Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Tour of Murder by Misrule: A Francis Bacon Mystery by Anna Castle

Welcome to the book tour of Murder by Misrule: A Francis Bacon Mystery by Anna Castle, courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. 

The blurb:
Thomas Clarady, son of a wealthy privateer, is a law student at Gray's Inn, seeking to climb the Elizabethan social ladder by any means necessary.  When his tutor is murdered during the Queen's Day pageant, he hires the young Francis Bacon to replace him.  Francis is requested by his uncle, the Lord Treasurer, to investigate the murder.  Eager to curry favor with his powerful relation, he agrees, even though he rarely leaves his chambers and mislikes anything that takes time from reading philosophy.  Far better to send Tom out to find clues and talk to witnesses.

At first, Francis suspects that Catholic conspirators murdered the lawyer to keep him from exposing their plans, but other motives quickly emerge.  Renowned beauty Lady Rich fears the scandal of being dragged into court.  High-tempered Sir Avery Fogg will stop at nothing to achieve a judgeship.  Other barristers contend hotly to succeed the murdered man to his legal honors, fine chambers, and wealthy clients.  

Francis and Tom embark on an investigation that reaches from Whitehall to the London streets.  Francis does the thinking; Tom does the fencing.  Barristers fall down stairs -- or are they pushed?  Tom falls in love with a crucial witness and then can't find her again.  Everyone has something up his pinked and padded sleeve.  Even the brilliant Francis Bacon is at a loss - and in danger -- until he sees through the disguises of the season of Misrule. 

At the start of Murder by Misrule, Francis Bacon had been banished from court for his impolitic writings and was deeply in debt.  Bacon tries to obey his powerful uncle's instructions and to win Queen Elizabeth's favor back but he would prefer to focus on his reading and studies.   As he undertakes to investigate the death of his tutor, he faces Catholic conspirators and the jockeying for power in Gray's Inn.   The persistence and creativity of his pupils push the investigation forward and liven up the book.  

Of the four pupils, it's Tom Clarady, the wealthy privateer's son that gives the story it's romance, adventure, and conflict.  Tom is striving to become a gentleman and has agreed to underwrite the education and expenses of Stephen Delabere, the eldest son of the seventh Earl of Dorchester.  There's tension between the two, especially as Stephen grows progressively more demanding and prickly.  Also part of their group is Trumpet, Allen Trumpington, a slight and studious aspiring member of the Bar.  Benjamin Whitt, is the fourth in their group - older by a few years, large and with a quiet wit.  

The four pupils come across their tutor, stabbed and murdered in the street.  When their new tutor Francis Bacon enlists their help to find the killer, this search takes them from the small side streets of London to Queen Elizabeth's court - and to grave danger.

I enjoy a good mystery and love historical fiction, so Murder by Misrule was treat for me.   I didn't know much about Francis Bacon and was happy to discover that while he'd been brilliant at deduction, a rational thinker and the father of the scientific method, he was clumsy in his social life and would unintentionally offend those whose attention and respect he was seeking.   Anna Castle combines humor with a complicated mystery to deliver a fun, satisfying read.  

Thanks to Amy  of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours,  I was able to interview author Anna Castle.  

(1) I can see how someone with great natural curiosity can enjoy the
learning and challenge of writing historical fiction.  What was it that
drew you to Francis Bacon?

AC: First the obvious thing: he was the Father of Modern Science. He advocated sound empirical methods more ardently and more eloquently than anyone else ever had. Any good detective must be a little bit like Francis Bacon, so why not work with the man himself? I worked in academia for many years and have known a few bona fide geniuses; I thought I could draw such a character. I'm an introverted smarty pants myself, come to that. So I had the foundations for a good historical mystery sleuth. Then as I read biographies and learned more about his life and times, I came to recognize what a complicated and curious man he was. The more I strive to create those facets on the page, the more I want to learn; and the more I learn, the more I want to be faithful to the real human being that he was.

And you are right on target: curiosity totally drives this particular cat.

(2)  What makes him interesting to people of our time?

AC:  He was principled in the important ways -- he honored truth above all, the facts about the world both human and natural. He subjected his own habits of thought and perception to ruthless examination, searching out biases and blind spots so he could offer advice to all humanity about learning to see past those impediments. He was a great man. We can admire him. 

But he was also just a human being with flaws like all human beings have. He was vain, sometimes arrogant and sharp-tongued, and he was a helpless spendthrift. We tend to demand perfection from our public figures -- no vices, no lapses, no slips of the tongue. Putting ourselves in the shoes of a man like Francis Bacon can help us learn empathy for the clay feet of the people we put on pedestals.

(3) When you do your research, which primary sources have proven most useful to you, if any?

AC:  I read vastly in this field, so I can't list single sources. I'm lucky to have staff privileges at one of the greatest research libraries in the world -- the Perry CastaƱeda Library at the University of Texas at Austin -- and through that major resource, I have access to the JSTOR repository of journal articles and the Online Oxford English Dictionary. In terms of every day access while writing and editing, that would be the OED. And I love Wikipedia for checking dates and looking at faces and remembered how to spell names.

(4) Aside from Francis Bacon and Walter Raleigh,  have you incorporated other historical figures?

AC:  Well, there's Queen Elizabeth the First, or QEI, as I write her in notes. Monarchs first! Then her Lord Treasurer, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was also Francis Bacon's uncle by marriage. Bacon's mother Lady Anne Bacon is an historical person of interest in her own right. There are a few walk-ons. I list all the real people who appear in each book in the Author's Notes at the end.

(5)  Which authors have influenced you?  OR Are there authors that you particularly love and enjoy?

AC: This is a very hard question. Everything I have ever read or watched or heard has had some influence. This is the well writers talk about. You fill it up by reading and you should read widely. I've read the complete works of Louis L'Amour, for example. Also George Bernard Shaw, Helen McCaffrey, and Robert Ludlum. At the risk of seeming lowbrow, I'll also mention the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine, my all time favorite TV series and my most important laboratory for understanding plots and sub-plots.

(6)  What's on your nightstand now?

AC: A Kindle stocked with classics and indie fiction, like Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke and The Mystery Box by Eva Pohler. And a library book: Crime and Punishment in the England of Shakespeare and Milton by John W. Weatherford.

About the Author:
Anna Castle has been a waitress, software engineer, documentary linguist, college professor, and digital archivist. Historical fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. She physically resides in Austin, Texas, and mentally counts herself a queen of infinite space.
For more information please visit Anna Castle’s website  at www.annacastle.com and blog at www.annacastle.com/blog/ You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.