Edith/Maddie here, not sure how it got to be the end of the month already! I’m so happy to welcome my friend Alyssa Maxwell back to the blog. Her new book came out two days ago. Here’s the blurb:
Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her siblings travel to Staffordshire to commission a china service bearing the Wroxly coat of arms from the venerated Crown Lily Potteries, a favorite of Queen Mary. The two leading designers at the illustrious china manufacturer offer competing patterns. But when one of them is found dead—his body crushed in a grinding pan and his design pattern book missing—his rival is immediately suspected. The police are also suspicious of the dead designer’s resentful young son, a schoolmate of Phoebe’s fifteen-year-old brother Fox. When Fox gets involved to help his friend, Phoebe begins to investigate the rival artist.
At the same time, Eva is enlisted to go undercover at the works so she can gain the confidence of the female employees, who are only allowed to paint, not design, which may have led to a grudge against the victim. Pursuing a killer who has no compunction about using a kiln as a coffin, Phoebe and Eva take their lives into their hands to discover the shattering truth . . .
Trouble in a Teacup
What could possibly be troublesome about teacups and fine bone china? China is lovely. It’s elegant. It raises drinking tea to an artform.
It can also cause a good bit of havoc.
In A Sinister Service, Renshaw siblings Phoebe, Julia, Amelia and Fox travel to Staffordshire to commission a unique tea service for the grandparents’ anniversary. What begins as a happy endeavor to procure a special gift soon becomes an ordeal rife with conflict. To begin with, each sibling has a definite view of what their grandparents would like—and none of them are in agreement with the others. Then, at the fictional Crown Lily Potteries, egos and ambitions have not only set the two top designers at odds, but other department heads as well. Rivalries and resentments burn as hot as the kilns at every turn. When one of the designers turns up dead in a clay mixing vat, his teenaged son, a friend of Fox’s from Eton, is accused. But from their tour of the Crown Lily Pottery Works, Phoebe and her lady’s maid, Eva, know the boy wasn’t alone in possibly wanting his father out of the way. They resolve to discover the truth.
Well, leave it to mystery writers to envision the worst in even the most innocuous of circumstances.
So, why teacups? My own love affair with fine bone china developed only in recent years. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit lovely china from a grandmother or anyone like that. Or did I?
One day, I received a gift of four beautiful Shelley China cups and saucers. The Shelley Pottery Works, I soon learned, was one of Staffordshire’s premier china producers. These particular teacups came to me from the daughter of an elderly reader who had recently passed away; it was a thank you for the joy my Newport series had brought her mother in her final days. She had lived in Newport during the 40s and 50s, and the books brought her back to what had been some of her happiest years. Turns out, those cups had also been a gift to her—from my husband’s own great aunt, who had been her friend and landlady. Talk about a small world. Talk about karma. Talk about coming full circle.
I quickly became an avid collector of Shelley china—I, who had never really collected anything before. But I knew from the moment I opened the package that I held something extraordinary in my hands. I educated myself about Shelley to discover it was indeed one of the—if not THE—most exquisite of all English fine bone china. It’s all about their ratio of raw clay to stone to beef bone ash, which allows Shelley china to be translucent thin, yet incredibly strong and enduring.
And then, of course, my dastardly mind began to conjure. And although the original four teacups in my collection came as a result of my Newport series, it only made sense to set a story about English china in England, during the years when the industry was about to experience a resurgence following WWI. It may have been Emma Cross who is responsible for this non-collector becoming a collector, but it’s Phoebe Renshaw and Eva Huntford who spring into action and follow the clues to a murderer at the fictional Crown Lily Pottery Works in Staffordshire, England.
Following are some of the shapes and patterns in my collection that helped inspire A Sinister Service. They span from the 1890s to the early 1960s.
One of the original four: Footed Oleander shape with the Bridal Rose Pattern inside. Circa 1940s.
The pink one, front and center, is a “pre-Shelley” Wileman & Co. cup from the 1890s.
Three examples of Regent shape, from the early 1930s.
Readers: Are you a collector? If yes or no, and no matter what it is, share below for a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of A Sinister Service! (One winner will be chosen, must reside in the U.S. due to shipping costs.)
Alyssa Maxwell knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles drew her to the mystery genre. She is the author of The Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries. She and her husband reside in Florida, where she is a member of the Mystery Writers of America-Florida Chapter, Sisters in Crime-Treasure Coast Chapter, and the Florida Romance Writers. You can visit her at www.alyssamaxwell.com, where you can find all her social media links.