I want to thank Blake at Head of Zeus and also Graham Masterton for providing me with this opportunity to appear on the ‘Scarlet Widow’ blog tour – an incredible and unforgettable book!
Author Graham Masterton
Publisher Head of Zeus Books
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review
London, 1750: Beatrice Scarlet is the apothecary’s daughter. She can mix medicines and herbs to save the lives of her neighbours – but, try as she might, she can’t save the lives of her parents. An orphan at just sixteen, Beatrice marries a preacher and emigrates to America.
New Hampshire, 1756: In the farming community where Beatrice now lives, six pigs are found viciously slaughtered; slices of looking-glass embedded in their mouths. According to scripture, this is the work of Satan – but Beatrice Scarlet suspects the hands of men. As she closes in on the killer, she must act quickly to unmask him – or become the next victim herself…
Early on Easter morning, after a long and painful labour, Beatrice gave birth to a baby girl. When she heard her crying, she felt as if she had rolled away the stone and miraculously come back to life.
‘She’s beautiful,’ said Goody Rust, holding her up for Beatrice to see her. ‘Dark hair, just like yours. But she has her father’s eyes, don’t you think?’
‘Be careful to cut the cord short,’ put in Goody Kettle. ‘We don’t want her to grow up a strumpet!’
Beatrice sat up a little, her curls damp with perspiration and her mouth dry. The early-morning sunshine blurred her vision, so that the crowd of friends and neighbours in her bedchamber seemed like an ever-shifting shadow-theatre. Seven of them had sat around her all through the night, feeding her with groaning cakes and beer and comforting her when the pain had been at its worst. Now they were chattering and laughing and passing the baby around from hand to hand.
Goody Rust sat down on the bed next to Beatrice and plumped up her pillows for her. ‘I’m certain that her life will be a happy one,’ she said gently. ‘You know what they say, that the tears of grief always water the garden of happiness.’
‘I’ve wrapped up the afterbirth for you,’ said Goody Greene. ‘I’ll take it down to the kitchen so that Mary can dry it for you.’
Beatrice smiles and said. ‘Thank you.’
‘Here, lie back,’ said Goody Rust. ‘I’ll clean off all that hog’s grease for you, and then you can get some sleep.’
‘Let me just hold her before you do,’ said Beatrice. The baby was passed to Goody Rust and Goody Rust laid her in her arms.
The baby’s eyes were closed now, although Beatrice could see her eyes darting from side to side underneath her eyelids as if she were already dreaming. She touched the tip of her nose with her fingertip and whispered, ‘Who are you, my little one?’
On Christmas morning, on their way back from church, they came across a cherub kneeling in a doorway.
She wore a halo of knobbly ice on her head and on her back a thin frost-rimed blanket had given her white folded wings. Her milky blue eyes were open and her lips were slightly parted as if she were about to start singing.
Beatrice’s father stood looking at her for a long moment, then he reached out and gently touched her shoulder.
‘Frozen solid,’ he said. ‘You carry on home, Bea. I’ll go back and fetch the verger.’
Beatrice hesitated, with the snow falling silently on to her bonnet and cape. She had seen dead children in the street before, but here in this alley that they had taken as a short cut home, the girl made her feel much sadder than most. It was Christmas Day, and the church bells were pealing, and she could hear people laughing and singing as they made their way along Giltspur Street, back to their homes and their firesides and their families.
Not only that, the girl was so pretty, although she was very pale and emaciated, and Beatrice could imagine what a happy life she might have had ahead of her.
‘Go on, Bea,’ her father told her. ‘There’s nothing more anybody can do for her now, except pray.’
What did I think?
From the first page you get a feeling that this book is like nothing you’ve read before, and nothing like anything you’ll read in the near future. Graham Masterton has perfected an eerie start that gets you intrigued right from the get go.
It is evident that a lot of research has gone in to ‘Scarlet Widow’. You feel as if you have been transported to 1750/1756 along with Beatrice. It is a historical read like you’ve never read before.
I found it almost impossible to put ‘Scarlet Widow’ down. It’s so fast-paced and never once misses a beat nor does it ever let-up on the speed. Just as you’ve come to grips with one event another one is facing you on the next page and it doesn’t stop, not until the very last sentence. I’ve not read a book like that in a long time!
I would love an insight in to Masterton’s mind, some of the scenarios and situations he has written about are quite disturbing but ingenious too. It is safe to say this is the darkest book I’ve read in a very long time. The emotions this book evokes within you is immense and takes a clever and experienced writer to pull them from you – Masterton definitely has that natural talent and it seems completely effortless.
Now, I’m going to pull myself out from that rock that I’ve obviously been living under and get the ‘Katie Maguire’ series by Masterton on my shelf to be read while I eagerly wait for the next Beatrice Scarlet thriller!!
My Rating? ♥♥♥♥♥
Will you be adding this to your TBR pile?
Q&A with Graham Masterton
Where did you find the inspiration for ‘Scarlet Widow’? From many different sources, really. My late wife and I used to visit New England a great deal and at one time we were even thinking of buying a house in New Milford, Connecticut, so I came to know Connecticut and Massachusetts really well. There is still an atmosphere in some small towns of what it must have been like in those very early days of settlement and I wanted to that to come alive in ‘Scarlet Widow.’
I had also been reading about the extraordinary medicines and cures that were used in the 18th century, some of which were incredibly poisonous. The use of opium was widespread and when Thomas De Quincey published his ‘Confessions of an Opium Eater’ there was no scandal because almost everybody was taking it in one form or another. Laudanum was commonly given to boisterous children to make them sleep. The ointment used to cure syphilis made the patients’ teeth drop out and their jawbones decay. I wanted to make the point that all of these medicines were being used not so long ago, historically.
I have also read a great deal about the history of London in the mid-18th century and how crowded and unsanitary it was. Sewage ran down the middle of the streets and dead dogs (and sometimes dead people) were left to rot in the gutter.
Most of all, though, I wanted to imagine how a clever and spirited young woman could have dealt with the privations of the age and then the mysterious and very dangerous adventure of going to the New World and starting a new life.
How did you develop the characters and plot? Almost all of my best friends are young women, and all of them have drive and determination that really impresses me (and keeps me young!). For instance, one of them is a first-time novelist with whom I have been working on her new book. Another works for a satellite company in Warsaw and has a burning interest in science…you will notice that I have dedicated ‘Scarlet Widow’ to her. Another manages a water company in western Poland.
Beatrice is a combination of all of their characters, but set in an age when women were expected to be obedient wives and mothers and organisers of the family household.
The plot was based simply on the idea of writing a CSI crime story, but setting it in an age when chemistry was in its infancy and today’s crime-detection methods (such as fingerprinting and DNA testing) were obviously unheard-of.
What was the hardest part to write? The historical research wasn’t hard but it was very time-consuming. I had to know what Beatrice would have worn (no knickers in those days!). I had to know how people spoke and what words had not yet been coined, so they never could have used them. I also had to know what they ate and drank and their general daily habits. Although you see candlelit scenes on TV, most people in those days went to bed when it got dark because candles were expensive. Also, a crime story had to be developed without cars or telephones and everybody either has to walk or ride a horse or travel in a carriage, so I had to know all about the various types of carriage and who would have travelled in what. Of course I also had to research all the chemistry and pharmacy of the age, as well as Native American cures. It was all very fascinating, but almost every single page needed deep research.
What were your goals/intentions with ‘Scarlet Widow’ and do you think you’ve achieved them? I wanted it to be entertaining and very different from most crime stories. Most of all, though, I wanted to show how the strength and determination that was shown by women in those days was an essential part of the settlement of New England, and simply that men couldn’t have done it without them. In Beatrice I also wanted to show that many women are more practical and sceptical than men, because they always have to deal with reality in their daily life.
Did you intend for ‘Scarlet Widow’ to be as dark and disturbing as it is? Yes…because those days were very superstitious and belief in Satan was widespread and life by today’s standards was extremely difficult and comparatively short. You were lucky if you lived until you were forty-five. ‘Scarlet Widow’ is set only a few years after the Salem witch trials, but people were still afraid of witches and black magic, as I have shown in the story.
Will we get to read more about Beatrice Scarlet in the future? (I sincerely hope so!!) I have been commissioned by my publishers Head of Zeus to write another Beatrice Scarlet novel and I already have the plot pretty much thought out. I am still up the walls writing a new Katie Maguire detective novel set in Ireland but as soon as I have finished that…(gasp, pant!)
Best wishes to you and all the readers of your blog.
Again, a huge thank you to Graham Masterton and Head of Zeus!
Is it okay for me to start counting down the days until the next Beatrice Scarlet novel?!