When Claudia’s gambling debts spiral, she reverts to offering dominatrix services to rich, high-ranking Romans. Until they start turning up dead…
Racy, pacy thrillers set in Ancient Rome, featuring the beautiful but formidable Claudia Seferius, who would do anything (well, almost anything) for money, and aristocratic investigator, Marcus Cornelius Orbilio, who would do anything (well, almost anything) for her.
Sicily is just far enough from Rome for Claudia to lie low from the law. Until murder, a missing child, and a phoney Vestal Virgin start attracting attention…
Travelling through the Alps, a rockfall leaves Claudia stranded and five of her party dead. Too late she realizes it's a trap.
Claudia doesn't believe her step-daughter has been kidnapped. Until she traces her to a sinister religious cult.
On the run from the law, a villa in the Adriatic seems the perfect bolt hole. Until a pirate ship moors in the bay.
When the King of Histria invites Claudia to visit, she assumes it's connected to her role as a merchant of fine wines. How wrong can she be?
A sadistic killer, an abandoned child, babies abducted at night. Claudia believes there is a connection. And finds her own life on the line.
First, Claudia is run off a remote country road. Then her beloved cat goes missing. Now she is being framed for murder…
The plague is dangerous. But nowhere near as dangerous as the lakeside spa where Claudia seeks refuge.
A house full of actors, Saturnalia coming up, creditors knocking down Claudia's door. The last thing she needs is a killer under her roof.
Claudia was just ten when her father marched off to war and never came home. It's time to uncover the truth about his disappearance.
When a much younger man starts courting her mother-in-law, Claudia starts to smell fish. Can it be connected to a series of murders?
Rumours abound of a one-eyed giant roaming the hills. The legendary Cyclops. Iliona knows the Cyclops is a myth - but the killings are most definitely real.
A darker trilogy set in Ancient Greece, featuring the no-nonsense High Priestess Iliona, who is blackmailed into working for the ruthless commander of Sparta’s hated Secret Police.
Conspiracy, murder, kidnap, adultery. Just another day in the temple's office for High Priestess Iliona.
"The Wickedest Town in the West" - A demure English churchgoer finds out just how Wild the West is, when she goes searching for her missing fiancé. Voted 3rd in EQMM Readers Award.
"Open and Shut Case" - An illusionist gets into a twist with a pretty contortionist. And must bend over backwards to help.
"Room for Improvement" - Sleazy divorces in 1960s Brighton. Nominated for a Shamus Award.
My short story “The Wickedest Town in the West” has been voted 3rd in the prestigious Ellery Queen Readers Award. The Awards Ceremony will be held in New York on the 1st May, 2014.
The story’s about a demure English churchgoer, who finds out just how wild the West is, when she goes searching for her missing fiancé.
It’s set in the old mining town of Jerome, Arizona, at a time when it was long on brothels and saloons but somewhat short on churches. Hence its nickname, the Wickedest Town in the West.
I’ve woven several real-life characters into the story. Nora “Butter” Brown, the infamous madam. Doc Holliday. Plus the wonderful account of the only time Wyatt Earp was ever relieved of his gun … by none other than Billy the Kid.
Fun to write, fun to read – even more fun picking up the award!
They say, hard work never killed anyone. I say, why take the risk? If, like The Kinks say, love is all around, then so is inspiration - and writing is a tough enough road, without having to lay it yourself. Luckily, inspiration can strike from anywhere. A face, a gesture, a piece in the paper. A photo, a building, a song. Like Charlie Daniels' The Devil Went Down to Georgia that kickstarted "667, Evil & Then Some". (EQMM). But some of my greatest sources of inspiration, and the ones that stayed with me, have come from places I've visited. You've just read how Jerome worked out. One mile up and what feels a million miles from anywhere, this was a thriving mining town. Thriving as in three million pounds of copper a month coming out of those hills, never mind the gold, the silver, the zinc. Right in the eye of the goldrush hurricane, Jerome promised riches, a fresh start, and perhaps most importantly freedom. But. And there's always a but. For every miner digging out a fortune, there were a dozen or more looking to lift the financial burden from his shoulders. And this is where the balance of control suddenly shifts. One minute, you're mooching round a ghost town, taking pictures, bumping into another English couple who, amazingly, live not far from you in France, all of us moaning about it being ninety-eight in the shade. The next, the damn town has your ankle in a vice, and you know it won't let you go, until you write its story. And what a story. Short on churches, long on bordellos, Jerome was chock-a-block with card-sharps, saloons and opium dens, earning it the reputation of being "The Wickedest Town in the West".
I've already talked about the time Billy the Kid relieved Wyatt Earp of his famous peacemaker. This took place on the same night Nora "Butter" Brown opened her famous brothel and gave Wyatt peace of a somewhat different kind. Some day, that one! Booze was cheap, life was cheaper. Butter was killed by her own husband not long afterwards. Throwing acid in a girl's face was almost de rigeur. The murder of Sammie Dean, one of Jerome's hundred or so"soiled doves" remains unsolved to this day. And if that's not enough drama, spare a thought for poor old Headless Charlie, still haunting the abandoned mineshafts. The ghosts of the Kiawa are rumoured to talk to anyone who walks the fields outside of town. And who knew the love of Jelly Roll Morton's life was one of Jerome's most famous prostitutes? Or, blush blush, what Jelly Roll was slang for..?? For those of you who haven't dashed off to look it up - and we all know you're going to - another place that stuck like chewing gum to the sole of my shoe was Sicily. Not simply because of Mount Etna. Though it did spew out some spectacular lava fountains a short while back. And not even because of that deliciously light limoncello liqueur, made from fat, juicy Sicilian lemons.
For an island that is smaller than Vermont, it packs one hell of a picturesque punch. Rugged mountains. Sun drenched plains. Rocky coves. And oh, those infinite, golden, sandy beaches. (Research is tough, but someone has to do it). As always, though, the brighter the sun, the darker the shadows. When did Sicily ever belong to the Sicilians? First, the Greeks, then the Romans. For a hundred years, it served as a Muslim emirate, before the Normans effectively kick-started the Crusades by invading the island and restoring Christianity. By the 15th century, Sicily had fallen into the hands of the Spanish, who treated the islanders so badly they formed a separate society of their own, which eventually morphed into the Mafia. All this while being rocked by earthquakes, decimated by the Black Death, showered with volcanic eruptions, and attacked by pirates from the Barbary coast! Then there are the myths. Possibly the most famous is that of Scylla and Charybdis. They were monsters and cannibals, living just an arrow shot apart. And if Charybdis didn't suck your ship down, then six-headed Scylla was on standby to snatch sailors from the deck, crack their bones, and swallow them whole. Jason and his Argonauts tangled with these beauties and lived to tell the tale. Odysseus encountered them on his way home from Troy, only he was not so lucky. Scylla seized six of his men, one in each mouth. Six more job vacancies open.
Were they monsters? Of course not. Were they monstrous? You bet. The Straight of Messina, separating Sicily from mainland Italy, is less than two miles wide. In a tempest, strong currents would be deadly for lightweight, wooden ships, while storm-force winds could dash them against the jagged rocks in an instant. For those early seafarers, "Watch out for the undertow and mind the rock shoals" might well be good advice. But when you're captain of a trading mission that runs into several months, and you have to put ashore each night, in often hostile territory, certain pointers can get overlooked. "Beware the whirlpool and six-headed she-monster" is a warning you'll never forget. Which is what I find so fascinating about myths. Not just their origins, but how they evolved and were perceived. That Mount Etna was believed to be the Gateway to Hell during the Middle Ages is understandable. On the other hand, the legend that says any flower thrown into a certain river in Greece will wash up five hundred miles away in a Syracusian spring is stretching it a bit. Or is it? When you're a Greek settler, far from a homeland and family you know you'll never see again, what's wrong with thinking the flowers that grow beside the spring are from the same plant as those in your native country? Or that the river god, who causes the flow to disappear underground in Greece, doesn't surface here, to unite with his one true love? The nymph of this lovely spring?
Such is the pull of the landscape and legends that I've written about Sicily twice. First, in "Virgin Territory" (in the Claudia Seferius series set in Ancient Rome). I'd read how the Greeks and Romans used to staunch minor cuts with spiders' webs. So who actually collected these, I wondered? How did they preserve them? All of which led to my recluse of a huntsman up in the hills. The man who collects spiders' webs. The second time was "Blind Eye," (in the High Priestess Iliona Ancient Greek mystery series), which centres on another Sicilian myth. That of the giant, one-eyed cannibal, the Cyclops. Like my huntsman, here was another lonely, misunderstood outsider, feared and reviled thanks to the "eye" in the middle of his forehead. A tattoo of concentric circles that was the mark of the smith in Ancient Thrace. A mark which set this big, shambing man apart from society, and made him what he was.
But then I like loners. And blood. And myths. Put them together, and I'm like a kid in a sweet shop. Throw in some romance, and I'm as close to heaven as it gets. And I always, always throw in some romance! Which brings us to the challenge. Such is the intricate balance between character, plot and setting, that it's often hard to decide which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Now and then, though-rare, but not unheard of-they come together at the same time.
There's a unspoilt lake in south-west France, not far from where I live, which is close to the Atlantic Ocean, but at the same time sheltered by the pine forests for which the region is famous. One still, warm summer's evening, I was sitting on the hotel balcony with my husband, drinking wine and watching the water turn blood red in the setting sun. Wondering how it must have been for people growing up in this isolated spot before tourists, telephones and TV transformed their lives. From such musings, a peeping tom was born. Georges, in "Dead & Breakfast" (EQMM). A simple man in every sense -slow learning, unassuming, harmless - but so real in my mind that I shot the second deadlock on the door that night.
And the lesson to pass on from all of this?
Don't drink so much wine so late at night…