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Summer of Secrets The Gaslight Mysteries

SUMMER OF SECRETS: Cora Harrison talks to Crime Time

Cora Harrison talks to Crime Time:-

Crime Time: Summer of Secrets

This book is inspired by my interest, not just in Charles Dickens and his friends, but also in Ellen Ternan whose name is so connected with his. So, who was Ellen Ternan? A huge majority of the English-speaking population of the world would probably say that she was an actress who became Charles Dickens’ mistress, but I am convinced that she was not his mistress, but his daughter.

Oddly, I originally came to this opinion from what one might call the internal evidence. I was rereading A Tale of Two Cities and for the first time was suddenly struck by the enormous force of the emotion in the scenes where an adult daughter and father meet for the first time. And Lucy in A Tale of Two Cities was physically almost the exact image of Ellen Ternan: ‘A short, slight, pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a puzzled expression and a pair of blue eyes . . .’

Dickens, I’ve always felt, writes poorly about love between a man and a woman – Lucy’s relationship with Charles Darnay is cardboard sentimentality – but he writes with great intensity about this relationship of a father and newly-found daughter. Dickens, himself, states that the idea of writing A Tale of Two Cities came to him in 1857 which was the year when he first took over the role of protector of the Ternan family, Mrs Frances Ternan and her three girls, Fanny, Maria and Ellen.

‘Young enough to be his daughter’ say various reproving voices of biographers.

But could Ellen Ternan, in fact, be his daughter? Do dates make it possible, or even feasible?

Ellen was the youngest of three children. Her mother, Frances, married Thomas Ternan in 1834 but he died of syphilis in 1846. The link between Frances Ternan and Dickens was an actor called Macready. He was one of Dickens’ best friends and a very good friend and patron of Frances Ternan who had acted with Macready since her earliest years playing opposite to him in many Shakespearean plays – Ophelia to his Hamlet when she was younger and then Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother in the same play many years later.

In May 1837 Catherine Dickens suffered a miscarriage after the tragic and sudden death of her seventeen-year-old sister, Mary Hogarth. Dickens took his wife to Broadstairs seaside to recuperate but he himself travelled up and down to London, staying overnight in order to visit the theatre and see his friend Macready. He would certainly have met Frances Ternan at that time.

The following January Dickens resolved to keep a diary. He went to Yorkshire to investigate schools and began to write Nicholas Nickleby, which is suffused with a sense of theatre throughout. The Crummles theatrical family, along with that memorable character ‘The Infant Phenomenon’ (the two elder Ternan girls had been on the stage since the age of two), has now become a household name, but it probably shows the influence that the Ternan family had upon him. Dickens writes in his diary about attending a banquet in honour of the actor Macready and it is very likely that the Ternans were there, also. The interesting thing is that three pages have been torn out of this diary in January 1838. Could it have been something about Frances Ternan, which in view of later events, he decided to get rid of?

Ellen Lawless Ternan was born in March 1839, so where was Dickens nine months earlier, in June 1838? On 6 March 1838 Catherine, Mrs Dickens, gave birth to her second child Mamie and was plunged for months into that condition of physical debility and post-natal depression which had afflicted her after the birth of her first child, Charley.

This was possibly a time when Dickens, as a very vital and active young man, could potentially stray. Mrs Dickens was recuperating in the countryside in Twickenham where Dickens spent all his weekends, but he was up and down to the city of London on an almost daily basis. There are many recorded meetings with the actor Macready during the next few months and doubtless there would have been opportunities to meet Frances Ternan, a gifted actress from early childhood and an extremely beautiful woman, married to a bad-tempered, untalented failure of a man, who was now ill with syphilis. Dickens was an obsessive theatre fan, went two or three times a week. During that winter, in Drury Lane Theatre, Mrs Ternan had played Desdemona to the famous Kean’s Othello, while her husband played Iago – to extremely poor reviews. Dickens undoubtedly saw these performances and would have been sorry for Frances Ternan.

On 29 October 1839 Kate Macready Dickens was born, six months after the birth of Ellen. Portraits, I feel, show a resemblance between them, especially the ears and the nose. Kate was supposed physically and otherwise to resemble her father more than any of his other children.

In 1846 Thomas Ternan died of syphilis when Ellen was only six. He had been confined to a hospital for the insane for many years previously.

In 1857 Ellen Lawless Ternan was eighteen when she and her sister played parts, with Dickens, in the play The Frozen Deep which took place at the end of August 1857. At the end of the performance, Dickens gave Ellen Ternan a piece of jewellery – a brooch or bracelet. This came to Mrs Dickens’ notice and there was a huge row. Kate Dickens said her father ordered his wife to see Mrs Ternan – and this is odd, because it almost appears as though Dickens wants to make recompense to Mrs Ternan as well as to care for Ellen Ternan and to take her from the life on the stage which she hated.

In May 1858 Dickens decided to separate from his wife. He was an emotional man, but his fits of fury at the imputation that he was having an affair with Ellen Ternan seem excessive – if she were really his mistress. However, if she were his daughter, this would be more understandable, would make his almost hysterical behaviour much more reasonable. In my opinion, he behaved like a man who has been much wronged.

In 1858 Dickens set Ellen Ternan up in an establishment with her mother. It is now that he began writing A Tale of Two Cities – a story about a father and daughter who meet for the first time when the daughter is eighteen years old. Later he took a house for Ellen and her mother, in Slough and then in France. At the railway crash at Staplehurst, both Mrs Ternan and Ellen were present. In fact, right through the Dickens and Ellen years, Mrs Ternan appears to have been a constant presence.

In 1859 A Tale of Two Cities was published. It is a rather over-sentimentalized portrait of fatherly and daughterly love where the heroine bears a strong physical resemblance to Ellen Ternan.

Interestingly, it appears as if several people were in on the secret of the relationship. To one lady friend (a highly respectable Victorian lady, according to the biographer Peter Ackroyd) Dickens wrote that ‘Nelly would be distressed and embarrassed if she knew that you knew the secret of her history’. (NB not her position – her history. I think there is a significant difference.) Another lady, Mrs Fields – an extremely strait-laced American lady – wrote rhapsodically to Dickens about how he was going to see his beloved. (She was unlikely to refer to a mistress in those terms). She also hoped that despite ‘mistakes that he had made in the past’ (perhaps having an affair as a young man) that he would now be happy.

One of things that struck me, and partially led me to this conclusion, was that Peter Ackroyd, a meticulous and tireless biographer, was totally puzzled about the relationship that Dickens had with Ellen Ternan and eventually came to the conclusion that it was a non-consummated relationship – something he deemed as very odd! Interestingly enough, he didn’t take that sideways step, which I have taken; less odd, I think, than the guess that a highly sexed man like Dickens would live with a pretty young girl in a ‘non-consummated’ relationship.

No, I think Dickens was the father, not the lover, of Ellen Ternan, and didn’t want to destroy his relationship with his public (and Queen Victoria) by confessing to the affair with an actress. He also didn’t want to attract shame on to Mrs Ternan, but otherwise wanted to make it up to his illegitimate daughter. It is somewhat overlooked, I feel, that in making provision for Ellen, he also cared for Mrs Ternan.

I am fairly sure that he confided the secret to his sister-in-law, Georgina and to his daughters, Kate and Mamie before he died. They summoned Ellen to his deathbed. Afterwards they were very friendly with Ellen Ternan who went on to make a good marriage with a clergyman. She had children with him, although she was then in her late thirties which makes one wonder why, if she were Dickens’ mistress, she did not have children by him. Despite much research no one has ever found any evidence that there was a child.

Henry Dickens, Dickens’ youngest son, had children who went to a birthday party held for Ellen’s children, which, once again, makes me think that the Dickens family all knew of the relationship. All that nonsense about Kate saying that there was a child and it died is just hearsay. It was quoted ten years after Kate’s death by a friend, an elderly woman (suffering from the early stages of dementia), who wrote, with the help of a journalist, a book called Dickens and Daughter and perhaps wanted to beef it up; probably she knew nothing as Dickens’ children and sister-in-law guarded his reputation with great care. Moreover, a scandal may have injured the huge sales of his books in this Victorian era.

Of course, no one will ever know for sure, but I do think that it is feasible that Dickens was Ellen Ternan’s father.

I would be so interested to know what others think of that and would love to hear from you on my website: www.coraharrison.com

SUMMER OF SECRETS by Cora Harrison is published by Severn House

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The Gaslight Mysteries

THE GASLIGHT MYSTERIES

Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

Introducing Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins as an unusual detective duo in the first of a brand-new Victorian mystery series.

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and Wilkie Collins in 1824 and so there was twelve years difference between them.

That was not all, though. Dickens had a very different upbringing. He was the son of a ne’er-do-well spendthrift who landed himself in a debtors’ prison and condemned his son to years of working in a blacking factory whereas Wilkie was the son of a prosperous artist and was deeply loved and much indulged by both parents.

Nevertheless, when they met in 1851 they were drawn together by their shared love of amateur dramatics and Charles Dickens became a great influence in Wilkie Collins life, advising him on his literary ambitions, providing him with a job and a salary and much valuable experience while working on a journal edited by Dickens.

On his side, Dickens got great pleasure from the lively humorous young Wilkie Collins. They went on holidays together on the continent and Collins was invited to Dickens holiday home in Broadstairs by the sea in Kent.

But it was the long walks that the two took through the length and breadth of London by night that cemented the friendship and it was these long walks through the gas lighted streets which inspired my own imagination to invent some mysteries which might have been solved by these two friends. The first is set by the Thames and involves the murder of a girl whom Dickens had known when he was involved in the charitable enterprise to rescue young prostitutes newly released from prison and educate them to befit them for a new life in Australia. The second deals with the artists of the period. The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, friends of both men, and the third will deal with one of Dickens amateur dramatics set in the magnificent of castle of the well-known Lord Edwin Bulwer-Lytton.

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Reverend Mother series

Murder In An Orchard Cemetery

1920s. Cork, Ireland. The Reverend Mother is not best pleased at the bishop’s decision to invite the five candidates for the position of Alderman of the City Council to join them for their annual retreat. Constantly accosted by ambitious, would-be politicians hoping to secure the bishop’s backing, she’s finding the week-long sojourn at the convent of the Sisters of Charity anything but peaceful. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.

When a body is discovered in the convent’s apple orchard cemetery, blown to pieces by a makeshift bomb, it is assumed the IRA is responsible. But does the killer lie closer to home? Was one of the candidates so desperate to win the election they turned to murder? Does someone have a hidden agenda? Once again, the Reverend Mother must call on her unrivalled investigative skills to unearth the shocking truth.


Reviews from:

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Reverend Mother series

Death of a Prominent Citizen

The seventh book in the Reverend Mother Mystery series
A novel by Cora Harrison

This puzzle mystery is a sheer delight

I have read the six previous installments in this series and, from the outset, I must say that this is my favorite yet—the Reverend Mother plays Clue with her family!

Harrison’s seventh Reverend Mother whodunit stands out as her trickiest yet… Fans of historical puzzle mysteries will be delighted” – Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Money is the root of all evil, according to the Reverend Mother – but is it the motive for her cousin’s murder?

Wealthy widow Charlotte Hendrick had always promised that her riches would be divided equally between her seven closest relatives when she died. Now she has changed her mind and summoned her nearest and dearest, including her cousin, the Reverend Mother, to her substantial home on Bachelor’s Quay to inform them of her decision. As Mrs Hendrick’s relatives desperately make their case to retain a share of her wealth, riots break out on the quays outside as the flood waters rise …

The following morning, a body is discovered in the master bedroom, its throat cut. Could there be a connection to the riots of the night before – or does the killer lie closer to home? In her efforts to uncover the truth, the Reverend Mother unearths a tale of greed, cruelty, forbidden passion … and cold-blooded malice.

For more reviews click here

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Reverend Mother series

Murder at the Queen’s Old Castle

Book six in the Reverend Mother series

Sparkling descriptions of life in 1920s Cork and fascinating historical details combine to ably support a clever plot and an intriguing cast — Booklist

A rare shopping trip for the Reverend Mother ends in brutal murder in this absorbing historical mystery.

Despite its regal name, the Queen’s Old Castle is nothing but a low-grade department store, housed within the decrepit walls of what was once a medieval castle, built at the harbour entrance to Cork city. On her first visit for fifty years, the Reverend Mother is struck by how little has changed – apart, that is, from the strange smell of gas … But when the store’s owner staggers from his office and topples over the railings to his death, Mother Aquinas is once again drawn into a baffling murder investigation where suspects are all too plentiful.

An unpopular man, Joseph Fitzwilliam had been disliked and feared by all who worked for him. And when the contents of his will are revealed, suspicion widens to include his own family.

“Harrison is at the top of her game… the fair-play puzzle is among her finest”Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“Sparkling descriptions of life in 1920’s Cork and fascinating historical details combine to ably support a clever plot and an intriguing cast”Booklist

“This highly readable historical series is perfect for fans of authors who focus on a vivid locale such as Andrea Camilleri and Ann Cleeves”Library Journal

Categories
Reverend Mother series

Death of a Novice

The fifth book in the Reverend Mother Mystery series
A novel by Cora Harrison

The sudden death of a young novice nun raises a series of puzzling questions in the latest Reverend Mother historical mystery.

The Reverend Mother is delighted with her new entrant to the convent. Young Sister Gertrude is well-educated, has worked for an accountant and has an appealing sense of humour. But one autumn morning, Sister Gertrude is found dead inside a small wooden shed, just beside the river. Surely a young nun could not die from alcohol poisoning?

But when the Reverend Mother delves more deeply into Sister Gertrude’s background, she finds some puzzling anomalies. Why did the young nun not delay her entry to the convent until after her sister’s wedding? Is it a coincidence that her father died of a similar illness not long before? And could there be a link between Sister Gertrude’s death and the gunpowder explosion on Spike Island? The Reverend Mother must find the answers to these questions if she is to safeguard her community from suspicions of murder. 

“An admirable heroine, vivid characters, and an inventive plot, combined with intriguing insights into life in Ireland at a crucial juncture for the Troubles, make for a captivating read”Booklist

“Harrison’s fifth engrossing historical mystery brings to life the turbulence and politics of 1920s Ireland. Reverend Mother will appeal to admirers of Ellis Peter’s ‘Brother Cadfael’ mysteries, while Conor Brady’s fans will appreciate the Irish history”Library Journal Starred Review

Categories
Reverend Mother series

A Gruesome Discovery

The fourth book in the Reverend Mother Mystery series
A novel by Cora Harrison


“The competent and exacting detective’s contacts and knowledge of Cork again help her solve a difficult mystery in fine fashion.” – Kirkus

Kirkus writes:

In 1925 Cork, Ireland, a horrifying find in an old trunk leads an unlikely sleuth to further discoveries scarcely less shocking.

A smelly trunk arrives from the auction house of Mr. Hayes, a gift to the school from the Reverend Mother’s cousin Lucy. Instead of the expected old school books, it contains the dead body of Mr. Mulcahy, a wealthy tanner, packed with a bunch of decomposing skins.

Mulcahy’s son Fred arrives on the scene just after the Reverend Mother opens the trunk; he was evidently expecting a different trunk, with a shipment of guns for the Irish Republican Army.

Although he’s appalled to see his dead father, he’s so far from mourning the loss that he shoots the body through the heart before taking off.

The Reverend Mother calls Inspector Patrick Cashman, a former pupil whom she and medical examiner Dr. Scher have helped before (A Shocking Assassination, 2016, etc.).

Poor, clever Eileen, another former pupil, who works for a printer and is also involved with the Republicans, snatches Fred away from the police on her motorbike and barely escapes trouble herself when Fred tries to flee on a fishing trawler.

The Reverend Mother meanwhile fills Patrick in on the Mulcahy family, a large group with a long-suffering wife and mother, who were just moving into a brand new house, selling the old one, and moving the tanning yard when Mulcahy was killed.

The oldest daughter, Susan, wanted to become a doctor, but her father was determined to marry her instead to his business acquaintance Richard McCarthy, the executor of his will, who claims that they’ll need to sell the new house to support the family. Susan, who helped keep the books, is certain there’s plenty of money.

With help from Eileen, she sets out to prove that McCarthy and a new lawyer are hiding it.

There are so many suspects, from Mulcahy’s family members to his business enemies, that the sleuths can only pray that following the money will lead to the killer.

The competent and exacting detective’s contacts and knowledge of Cork again help her solve a difficult mystery in fine fashion.

“A gripping plot, memorable characters, and authentic period ambience make for an engaging read”Booklist

“Harrison does a fine job mixing the explosive politics of 1920’s Ireland with details of ordinary life”Publishers Weekly

Categories
Reverend Mother series

Beyond Absolution

The third book in the Reverend Mother Mystery series
A novel by Cora Harrison

Reverend Mother Aquinas must discover who murdered a much-loved priest in the third of this compelling new Irish historical mystery series.

Ireland. 1925. Pierced through to the brain, the dead body of the priest was found wedged into the small, dark confessional cubicle. Loved by all, Father Dominic had lent a listening ear to sinners of all kinds: gunmen and policemen; prostitutes and nuns; prosperous businessmen and petty swindlers; tradesmen and thieves. But who knelt behind the metal grid and inserted a deadly weapon into that listening ear?

The Reverend Mother Aquinas can do nothing for Father Dominic, but for the sake of his brother, her old friend Father Lawrence, she is determined to find out who killed him, and why.

Fine historical ambience, well-drawn characters, a twist-filled plot, and a surprising conclusion make this one a good choice for all crime collections“–Booklist

Harrison cleverly integrates classic whodunit detection with the tense politics of the period, as Irish nationalists continue to struggle for independence“–Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Categories
Reverend Mother series

A Shocking Assassination

A Reverend Mother series book by Cora Harrison

The second book in the Reverend Mother series

Ireland. 1924. Reverend Mother Aquinas is buying buttered eggs in the Cork city market at the very moment when the city engineer, James Doyle, is assassinated. Although no one saw the actual killing, a young reporter named Sam O’Mahony is found standing close to the body, a pistol in his hand, and is arrested and charged.

Following a desperate appeal from Sam’s mother, convinced of her son’s innocence, the Reverend Mother investigates – and, in this turbulent, war-torn city, uncovers several other key suspects. Could there be a Republican connection? Was James Doyle’s death linked to his corrupt practices in the rebuilding of the city, burned down more than a year ago by the Black and Tans? Cork is a city divided by wealth and by politics: this murder seems to have links to both.


Reviews

Harrison does an even better job of integrating a fair-play mystery with the tensions of early 1920s Ireland… Well-drawn characters, including a lead capable of sustaining a long series, complement the clever plot – Publishers Weekly starred review

Although it is never a good idea to learn history from fiction, one of the many gifts of historically-based fiction is its ability to inspire curiosity about a past time or place and to evoke a sense of that world and its people. I knew only a ghost of a smidgeon about modern Irish history, but this mystery quickly drew me into the time, its tensions and disasters. The strife between various factions is not only background, but an integral part of the murder – or is it an assassination? – that sets everything in motion. Exceptionally well-drawn characters, a rich setting teeming with possible motives, twists I did not see coming, and a satisfying if heart-wrenching ending made this mystery set in 1924 Ireland a great read. – Debora Ross, Good Reads

Period ambience, an absorbing plot, and a wise and intrepid amateur sleuth in the form of the Reverend Mother make this an engaging historical mystery.”–Booklist

Reverend Mother series

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Reverend Mother series

A Shameful Murder

The first book in the Reverend Mother series

Click here for the first chapter and links to reviews

A Shameful Murder

A SHAMEFUL MURDER

Chapter One

ONE

St Thomas Aquinas:

Videtur quod voluntas Dei non sit causa rerum.

(It can be seen that the will of God is not the cause of things.)

It was Reverend Mother Aquinas who found the body of the dead girl. It lay wedged within the gateway to the convent chapel at St Mary’s of the Isle, jettisoned by the flood waters. For a fanciful moment she had almost imagined that it was a mermaid swept up from the sea. The long silver gown gleamed beneath the gas lamp, wet as the skin of a salmon, and the streams of soaked curls were red-brown just like the crinkled carrageen seaweed she had gathered from the windswept beaches of Ballycotton when she was a child. Her heart beating fast, the Reverend Mother unlocked the gate and looked down at the sightless blue eyes that stared up from beneath a wide, high brow, at the blanched, soaked flesh of the cheeks and knew that there was nothing that she could do for the girl. She bent over, touched the stone-cold face and then with a hand that trembled slightly she signed the forehead with a small cross. The Reverend Mother had seen death many times in her long life, but in the young she still found it was almost unbearable.

Click here to read more

Harrison combines a savvy detective and a setting fraught with intrigue and tension for another winner“–Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Mistaken identities, strange twists, an intelligent and likable heroine, and a tragic tale of sex, greed, and betrayal–make sure your historical mystery readers get this one on their radar“–Booklist Starred Review

“Recommend for Dicey Deere fans or readers who enjoy M.C. Beaton and Carol Higgins Clark“–Library Journal

What unfolds is a superbly crafted mystery that makes fine use of its locale and the diverse characters living there: the moneyed elite who attend the annual Merchants’ Ball, lecturers from the University College, and the energetic young people who fight for Ireland’s future by joining the illegal Republican Party.“–Sarah Johnson, book review editor for the Historical Novels Review.

This is a terrific read, carrying you along on the ride. Highly recommended.“–Historical Novel Society 

Categories
Summer of Secrets The Gaslight Mysteries

Summer of Secrets

What they say about Summer of Secrets, the third in the Gaslight Mysteries series by Cora Harrison.

Review by Kirkus Reviews:-

Kirkus Reviews

An inspired premise and compelling characters make the third in this series the best to date.

Harrison continues the Victorian adventures of unlikely sleuths Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

The more celebrated Dickens has taken Collins under his wing and procured an invitation for him to a house party at the estate of Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose literary work leaves Collins cold. The staid party is shaken up when Lady Rosina Bulwer-Lytton arrives after a long separation, part of which she’s spent in one of those posh lunatic asylums where unhappy men hide their troublesome wives.

Collins finds Rosina charming and takes her part against Bulwer-Lytton and his loathsome secretary, Tom Maguire, whom Rosina easily bests when he tries to get rid of her. Meanwhile, Dickens’ son Charley has fallen for Nelly, the lovely young actress who’s been hired along with her mother, the well-known actress Frances Jarman, to help stage one of Bulwer-Lytton’s plays, with guests playing the other parts.

Taking Bulwer-Lytton’s place at the dress rehearsal, Maguire is shot dead. Was he the intended victim, or was it a case of mistaken identity? Dickens and an estate dog he befriended saved Nelly from an attempted rape by Maguire that gives Nelly one motive and Rosina another. Resolved to protect them both for different reasons, Dickens and Collins cleverly misdirect the police as they seek a satisfactory solution.

An inspired premise and compelling characters make the third in this series the best to date.