Jessie: Back in New Hampshire where some leaves are looking just the teensiest bit orange.
I am delighted to welcome Ashley Weaver to the Wickeds blog today. I have had the privilege of getting to know her and her work as a fellow member of the Sleuths in Time Facebook group. Ashley writes charming and engaging historical mysteries as I am sure you will see from her post! Take it away Ashley!
I’ve had a lot of strange research phases over the years, niche interests that I read about until I’ve finally mastered the subject—or my attention gets drawn away by something else. My family, friends, and coworkers have gotten used to my reading (and regaling them with information) about things like the French Revolution, polar exploration disasters, Paris during WWII, and survival cannibalism. But one of my earliest phases, which I developed as a teenager, was a fascination with Prohibition-era organized crime.
It came about, I’m sure, due to my love of old movies. I would often find a star I loved and watch as many of their films as I could get my hands on. I worked at the library, and my staff box would always be full of VHS tapes ordered from other branches. There was an almost unlimited supply! So I’m not sure if it was Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, or Edward G. Robinson who was to blame, but I soon spiraled into the world of smoky speakeasies, blazing tommy guns, and barrels of bootleg hooch.
My interest in the film portrayal of the topic led to my collection of history books, accrued from various bookstores over the years. There weren’t many kids my age reading about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and perusing vintage mugshots, but the era’s combination of glamour and grittiness, decadence and danger, drew me in. I found something so fascinating about the culture of gleeful lawlessness that developed around Prohibition and the cunning and violent men who took advantage of it.
You might think this kind of thing is off-topic for a mild-mannered librarian who writes cozy mysteries about a wealthy British socialite and her charming husband. But it turns out that all my research was not in vain! When I began writing my sixth Amory Ames mystery, which takes place in New York towards the end of Prohibition, I knew that I had the perfect opportunity to sprinkle in some of the details I had gleaned over the years.
And, so, though she hails from England, Amory gets to visit a speakeasy, mingle with the criminal element, and winds up entangled in a murder investigation that may or may not be linked to bootlegging. I even had a chance to include a dashing and dangerous gangster named Leon De Lora. He’s not based on any particular historical figure, but I feel like there’s a little of all my “favorite” mobsters in him!
It’s pretty exciting and satisfying that an unusual fascination I developed over twenty years ago has finally made its way into one of my books. I guess it just goes to show that learning is never a waste of time. And who knows? Maybe one of my other obsessions will find a place in a book one day! Though I find it a bit difficult to believe that survival cannibalism would make a good cozy mystery . . .
Readers, what’s the strangest niche interest you’ve developed? Have you ever been able to make good use of it? Ashley would love to offer a copy of A Dangerous Engagement to one lucky commenter!
Ashley Weaver is the author of the Amory Ames Mysteries and the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was fourteen and obtained her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She lives in Oakdale, Louisiana.