By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Inspired by my panel at Bouchercon on social issues in crime fiction, I thought that I should be clear and unapologetic – yep, I have a feminist heroine and I’m proud of it.

One of my fellow panelists also pointed out that I have a lesbian main character too and that it was great that this was not an issue in the book at all. In Edwardian England the concept of female ‘close friends’ was tolerated in a way that male ‘friendship’ most certainly was not – so in both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion, the sexual orientation of Winifred Stanford-Jones is really only background to the plot and not a social issue per se.

One of the questions I and my fellow panelists (the terrific Neil Plakcy, Karen Olsen, Charles O’Brien, Frankie Y Bailey and moderator extraordinaire, Clair Lamb) were asked was whether we had a particular readership in mind when we considered addressing social issues in our fiction – to which I replied that I guess for those who didn’t believe that women should have got the right to vote, my books were probably not for them.

Other than that though we all agreed that the issues were integral to the story but not a pulpit from which we were determined to preach. In The Serpent and The Scorpion I raise all sorts of issues – the rise of socialism, the potential culpability of the so called ‘merchants of death’, feminism, Jewish settlements in Palestine, Egyptian nationalism – but none of these issues was something I necessarily felt compelled to write about – they all arose organically out of the creative process – through research on my settings, history, character and plot.


Nonetheless it was interesting to hear about the ‘ghetto-ization’, particularly of gay and lesbian as well as African-American crime fiction. Seems that all too often these books will be marginalized in bookstores – often placed in a hard to find corner somewhere at the back of the bookstore (probably near self-help). Typically I have found my books are placed squarely in the mystery or general fiction sections – sometimes the historical mysteries are separated out but not usually hidden away where no one can find them!

On our panel we got to explore the ways in which mystery and crime fiction in general can provide a framework in which to view the world – to focus in and illuminate social issues that transcend genre as well as time period. I’m not even sure we can divorce crime fiction from social issues (crime is after all a social issue!)

People after all do not change. Their vices do not change. There is still injustice. There is still a passion for change. One day let’s hope there will be no need for boundaries and labels – genre fiction will no longer be considered literary fiction’s ugly stepchild and crime fiction, no matter who the protagonists are or what the social issues may be, the books won’t be marginalized in a bookstore but will be out there for all to see, find and read.


By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Did that get your attention? In my latest book, The Serpent and The Scorpion, lust plays a pivotal role. Lust for power that is. Set in 1912, the book takes place against a backdrop of an increasing arms race between England and Germany. England, determined to retain its naval superiority, is focusing on building the famous Dreadnaughts so Britannia really can rule the waves. One of the main characters in The Serpent and The Scorpion is an arms dealer – like the real Basil Zaharoff – one of the so called ‘merchants of death’ blamed for escalating tensions between the world superpowers at the time and fomenting war. Behind this is a lust for power of a more patriotic kind – the lust for maintaining the power of the British Empire at a time when she was beleaguered on many fronts.

The Serpent and The Scorpion starts in Egypt (occupied at the time by the British) amid growing unrest and increasing nationalism. Indeed the first murder, that of the wife of a wealthy Jewish financier, Katya Vilensky, is blamed on political extremists hell bent on destabilizing British power. Having researched both the nascent nationalist and feminist movements in Egypt I found it fascinating to juxtapose their struggles with that of the British suffragettes. By 1912 members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had ramped up their militancy, smashing windows and calling for further attacks on private property against those who opposed granting the vote to women. This is also the year of the great schism in the WSPU and many believe this was symptomatic of the Pankhursts’ (Specifically Emmeline and her daughter Christabel) lust to maintain absolute control and power over the union. So as you can see, lust is a powerful motivator in The Serpent and the Scorpion.

Ursula Marlow of course is hardly immune but she fights a different kind of lust – the kind that will cause scandal and notoriety. She is not one to conform to Edwardian standards of propriety and her refusal to marry, in her quest to be recognized as an independent businesswoman, unsettles and disturbs those around her (particularly the man who asked her to marry him!) And of course there’s the return of her ex-lover, Alexei who has returned to England from exile on the continent. A Bolshevik and supporter of Lenin, he has his own lust – not just for Ursula but for revolution.

Those who think history is boring need look no further than the real life characters whose lust for power define the Edwardian period to prove them wrong…and of course my fictional characters cannot help but take their cue from them. So who is your favorite historical person (and let’s keep this in the past boys and girls before we all get into hot water!) whose lust for power defines their time – though, come to think of it what period of history isn’t defined by someone’s lust for power?…

Just Released – The Serpent and The Scorpion!

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Well it’s blatant self promotion and birth announcement time! I’m so excited the second Ursula Marlow mystery, The Serpent and The Scorpion, comes out tomorrow and I can’t help myself! It’s hard sometimes to remember that it takes such a long time, 18 months typically, from manuscript to print, so for an author it’s like a very, very long pregnancy (and trust me I know what that feels like having had twins!) So now it’s time to celebrate – and I confess a few glasses of champagne have already been drunk (and the book isn’t officially in stores until Tuesday!)

When describing The Serpent and The Scorpion, Kirkus Reviews wrote “Pre-World War I England is a seething cauldron of conflicting ideologies as Bolsheviks, suffragettes, socialists and merchants of death battle for control.” I couldn’t have summed it up better – and reading this it’s obvious why I was drawn to this period in history!

All this month however I’m going to explore the themes in the book rather than the historical period in question – because I’m fascinated how, as an author, I find certain elements in a book suddenly coming to the fore. In my first book, Consequences of Sin, there were past betrayals and lost innocence. In The Serpent and the Scorpion, Ursula Marlow is still recovering from the events in Consequences and trying to make her way in the world as an independent businesswoman (a rarity in Edwardian English Society). The themes in this book are therefore a little different – the betrayals are more personal, the stakes are higher and Ursula is now older and wiser – yet still all too vulnerable. So I get to explore lust and greed, the pursuit of power and the cold calculation of those who relish the prospect of war with Germany. Whoever said history was dull and stuffy!

Next week I will be focusing on the theme of lust in my books: not just lust for another person but also lust for power, independence and revolution. The Serpent and The Scorpion is set in 1912 against a backdrop of socialist activism, militancy amongst the suffragettes and an escalating arms race. Oh and there are a couple of murders thrown in for good measure. My mother-in-law advised me when I started the manuscript for The Serpent and The Scorpion that I also needed “more sex…tastefully done of course!” and I’m pleased to say this aspect of lust is also taken care of. Ursula Marlow is named after a DH Lawrence character after all…

October is a big month for my fellow Killzone authors with Joe Moore and Kathryn Lilley having new books released as well, so it will be ‘champers’ all round for us here! Over the next few weeks I’ll be traveling on tour so I hope to meet some of you in person as well as in the blogsphere. For all the details about events, locations and times please visit my website at: www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com