Melanie: Welcome to the blog, Erica! Today we’re doing something a little different: we are answering questions that Erica’s readers sent in through her Facebook page. But first, tell me a little about your new book, Secrets in Scarlet.
Erica Monroe: Secrets in Scarlet is the second book in my Rookery Rogues series, which is about thieves, scoundrels, and fallen women in the rookeries (poorer neighborhoods) in 1830’s London. Each book serves as a standalone romance, but the secondary characters and the locations connect them.
It’s the story of Poppy “Corrigan” O’Reilly and Thaddeus Knight, who meet when Thaddeus is investigating the murder of another girl at the factory where Poppy works. Being a very cerebral man himself, Thaddeus is attracted to Poppy’s quiet passion, her logical mind, and of course her love of books! But Poppy has a secret she’ll do anything to protect: she’s pretending to be a war widow in order to pass off her young daughter as legitimate. Back then in England, it was considered a huge, huge deal for a woman to have sex outside of marriage, and so Poppy is basically driven from her hometown to London—and she’s determined her daughter won’t pay the price for her mistake. Thaddeus is the one man who could put together her lies, yet she can’t stay away from him.
MF: One thing I’ve noticed about your books is that there’s a lot of detail that goes into the historical settings. How do you research your books?
EM: A lot of different ways. Mostly, I google A LOT of things, LOL! My Internet search history is probably going to make me end up on a watch list somewhere. Because I write romantic suspense, I’m always like “how can I fracture this bone in this way to cause this effect…” (I actually have a book called Body Trauma that answers a lot of these questions, and I want to give a shout-out to two of my friends, Jennelle Holland and Kristine Wyllys, who help me with my fight scenes). I’m very, very, very fortunate to know lovely people, who are veritable encyclopedias of historical knowledge, so when I come up against something I’m banging my head against the wall for, I turn to them. But a lot of my research is done through various books. My favorite for rookery research is Henry Mayhew’s London Labor and the London Poor (which is 1850’s, but a lot of it applies to the 1830’s as well). My husband purchased an amazing book for me called England’s First Detectives about the Bow Street Runners, and I used the section on founding the Metropolitan Police for SIS.
But a lot of the resources I use are free too. Google Books is amazing for searching old texts—I got a book written in 1850 or so which actually details most of the rookeries, and I used Google books when figuring out what the factory might look like. I also highly recommend the Old Bailey website, because it has transcripts of various criminal trials, etc. It is invaluable and my favorite thing in the whole wide research world.
MF: Are there any places in your series that are true to history?
EM: I draw a lot of my story from the various rookery settings. I’ll find a certain location, and then I’ll want to build a story around it. I set the first book in the Rookery Rogues, in Ratcliffe because it was close to the London Docks and there was also an infamous bar that the resurrection men (graverobbers who sold corpses to surgeons for anatomization) used to frequent nearby, called the Fortune of War. I love incorporating those details.
For Secrets in Scarlet, I wanted to use Spitalfields because it’s a very old community of Huguenot weavers that came over during the eighteenth century. I found a map from the late end of the nineteenth century that marked out the Ripper murders, but it was interesting to me because it had clearly labelled all the various streets in Spitalfields and Whitechapel. On this map was an indication that a factory was on “White Lion Street,” so I chose to set the Larker factory in my book on this street as well. Poppy and Thaddeus are married in Christ Church, also indicated on this map. I used this map for a lot of the layout in my version of Spitalfields, crosschecking the street names with various online historical records to make sure they would be here in 1832. While I can never guarantee 100% accuracy—as the story must take precedence—I try and really use these details to add atmosphere to the story.
MF: And now we’ve got an excerpt from Secrets in Scarlet!
EM: Since we discussed the factory, I thought I’d share a bit of an excerpt from when Thaddeus visits the Larker factory and sees Poppy.
Workers labored at looms that spanned the full length of the room, stationed not more than a few paces apart. The looms formed three rows, with approximately ten in each row from front to back. The building had unusually high ceilings to accommodate for the sheer height of the looms, which reached far above his head. Children picked through the scraps of silk to sell in the market on Crispin Street.
He scanned the room for Mrs. Corrigan, eventually locating her toward the front. Mrs. Corrigan’s loom was positioned two to the left of the blond girl he remembered her exiting with the other day.
If he’d thought Mrs. Corrigan beautiful the day before in the light of the sun streaming through the library windows, here she was in her element. Perched on a tall stool, she leaned over the loom, her hands in constant motion. She’d bound her red hair in a tight top knot, and she wore no apron.
His mouth went dry as his eyes roamed down her frame. Her green dress was fitted so that she ran no risk of getting caught in the machinery, but it had the added appeal of displaying her luscious hips to full advantage. She moved with finesse and speed, each slide of the shuttle and weft an intricate dance. This was her world, the constant advancement of the punch cards, the click and clack of many looms employed in tandem.
As he walked past her station, their eyes locked. His breath caught in his throat. First, there was a flash of curiosity in her eyes, then fear. She missed a beat in the weaving.
Thaddeus couldn’t tarry to watch her. The guards had already progressed three looms past him. He hurried to catch up, following the guards into the office holed in the center of the right back wall.
STORY: When a girl is murdered at a factory in one of London’s rookeries, Sergeant Thaddeus Knight of the Metropolitan Police comes in to investigate. But it’s not just the factory owners that Thaddeus wants information on–the devilishly intriguing Poppy O’Reilly is a puzzle he’d like nothing more than to solve.
Protecting her young daughter is the most important thing to Poppy, and Thaddeus threatens the false identity she’s carefully constructed. The last thing she should do is allow Thaddeus close to her family, yet she can’t stay away from him. With danger around the corner, will the secrets of a scarlet woman lead to their undoing?
Connie’s review here.
Author Bio: Erica Monroe is a USA Today Bestselling Author of emotional, suspenseful romance. Her debut novel, A Dangerous Invitation, was nominated in the published historical category for the prestigious 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Romantic Suspense. When not writing, she is a chronic TV watcher, sci-fi junkie, lover of pit bulls, and shoe fashionista. She lives in the suburbs of North Carolina with her husband, two dogs, and a cat.