Jeri Westerson’s series about Crispin Guest, which has been dubbed medieval noir, keeps getting better and better. I have been championing and promoting her though the whole series, most recently interviewing her here.
With The Silence of Stones, her seventh book, in a series, Jeri shakes things up a bit. As I say in the interview I was first bummed and flummoxed to realize usual sidekick, Jack Tucker, was not going to be with Crispin during this adventure. Rather, Jack is held prisoner while Crispin is tasked to solve a mystery.
But the absence of Jack allows a minor character to get more attention and spotlight. That character is John, who likes to wear women’s clothing and go by Eleanor, and he is a hoot.
The result is my current favorite of her series.
I’ll let Jeri explain what’s new in this series and what other books she’s been cranking out.
How did you come up with this new story? Can you explain the plot?
This one came directly out of the historical timeline. It was time to explore King Richard’s problems with his conquests. Where his great-great grandfather King Edward I succeeded with the Scots and in Wales, Richard was having a problem measuring up. And for two years he was under the yoke of the Lords Appellant, lords who had cornered him with troops to demand he do with the treasury what he was supposed to do. A defeat of his troops in Scotland was just the icing on the cake. These were certainly not Richard’s happiest days. And if we were going to explore Scotland and Scottish rebels, the “venerated object” that came to mind was the Stone of Destiny or the Stone of Scone that sat beneath Edward I’s coronation chair. It’s not a relic with mystical powers like some other objects Crispin has encountered, but it has great significance to Richard.
So when it’s stolen it’s a big deal and makes Richard look worse and worse — that he can’t even hold on to the doggone stone. Desperate, he turns to the one person he hates with a passion and who feels the same for him: Crispin. He orders him to use his celebrated sleuthing skills to find it, and to make sure he doesn’t slack off, he holds Crispin’s young apprentice, Jack Tucker, hostage, threatening to deliver a traitor’s death to the boy if Crispin doesn’t find the Stone in three days’ time. And while Jack is being held in the palace, he does a spot of sleuthing for himself for a damsel in distress. Scottish rebels, twists and turns, and even mistaken identities add a lot more humor to my usually more dramatic tales.
Why did you decide this time to have my favorite character, Jack Tucker, held prisoner by the king, unable to help Crispin do his work?
I like to mix it up. Otherwise it gets formulaic and you don’t want readers to think, “Well, by page 75 this should happen and then this.” It keeps it interesting for them and also for me. It also gives Jack a place to shine. He is indeed growing up and I wanted to show that he was learning the lessons Crispin was teaching him.
While bummed by that decision, I’m excited you have John/Eleanor helping instead. Was that part of a goal to flesh out that character more?
I always wanted to bring John Rykener back when he made his appearance in the third book, The Demon’s Parchment. He’s a real person from Crispin’s time period and such an interesting one. He needed more than one book and in fact, he also returns briefly in the next one,A Maiden Weeping.
And will probably show up again. Yes, fleshing him out was definitely fun since all we know about him was that he dresses in women’s clothes to ply his trade as a prostitute. Having a variety of people around him gives Crispin’s fictional appearance in fourteenth century London that much more weight.
What kind of feedback do you get from fans for this series?
They truly seem to love it. They especially love the heartwarming interplay between Crispin and Jack Tucker. They like to see Jack growing up and Crispin’s growing acceptance of his own lot in life. They also appreciate the research into the history and how it seasons the plot and the mystery.
In recent years you’ve started other series besides the Crispin Guest one. Can you talk about what those other series are and how well they’re doing? And the anthologies you’ve contributed to?
Well! I suppose first is the “Skyler Foxe Mysteries” that I write under the pseudonym Haley Walsh. These are fun, fast-paced, sexy, and humor-filled GLBT mysteries with a high school English teacher amateur sleuth, Skyler Foxe. He and his posse of friends who used to be lovers solve crimes in Redlands, California, not too far from where I live. Being a GLBT mystery makes it a niche genre and sales numbers reflect that, but last year we released the first few on audio and those have been doing exceptionally well. Eventually, they will all be available as audiobooks. My narrator is fabulous!
My agent is flogging my current paranormal romance or urban fantasy — whichever moniker helps it sell, Booke of the Hidden. Kylie Strange, a feisty young woman moves across country to open an herb and tea shop in a small town in Maine and uncovers a supernatural book that opens a gateway to another plane, allowing deadly creatures into our world to wreak havoc. With the help of a local coven of misfit Wiccans and the handsome demon summoned from the book, she tries to put it right, but does this demon have her best interests at heart? And what is the secret the local motorcycle gang is harboring? In fact, the whole town seems to be keeping deadly secrets, and it’s up to Kylie to fight creatures from here to Hell to save the world. It’s sexy, funny, and sure to give you the shivers as well.
And there is also a steampunk series “The Conjurer Chronicles”, the first of which is The Daemon Device.
It’s 1891. Jack the Ripper appears to be on the loose again on the seamy streets of London. Someone is killing women and gutting them for their body parts. But a far more sinister plot is afoot than murder. Leopold Kaszmer, the Great Conjurer, is a magician of Jewish/Gyspsy ancestry, but he has more than one trick up his sleeve. He is accomplished with sleight of hand, can create awe-inspiring tricks of proficiency and ingenuity, but he also has a carefully guarded secret. He has learned the dangerous art of summoning daemons. The proof of it is the strange tattoo around his wrist he tries to hide from prying eyes. When he was only a child, it was bestowed upon him by the denizens of the Netherworld…the same night his father was killed.
In between performances of his magic act, he continues to study the Kabbalah and Jewish daemonology to someday excise the tattoo from his arm. Though it gives him true magical powers once he’s made a sacrifice of blood, it is also his curse, for through it, the creatures of nightmares have become aware of him. With the help of Raj, a tarot-reading automated man, and Eurynomos, a shrewd Jewish daemon who helped Leopold through his tragic childhood, Leopold must discover what is behind the revolting murders that suddenly seem to involve tight-lipped German scientists, guarded Gypsies, and the beautiful Special Inspector Mingli Zhao. Is she truly from the secret depths of Scotland Yard or is she instead a heartless spy and murderess?
And then one more series I’m developing is a Tudor-era mystery, the “King’s Fool Mysteries”, where Henry VIII’s real court jester is the amateur sleuth. The first in that series is called The Song of the Magpie. That’s currently in research and development.
As for the anthologies I’ve been a part of, I was asked to contribute short stories to them. In some cases I already had unsold short stories, and in others I wrote to the theme, like “The Noodle Girl” for the ebook anthology Shaken: Stories For Japan the royalties of which were dedicated to the survivors of their devastating earthquake in 2011. Authors contributed Japanese-themed stories. Mine was, naturally, an historical.
The other anthology when I wrote to the theme was Day of the Destroyers: Jimmie Flint, Agent X11 Must Save America. My story “Mesmer Maneuver” was as close to a comic book as I have gotten. Each author was essentially writing another exciting episode in the life of Jimmie Flint and they were tied together by bookended stories. Mine was through the eyes of journalist Martha Gelhorn. It was fun switching it out from the traditional hero’s point of view and injecting it with the history of the time.
You can find more on my website that are available separate from their anthologies.
You mentioned Jack The Ripper? Do you have your own theory on Jack’s true identity?
I have no idea and anyone who says they do is fooling themselves. There is too much time and distance and general lack of available evidence, forensically speaking, to ever find the real killer. It’s fun to speculate but it’s an impossible question, which is why it fascinates so much.
How do you do your research for all your books?
The old-fashioned way. In libraries. I might start off online, asking some pointers from medievalists I know, but it’s still getting to university libraries and digging into the books that can help me find the info. and insight I need. Lots of reading from the best historians.
How far have you planned out your series? Is your next one already written, for example?
The next one is done and will, in fact, be released this August! Yet another launch in 2016. I’m 75 pages into the tenth one, Season of Blood. Except for the first three books in the series, each one has been a year later in Crispin’s life and I am aiming for that fractious year of 1399. So that means we have nine books to go. And yes, I do plan it out, so I know, roughly, what each successive book is about and with what relic or venerated object we focus on. And what ultimately happens to Crispin and Jack.
You mentioned the “fractious year of 1399” –I bet I’m not the only reader who says, what happened in 1399 that made it such a big deal?
Well, Richard II banished his cousin Henry Bolingbroke for a spat he had with another lord. And when Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, died in February of 1399, Richard confiscated his lands and funds. Gaunt had been the richest man in England so that was no small thing. Effectively disinherited, Henry didn’t take kindly to that and returned to England with an army and captured Richard that same year. He usurped him, put himself on the throne as Henry IV, and began the line of Lancaster. Richard was imprisoned but really couldn’t be allowed to live as his followers might foment a rebellion against Henry, and so, tragically, he was allowed to starve to death in Pontefract Castle in 1400. It’s very sad. Richard was a terrible king by most accounts but did not deserve that ignoble death.
Which is harder to write, the Crispin Guest series or the Skyler Foxe ones? Why? Which is more fun to write and why?
I think the Crispin Guest series is by far a greater chore because of the extensive research involved. The prose is much more dense with detail and language whereas the Skyler Foxe books are designed to be lighter fare. As to which one is more fun, that’s a toss-up. Sometimes when the Crispin books really nail it, it’s the greatest feeling in the world, but Skyler is just laugh out loud funny, and that is great fun to write, too. Crispin is tough work but worth it, and Skyler is sort of my relief from the hard work of writing Crispin.