Book Recipes: How to Write a Historical Murder Mystery

I’m back and what better way to celebrate the new year than by going back to an old one. Make sure you’ve had your jabs, we’re going time travelling!

 

Ingredients:

  • One suspiciously ahead-of-their-time detective
  • A team of loyal assistants who can be shuffled into the following categories:
    • Dependable muscle
    • Slightly shady rogue
    • Science one
  • A noble patron who is kind of the boss but can’t say ‘turn in your badge’ because badges haven’t been invented yet
  • Urchins
  • A sinister yet attractive lady
  • Someone who will describe things as ‘most irregular’
  • About a dozen people who are there to show how backwards history can be
  • A couple of well-known historical figures for our detective to chat to
  • One historical backdrop, complete with smells
  • MURRRDERRRR

 

Method:

  1. Unroll your historical backdrop behind our detective. Allow the reader to experience the sights and many, many smells of The Past.
  2. But oh no, what’s this? A crime?
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Our noble patron tells the detective to solve the murder. We don’t know why they’re in charge of murder-solving, but they are, and they have a special office for it.
  2. Our detective assembles his trusty crew. Time to investigate!
  3. Go to the crime scene and look around, but y’know, historically. This basically means you will have to bribe everyone to tell you stuff and that the crime scene will be in an absolute state.
  4. A sinister yet attractive lady turns up. She almost certainly has a Secret, but it’s okay because secrets are hot.
  5. Introduce your detective to some historical figures. One of them will have an original character attached to them in some way but they definitely won’t become important at around step eighteen, why do you ask?
  6. Find a Clue and celebrate in the manner most appropriate to the time period.
  7. Our detective has seen a suspicious character. Better follow them past a bunch of super-famous historical landmarks.
  8. The Clue has led our detective to another important place! Go there and investigate.
  9. Have a chat with another historical figure to pass the time. The sinister yet attractive lady is there, so make sure you look cool.
  10. Oh look, another Clue! But this one links with the first Clue in a way that’s really weird, what could it meeeaaannnn?
  11. Receive a talking-to from the patron. Drop hints that the king is displeased.
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Hopefully it’s not this one. (image: theguardian.com)
  1. Examine the Clues. Get the science friend to basically recreate a procedure from modern forensics and at last, a break in the case!
  2. But wait! The sinister yet attractive lady has been attacked by ruffians! We must save her, as this completely proves her innocence and was definitely not staged.
  3. Start feeling all tender and squishy. Perhaps our detective could give up this detective business that he’s only just invented and settle –
  4. HAHA IT WAS A TRAP YOU’VE BEEN BETRAYED
  5. Turns out the sinister yet attractive lady has been in cahoots with the original character from step seven all along. It was them who DONE THE MURDER. Now the detective has been locked up or something while they carry out the final stage of their plan. How will you ever cope with the betrayal?
  6. Escape and foil their dastardly plan, that’s how.
  7. Gather everyone including your patron into one room so you can explain how you solved the murder. Receive a tip from your patron, mope a little about what might have been, but then go back home with your detective pals for some period-accurate snacks.

THE END. Serve with torn edges and stained with a used teabag.

 

Tips:

  • Choose your time period carefully. You want a nice big window between the invention of cities and the invention of a modern police force.
  • Make sure your background is really, really gross. Bonus points for every passing character with syphilis.
  • Spend at least the first fifty pages just pootling round, showing your readers the sights. They definitely won’t get bored!
giphy table
GET TO THE MURDER DAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Have at least one character addressed as ‘my liege’.
  • Not sure how to solve a mystery without modern methods? That’s fine! Just make your character use modern methods, but y’know, historically. Have all the other characters describe their methods as ‘unconventional’ and all your bases are covered.
  • Anyone who coughs is a goner.
  • Pay particular attention to language. Don’t say ‘hello’, say ‘good morrow’. Don’t wear ‘trousers’, wear ‘breeches’ or ‘hose’. Swear all you like, it’s authentic, but never, ever do it in front of a lady. You animal.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

William Fleetwood strode through the workroom doors and threw his handkerchief down on the alchemist’s table. It landed with a clatter. “There,” he said. “Best I could do, I’m afraid.”

Mortimer Banks put on his magnifying spectacles and opened the handkerchief up with a pair of tweezers. Wrapped up in the lace-edged cotton were about a dozen nuggets of misshapen metal. Mortimer poked one, experimentally.

“And they’ve not been contaminated?”

Fleetwood sat down heavily and got out his pipe. “It’s a clean hanky, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Mortimer took off his spectacles and gave him a look. “You know perfectly well that is not what I meant.”

Fleetwood took a puff on his pipe and tried to keep his temper. He took off his long, curly wig, scratched his head and propped his feet up on the tea-chest. “They’re as clean as they can be, considering where I found them.”

Mortimer went pale at the memory. The misshapen metal had been found stuffed into the mouth of Colonel Victor Timothy Gonnairgh – or rather, into the mouth of his corpse. Fleetwood thought Mortimer was being unnecessarily squeamish. After all, he’d given them a wipe.

“I hope you at least wore gloves,” muttered Mortimer, turning back to the metal. “There are the prints of many fingers here…show me your hands.”

Fleetwood held out his hand. Mortimer peered at them and made a disparaging noise.

“Yes,” he said, “I can clearly see the prints of your fingers, but there are others…if only there were some sort of base in which to store all this data. With some sort of searchable engine, the task would take but a moment…”

“Have you such an engine?”

“Regrettably not. Perhaps if my first laboratory had not been burned by that ogre Cromwell and his men – ” They both paused to spit extravagantly. “ – then I might have been equal to the task. Alas, I shall have to make do with what Lord Fitzffortescue affords me.”

“Cheer up, old man,” said Fleetwood, puffing on his pipe again.

“Hmm.”

Mortimer turned back to his bench and started boiling something in a beaker. He started dropping the lumps of metal into the beaker one by one, and then taking them back out again. “Did the maidservant say anything useful?”

“Not a jot,” said Fleetwood. “Dreadfully upset, wonderful employer, the usual. I happened to mention Cromwell –” They spat. “ – and she turned quite pale, but I couldn’t get anything out of her. Nothing that would satisfy Lord Fitzffortescue, anyway.”

Fleetwood’s patron, Lord Fitzffortescue, was a demanding man who took orders only from the king, having helped him back to power after the fall of Cromwell (Fleetwood spat again, just to be sure). He had charged Fleetwood with solving Gonnairgh’s murder, quickly, quietly, and with minimal bribes.

“Of course she didn’t,” said Mortimer, “not if you blundered in there like you always do. You know, sometimes I think that approach might work well if you had a partner with you – someone who might be able to play some kind of ‘good’ role, while you assume the ‘bad’…”

“A partner, Master Fleetwood?” came a low, female voice.

Fleetwood scrambled to his feet, dropped his pipe and rammed his wig on his head. He turned around and saw Lady Evelyn Hyde smiling in the doorway. With her gown of gold brocade and her shiny auburn hair, she looked very out of place in the cramped, spit-splattered laboratory.

“Lady Hyde! How may I –”

Do call me Evelyn. I hear you’ve been attending to the late Colonel Gonnairgh.”

Fleetwood tried to look regretful and sombre, but also still tall and manly. “It is my sad duty.”

“You must be very brave to look upon such dreadful things.”

“Yes, well.”

Lady Evelyn smiled at him and came closer, brushing past Mortimer’s workbench. “I must say, I would feel very safe if I knew that you were my protector.”

Fleetwood coughed on purpose to make his voice sound deeper. “Would you?”

“Oh yes…”

Just then, Mortimer sprang to his feet, shouting. His beaker was fizzing frantically and giving off a strange, noxious gas. He pointed at Lady Evelyn. “She put something in my beaker!”

She stepped back. “How do you – I mean, what do you mean?”

Mortimer jabbed a finger at the beaker. “You’ve added acid to this! Look, the metal’s all dissolving!”

Lady Evelyn fluttered her eyelashes. “Dear Master Banks, I am sure that I, a mere woman, would never even carry such – what did you call it? Ah-sid?”

Fleetwood sprang to her defence. “See? Of course she didn’t do that, Mortimer, she’s a lady. Why would she even have any acid?”

Lady Evelyn frowned prettily. “Is it a kind of ribbon? I do so love ribbons.”

“She did!” Mortimer wailed, “I know she did!”

“Perhaps it is best if I leave you to your deductions,” said Lady Evelyn, swiftly pocketing a handful of papers. “You simply must tell me what you find out, dear Master Fleetwood. I should be very glad to hear it.”

She left. Fleetwood watched her go with a dreamy smile on his face while Mortimer muttered at his bench. When he started paying attention again he noticed that he was short fifty guineas and three pewter mugs.

“What I wouldn’t give for some surveillance in this place,” Mortimer muttered, “perhaps in some kind of circuitry that could be closed to the public…”

Fleetwood laughed. “Oh, Mortimer,” he said, “what will you think of next?”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)
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Book Recipes: How to Write a Time-Travel Romance

Time for another book recipe! Put on your corsets and make sure you’ve had all your jabs – we’re going BACK IN TIME. Sexily.

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty heroine with a wildly detailed knowledge of history
  • One mega-hottie from THE PAST
  • A largely-irrelevant historical backdrop
  • One modern boyfriend, purely for angst
  • Buckets full of drama
  • A convenient historical event
  • A shakily-explained means of travelling backwards through time
  • Some sort of ticking clock plot device, which is utterly pointless because you have a time machine

 

Method:

  1. Put your feisty heroine with an incredibly detailed knowledge of history in the present, living a normal life with her normal, modern boyfriend. Sure hope nothing happens to them.
  2. HAHA TIME TRAVEL!
  3. Oh no! For convoluted plot reasons your heroine is now stuck in the past! However will she return to her one true love?
  4. Introduce the historical mega-hottie as dramatically as possible.
  5. Your heroine must spend a bunch of time with this historical mega-hottie, for plot reasons. She hates it, and it’s not because she like, likes him or anything, oh my God, why do you have to make this so weird??
giphy omg mom
I mean, why would you even say that? (image: giphy.com)
  1. Throw in some hilarious time-travel japes.
  2. Angst about the modern boyfriend for a bit. He’s probably frantically searching for the heroine right now, even though that’s not how time travel works and she can literally just bamf right back to the exact second she disappeared.
  3. Foreshadow the historical event!
  4. Your heroine and the historical hottie share a tender moment. Angst about it, then him, then the modern boyfriend, and then about the inevitability of history. It’s time for some serious brooding.
  5. Uh-oh! This historical event is not going to be good – and for reasons best left unexplained, you have to do a thing right before it happens!
  6. Distract yourself by staring at the historical hottie for a bit.
  7. More angst.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The heroine and the historical hottie at last admit their tender, squishy feelings for each other. Then they make out, like, a bunch.
  2. Give up on getting back to the present. Your modern boyfriend is probably fine, and besides, in the present they definitely don’t make cheekbones like they used to.
  3. That historical event is coming closer! Time for aaaaaaangst.
  4. Finally tell your historical hottie that you’re from The Future. It’ll be a bit weird at first, but eventually he’ll decide he’s into it.
  5. Use some of your incredibly detailed historical knowledge to attempt to alter the course of history. That always ends well.
  6. You manage to do the thing right before the historical event! Phew. Guess that’s finally sorted out the –
  7. OH NO IT ALL BACKFIRED HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED
  8. Now that the history books have been proved right, the heroine must return to her own time. Say a tearful farewell to your historical hottie, then waltz off to the smallpox-free present.

THE END. Serve with a generous dollop of wistful staring.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure that you pick the right kind of historical backdrop. A little bit of grime is allowed, but it’s got to have some clean and pretty bits where the heroine can chill. Ideally you want to pick one that also comes with its own little outfit.
  • You can give your historical hottie an old-timey scar, but it must be the result of some brave and manly deed and not just smallpox.
  • No plagues. No-one likes a plague.
  • The heroine never tells people she’s from The Future unless it’s the hottie, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to influence what happens in the past. She just gives a bunch of really specific instructions and then gets very vague about why she’s doing it. It is the most subtle way.
  • Do not forget to describe your heroine’s outfits in rigorous detail.
  • Always make sure your heroine has an excuse to spend most of the plot in a rich dude’s house, so that the reader can see all the cool bits of the past. No-one wants to spend the whole novel in a mud hut.
  • Don’t forget to let your heroine spout off a bunch of pointless facts for no reason!
  • If you want to really ramp up the drama, have a random character accuse your heroine of witchcraft, and then your historical hottie can swoop in and save her. Everyone believed in witches in the past, obviously (no-one had invented telly, there was nothing else to do) so this is 100% bona fide historical fact.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Dr Julia Knight paced up and down her bedchamber, the long hem of her beaded yellow stola brushing the floor. She had to find a way out of here. The door was not locked, there were no guards outside, but that was not the problem.

She was trapped in the past.

She had no idea how it happened. One moment her fiancé, Blanden, was daring her to touch a mysterious glowing orb, and the next, she was wandering around the Forum. It made no sense. Luckily, she’d been taken in by Flavius Marcellus Barbarus, the wealthiest man in Rome, but still – nobody had any toothpaste here, and her three degrees in Romanology could only take her so far. She had to get back to her own time.

There was a knock at the door – a strapping, manly knock that made her heart flutter. And that, of course, was the other problem.

She patted her hair and tried not to sound too flustered. “Come in!”

Maximus strode into the room, eyes flashing, muscles rippling, still sweaty and breathless from his gladiator training, and Julia had to have a little sit down until she regained the ability to stand up. His legs looked great in his strappy sandals. Not for the first time, she wondered if making out with a super-hot gladiator would alter the course of history. Hopefully not, but she was prepared to risk it.

“Oracle,” he said, smouldering, “you have a client.”

“Oh. Yes, right!” Julia put on her most mysterious face. “Send him in.”

Maximus bowed, sexily, and Julia splashed her face with cold water. Moments later he reappeared with a man in a toga, who had a large nose and a receding hairline. Julia recognised him instantly, and tried not to freak out.

“Oracle,” he said, “I am –”

She held up a hand and tried to look spooky. “I know who you are, Gaius Julius Caesar.”

He frowned. “You do? How?”

Because I wrote my dissertation on you, Julia thought. Out loud, she said “Who in all of Rome does not know Caesar?”

Caesar looked pleased and pulled up a stool. “Exactly. Well, Oracle, I wish to consult you on –”

“Yeah,” said Julia, “I’m gonna stop you right there. Got some super important Oracle stuff to tell you. Have you got a pen?”

“What is this strange…pen you speak of?”

Julia blushed. “Stylus, I meant. Obviously. Something to take notes with.”

Caesar snapped his fingers. A slave sprang forward with a tablet and stylus and started to write.

“Right, so,” Julia began, “don’t go to the Senate on the Ides of March, don’t trust Cassius, Brutus, or the other Brutus who was also there –”

Caesar looked shocked. “But they’re all friends, Romans, countrymen…”

Julia laughed delightedly. “You said the thing!”

“I…what?”

“Never mind. So, yeah – Brutus one and two, and also Cassius – oh, and don’t accept the crown if you get offered it. Ever. You’ll thank me later.”

He blinked at her. “Why? I think I’d like a crown.”

Julia waved a dismissive hand. “More trouble than it’s worth. Also, it’ll give you a headache; those things are heavy. That’s it, Oracle stuff over.”

Caesar frowned while his slave scribbled down the last of her advice. “You seem to be very well-informed. Oracles are not usually so specific. Tell me – where have you learned such secrets?”

Julia caught Maximus’s eye. He smouldered at her.

“Oh, well, you know,” she said, waving Caesar out the door, “mystical Oracle stuff. The gods, obviously. And, like, significant dreams, goat entrails, reading bones and that. It’s all very technical. Ta-ta now.”

Caesar inclined his head. “I will think on your wisdom, Oracle.”

“Yes, yes. Off you go. Lovely to meet you, don’t get stabbed.”

“What?”

Julia shut the door and leaned against it, breathing hard. She’d just saved Julius Caesar’s life – and altered the course of history altogether. On retrospect, maybe that wasn’t her best idea.

When she opened her eyes, Maximus was staring at her. “Truly, you are wise, Oracle,” he murmured. “Do the gods have any advice for me?”

Julia hesitated. If she was going to be stuck in Rome, she may as well enjoy the view.

“Yes,” she said, in her most mystical voice. “They said you should take your shirt off.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)