Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Relative Fortunes. Marlowe Benn's debut novel set in 1920 New York. #giveaway

Posted by Susan B James on 3:00:00 AM with 3 comments


Relative Fortunes makes its debut as #1 Best Seller in Historical Mysteries, 
One of the joys of being published by Lake Union, an Amazon imprint, is that although the book doesn't come out till August 1st. there are already 188 reviews on Amazon. The average rating is 4.1 
My review. Relative Fortunes feels like it was actually written in the 1920s. It's a rich, twisty story loaded with background detail. And the mystery is as serpentine as the book itself. Fabulous debut. My congratulations to Marlow Benn. I was given an ARC in return for an unbiased review. 
And I am now passing the ARC on to one lucky reader. a (US Only)  Sorry. 

Blurb:
In 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.
When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.
Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance…

 Interested? Rafflecopter at the end of the post. At my request, Marlowe's publicists gave me an interview.


A Conversation with Author Marlowe Benn
Q: Why did you choose the 1920s and the suffrage movement as the backdrop for this mystery? What about the time period inspired you?
A: I grew up to the jaunty sound of my dad’s old ‘20s records, and the era has always fascinated me. In many ways it was a more radical time (especially for women) than many realize. Beyond finally achieving the right to vote, women enjoyed at least the possibility of heady new social freedoms: emerging access to birth control, fashions that defied old notions of modesty, and the opportunity to live as independent, self-sufficient adults. Not everyone embraced these new freedoms, or even condoned them, but the old restrictive conventions had been challenged, if not breached.    

Q: In the afterword, you nod to the ways you borrowed from actual history to weave together this story. Can you tell us a bit about your research?
A: It was important to me to anchor the novel accurately in its time and place. I spent a lot of time with magazines and novels of the era, absorbing details of everyday life (what one took for a headache, the price of a coffee, what books people were talking about) and how people talked. Learning the slang was great fun!   I am familiar with many of these details and she did a great job.

I also tried to blend real characters and details with fictional ones. I spent months in university archives studying the craze in the 1920s for beautiful handcrafted books of the sort Julia publishes. Her Capriole Press is of course fictional, but most of the printers, publishers, and collectors she meets are real people. Similarly, the Grolier Club was in fact the nation’s premier private club for bibliophiles, and as Julia complains, it was not only exclusive but was also firmly men-only until the 1970s. I had read a fair amount about these presses while researching TE Lawrence. His Seven Pillars Of Wisdom was privately printed in 1926 by one of these small presses. I have seen two copies both bound beautifully and very differently in the New York Public Library rare book collections. I was very impressed.

Q: Wealth and status are not always symbols of goodness in Relative Fortunes. Why did you choose to expose the dysfunctions of the rich and powerful? What did you want to say about wealth and its relationship to virtue?
A: While there’s no shortage of aphorisms equating worldly riches with moral poverty, wealth per se isn’t inherently good or evil. The problem arises because the rich often view their wealth as natural and benign—invisible—while the poor see and feel sharply the injustices and exploitation that wealth usually relies on and perpetuates. That blindness can skew a rich person’s way of seeing the world: at first, they simply don’t notice others’ suffering, which of course translates into indifference. Julia truly understands the privileges of wealth only when she faces losing them. Of course, eventually the rich do notice—hence the centuries of rationales to justify and reinforce their class advantages. I hope that Julia’s reversal of fortunes, which opens her eyes to these issues, also helps readers see them better. 

Q: Not all of the women in this novel agree with each other on issues like abortion, suffrage, and financial independence. Did you try to reflect a generational divide between younger feminists and older feminists, or married versus unmarried women? Why was this something you wanted to explore in this book?
A: I wanted to portray a spectrum of values among the women in the book without correlating attitudes or beliefs with any particular age, education, social class, marital status, and so on. The youngest woman in the book, Julia, for example, ultimately has more in common with the values of the oldest woman, Aunt Lillian, than with those of Vivian Winterjay, who is much closer to her in age and social class. I think it’s important to resist stereotyping according to such categories because then we stop listening to and respecting each other, and a dangerous polarization can set in. Our present-day world is a cautionary tale of the damage that can result.  

Q: What inspired you to write Relative Fortunes?
A: As a child I was fascinated by the hugely popular mystery novels from the 1920s written by S. S. Van Dine (the pen name of Willard Huntington Wright). Wright’s urbane and sophisticated sleuth, Philo Vance, both intrigued and infuriated me. As an adult I began to imagine ways I’d like to “revise” him and his elegant world. By a happy quirk of luck, those old novels are now being reissued in new editions, so readers can consider for themselves how my Philip Vancill Kydd might have been transformed into Philo Vance by an ill-humored writer. Of course, it’s also true that my characters took on identities of their own quite beyond this original idea. At first Philip was more like Philo, but neither Julia nor I could bear spending much time with him! So Philip now shares mostly superficial and circumstantial features with Philo. I hope the differences can be credited to the derisive mind of my fictional version of Mr. Wright.

Q: What do you love most about writing historical fiction?
A: For years I happily wrote nothing but carefully researched and argued cultural history. Now with fiction I can begin where the archives end. It’s like turning old black-and-white photos into a full-color video. Research reveals the past; fiction puts it in motion. And once history comes to life, it’s clear that people then wrestled with troubles a lot like our own.

I love writing mysteries because they’re ultimately about justice, and what’s more complicated than guilt and innocence? I especially relish writing about crimes that pit the law against my characters’ moral code. In the end justice is often about power, and the struggle over who gets to decide what’s right or wrong makes for great stories in any genre. Historical mysteries are a great way into the life’s most meaty stuff.
  
Q: What authors do you most enjoy reading?
A: This list is a long one, and it’s always getting longer. Kate Atkinson is firmly at the top. Other authors who’ve rarely let me down are Alice Munro, Meg Wolitzer, Amor Towles, Siri Hustvedt, Jesmyn Ward, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Amanda Cross. On a different day, you might get a different list.

Q: Have you made any good literary “discoveries” lately?
A: Absolutely! Terrific books published in the past few years that deserve to be better known include Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday, Danielle Dutton’s Margaret the First, and Jess Kidd’s Himself. Older books unjustly overlooked, I think, include Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, Muriel Sparks’s A Far Cry from Kensington, and Barbara Neely’s Blanche on the Lam. I could go on and on.

Q: We have to ask—what are you working on next? Anything that you can tease for readers who are looking forward to your next book?
A: I’m working hard on the next Julia Kydd novel, tentatively called The Passing of Miss Pruitt. It’s May 1925, and Julia is back in New York. Eager to launch her Capriole Press, she quickly makes friends in the publishing world—authors, editors, illustrators, publishers. Soon she’s caught up in murder and the theft of a new novel manuscript claiming to reveal explosive truths about the Harlem cabaret scene. She’s drawn into the exhilarating yet treacherous world beneath the Harlem Renaissance, where notions of race, sexuality, and power are slippery, and identities can be deceptively fluid.
Wishing you all a wonderful week full of good things. My first good thing was Maybe This Time is now a finalist for the Raven Awards in Contemporary Romance.


Happy Reading, everyone.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

3 comments :

  1. I enjoy most types of mysteries except for gory thrillers. I like to be able to sleep at night. Thanks for this opportunity.

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  2. I love mysteries that keep me guessing. Love this time period, so this book is calling to me. Thanks for the chance. :)

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