In this month’s Midwest Book Review one of my Mainely Needlepoint books (THREAD THE HALLS) is reviewed. For an author’s books to be reviewed is not unusual. In this case, however, it was, for two reasons. First, because THREAD THE HALLS was published in the fall of 2017, and reviews are usually of recently published (or about to be published) books. And, second, because the review, of one of my contemporary mysteries, also mentions my historical fiction.
I’ll admit – I didn’t mind. Especially since the reviewer said my historical fiction was “phenomenal,” a term I’m not used to seeing in book reviews. And, oh yes, I loved it!
The review came the same week my newest historical novel (a mystery) was published: JUSTICE & MERCY. And it made me think about what was important about my past and my newest historical fiction.
There is a major difference between JUSTICE & MERCY and my earlier historicals. In my earlier books I was always very — one might say “extremely” — conscious of getting the historical details correct, from place to clothing to politics to mindsets. In JUSTICE & MERCY I did something else. I took a place and a time and a mindset and wondered “what if” something else had happened there.
Don’t get me wrong: I did a lot of research for JUSTICE & MERCY, including visiting the area of New York, next to the Erie Canal, where it is set, studying the laws of the period, and reading local newspapers to find out how the end of the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln affected that area.
JUSTICE & MERCY is set in the “burned-over district” of New York State. It was an area where social and religious activists and utopians were part of the culture: a fascinating mixture of radical communal religious communities, anti-slavery groups, women’s rights organizations, and others. (To detail them would take a very long blog post!)
In the pre-Civil War years anti-slavery groups set up underground railroad routes starting in Ohio and leading north to the Erie Canal, and then north and west to Canada.
In JUSTICE & MERCY my “what if?” is whether, after the men went to war, the women they left behind re-invented the established underground railroad routes to help abused women and children escape their homes. In New York State at that time it was a felony to help a woman leave her husband, no matter the circumstances.
So — my latest historical fiction includes more fiction than my usual work.
But — “what if?”