1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a crass American millionaire. But when her new job whisks her off to a foreboding castle straight out of a Grimm tale, she begins to wonder if her fast-talking ways might have been too hasty. The vast grounds contain the suspected remains of Snow White’s cottage, along with a disturbing dwarf skeleton. And when her millionaire boss turns up dead—poisoned by an apple—the fantastic setting turns into a once upon a crime scene.
To keep from rising to the top of the suspect list, Ophelia fights through a bramble of elegant lies, sinister folklore, and priceless treasure, with only a dashing but mysterious scholar as her ally. And as the clock ticks towards midnight, she’ll have to break a cunning killer’s spell before her own time runs out.
When people ask me where I got the idea for Snow White Red-Handed, I’m not sure where to start. I can say with certainty, however, that the entire Fairy Tale Fatal series began as a self-indulgent, irresponsible project.
Yes. Call it Escape from Academic Drudgery. Charge me as guilty for writing an entire novel as a way to procrastinate on my homework.
This is what happened: I’ve always been fascinated with fairy tales, so when I had the chance to pick my texts for a freshman comp class I was teaching, I decided to use fairy tales and fairy tale criticism as a way to help my students learn to write about literature. So I had fairy tales on the brain, big time. The next thing I knew, the fairy tale stuff had cross-pollinated in the back of my mind with the nineteenth-century American literature texts I was reading in preparation for my PhD qualifying exams. Louisa May Alcott, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman . . . yeah. How the heck does that crowd mix with fairy tales? But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I’ve always loved stories with outsider protagonists, and a Yankee girl in the Black Forest sounded like a book I wanted to read. So I decided to write it. Kind of for fun. And as a way to procrastinate on grading student papers and chewing through that pesky PhD reading list.
Once I got started writing and researching Snow White Red-Handed, other things worked their way into the story. Some of them are personal. For instance, my heroine Ophelia Flax is a variety hall actress, and one of my great-grandmothers was a singer on the variety hall stage.
Other personal ingredients are the Baden-Baden and Heidelberg settings. When I was in college, I spent two summers in Heidelberg working as an orchestral violinist in Heidelberg’s Castle Festival, and I traveled a couple of times to Baden-Baden on my days off.
Baden-Baden has a simply amazing thermal spa, by the way, if you aren’t averse to getting whacked on the rear after your scrubbing has been completed by a muscly attendant. Seriously. I was enchanted by the area, and it evidently left its mark on my imagination. I even have a recurring dream of hiking to a castle inhabited by elves, hidden on a mountain above Heidelberg. There is a story to that, and no, it doesn’t involve a psychotherapist. Although maybe it should.
Another personal inspiration: I’ve always had a secret crush on the composer Johannes Brahms, and Brahms spent a lot of time in Baden-Baden. In fact, even though the hero of Snow White Red-Handed, Professor Penrose, is British, I picture him like the young Brahms, plus spectacles.
Okay, so I had this amazing setting that I’d always been in love with, a hero who looks like the young Brahms, and the fruitfully absurd concept of a practical Yankee variety hall actress who finds herself in the patently impractical land of German fairy tales. Add a castle, a murder, and a cast of shifty characters, plus a hapless friend for Ophelia by the name of Prue, and off I went.
There were times, I’ll admit, when writing Snow White Red-Handed seemed like a lot more work than just doing my homework and grading my students’ papers, by golly. The historical research was time consuming, though once I found Mark Twain’s two travelogues The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, things got smoother. Getting my characters’ speech to sound historical without confusing twenty-first century readers was also tricky (fingers crossed that I pulled it off). Oh, and then there was the little issue called the mystery plot. Tangled, indeed.
In the end, though, Snow White Red-Handed almost miraculously turned out as that book I’d wanted to read: an unexpected, frivolous, magical, adventurous, and romantic romp. I am so delighted that Berkley Prime Crime picked up my Fairy Tale Fatal series, and I hope readers will enjoy escaping into the mysterious woods of the nineteenth century as much as I did.
Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series, and her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, will be released in November 2014 by Berkley Prime Crime.
Maia is a candidate for the Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington. This means that the exploits of Fairy Tale Fatal’s heroine, variety hall actress Ophelia Flax, were dreamt up while Maia was purportedly researching 19th-century American literature and fairy tale criticism. The Discreet Retrieval Agency series was born of Maia’s fascination with vintage shoes, automobiles, and cocktails combined with an adoration of P. G. Wodehouse and chocolate.
Upcoming titles include Come Hell or Highball (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and Cinderella Six Feet Under (Berkley Prime Crime, 2015). Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for.
Hands down one of the most creative and unique books that I have ever read. It's absolutely extraordinary! The author is extremely talented. And I don't use that phrase lightly here. She has created an exquisite world with brilliant characters, and put a whimsical, and personal, twist on the original idea of the series.
These characters, Ophelia in particular, are wonderful. They draw out so many emotions and their personalities reflect those of the fairy tale characters beautifully. The way that the author has woven the lives of the human characters with those of the fantasy - flawless. Not to mention the smarts of our heroine, Ophelia. She is what makes the mystery of the novel come to life.
I was truthfully skeptical about this series at first, but having read Snow White Red-Handed, I can tell you that this is one series I'll be proud to have on my shelf!
Rating: 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own.
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