So19 Interview: ANNA LEE HUBER on A STROKE OF MALICE

Society Nineteen interviewed author Anna Lee Huber upon the publication of A Study in Death in 2015, and we're delighted to welcome her back to the journal in 2020.  Today, Anna talks with us about the eighth Lady Darby mystery, A Stroke of Malice, which appears today from Berkley and can be ordered from Amazon.com as well as through your local independent bookstore. You can read our earlier interview here, find out more about Anna and her work on her website and follow her on Facebook among other social media sites. All that said, many thanks to Anna, and let's get this conversation started!


Let’s solace the isolation of social distancing by starting with a giant fictional party! In 2014’s A Grave Matter, you depicted a traditional Scottish Hogmanay celebration. This time around, Kiera and Sebastian are invited to an English Twelfth Night party. Tell readers a little about that tradition—a very weird and elaborate one, I might add!—and why you chose it as the occasion for this book.

Haha! I’ve wanted to set a book during a Twelfth Night Party for years. I read up on the tradition some time ago, and instantly knew that it would not only be fun to write, but also the perfect setting to kick off a mystery. In truth, I hadn’t initially decided to have Gage and Kiera make a stop off on their way from London in Book 7 (An Artless Demise) and Edinburgh, in what will be Book 9 (A Wicked Conceit). But the Duchess of Bowmont was just one of those characters that would not be relegated to playing a minor part, and we’d already met her youngest son Lord Henry (in Book 4, A Study in Death), who I’d known I wanted to revisit again. An idea took hold, and then I realized having the infamous duchess host a Twelfth Night Party would be perfect. So I got my chance.

So19 Interview: CHRIS NICKSON on THE MOLTEN CITY

We're delighted to have friend of So19 Chris Nickson back in the journal to discuss his latest novel, The Molten City, which appears on March 31 in the UK and July 7 in the US. Chris was one of our earliest interviews when the journal began in 2015, and he's covered a lot of literary territory since then! You can read our earlier interview with Nickson here; find out more about the author, his books and his musings here; and follow him on Twitter and Facebook as well.

This spring, you're celebrating your tenth year of writing about the city of Leeds, your home town, along with the publication of your 22nd novel set there. What do you think makes it such an enduring subject and inspiration for you?

I can’t quite define why Leeds keeps giving me stories. That’s certainly what it feels like. The bits of history, like the Suffragette Riot in The Molten City, for instance. They offer a springboard into something and make me want to help those times come alive for readers. It’s been the same with all my series set here, whether it was Richard Nottingham in the 1730s or Dan Markham in the 1950s, to make Leeds into a living character. I suppose the simplest way is to say that I feel the place in my bones, it’s in my DNA. My own family’s stories are here. I lived elsewhere for many, many years, but being back, I know it’s where I belong. Quite possibly I’d never have felt that in the same way if I’d never left; I don’t know. And there are so many stories from this place still to tell. I’m just the chronicler.

Suz on Publishers Weekly: Tracey Enerson Wood's THE ENGINEER'S WIFE

As a former New Yorker, it was a particular pleasure for me to review Tracey Enerson Wood's The Engineer's Wife for Publishers Weekly. The novel spans the life of Emily Warren Roebling from 1864 to 1884, the period in which she played a crucial if sometimes behind-the-scenes role in the extraordinary undertaking that was the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. With his father John, Washington "Wash" Roebling designed and planned to construct the bridge, which represented an immense engineering challenge for reasons including the width, turbulence and heavy traffic of the river it spanned. But John died fairly early in the construction process and Washington was sidelined for years with so-called "caisson sickness," now informally called "the bends," from his visits into the watertight caissons used to sink the bridge's foundations. Emily becomes his eyes and ears at the construction site, then gradually takes on more challenging tasks including site management, design troubleshooting, and public relations. Emily's intelligence, drive, and ability to assimilate new information all serve her well in the work, which nonetheless remains a disappointment: women suffrage is the cause dearest her heart, and she had hoped to use her skills in the service of that instead. Wash also poses a challenge, as he is not just physically crippled but also emotionally unavailable over the years of the arduous and dangerous work. In some sense Emily herself becomes a bridge: between Wash and the construction site, the construction site and the public, and her own past and future. 

Reading The Engineer's Wife, I regretted not having walked the bridge during my time in New York. Its Manhattan end wasn't far from the Wall Street firms among which I began my career; the problem was, like so many New Yorkers, I worked such long hours I didn't savor any of the city as fully as I might have wanted to. I plan to make up for this once our new era of social isolation ends and I can travel to the city again. In the meantime, The Engineer's Wife let me travel in space as well as time, experiencing the project when it seemed more like an alarming risk than a city icon. 

Read my review of the novel here.

So19 reads: Ashley E. Sweeney's ANSWER CREEK

Ashley E. Sweeney, the author of the excellent novel Eliza Waite, returns with a gripping story of loss, survival, and female strength. Answer Creek sets its fictional protagonist, Ada Weeks, among historical figures including Tamsen and George Donner, whose name now lends itself to macabre legend. Ada is traveling with a sizable group of emigrants bent on California when her adoptive parents are swept away in an ill-considered river crossing. She’s taken in by the Breen family, whose redoubtable matriarch, Margaret, has seven children including an infant who is nursing during the journey West. There are moments of delight, beauty and even transcendence: Ada glimpses one of the West’s most spectacular sights with newspaperman Edwin Bryant, for example, and falls in love with fellow emigrant Patrick Dolan. But the way becomes increasingly punishing as the party moves westward even before the Breens, like the Donners, decide to try the shortcut known today as the "Hastings Cutoff." Though Ada makes it through the months they spend, snowbound and starving, as a result, she arrives in California with another thorny problem before her: having survived, how does one go on and build a life when everyone and everything familiar is gone?

Reading Answer Creek, I could feel the pioneer experience in a way I never had before. (I would have been exponentially more attentive in American history classes had Sweeney taught them.) Sweeney does such a masterful job of evoking the journey, from the shifting challenges of the landscape the emigrants move through to the emotional complications of being dependent for survival on people who were strangers months or even just weeks before. The epic sweep, the vast scale, of the trek is vividly felt, but so are the smallest of details, from the inevitable bickering among fellow travelers to the difficulties of dealing with menstruation while walking thousands of miles. And though Sweeney does justice to the horror of those snowbound months, they are just one segment of the novel’s physical and emotional journey, one aspect of its broader perspective.

Answer Creek’s historical figures are thoughtfully and accurately represented—no small feat given their number. Ada and J.R.R. Riddle, another fictional character who is a member of one of the rescue parties—are wonderfully imagined. They’re both wounded beings, individuals who have suffered great and transformative loss. Yet neither has lost the capacity to change, to hope, or explore the possibilities of the future. If I were traveling through unknown terrain to an equally unknown destination, I would be grateful for the resourcefulness as well as the companionship of such remarkable souls.

Find out more about Ashley E. Sweeney and the book here.

Suz on Publishers Weekly: Barbara Kingsolver's UNSHELTERED

Anyone feeling like her life—and the world—are falling apart (and who, right now, isn't?) will resonate with Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered, which I reviewed for Publishers Weekly last year. Its two intertwined narratives are set in Vineland, a real New Jersey town built as a utopian community in the 1860s. In the present-day story, the magazine Willa Knox edited and the college at which her husband taught both close at the same time; as though that's not enough strain, they're caring for Iano's elderly father, their single new infant, and a house that is literally collapsing around them. Destitute after decades of striving and stunned by a racist presidential candidate they feel bewildered by the collapse of the American dream.  In the nineteenth-century narrative, science teacher Thatcher Greenwood and naturalist Mary Treat (a historical figure) live in Vineland in the 1870s. Thatcher's house too is unsound, and the radical (and Darwinian) new ideas the pair champion engender fierce resistance in the community. In addition to the absorbing and artfully intertwined narratives themselves, I loved the exploration of what we lose—and what we gain—during times that shake the shelter of familiar beliefs. You can read my review here.

So19 Reads: Janice Hadlow's THE OTHER BENNET SISTER


Appearing on March 31, Janice Hadlow's novel about Mary Bennet, the often-scorned and overlooked sister from Pride and Prejudice, is pure delight from start to finish. The Other Bennet Sister is a wonderful read, an impressive debut novel, a loving homage to Austen and her world both real and fictional, and a celebration of all of the myriad young women who fall outside of the “romance heroine” mold.

The novel’s voice captures Austen’s cadences and crispness without ever falling into pastiche; also like Austen, Hadlow is able to move seamlessly between comedy and pathos, irony and deep emotion. She gets both the details and the feelings of Austen’s world just right. But while this is certainly a book “Janeites” will love, its appeal is much wider than that—it’s a moving female coming of age tale even beyond the Austen connection, with a protagonist and a story that will resonate for many readers.

For anyone who has ever felt like the odd duck, the fifth wheel, the wallflower or the family disappointment, The Other Bennet Sisterwill have particular meaning. I’m one of those readers. Back in the day, I was a girl who had to wear glasses from the age of four on…felt like the oddball in an outgoing, physically attractive family…and retreated into reading and study both as a means of both hiding and survival. Though my story is nowhere near as stark as Mary Bennet’s—I am lucky enough to have been raised in a time, culture and family that offer women much wider options that she had and with an exponentially more supportive mother!—it took me many years to find myself, my calling and my “tribe.” Hadlow’s Mary Bennet resonated deeply for me, speaking authentically to the kind of search and stumbles I experienced. I’m confident that many others will feel the same.

In Hadlow’s novel, Mary’s glasses serve as a kind of symbol of how clearly we do, or don’t, see the world as well as ourselves. Mary earns every bit of the clear-sightedness she attains by book’s end, as well as the rewards that go with it. Kudos to Janice Hadlow for bringing her story—and with it the inner journey of so many readers—to such convincing life. You can pre-order the book on Amazon or, better yet, through your local indie bookstore.

Suz on Publishers Weekly: Afia Atakora's CONJURE WOMEN



Among my favorite books this year is Afia Atakora's Conjure Women, which appears from Random House on April 7, 2020. The "conjure women" of the title are Miss May Belle and her daughter Rue, part of a female lineage that offers healing in the form of herbal cures and midwifery as well as the casting of spells. Eddying between "Slaverytime" and "Freedomtime" on the plantation on which the women live, the novel explores their relationship to each other, to "Marse Charles" and his daughter Varina, and to the others who reside on or pass through the plantation property; of the latter, an itinerant preacher known as Bruh Abel and an oddly pale infant with "oil-slicked black irises" who becomes known as "Black-eyed Bean" make unforgettable appearances. The dynamics of power, the impact of secrets, the changes of time and the clash of male and female spiritual traditions all play into the story, which is beautifully voiced and crafted. Read my review of the book here and pre-order your copy through Amazon.com or your local independent bookstore!