I’m so excited today because I get to feature an early review and interview with an awesome debut author and blogger friend, Rachel McMillan! If you are fortunate enough to follow Rachel via social media, you know she has quite the unique sense of humor. Let me just tell you, she communicates that wit and flair with her writing style, too. It combines in the best possible way in her debut novel with Harvest House, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder. This is book #1 in her “Herringford and Watts Mysteries” series. It releases in ebook format on March 1 and paperback April 1.
By the way, there is a current Goodreads giveaway open for this book through April 15th. Click here to enter it!
(If you will recall, I reviewed the prequel novella, A Singular and Whimsical Problem, here.)
In 1910 Toronto, while other bachelor girls perfect their domestic skills and find husbands, two friends perfect their sleuthing skills and find a murderer.
Inspired by their fascination with all things Sherlock Holmes, best friends and flatmates Merinda and Jem launch a consulting detective business. The deaths of young Irish women lead Merinda and Jem deeper into the mire of the city’s underbelly, where the high hopes of those dreaming to make a new life in Canada are met with prejudice and squalor.
While searching for answers, donning disguises, and sneaking around where no proper ladies would ever go, they pair with Jasper Forth, a police constable, and Ray DeLuca, a reporter in whom Jem takes a more than professional interest. Merinda could well be Toronto’s premiere consulting detective, and Jem may just find a way to put her bachelor girlhood behind her forever–if they can stay alive long enough to do so.
This story is fun and sweet, with just enough action and mystery to propel story while the characters worm their way into your heart in-between the exciting moments! The unique setting and era alone are vivid and memorable. Rachel has combined meticulous research and her imagination resulting in a setting with both historical significance and imagined whimsy (like fictitious public figures and morality squads).
Eccentric is the perfect word for Merinda, while Jem is the romantic and grounded best friend who gets pulled along on their adventures. I like how Jem’s perspective is the one we get to experience the most. In many cases, “sidekicks” stay in the shadows of a feisty heroine, but let me tell you, Jem is no weak wallflower (though she might think of herself as one).
Jasper and Ray, our ladies’ romantic interests, are both thoughtful and protective when necessary. Ray, which we get to know best, is possibly my favorite character of the novel! He gets tangled in the mystery the girls are trying to solve and proves quite the distraction for Jem. Rachel McMillan’s talent and ability to write romantic tension between Ray and Jem is another favorite part of mine! I mean, the perfect recipe for a fictional heartthrob is Italian gibberish, flirting, bad poetry, and refreshing honesty, right? 🙂
I hope we see more of Ray and his sister Viola’s sibling relationship in later stories! (and with the setting of book 2, I have a feeling we will.) They have a sweet, caring relationship. Ray’s personal character is revealed in the way he treats his sister and the extent of his sacrifice for her.
To briefly address one aspect of the humor of this story, I want to say Rachel’s “footnotes” are awesome. Sometimes they offer short explanations or brief tongue-in-cheek asides as though from a narrator. This type of story device is unique and rarely (if ever?) used in this genre, so it’s all the more effective in adding a touch of style and comedy.
Underneath the layers of independent feminine spirit, witty dialogue, nods to Sherlock Holmes, criminal motives, and humorous prose is a story of finding purpose and belonging. It imparts that sometimes life doesn’t play out like the fairy tale you would imagine. Sometimes it’s messy, quite different, and ok that way. Sometimes it’s just achieving a simple dream. But sometimes, God’s plan for your life is even better than you could imagine. And He will use the most unlikely people and circumstances for His purposes.
To end my gushing review, I will say that this is a must-read! Personally, I’m very excited for the adventures of these characters later this year in the novella Of Dubious and Questionable Memory and book 2, A Lesson in Love and Murder.
Thank you to Rachel McMillan, Harvest House, and Netgalley for providing copies of this novel in exchange for my honest review.
Rachel was very gracious and happy to answer all of my questions! Read on for a little behind-the-scenes info on this book and some fun trivia about Rachel.
What inspired you to write The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder?
My agent was shopping a historical romance of mine and we were having no luck. She came back from ICRS (a big Christian book conference ) and said that the buzz was around Romantic Suspense. She knew (I am not very quiet about this fact!) that I am a lifelong Sherlock Holmes nut. So, she suggested a female Sherlock Holmes. I spent an entire weekend at a favourite coffee shop here in Toronto and developed an entire world and met Jem and Merinda, Jasper and Ray along the way. So, I kinda fell into being a mystery writer. I read mystery all the time! It is one of my favourite genres— but writing it? That was a new challenge. Thus, you’ll notice that Jem and Merinda stumble into a few answers along the way and trip up—they’re learning how to be detectives just as I am learning how to WRITE about detectives.
What message or spiritual theme do you want to communicate to readers with The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder?
The spiritual theme to this series is more subtle than you might find in other Christian Fiction but that was purposeful: in order to reach as wide a readership as possible in an accessible way. That being said, as a Christian, I see the world from a Christian worldview and each of the relationships I pursue in the book reflect some kind of question I have had in my own faith walk. Indeed, I like to look at Christianity as being a lot like the Watson and Sherlock relationship: Watson acts on faith that Sherlock is omniscient and he believes wholly in Sherlock’s deductive powers. Much as we believe in our Higher Power—even though, like Watson, we may have to wait for the big reveal and the answers hidden until the end.
The scripture I followed for Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder was Prov 31:8 Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. I pursue this with a hero for whom English is a second language and often a barrier as well as women and immigrants who lived in a time period where they were not given the right for their voices to be heard. The book I am working on now –A Lesson in Love and Murder– is very much a look at anarchy and submission. The spiritual themes are deft but definitely there 🙂
Overall, I want women to feel empowered even if they don’t fit into what they think is expected of them. The Bible features Marys and Marthas but Deborahs and Esthers, too!
What was most challenging about writing a story set in early 1900s Toronto?
Writing the voice is a huge part of it! Honestly, we have this lax way of speaking that just doesn’t sound authentic when transposed into the early 20th Century. I mention in my author’s note I do take a lot of liberties in creating Jem and Merinda’s world. But, like the historical fiction I love best, I wanted to capture and create the essence of a world – in hopes of inspiring readers to read more about the time period. The challenges come in little things that we think of all the time…. For one example, allergies! In my novella A Singular and Whimsical Problem I have a heroine who is allergic to cats. But did Edwardian people even know about allergies? I had to go look it up. I have also looked up doorbells and, most recently, whether men wore wedding rings.
To add, Toronto looks very different now: sure there are buildings and neighbourhoods that were around in Jem and Merinda’s time, but the look different and are surrounded by skyscrapers! I really have to make sure I am pulling back that modern curtain to see the city as they would rather than how Rachel does .
I spent a ton of time at the archives here in Toronto and looking through photographs: which gave me a sense of the fashion, the streetcars, the police and, of course, the day to day life of a cosmopolitan city of yesteryear.
Which character was your favorite to write? (ahem, I think I can guess the answer to this one….)
They’re all my friends. When I submitted the first book to my agent to be sent out into the world of editors I cried. I knew I would miss them so much. I am one half Jem, one half Merinda –so they’re very close to me. And, because this is a six part series, I am at the point where they talk for themselves and I just take dictation. In book 2 you get to meet Benny Citrone, a Mountie! And he is a lot of fun to write, too.
But I do have a soft spot for Ray: partly because he just showed up! He factored in my outline as a secondary character but once he started talking he wouldn’t stop. I really have very little control over him. He goes and does what he likes, and says what he likes and I am just as surprised as the reader. While each character is a delight, the unexpected things that Ray gets up to keep me on my toes and that is part of the fun of the process. Often when Jem is gushing about Ray, she is using my voice. I truly love him.
Just for fun: Do you have any hobbies?
I really love to read! ( shocking! ) and I reallllly love to go to the theatre! I am a huge Broadway buff and we get a lot of theatre here in Toronto so I am often checking it out. I am a huge baseball fan. I watch the Toronto Blue Jays all the time ( especially with my laptop in my lap writing away) and I go to as many games as possible during the season.
If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?
I am a die hard nut for the Victorian era. I think it would be very difficult to live there because I am so accustomed to our modern privileges but I would love to live in Victorian England for a day. My degree at University was in Victorian Literature so that period is one of my true loves.
What are you currently reading?
Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen who is a favourite mystery writer of mine.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E Schwab.
Rachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.
Rachel’s Bookish ramblings are housed at A Fair Substitute For Heaven
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