Guest- Susanna Calkins!

Jessie: In New Hampshire where a robin has been sighted in the back garden!

I am delighted to welcome fellow historical mystery writer and Sleuths in Time group member , Susanna Calkins to the Wickeds today! I am especially excited to host her as her new series is set in one of my favorite eras, the 1920s. Don’t you just love the cover! Take it away, Susanna!

It’s been an interesting thing researching my new series—The Speakeasy Murders—which are set in 1920s Chicago. I went about it in a completely differently than I did for my first series—the Lucy Campion mysteries set in 17thcentury England. 

For my first series I had spent years researching the period as part of my doctoral work; for this new series, I was a lot more immersive. I listened to 1920s music, watched silent films from the era, and tried all kinds of Prohibition-era cocktails. Since I live in Chicago now, I’ve been able to walk around the historic parts, take “gangster tours” of the city, and get a feel for how things might have been. 

I also spent a lot of time pouring over newspapers, postcards, advertisements, drug store offerings, ice cream parlor offerings, and similar vintage item to add color to my story. The amazing-ness that is the Sears and Roebuck catalog has completely stunned me. It’s like the original amazon—you could buy anything. Cameras, wedding dresses, a new oven, home study courses, and of course houses. 

What’s fascinating to me, too, is how ‘living’ 1920s history is for the people who grew up in Chicago. Whenever I mention anything about these books, there is always someone excitedly wishing to share how their great-uncle cut Capone’s hair, or their grandmother ran a bootlegging operation out of her kitchen. Even when I was in Toronto, I met a man whose grandfather ran a shipping operation across Lake Michigan, smuggling gin and rum into Chicago’s North Side.

I did specifically set my books in an area of the city that is no longer all there—the University of Illinois at Chicago campus disrupted the Near West Side neighborhoods in the 1960s. This upheaval was terrible for the people who lived there, but for a writer it is helpful that I can put my speakeasy, as well as the different store fronts that mask the illicit operation, anywhere I pleased. 

Gangsters, flappers, rumrunners, temperance workers—definitely a fun world to investigate.  What do youknow about 1920s? Do you have any stories that have been passed down in your own family (or from your friends’ families?)

Susanna Calkins writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries set in 17th century London and the Speakeasy Murders set in 1920s Chicago (Minotaur/St. Martin’s). Her fiction has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the Agatha, the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery (Lefty) and the Anthony, and was awarded a Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (the Macavity). Born and raised in Philadelphia, she lives in the Chicago area now, with her husband and two sons. Check out her website at www.susannacalkins.com. More about her book can be found at https://read.macmillan.com/lp/murder-knocks-twice/

25 Thoughts

  1. I’m really looking forward to starting this series. I love reading about that era because it is almost within “reach”. I know research can be tedious and time-consuming at times, but it pays off in so many ways.

  2. I love the 1920s. Such a fun era.

    My great-grandmother smuggled liquor across the border (Buffalo-Fort Erie) in her car door panel and sold it out of her house at a nickel a shot. One day, two customs agents showed up at her door. They wanted a drink!

  3. Welcome, Susannah! Part of the story in “Hallowed Out” the novella coming in Haunted House Murders (end of August) takes place during Prohibition. I loved doing the research. There were so many large ships from Canadian distilleries in international waters on the border with Maine that their lights made it look like a floating city at night. It was called the Rum Line. In the early days, the Coast Guard had no ships fast enough to catch the little boats that went out from New England harbors at night to pick up the liquor. The captains and the boats were called rumrunners.

  4. This sounds interesting. My grandfather talked about being in a speakeasy in Seattle having drinks out of teacups and being raided. My grandmother tried to shush him. I have a picture of my Mom at the Brown Derby in Chicago in the early 40’s.Later, I know, but the decor looks like the 20’s.

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