Friday, October 3, 2014

Cozy Mystery Blog Tour: Author Guest Post, Review & Giveaway: Dead for a Spell (Bram Stoker #2) by Raymond Buckland

Bram Stoker, business manager for London’s Lyceum Theatre, is never surprised to find the supernatural waiting in the wings—especially when a chilling murder appears to have origins in the occult…

March 1881. The Lyceum is abuzz with the news that American actor Edwin Booth is going to be sharing the stage with their own Shakespearean star, Henry Irving. But stage manager Harry Rivers has other matters preoccupying him. One of the regular actresses has disappeared, and after a disturbing tarot card reading, Harry’s boss, Bram Stoker, is convinced that something wicked is coming their way.

When the poor girl’s body is found, Stoker’s suspicions prove to be founded—the murder scene is riddled with strange clues that Stoker recognizes as the trappings of an occult ritual. Someone is conjuring up a pernicious plot against cast and crew of the Lyceum, and if Harry doesn’t track down the slaying sorcerer quickly, it could spell disaster for those he holds dearest.

For me, writing Victorian mysteries is pure joy!  First of all, I love the Victorian age.  There was so much going on then: so many new discoveries.  Transportation was fascinating, going from the horse-drawn age into the age of the horseless carriage.  Gaslight was slowly giving way to electricity.  Fashions had great variety, both women's and men's.  Manners - now so many lost - were de rigor.  The class system was alive and well, for good or evil, yet there were endless opportunities for anyone with ambition.  Without question there were many dark sides to nineteenth century life, yet for the writer this can only be considered a plus.  One can certainly focus where one wishes and the very knowledge of aspects of the darker side of Victorian life play well into the potential plots and stories of the mystery writer.  

My protagonists are Bram Stoker and his assistant Harry Rivers.  Stoker is very much the fount of knowledge while Harry is the ever-willing partner/associate.  The relationship falls somewhere between Holmes-and-Watson and Wolfe-and-Goodwin.  Stoker, coming from Ireland, has a vast store of occult knowledge - together with a belief in leprechauns, ghosts, magic, and the sixth sense - and finds it to be in demand in the world of the London theatre, where superstitions abound.  I tend to think of him in the present tense, since he is so alive to me, but in fact he really did have such knowledge.  Along with his good friend Oscar Wilde, Stoker attended Trinity College, the top college in Ireland where he excelled in both academics and sports.  He was invited to London by the great Shakespearean actor Henry Irving, to become business manager of Irving's Lyceum Theatre.  

I had to research the mechanics of the Victorian theatre.  Happily I do have a theatrical background but I must admit that I was unfamiliar with gas lighting and the almost primitive methods of stage make-up and similar.  Research is a major part of such a novel yet, for myself and majority of authors, research is as much enjoyment as is the actual writing.  In fact, let's face it, the whole business of writing is a joy!  

Henry Irving's leading lady was Miss Ellen Terry and, at the time of this particular book, the American actor Edwin Booth was visiting and playing opposite Irving.  I incorporate these and other actual historical personalities into my stories to lend them authority.  The books are set not only in the world of the theatre but also in the Victorian political world, with Irving's friends, such as the prime minister William Gladstone, playing parts.  

Hansom cabs, top hats, crinolines, crossing-sweepers, street musicians... all give bulk to stories of kidnapping and murder.  As a writer, I have a fertile imagination to the point where, as I write, I can see my stories unfolding as though watching a movie.  This holds my attention and pulls me into the story, making it come alive.  I especially love building characters and developing dialogue.  I have always spent long hours "people watching" at airports, railroad and bus stations, making mental notes of mannerisms and speech patters.  To now be able to translate much of this onto the printed page is pure pleasure for me.  

In "Dead For a Spell" Stoker has to find one of the Lyceum's young actresses who has disappeared.  Indications are that she has been kidnapped and may have come to harm.  In fact this starts a long trail, carefully traced by Stoker and Harry Rivers, leading into a web of intrigue resulting in not just one but several murders.  There are suspects aplenty, including a rival Shakespearean actor who feels himself to be superior to the great Henry Irving.  Although Harry does a lot of the legwork, Stoker is not averse to calling up a hansom cab and setting off in hot pursuit of a suspect.  Harry frequently as a hard time keeping up with his boss.  

As a reader of cozies, I was a little surprised that this one would be considered a part of that genre.  It's not that it didn't have many of the elements that make it a cozy, it just felt different.  The subject matter, for one, isn't typical of any cozies I've read before, which makes it unique.  However, the detail that the author has put in to the occult, made it feel far more like a paranormal suspense.  

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the story - I really did.  The Stoker/Rivers pairing was eerily similar to that of a Holmes/Watson one, which brought life to the mystery itself, and kept it engaging and fun.  I thoroughly enjoyed the chemistry that these two had.  I loved the setting of the story even more than that!  

Set in the Victorian era, the scenery unfolded like something you'd see in the cinema.  It was a perfect setting for such a dark subject matter.  It really added to the validity of the story.  

This was my first book by Mr. Buckland, and while I wish I'd read the first book in the series, my having not read it in no way kept me from reading and understanding this one.  I will, however, be reading the first one now!  It was a great book with a lot of potential for future additions, and I look forward to more adventures from Stoker and Rivers.  

Rating: 4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All conclusions reached are my own. 

Thanks to the awesome ladies at Penguin, I have 1 paperback copy of Dead for a Spell by Raymond Buckland to give away to one of my lucky readers!  Just enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win, and be sure to keep checking back for more awesome giveaways!

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