Mystery

The Last Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

portrait by Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1845.

This week marks the anniversary of the death of famous American poet/author/critic Edgar Allan Poe on Oct 7, 1849. Although the cause of his death was vaguely listed as “congestion of the brain,” the root cause is still a mystery. No autopsy was done or death certificate issued.

The circumstances of Poe’s death:

photo by KRichter (CC)

Poe was found in Baltimore near Gunner’s Hall (a tavern being used as a polling place that day) “rather the worse for wear,” according to Joseph W. Walker, the man who discovered him. Poe was able to give him the names of two acquaintances who lived in the area. Walker sent them urgent notes to come and help decide what to do with him. When they came to assess the situation, the general consensus was that Poe was the worse for drink, and they took him to Baltimore’s Washington College Hospital.

Strangely, he was wearing clothing not his own. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:

Poe’s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat” (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 59.)

There wasn’t much that the doctors could do for him other than make him comfortable. Although he briefly regained consciousness at intervals (though never for long enough to explain what happened), he died four days later.

Which leaves us with all kinds of questions: how did he come to be where he was found, and in someone else’s clothes? What happened to him? What killed him?

We know that Poe left Richmond for Philadelphia (some say New York) via boat (one source says the train…arghh, research is a minefield) and arrived in Baltimore on September 28th. However, there is no reliable account of what happened to him between then and when he was found on October 3rd.

Poe’s bitter rival, and 150 years of slander:

 

Griswold, 1855.

I didn’t realize until my adult years that what I thought I knew about Poe and his death as a high schooler (decades ago, never mind how many, LOL), was shaped by the accounts of Poe at the hands of his most bitter rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold was extremely adept at character assassination, which he had already directed at Poe during his lifetime. But now the floodgates were about to be opened wide. The day of Poe’s burial, an obituary signed by “Ludwig” (later proved to be Griswold) appeared in the New York Tribune, characterizing Poe as brilliant but “erratic…. He had few or no friends.” He doesn’t stop there:

He walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayers for the happiness of those who at that moment were objects of his idolatry, but never for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already damned. He seemed, except when some fitful pursuit subjected his will and engrossed his faculties, always to bear the memory of some controlling sorrow.

With a eulogist such as this, who needs enemies? Griswold, aka the King of Nasty, also snipes at Poe’s professional abilities as poet, author, and critic, but I’ll let you read the rest on your own. You’ll find the entire obituary here.

Griswold took character assassination to a whole new level with his next trick: he publicly claimed that Poe had selected him to be his literary executor, and got Poe’s mother-in-law and beneficiary, Maria Clemm, to agree to it. Griswold was a literary critic and editor who had acted as an agent for other American authors, so that probably gave him some legitimacy in Maria’s eyes. In 1850, Griswold sealed the deal by publishing a collection of Poe’s works with a preface, “Memoir of the Author.” In it, he portrayed Poe as a tortured genius, drug addict, and drunkard who had died alone in the gutters of Baltimore. Griswold produced letters (later determined to be forged) from Poe as evidence of his depraved, drug-addled mind.

Wow. Talk about your revenge dramas. Ever want to know where I get my ideas? This kind of stuff.

Those who knew Poe protested the accounts, but Griswold’s was the only official biography out there at the time. And consider how easy it is, then and now, for readers of Poe’s macabre tales – its protagonists half-mad, half-evil – to believe that only a tortured genius could create them.

The Theories:

Since then, more has come to light about Poe’s life and character (links posted below) that contradict this characterization, although the five days before he was found in Baltimore may never be unearthed. Theories abound, of course, alcohol poisoning being the early favorite that has only been seriously questioned in recent decades. Other theories include cooping (a variation on the alcohol theory, really), brain lesion, tuberculosis, epilepsy, and…rabies.

Wait. Rabies? Here’s the first paragraph and link to the 1996 medical report in support of the rabies theory:

In an analysis almost 147 years after his death, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center believe that writer Edgar Allan Poe may have died as a result of rabies, not from complications of alcoholism. Poe’s medical case was reviewed by R. Michael Benitez, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. His review is published in the September 1996 issue of Maryland Medical Journal.

Read the rest here: Poe Mystery | University of Maryland Medical Center

Whether you agree or not with the rabies theory (and the Edgar Allan Poe Society emphatically does not – their argument against rabies is in the link below), it makes for an interesting read.

Want to read more?

The Still Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe – Smithsonian Magazine

The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

Biography.com

The Poetry Foundation

The Death of Edgar Allan Poe – wikipedia

So, what do you think? While we may never know how Poe died, as an author it’s a cautionary tale to make sure I know who my literary executor is going to be….

Any real-life mysteries that fascinate you? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

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From Ivory Tower to Amateur Sleuth, a “character” guest post

Hi, fellow mystery fans! I’m Jade Blackwell, the protagonist in Gilian Baker’s cozy mystery series. Our lovely host, a former college English professor herself, asked if I’d drop in to explain to her readers how a tenured English professor winds up as a blogger…and an amateur sleuth. 🙂 Thanks K.B., for inviting me to share my story. Here goes.

Five years ago, I was working as an English professor at the University of Wyoming, near my hometown of Aspen Falls. I’d worked there since receiving my Ph.D., and had finally clawed my way to the top to earn one of the few coveted tenured positions in the department. It was my dream job… until it wasn’t.

After years of working in the Ivory Tower, I was becoming more dispirited with each passing semester. The endless department meetings, apathetic students and mounds of grading were wearing me down. And really, who was I kidding? I wasn’t convincing anyone to study the classics with zeal or to write coherent literary analyses. I was ready for a new adventure, but where to begin? Teaching was the only thing I’d ever known.

Then one day, while flipping through a back copy of Writer’s Digest, I came across an article on how blogging was changing the writing world. I’d been on very few blogs, and only then to disqualify them as credible references for a scholarly research paper a student had submitted. But the thought captivated me, and over the next few weeks, I spent my spare time researching writing in the blogosphere. And so, my new adventure began.

I started “a side hustle” by ghostwriting for bloggers and other online entrepreneurs. After several months, my clientele had grown, and I was ready to make the switch. I loved working from home and being my own boss! And, I found a passion for writing again. Instead of “publish or perish,” I got the chance to research and write on a huge variety of fascinating topics—everything from gourmet pet food to email marketing. I turned in my digital grade book and gave myself over to living life as a solopreneur.

Later, I started my own blog as a part of my online business. A Writerz Block offers fledgling freelance writers information on making a living from their skills. It’s the best of both worlds—I get to teach people who actually want the information I’m dispersing, while at the same time, I get paid to write.

That also means I have time to play the amateur sleuth, something I couldn’t have done while teaching. Even A Time to Kilnthough I taught classic literature for years, in my humble opinion, there’s nothing better than a well-plotted mystery. I’ve now helped our local sheriff, Ross Lawson, tie up two murders.

Now, I wasn’t looking for a real live case to solve. I thought the only whodunit I’d ever figure out would be in between the pages of a book. Like most amateur sleuths, I stumbled into the first murder to help a friend–Liz is a fellow blogger who was being cyber-stalked. Admittedly, my first attempts to assist her made things worse, but I made it up to her in the end by proving who the real killer was.

What a thrill! (Though I could have done without the perilous situation I landed in.) And I was ready to get back to my normal routine once my friend, Liz, was back safe and sound at home with her family. I chalked her case up as a fluke–a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a real detective. I mean, living in rural Wyoming doesn’t offer many opportunities to sniff out murder.

So imagine my surprise when my very own pottery teacher was killed a few months later! And on top of that, my daughter’s former boyfriend ended up being the main suspect. What is a girl to do? I reluctantly teamed up once again with my lawyer friend, Gabby, to figure out who was killing people off in our quiet, little village. {Oh, did I mention there was more than one murder?}

Luckily, Gilian has written up my adventures in her second book. So, if you’d like to see how I nimbly cracked the case (okay, how I stumbled onto it) follow the link to pick up a copy of my latest escapades in A Time to Kiln.

 

Gilian Baker is a former English professor who threw in the towel and decided to show ‘em how it’s done. She’s gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger, ghostwriter and cozy mystery author to her C.V. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain murder mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder for her Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggling with her husband watching British TV or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

Gilian lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She’s the author of Blogging is Murder and A Time to Kiln. Be the first to learn about new releases and discounts, plus get exclusive content by signing up for Gilian’s email list here: http://gilianbaker.com/blogging-murder-first-chapter

How lovely to meet you, Jade! What a journey…from literature professor to blogger to amateur sleuth! I agree wholeheartedly with your statement: “there’s nothing better than a well-plotted mystery.” I know my readers think so, too. I’m tempted to advise you to keep out of trouble, but then Gilian wouldn’t have anything to chronicle, would she? *wink*

Congrats on your new cozy, Gilian, and best of luck!

~Kathy

 

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The Introverted Author, the Malice Domestic Convention, and a Giveaway!

Malice Domestic 29

To (liberally) paraphrase Austen: it is a truth universally acknowledged, that we introvert authors need to come out of our writing caves from time to time and interact with our fellows.

The Malice Domestic Convention fits the bill nicely for those of us who are mystery author introverts. Malice celebrates mystery fiction written in the cozy style, aka the tradition of Agatha Christie, and has been held yearly in Bethesda, MD since 1989. With its three days of panel discussions, book signings, awards, and social receptions, the convention draws authors and readers alike.

One of many signings, after the crowd had thinned and I could move around.

When I step into the space, I feel as if I’ve rediscovered my tribe. No one bats an eyelash over you bringing your takeout lunch to Luci Zahray’s (otherwise known as the “Poison Lady”) panel on the use of organophosphates to bump off someone (characters, of course). The audience was practically rubbing its hands and cackling with glee as she detailed the symptoms, the lack of a test to detect the compound, the difficulty in reversing the effects, and the ease of access to the poison (any Home Depot or garage sale…also, apparently DDT can still be found at the random garage or yard sale because folks don’t throw out ANYTHING).

Luci Zahray, “Poison Lady.” You can’t see the rat poison and other samples she had on display from this angle, unfortunately.

For the introvert, the nice thing about a convention is you can pick and choose when you want to converse. You can get a lot out of the convention by simply attending the panels and listening (not an option if you are ON the panel, of course, but then you signed up for that, LOL).

The hospitality lounge is a nice place to get yourself some coffee or tea and browse the long tables for bookmarks and promotional goodies that authors set out. I came away with a pen, a set of sticky notes, a disposable flashlight, and a hand mirror…all kinds of cool stuff! I had brought some of my own material for the hospitality tables, too: bookmarks of my Concordia Wells series, along with a basket of peppermint patties and individually wrapped tea bags with my logo sticker/web address on the back of each piece.

It’s hard to see the stickers here, but they were really cute. *wink*

I kept refilling the basket, but there wasn’t a candy or tea bag left by Sunday morning!

In between browsing the dealers’ tables, chatting with folks, getting my books signed, and going to the Agatha Awards dinner, I attended several terrific panels that weekend (there were many more I couldn’t fit in). Here’s a partial list to give you an idea:

  • Malice Go-Round: It’s Like Speed Dating, But With Authors (Attendees sit and relax while pairs of authors come to them, distribute bookmarks–and sometimes chocolate, and describe their series and new releases. Then the moderator calls time, they rotate to another table, our table gets a new pair of authors, and so on. One of my fave events).
  • Making History: Agatha Best Historical Novel Nominees (Authors nominated for the Agatha in the category of best historical novel talk about their books, their research, etc. A fab and funny group!).
  • Murder on the Menu: Food & Mysteries (Several food-themed series authors talked about their inspiration, where they get their recipes, and the funny coincidence of growing up in households where their moms couldn’t cook all that well…maybe compensation for a deprived childhood? *wink*)
  • Poison Lady (Described above).
  • Book’em: Book-Loving Sleuths (Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s amazing how many bookshop mysteries are out there!)
  • Murder Way Back When: U.S. Historicals (Loved hearing about research challenges and successes…I continued the conversation with a couple of the authors afterward, comparing databases we use).
  • Sherlock Lives! (I love reading about the Great Detective, and it was so much fun to listen to the discussion of the current pastiches out there, and all the SH societies).

Panel for best historical Agatha nominees. Catriona McPherson won!

 

The most meaningful event for me personally was the Mystery Most Historical Signing, held on Friday evening. Mystery Most Historical is this year’s Malice anthology of short stories, and guess what…a story of mine is in it!

“Summons for a Dead Girl” is set in September of 1911 in New York City, months after the devastating Triangle Factory fire, and features spirit medium/con woman Maddy Cartiere. The blurb and opening paragraphs below give you an idea of the story:

***

This book signing was an additional thrill because I was part of a large group of authors (many of them prolific and best sellers) who were also signing. The reader turnout for autographs was amazing, and it was such a privilege to chat with mystery fans while sitting in the company of award-winning authors such as Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Elaine Viets!

Your typical group picture: someone looking away, someone’s eyes closed, someone waving a hand or fussing with something, LOL.

 

Short story author Keenan Powell was signing on my left. Such a nice lady!

 

The volunteer photographer got my blurry side, LOL. I never looked so good.

So, to celebrate the release of the Malice anthology (and my birthday, hubby’s birthday, Mother’s Day…so many excuses), I’m holding a…

Giveaway Drawing

May 9th-23rd

I’ll be giving away five (5) signed paperback copies of Mystery Most Historical!

To help with logistics, I’m using the Gleam giveaway service to keep things organized and make the random selections. All you have to do is click below to see your options for entering the drawing (you can enter multiple times, if you wish):

Anthology Giveaway!

Once the contest is over and the winners are notified, I won’t keep your email info for any reason. I respect your privacy.

However, if you’re interested in signing up for my author newsletter (sent out approximately 4 times a year to announce sales, giveaways, and book releases), I would love to have you on board! Here’s the sign-up for that:

concordia-1thru5

Sign up today, and receive a FREE novelette!

Thanks for signing up! Your email is in good hands, I promise. Once you have confirmed your subscription you’ll receive a thank you email with a link to my FREE novelette, NEVER SLEEP!
~KBO

Whew! This was a longer post than I usually write. Thanks for reading, and good luck with the contest!

~Kathy

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Merry Christmas, Sherlock Holmes style

blue-carbuncle-1892

Illustration by Sidney Paget, 1892. Wikimedia Commons.

Happy Holidays! As a mystery lover, Christmas reminds me of one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” The mystery starts with a dropped hat and a Christmas goose left behind.

The following recording is from the Sherlock Holmes audio archive of stories, many of them (including this one) narrated by none other than Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson. My favorite team! The recording includes the classic touches of dramatic organ interludes and even a couple of commercials. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Let the adventure begin!

 

 

From a different adventure...Basil Rathbone (Holmes) and Nigel Bruce (Watson), Universal Pictures, 1943. Wikimedia Commons.

From a different adventure…Basil Rathbone (Holmes) and Nigel Bruce (Watson), Universal Pictures, 1943. Wikimedia Commons.

To listen to other stories in the archive (more than 125 of them!), click here.

May your Christmas be filled with fun and mystery!

Until next time,

Kathy

P.S. – Book 1 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries, Dangerous and Unseemly, is on sale! You can now get the ebook version for only 99 cents. (Psst…it makes a great gift for the mystery lover in your life). The discount is available through Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, and is good until January 6th.

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Gardening for the Mystery Lover: a mash-up

Gardening for the Mystery Lover: a mash-up
Hydrangeas from my garden.

Hydrangeas from my garden.

Happy Monday, everyone! Those of us north of latitude 32 or so have been longing for the end to the snow/sleet/freezing rain and the dreary gray-brown landscape. The gardeners among us have been deluged with seed catalogs and Pinterest prompts that have us dreaming of the lush backyards we delude ourselves each year into thinking we will achieve. *wink*

So today I thought I would provide a few links to entertain both gardeners and mystery lovers, because yes, there is a way to have it all!

Garden fun:

Below is a slideshow of pictures from my garden. Not professional by any means, but isn’t it great to see something green this time of year?

Garden Slideshow

Here’s a post from a couple of years ago about the benefits of gardening, including why dirt is good for you!

Life is a box of seeds

Mystery-style gardening:

Gardening and murder can be connected in so many ways: the heavy spade, the razor-sharp pruning shears, the deadly foxglove growing by the fence….

  • Mystery author Margot Kinberg discusses the role of gardening in several classic Christie novels (among others). Click on her banner below:

 

confessions

  • The Cozy Mystery List Blog is an excellent resource for finding themed mysteries, and there are plenty of garden-themed stories out there.

Gardening Cozy Mysteries…

  • How about something more interactive? Shot in the Dark Mysteries has created Mystery Party kits for kids and adults, including something sure to chase away the winter blues: Garden Party Murder – Mystery Party Game.

Do you enjoy gardening? Ever been to a garden party? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

 

Concordia logo FINAL small

 

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Murder Under the Oaks: my experience at BoucherCon

Murder Under the Oaks: my experience at BoucherCon

bouchercon raleighA couple of days ago I returned from BoucherCon. With an attendance of 1500, it’s considered one of the larger mystery fiction conventions out there. (For those unfamiliar with the name, BoucherCon was created in 1970, in honor of mystery writer/editor/critic Anthony Boucher).

It appeals to every mystery fan along the continuum: authors, readers, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers. The location changes each year. This year it was in Raleigh, NC.

This was my first BoucherCon. As an introvert who is most comfortable in my writing cave, I knew it was going to be exciting and challenging at the same time.

Here are a few things I learned along the way. I hope these will be of help for those new to the convention experience. I’m specifically targeting fellow authors, but many of these elements apply to anyone attending a large event of this kind.

Before the convention:

bouchercon11. Determine your goals. 

What do you want to get out of this experience? An agent, a possible contract? Connections to fellow writers, potential readers, booksellers? Spreading the word about your new release? A chance to meet well-established authors you’ve always admired? Learning from the panel discussions?

Clarifying what you want will go a long way towards helping you decide how to spend your time at the convention and how you prepare. For me, I wanted to make connections with fellow authors and readers and learn more about this crazy process we call writing novels. And meet Laurie King. (Photo by fan-girl K.B. Owen).

 

Read the rest of this post at Misterio Press.

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Never Sleep: the story of a lady Pinkerton

Never Sleep: the story of a lady Pinkerton

I have a new series coming out, and I wanted you all to be the first to know about it!

Chronicles of a Lady Detective

The series is centered upon a character many of you know from the Concordia Wells mysteries: Penelope Hamilton. You may recall that she served as lady principal of Hartford Women’s College in book 1 (Dangerous and Unseemly), and recently made a return in book 3 (Unseemly Ambition) to help with a difficult case.

Readers have long told me that they enjoy Miss Hamilton’s character and would like to see more of her, so I decided to go backwards in time and explore her early detective cases.

cover art by Melinda VanLone

cover art by Melinda VanLone

Never Sleep, set in 1885 (more than a decade before Concordia meets her), is the story of how Miss Hamilton first gets started as a Pinkerton in her own right. Each of the stories in the series will be novelette-length and published in ebook form only (for now).

Historical Background:

Although a rarity in the 19th century, women working as Pinkertons wasn’t without precedent. The first and most noteworthy was Kate Warne in 1856. According to Allan Pinkerton, the young widow walked into the Chicago office and asked straight away for a position as a detective, rather than requesting a clerical job. Her argument pointing out the unique qualifications of women as detectives persuaded Pinkerton to hire her, and to later put her in charge of Pinkerton’s “Female Detective Force.”

Allan Pinkerton (seated, right) at Antietam. The beardless man is thought to be Kate Warne in disguise. Image via Library of Congress, n.d.

Allan Pinkerton (seated, right) at Antietam. The clean-shaven man is thought to be Kate Warne in disguise. Image via Library of Congress, n.d.

Warne was quite successful as a detective. She acted as an intelligence operative before, during, and after the Civil War, and was instrumental in uncovering the “Baltimore Plot” to assassinate Lincoln on the way to his inauguration. She relayed key information and was part of the group that helped protect the President-elect during this time, as he traveled by train (a different one than announced earlier) between Harrisburg and Baltimore, in disguise.

Excerpt from Pinkerton's report, published in Norma Cuthbert's 1949 book: Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot, 1861.

Excerpt from Pinkerton’s report mentioning Kate Warne. Published in Norma Cuthbert’s 1949 book: Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot, 1861.

My gift to you:

I wanted to find a way to say “thank you” to everyone who reads my books and follows my posts. Your support means so much to me! Where would I be without my readers? So, during the month of March, I’m giving away Never Sleep to every subscriber. And this is exclusive access; I won’t be putting it up on Amazon or anywhere else until April. 

How to get Never SleepThe story will be available for download as a mobi (Kindle) and epub (iPad, Nook) on a password-protected page here at the website. Current subscribers will get an email newsletter tomorrow (didn’t want to send you guys two email notifications in one day) with the page link and a password. Future subscribers (during the month of March) will receive the same email newsletter with the link and password when they confirm their subscription.

If you have any difficulties getting it, drop me a line: contact@kbowenmysteries.com and I’ll directly email you the file.

Thanks again!

~Kathy

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