Welcome to the second half of my stop of the blog tour for Kathryn McMaster’s latest true crime novel Blackmail, Sex and Lies. If you haven’t done so already, please check out Part 1 – but don’t forget to make it all the way to the bottom of the page for info on how to enter to win an eBook copy (open internationally, ends 12/16/2017)!
Title: Blackmail, Sex, and Lies: A Victorian True Crime Thriller
Author: Kathryn McMaster
Publisher: Drama Llama Press
Publication Date: August 30, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Murder Mystery
Themes: Toxic Relationships, Romance, Arsenic Poisoning, Class Stratified Society, True Crime
Features: Historical Documents, Archival Photographs
Blackmail, Sex and Lies is a story of deception, scandal, and fractured traditional Victorian social values. It is the tale of a naïve, young woman caught up in a whirlwind romance with a much older man. However, both have personality flaws that result in poor choices, and ultimately lead to a tragic end.
For 160 years, people have believed Madeleine Smith to have been guilty of murder. But was she? Could she have been innocent after all?
This Victorian murder mystery, based on a true story, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, 1857. It explores the disastrous romance between the vivacious socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, and her working class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier.
After a two-year torrid, and forbidden relationship with L’Angelier, that takes place against her parents’ wishes, the situation changes dramatically when William Minnoch enters the scene. This new man in Madeleine’s life is handsome, rich, and of her social class. He is also a man of whom her family approve.
Sadly, insane jealous rages, and threats of blackmail, are suddenly silenced by an untimely death.
Purchase from Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blackmail-Sex-Lies-Victorian-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0758DV8CY
Purchase from Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/Blackmail-Sex-Lies-Victorian-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0758DV8CY/
If there are two genres I love to read they’re true crime and historical fiction, so having them put together in a single book was an absolute treat. Now add in the fact that Mimi and Emile’s letters, as well as archival photographs, were interspersed throughout the text and that little part of my historian/ librarian brain that craves provenance and evidence does a super excited happy dance! This book was the perfect balance between fact and fiction, giving us not only an evidentiary exploration of the events leading up to Emile L’Angelier’s death but also a gripping read with characters and settings that are bound to suck you in.
Given the depth and subject matter of this book, I was surprised at how easy it was read and how quickly it flew by (and by that I mean how I didn’t notice the time ticking by before my husband hit me with a pillow at 2AM and told me to go to sleep whilst I was caught up in the reading). I’m not normally a fan of alternating perspectives, but the switch between Emile and Madeline points of view created both tension and balance as the story advanced towards to the trial of the century. The structure really played into the true crime genre, giving it the feel of arguments being presented by both sides in the court room, and added an air of objectivity to a story that could have been incredibly biased if only told from one perspective or the other. The shorter segments and natural gaps between the lovers meetings helped to advance the plot naturally, and those moments that felt a little slower were compensated for by the fact that they were packed full of introspection and essential character building. The inclusion of the letters also works wonders, as it allows a glimpse into the long forgotten psyche of these people, while simultaneously allowing the readers a chance to feel the ebb and flow of a romance that once burned bright.
I’m not going to lie, at first I rather liked Emile. I mean, who can blame a man for wanting to work hard to better their station in the world? This is something that has been preached for centuries, so this sentiment really rang true. I even felt for the fellow after not one, but two of his engagements were called off in favour of men with better social standing. But, my pity for him died the minute he started to control Mimi’s actions and pressure her to marry despite knowing full well that it could damage her prospects forevermore.
Madeline, on the other hand, was someone that I actually quite liked and my empathy for her character continue to grow as the narrative progressed. Sure, she was head strong, naive and impetuous, but I happen to have a thing for ladies who like to bend the rules. I giggled along side her, felt the thrill of her secret affair, and became completely wrapped up in her predicament as she tried to distance herself from Emile despite the leverage that he was attempting to use against her. Undoubtedly, Mimi comes across as a more complete and depth character as there are so many more of her letters surviving. The result was that I really felt I gained a sense of who she was as a person and how carefully she walked the tightrope of being a Victorian socialite engaged in a clandestine affair.
Everything from the setting to the clothing transported me back to 1857, and carefully relayed the intricacies of Victorian era society. It is clear that this is a work supported by extensive and painstaking research which is something that I both seek out and enjoy. Those little details, like the pearl buttons on Mimi’s nightgown, the split style of her undergarments, and even the challenges of navigating doorways in flounced dressed and hoop skirts brought a realness and texture that works of pure nonfiction simply can’t provide. I was engrossed too, by the social morays of the Victorian elite as I would never think twice about where I walked and with whom, or the possible implications of attending a concert with a member of the opposite sex.
What I loved the most about this book is that the story itself isn’t new – the naive heiress falls for an older man who wishes to take advantage of her – we’ve all heard that one before! But the novelty lies in the way in which McMaster crafts the narrative, leaving just enough real evidence to cause a constant flip-flop as to who did it and why. But more than anything, I love how McMaster leaves it up to the reader to decide.
Would I recommend this book? Oh heck yes! It’s gripping, fast-paced, and undeniably real. Everything from the writing style to the vivid imagery is designed to draw you in, and just like Emile, this is a story that won’t let you go without a fight. And as one of my favourite reads of 2017, I can’t recommend Blackmail, Sex and Lies highly enough – get your copies now!
The rules are simple: Like this post and share it via Twitter before 11:59 PM (MST, because this Canadian has to clarify time zones!) on December 16, 2017 for a chance to win an eBook copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies: A Victorian True Crime Murder Mystery.
This contest is open internationally & the winner will be announced December 18th.
Kathryn McMaster is a writer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and champion of good indie authors. She co-owns the book promotion company One Stop Fiction (www.onestopfiction.com), where readers can sign up to receive news of free and discounted 4 and 5 star reviewed books. She is also a bestselling author of historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her debut novel, “Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?” was well received. All her novels are based on true stories, and she melds fact with fiction, writing in the creative nonfiction style. She lives on her 30 acre farm in the beautiful Casentino Valley, Italy for 6 months of the year, and during the other half of the year, on the small island of Gozo, Malta.
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Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of my tour stop for an excerpt!
Many Thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for organizing this fabulous blog tour, and to Kathryn McMaster for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.