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Welcome Stephanie Graves: Pigeoneers, racing pigeons and a giveaway!

By Liz, happy to welcome Stephanie Graves to the blog! Stephanie’s third book in her Olive Bright Mystery series is out tomorrow, and she’s telling us all about the world of pigeoneers! I love this so much – I have always loved pigeons ever since NYPD Blue and Jimmy Smitts 🙂 Take it away, Stephanie!

First off, I’d like to thank Liz Mugavero and the Wickeds for inviting me! In case you’ve yet to run across my first foray into the mystery genre, let me provide a little background.

The first book in the Olive Bright mystery series, eponymously titled OLIVE BRIGHT, PIGEONEER, introduces a young veterinary student who’s returned home from London at the start of WWII. She’s biding her time in the village of Pipley, helping in her father’s veterinary surgery, caring for her family’s racing pigeons, and generally waiting for an opportunity to present itself for her to do more for the war effort than rolling bandages or knitting socks. It’s not long before she and her pigeons are conscripted to work for a secret intelligence organization codenamed Baker Street.

Pigeons may seem like an unexpected choice. Honestly, I thought so too. When I decided to transition from writing romantic novels to writing mysteries, I knew three things all at once: I wanted to set the story during WWII; my amateur sleuth would be young, female, and British; and she’d be a pigeoneer. Evidently, book one in the series had been fifteen years in the making before the research and writing had even begun. 

When my boys were young, I took them to see the animated Disney movie Valiant, which was loosely based on the role homing pigeons played over the course of the Second World War. The very notion that those birds could have carried messages, microphotographs, and other documents critical to the war effort fascinated me. But honestly, the truth—once I began to discover it—was so much more impressive than the fiction. 

In writing the series, my research has served as a crash course in all things pigeon. And at this point I can’t help but stare in admiration at random pigeons in the street. What’s so impressive? There’s their ability to home over long distances when released in unfamiliar places, using both their physiology and environmental clues, their stamina and tenacity in maintaining speeds over 60 miles per hour over hundreds of miles, through all sorts of weather. And finally, their long and storied history. 

Prior to WWII, they were used as messengers by cultures throughout history: Mongol, Greek, French, German, Egyptian. They were key contributors to the success of Reuters news service and a financial boon to the Rothschild banking dynasty, which capitalized on early news of Napoleon’s defeat. They were used extensively on both sides of the conflict during the Great War, but while Germany maintained their state-run pigeon service in the interwar years, Britain disbanded theirs. Which meant that when war was declared once again, the pigeons were offered up voluntarily. With 70,000 fanciers in Britain, many of whom were breeding and training their birds to participate in long distance pigeon racing—the royal family included—there was a ready supply of winged recruits.

All branches of the British Armed Forces used pigeons during the Second World War; the crews of Royal Air Force bombers and reconnaissance aircraft all included at least one pigeon, and lofts were prevalent in Europe, Africa, and the Middle and Far East. The birds were resilient and dependable throughout the course of the war, and their contribution did not go unnoticed. When the Dickin Medal was instituted to award exemplary wartime service by animals, thirty-two of the fifty-four medals bestowed for service during WWII were given to pigeons. 

But tucked away in a tiny village on the home front, Olive and her birds are simply carrying on, doing their bit. And I’m having a blast with both the research and the writing!

So readers – were you aware of the secret, heroic life of pigeons? Tell us in the comments for a change to win a signed, hardcover copy of Olive Bright, Pigeoneer (U.S. only).

Stephanie Graves is the author of the Olive Bright mystery series and four romantic novels written under the pseudonym Alyssa Goodnight. Her books have been featured in Entertainment Weekly, First for Women and Woman’s World. She lives with her family and two rescue pups in Houston. Visit her at msstephgraves.com to subscribe to her newsletter or find her on FB, Twitter, Instagram, or BookBub.

A COURAGE UNDIMMED, the third book in the Olive Bright mystery series, is out tomorrow!

British pigeoneer Olive Bright is proud of the role her racing birds have played in the war effort and has hopes of becoming an agent for the secret intelligence organization called Baker Street . . . but first there is a baffling murder to solve.

As the weather turns bitterly cold in the dark days of November 1941, fewer pigeons are being conscripted for missions into occupied Europe. In fact, Olive’s new commanding officer has expressed his doubts regarding her birds—not to mention Olive herself—and assigned her as escort to a visiting Naval Intelligence officer.

She’s none too keen on her assignment or her charge—the aloof and arrogant Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming—but the last place she expects to accompany him is to a séance. Self-proclaimed medium Velda Dunbar—new to the village of Pipley—has drawn fascination and skepticism after a very public channeling of a doomed seaman aboard the HMS Bartholomew, which she claims has sunk. When the gathering results in murder, Olive must trust her instincts and not rule out anyone as a suspect—including the secretive Fleming—for one of the guests is harboring a hidden deadly agenda.

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