Fairy tales in their original forms can be quite…grim. These short tales full of wonder, magic, and “happy endings” continue to inspire our imaginations and our literature.
In 2014, Snow White Red-Handed debuted with the opening/first lines: “Miss Ophelia Flax was neither a professional confidence trickster nor a lady’s maid, but she’d played both on the stage. In desperate circumstances like these, that would have to do.” This first book in the Fairy Tale Fatal mystery series was a national bestseller.
This month, the third book in the series, Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna, continues variety hall actress Ophelia’s adventures. Ophelia has accepted the marriage proposal of the brutish Comte de Griffe to nettle her occasional investigative–and romantic sparring–partner, the pompous if dashing Professor Penrose. At the Comte’s sprawling chateau, a guest is found clawed and bloody in the orangerie, and Ophelia sets out to solve the murder before everyone starts believing in a local version of Beauty and the Beast.
Recently, author Maia Chance answered some questions about her latest book and the series as part of a blog tour promoting the launch of book three.
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 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.
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 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.
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!)
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.
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.
Who are your favorite writers?
Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton and Theodor Adorno.
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.
Curious about the Fairy Tale Fatal series and the latest book? Here’s a quick sneak peak at a scene that occurs a fair ways into the story followed by Chapter One in its entirety:
“What’s this?” Ophelia had almost stepped on something at the base of the cave wall.
Penrose crouched and held the lantern over it. “Good God,” he muttered. “Is it . . . a shrine?”
Small earthenware dishes held what appeared to be chocolate drops, purple berries, and loose pearls. A clay vase held a red and white striped rose.
Churches in New England didn’t have shrines. They didn’t even have stained glass windows or statues.
“Pearls,” Ophelia said. “Madame Dieudonné was missing a pearl necklace.” But—she looked carefully at the shrine—no ruby ring. Still, the pearls connected the shrine, very loosely, to the missing ring. There was hope yet.
“This resembles the offerings people of the Orient assemble for their gods or ancestors,” Penrose said.
“Those are belladonna berries, professor.” The skin of Ophelia’s back felt all itchy and crawly, and she stole a glance to the black gap where the cave continued into the earth. Someone could be back there. Watching.
“Miss Flax,” Penrose said slowly. “Look at this.” He lifted the lantern, illuminating the picture on the wall above the shrine.
Heavens to Betsy. A carved, black-painted beast, half-man, half-boar, undulated in the light.
The body of the beast was like a man’s, although the feet seemed—Gabriel squinted—yes, they seemed to have hooves. But the head! It was unmistakably that of a furry boar, with large pointed tusks and tiny round ears.
A slight crunching sound made Gabriel and Miss Flax freeze. Their eyes met.
Gabriel knew that somewhere in the shadows, someone or something lay in wait.
Miss Flax, wide-eyed, in those awful trousers, seemed at once horribly vulnerable and dear beyond measure. The pistol tucked into Gabriel waistband felt newly heavy. He picked up the lantern and slowly stood, willing himself not to exude the essence of fear in case whatever was watching was an animal.
“Come,” he mouthed to Miss Flax, wrapping his free hand around her wrist. “Slowly.”
She stayed very close to him as they walked steadily out of the cave.
They emerged into the cold, damp night. The moon glowed whitely above. The air tasted of soil and rot.
“Shouldn’t you extinguish the lamp?” Miss Flax whispered as they started down the rocky, ice-slicked slope. “So they can’t see us?” She tugged her wrist free of his hand so she could climb.
“Wild animals are afraid of light.” Gabriel longed to grab her wrist again, to enfold her, keep her safe. If something were to befall her—
“It wasn’t an animal in there,” Miss Flax said. “It was a human being. I could feel it. Animals don’t make one feel so frightened.”
“Not any animals?”
“No. Animals never seem evil, and I felt something evil up there in the cave.”
Click on the following link to read a pdf of Chapter One: