Edith here, soaking up late-summer heat.
I’m excited to welcome fellow historical mystery author Nancy Herriman to the blog today with her new “A Mystery of Old San Francisco” series. This series sounds especially appealing to me as I am a native Californian, and it’s set only twenty years before my own historical series. Nancy’s first book in the series is No Comfort for the Lost. What a great title! I confess I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it’s next up on my Kindle. And she’s giving away a copy to one lucky commenter!
Take it away, Nancy.
Setting a Mystery in 1860s San Francisco
First off, thanks for hosting me! I thought I’d talk about why I chose 1860s San Francisco as a setting for my new mystery series. I’ve always found the city fascinating, and I think most people are familiar with its lore—stories about the 49ers and the Gold Rush, the Chinese laborers working on the Pacific Railroad, the famous people who lived there at that time, such as Mark Twain, Levi Strauss, J.A. Folger of coffee fame, Leland Stanford, Ghirardelli. There was so much going on, so much to see. Even then, it was an insanely popular tourist destination—I wonder if it was as hard to find a parking spot near the shoreline as it is now—and a huge draw for folks looking for a fresh start in life.
In the 1860s, San Francisco was one of the most diverse cities in the country, if not the most diverse. I decided to make use of that diversity and feature various immigrants in my book—my English heroine, the Irish scamp she’s taken under her wing, the boisterous Italian family living next door, her bossy Scottish housekeeper, all the Chinese she interacts with, including her half-Chinese cousin. A rich melting pot of people with an equally rich supply of problems.
And of course, the city is also infamous for being rough-and-tumble, its Barbary Coast (not actually on the coast, but named after the notorious Berber coastal region of North Africa) well-known for vice. Saloons, opium dens, and illegal gambling parlors existed to serve the male—and sometimes female—inhabitants. There were over 1000 drinking establishments in the city, nearly 1 for every 12 residents. You wouldn’t have any trouble finding a seat in a bar, I suppose!
And where there are vices, there are crimes. My heroine in No Comfort for the Lost, Celia Davies, is a strong-willed British nurse who runs a clinic for poor women. She becomes involved in crime-solving when one of her Chinese patients is found dead in the bay. Being who she is, Celia most certainly wants to help find the girl’s killer. Even if the handsome detective assigned to the case has other ideas about her involvement.
Edith: Ooh, this sounds fabulous, Nancy. I might have to take the afternoon off to do some reading! Thanks so much for sharing the flavor of your story with us!
Readers: What are your favorite settings for historical mysteries? Is there a setting and era you wish someone would set a mystery in? What about your own memories of visiting San Francisco? Ask Nancy a question today – she’ll be stopping in to respond. And giving away a book to one lucky commenter!
Nancy Herriman retired from an engineering career to take up the pen. She hasn’t looked back. Her work has won the RWA Daphne du Maurier award, and No Comfort for the Lost (NAL) was chosen as the Library Journal August 2015 Pick of the Month. When not writing, she enjoys singing, gabbing about writing, and eating dark chocolate. She currently lives in Central Ohio with her family. Learn more at: www.nancyherriman.com