Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

United States - 1888


Deadlier Than the Pen

by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Diana Spaulding, a scandal sheet writer of a theater review and gossip column called "Today's Tidbits," is forced by her editor to use the sleazy tricks of New York’s yellow journalists to investigate the handsome horror author and actor Damon Bathory. Mesmerized by the mysterious actor, Diana is in danger of not only losing her heart but her life. Three women, all theater critics like Diana, have been murdered in cities where both Bathory and her ex-actor husband’s troupe had performed. Now suspicious accidents are happening to Diana as well.

Widowed after an unfortunate choice in her first husband, Diana is lucky to get her job since newspapers had limited quotas for female journalists. Diana feels constrained, but “men were sent after news stories; women wrote society gossip of household hints columns, or risked their necks as ‘stunt girls’ like the World’s Nellie Bly.” (The real Nellie Bly, Diana’s role model and peer, is known for faking insanity in order to produce her undercover exposé of mental institutions. She also is well-known for her record-breaking trip around the world). The eccentric writer of depraved horror tales, Mrs.Northcote, also faces the prejudice against women working in male dominated occupations. She has had to write under a male pseudonyn in order to get her work published.

The novel brings the 19th century world of a traveling acting troupe to life as well. Also there is Diana’s newspaper’s editorial room, a man’s space complete with throat searing cigar smoke and a floor soiled with spittle from often missed cuspidors. The paralyzing East Coast blizzard of 1888, which finds Diana stuck on a smoke belching long distance train, also is featured. The story, however, is as much a romance as mystery, and doesn’t quite reach the more engaging level of Emerson’s Elizabethan England “Face Down” series, featuring herbalist Lady Appleton.

The first of three Diana Spaulding mysteries.



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