promise of snow in the air, raising the prospect of a white Christmas.

Not that trouble has entirely taken a holiday as the season brings its fair share of challenges as well, including a black-sheep brother hoping to reconcile with his estranged family before it’s too late, a worrisome outbreak of chickenpox, and a sick little girl whose faith in Christmas is in danger of being crushed in the worst way.

As roaring fireplaces combat the brisk December chill, it’s up to O’Reilly to play Santa, both literally and figuratively, to make sure that Ballybucklebo has a Christmas it will never forget!

October 19th

Image Placeholder of - 43It’s a Wonderful Woof by Spencer Quinn

Holiday time in the Valley, and in the holiday spirit—despite the dismal shape of the finances at the Little Detective Agency—Bernie refers a potential client to Victor Klovsky, a fellow private eye. It’s also true that the case—promising lots of online research but little action—doesn’t appeal to Bernie, while it seems perfect for Victor, who is not cut out for rough stuff. But Victor disappears in a rough-stuff way, and when he doesn’t show up at his mom’s to light the Hanukkah candles, she hires Chet and Bernie to find him.

They soon discover that Victor’s client has also vanished. The trail leads to the ruins of a mission called Nuestra Señora de los Saguaros, dating back to the earliest Spanish explorers. Some very dangerous people are interested in the old mission. Does some dusty archive hold the secret of a previously unknown art treasure, possibly buried for centuries? What does the Flight into Egypt—when Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus fled Herod—have to do with saguaros, the Sonoran desert cactus?

No one is better than Chet at nosing out buried secrets, but before he can, he and Bernie are forced to take flight themselves, chased through a Christmas Eve blizzard by a murderous foe who loves art all too much.

November 2nd

Image Place holder  of - 7I Will Not Die Alone by Dera White, illustrated by Joe Bennett

Dera White’s I Will Not Die Alone is a hilarious, feel-good story about the end of the world. Featuring illustrations by Joe Bennett, it is a story full of realistic self-love affirmations for all of us who are just trying to get by, until we die.

November 16th

A Bathroom Book for People Not Pooping or Peeing but Using the Bathroom as an Escape by Joe Pera, illustrated by Joe Bennett

Joe Pera goes to the bathroom a lot. And his friend, Joe Bennett, does too. They both have small bladders but more often it’s just to get a moment of quiet, a break from work, or because it’s the only way they know how to politely end conversations.

So they created a functional meditative guide to help people who suffer from social anxiety and deal with it in this very particular way. Although it’s a comedic book, the goal is to help these readers:

Relax
Recharge
Rejoin the world outside of the bathroom

It’s also fun entertainment for people simply hiding in the bathroom to avoid doing work.

A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble

Philomena Amesbury, expatriate Countess of Dunbridge, is bored. Coney Island in the sweltering summer of 1908 offers no shortage of diversions for a young woman of means, but sea bathing, horse racing, and even amusement parks can’t hold a candle to uncovering dastardly plots and chasing villains. Lady Dunbridge hadn’t had a big challenge in months.

Fate obliges when Phil is called upon to host a dinner party in honor of a visiting Austrian psychologist whose revolutionary theories may be of interest to the War Department, not to mention various foreign powers, and who may have already survived one attempt on his life. The guest list includes a wealthy industrialist, various rival scientists and academics, a party hypnotist, a flamboyant party-crasher, and a damaged beauty whose cloudy psyche is lost in a world of its own. Before the night is out, one of the guests is dead with a bullet between the eyes and Phil finds herself with another mystery on her hands, even if it’s unclear who exactly the intended victim was meant to be.

Worse yet, the police’s prime suspect is a mystery man who Phil happens to be rather intimately acquainted with. Now it’s up to Lady Dunbridge, with the invaluable assistance of her intrepid butler and lady’s maid, to find the real culprit before the police nab the wrong one . . .

Law of the Land by Elmer Kelton

Sixteen stories, where good meets bad, and everything inbetween, from the legendary author of the west, Elmer Kelton.

Law of the Land chronicles some of his most exciting and dangerous tales of the old west, collected together for the first time–including the exciting first publication of a never-before published Kelton story, Biscuits for Bandit.

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