Secrets All the Way Down

13 Jun

My book Death by Silver is available now as part of the (awesome) LGBT+ Storybundle, and Melissa already did a thoughtful post about why so many of us ended up writing books about the Victorian era. My own thoughts (other than that the clothes are spiffy, and the society interestingly grotesque):

The Victorian era is great for murder mystery writers, because everybody has a secret. Usually more than one secret. There’s so much social pressure to conform to a set of rules that become increasingly impossible as the period wears on, both because the rules become more frenetically rigid, and because under the surface, actual reality has increasingly diverged from the Victorian ideal. Almost everyone did things that they weren’t supposed to, or didn’t live up to their society’s image of who they were supposed to be. And that makes it easy to have a book full of suspects who all have plausible reasons to kill.

There are other secrets in Death by Silver, too – there’s Ned and Julian’s relationship, which is criminal under the laws of the era and would destroy Ned’s professional life if it became public knowledge. There are the secrets of their shared school years, in which the bullying they suffered left its mark on them, however much they might not want to admit that as adults. And there are the secrets of their own emotions, which they struggle to share despite having few available models for how to negotiate a functional relationship.

Which is not to say they don’t have any models. One of the things I enjoyed about working on Death by Silver and its sequel, A Death at the Dionysus Club was the opportunity to talk about queer community – Julian has friends who help him navigate the world as a gay man. Ned finds it harder to fit into Julian’s social scene as a man with more conventionally masculine interests, but does eventually find his niche. And Ned has his straight friends at the Mercury Club as well – friends whose friendship is contingent on Ned lying to them, at least by omission, about his sexuality.

In a world so full of secrets, there’s something very refreshing about the ability of detective work – or magic – to penetrate beneath the surface and reveal what’s really true. I think one big thing that Death by Silver is about is revealing, and facing, the truth, and I hope it’s satisfying when that happens, in all kinds of ways. It may not end quite as neatly as Victorian popular novels – I’m reminded of one particularly fabulous period piece that neatly removes an inadvertently bigamous spouse by having the poor lady die in a sudden railway accident three pages before the end of the book – but it ends with the mystery solved and at least a large measure of justice served.

And then there’s the sequel, A Death at the Dionysus Club, in which it becomes clear early in the book that solving the mystery may mean endangering everyone who depends on the queer community to keep their personal secrets safe, which is a different kind of problem. The Victorian era, ladies, gentlemen, and other gentlepersons: it’s secrets all the way down. And a great source of plot because of it.

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