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Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna by Maia Chance…Book Spotlight and Author Q&A

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BEAUTY, BEAST, AND BELLADONNA

by Maia Chance

Amazon  |  B&N

Synopsis:

Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax has accepted the marriage proposal of the brutish Comte de Griffe to nettle her occasional investigative partner—and romantic sparring partner—the pompous if dashing Professor Penrose.

But the Comte’s boorish table manners, wild mane of hair, and habit of prowling away the wee hours has shredded Ophelia’s last nerve. She intends to disengage from her feral fiancé at his winter hunting party—until Penrose, his lovely new fiancée, and a stagecoach of stranded travelers arrive at the Comte’s sprawling château. Soon she can’t tell the boars from the bores.

When one of the guests is found clawed and bloody in the orangerie, Ophelia is determined to solve the murder before everyone starts believing the local version of Beauty and the Beast. But until the snows melt, she can’t trust her eyes—or her heart—since even the most civilized people hold beastly secrets.

 

Excerpt:

Ophelia meant to cling to her purpose like a barnacle to a rock.  It wasn’t easy.  Simply gritting her teeth and enduring the next two weeks was not really her way.  But Henrietta had her up a stump.

First, there had been the two-day flurry of activity in Artemis Stunt’s apartment, getting a wardrobe ready for Ophelia to play the part of a fashionable heiress at a hunting party.  Artemis was over fifty years of age but, luckily, a bohemian and so with youthful tastes in clothing.  She was also tall, beanstalkish and large-footed, just like Ophelia, and very enthusiastic about the entire deception.  “It would make a marvelous novelette, I think,” she said to Ophelia.  But this was exactly what Ophelia wished to avoid: behaving like a ninny in a novelette.

And now, this interminable journey.

“Where are we now?”  Henrietta, bundled in furs, stared dully out the coach window.  “The sixth tier of hell?”

Ophelia consulted the Baedeker on her knees, opened to a map of the Périgord region.  “Almost there.”

There being the French version of the Middle of Nowhere,” Forthwith Golden said, propping his boots on the seat next to Henrietta.  “Why do these Europeans insist upon living in these Godforsaken pockets?  What’s wrong with Paris, anyway?”

“You said you missed the country air.”  Henrietta shoved his boots off the seat.

“Did I?”  Forthwith had now and then performed conjuring tricks in Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties back in New York, so Ophelia knew more of him than she cared to.  He was dark-haired, too handsome, and skilled at making things disappear.  Especially money.

“You insisted upon coming along,” Henrietta said to Forthwith, “and don’t try to deny it.”

“Ah, yes, but Henny, you neglected to tell me that your purpose for this hunting excursion was to ensnare some doddering old corpse into matrimony.  I’ve seen that performance of yours a dozen times, precious, and it’s gotten a bit boring.”

“Oh, do shut up.  You’re only envious because you spent your last penny on hair pomade.”

“I hoped you’d notice.  Does Mr. Larsen have any hair at all?  Or does he attempt to fool the world by combing two long hairs over a liver-spotted dome?”

“He’s an avid sportsman, Artemis says, and a crack shot.  So I’d watch my tongue if I were you.”

“Oh dear God.  A codger with a shotgun.”

“He wishes to go hunting in the American West.  Shoot buffalos from the train and all that.”

“One of those Continentals who have glamorized the whole Westward Ho business, not realizing that it’s all freezing to death and eating Aunt Emily’s thighbone in the mountains?”

Ophelia sighed.  Oh, for a couple wads of cotton wool to stop up her ears.  Henrietta and Forthwith had been bickering for the entire journey, first in the train compartment between Paris and Limoges and then, since there wasn’t a train station within 50 miles of Château Vézère, in this bone-rattling coach.  Outside, hills, hills, and more hills.  Bare, scrubby trees and meandering vineyards.  Farmhouses of sulpherous yellow stone.

A tiny orange sun sank over a murky river.  Each time a draft swept through the coach, Ophelia tasted the minerals that foretold snow.

“Ophelia,” Forthwith said, nudging her.

“What is it?”

Forthwith made series of fluid motions with his hands, and a green and yellow parakeet fluttered out of his cuff and landed on his finger.

“That’s horrible.  How long has that critter been stuffed up your sleeve?”  Ophelia poked out a finger and the parakeet hopped on.  Feathers tufted on the side of its head and its eyes were possibly glazed.  It was hard to say with a parakeet.  “Poor thing.”

“It hasn’t got feelings, silly.”  Forthwith yawned.

Finally,” Henrietta said, sitting up straighter.  “We’ve arrived.”

The coach passed through ornate gates.  Naked trees cast shadows across a long avenue.  They clattered to a stop before the huge front door.  Château Vézère was three stories, rectangular, and built of yellow stone, with six chimneys, white-painted shutters, and dozens of tall, glimmering windows.  Bare black vegetation encroached on either side, and Ophelia saw some smaller stone buildings to the side.

“Looks like a costly doll’s house,” Henrietta said.

“I rather thought it looked like a mental asylum,” Forthwith said.

Ophelia slid Griffe’s ruby ring on her hand, the hand that wasn’t holding a parakeet.  Someone swung the coach door open.

“Let the show begin, darlings,” Henrietta murmured.

A footman in green livery helped Ophelia down first.  Garon Gavage, the Count Griffe, bounded forward to greet her.  “Mademoiselle Stonewall, I have been restless, sleepless, in anticipation of your arrival—ah, how belle you look.”  His dark gold mane of hair wafted in the breeze.  “How I have longed for your presence—what is this?  A petit bird?”

“What?  Oh.  Yes.”  Ophelia couldn’t even begin to explain the parakeet.  “It’s very nice to see you, Count.  How long has it been?  Three weeks?”

Griffe’s burly chest rose and fell.  “Nineteen days, twenty hours, and thirty-two minutes.”

Right.

Forthwith was out of the coach and pumping Griffe’s hand.  “Count Griffe,” he said with a toothy white smile, “pleased to meet you.  My sister has told me all about you.”

Ophelia’s belly lurched.

“Sister?”  Griffe knit his brow.

“I beg your pardon,” Forthwith said.  “I’m Forthwith Stonewall, Ophelia’s brother.  Didn’t my sister tell you I was coming along?”

The rat.

“Ah!”  Griffe clapped Forthwith on the shoulder.  “Monsieur Stonewall.  Perhaps your sister did mention it—I have been most distracted by business matters in England, très forgetful . . .  And who is this?”  Griffe nodded to Henrietta as she stepped down from the coach.  “Another delightful American relation, eh?”

It had better not be.  Ophelia said, “This is—”

“Mrs. Henrietta Brighton,” Henrietta said quickly, and then gave a sad smile.

Precisely when had Miss Henrietta Bright become Mrs. Henrietta Brighton?  And . . . oh, merciful heavens.  How could Ophelia have been so blind?  Henrietta was in black.  All in black.

“Did Miss Stonewall neglect to mention that I would chaperone her on this visit?” Henrietta asked Griffe.  “I am a dear friend of the Stonewall family, and I have been on a Grand Tour in order to take my mind away from my poor darling—darling . . . oh.”  She dabbed her eyes with a hankie.

Griffe took Henrietta’s arm and patted it as he led her through the front door.  “A widow, oui?  My most profound condolences, Madame Brighton.  You are very welcome here.”

Ophelia and Forthwith followed.  The parakeet’s feet clung to Ophelia’s finger, and tiny snowflakes fell from the darkening sky.

“You’re shameless,” Ophelia said to Forthwith in a hot whisper.

Forthwith grinned.  “Aren’t I, though?”

 

Author Q&A:

  • Describe Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna in 140 characters or less.

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna is a fun, adventurous, and romantic historical mystery set in a secret-riddled French chateau in 1867.

  •   What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness for me is spending time outside somewhere beautiful, with my husband, kids, and dog.

  • What’s your favorite part of Ophelia’s quirky personality?

I like the way Ophelia compensates in creative and gutsy ways for her lack of a good formal education.  She’s smart and resourceful and she uses her unusual skill set—farm girl, circus performer, actress—to help solve the mystery.

  • Which living person do you most admire?

My husband, actually.  He is an unusually gifted person who overcame significant disadvantages and obstacles to get where he is today.  And he gives the best pep-talks!

  • What inspired you to marry fairytales and mystery?

I was searching for something that hadn’t been done yet, and I was reading a lot of fairy tale criticism for school at the time.  It sounded like a deliciously fun project, so I plunged in.

  • Is there a type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?

Dialogue definitely comes more easily for me.  I find action scenes more challenging—I’m paranoid that they’ll get bogged down.  (So if I can, I add dialogue to my action scenes!)

  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Sticking to strict schedules.  I don’t like to keep people waiting, but there is something to be said for giving yourself creative or restful wiggle-room during the day. 

  • Which of the characters in this novel do you feel the most drawn to?

I became more attached to Professor Penrose in this book.  He’s more vulnerable and at a loss than in the previous two books—and more deeply in love.

  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Oh, my.  Probably dozens.  I seem to like “buzz” a lot for some reason.  I’m deleting it all the time.

  • Can you describe for us your process for naming characters?

For historical American characters I use census records.  I collect names from cemeteries whenever I visit one, and I often borrow names from literature.  Since my books have lots of characters, I try to give them all distinctive names that hint at their personalities, to help the reader keep everyone sorted in their mind.

  • Who are your favorite writers?

Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton and Theodor Adorno.

  •  Who is your most loved hero of fiction?

Indiana Jones.

  • Which talent would you most like to have?

It would be ecstasy to be a really, really great opera singer.

  • You’re hosting a dinner party, which five authors (dead or alive) would you invite?
  1. G. Wodehouse would probably be the life of any party. Also, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There would be lots of drinking at this party.  Maybe some arguments.  No strip poker though.
  • Do you have a favorite time period in literature?

Not really.  Because of my English degrees I have read very widely, and I have favorites from every era.  And every era has its stultifying boring authors, too.

  • What is your motto?

Keep trying.

  • What is the best reaction over a book that you’ve ever gotten from a fan?

Fans who say my book gave them pure pleasure—that’s happened a few times—make me so happy.  It’s my aim to give people something to read that’s a pleasurable and absorbing diversion from Real Life.  Real Life is hard.

  • Where would you most like to live?

A place with lots of trees where I could do all my daily activities and errands on foot.  I’m working on it.

  • Which historical figure do you most identify with?

No one specific, but I often think of the female writers over the centuries who kept at their stories even when they had screaming kids and the dinner to cook and a really messy house piling up around them.  They did it, and so can I.

  • What are you working on next?

I just completed a humorous contemporary mystery that does not yet have a publisher, and I’m working on a historical fantasy adventure with a co-author.  After that, the next thing will be book #3 of the Discreet Retrieval Agency series.

 

 

About the author:

image003 (1)MAIA CHANCE writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal series, The Discreet Retrieval Agency series and the Prohibition-era caper,Come Hell or Highball.  Her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, was a national bestseller. Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for. She is a Ph.D. candidate for English at the University of Washington.

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