Thursday, February 13, 2014

Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls by Debra Hyde

The Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series

Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls
Riverdale Avenue Books
Lesbian, F/F, Historical, Detective


A dead body in a back alley means little to the rough streets of 1880s New York City—until Charlotte Olmes woman detective steps onto the scene. Crime-solving on behalf of her female clients, Olmes eschews decorum and ventures into places forbidden to the fairer sex, sleuthing after clues hidden, elusive, and often distasteful.

When the exotic Miss Tam pleads with Charlotte to find the man to whom she's secretly married, Charlotte ventures into the dark and dangerous crannies of the city with her partner and passionate lover Joanna Wilson at her side. Soon, what appeared to be the random misfortune born of Chinatown's opium dens reveals itself as a vicious gang-related murder—and Olmes and Wilson find themselves wedged between the ethnic and political forces that collide where Chinatown borders the Bowery.

Penned by Lambda Literary Award winner Debra Hyde, Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls recasts the classic eccentric detective genius in ways never before seen. Passions both criminal and carnal come alive in vivid and exacting detail in what promises to become the hallmark of the Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series.

Fun Facts: Charlottes Olmes' NYC in 1880 edition

The Statue of Liberty sits unassembled throughout the city and parts of New Jersey. Its torch sits in Madison Square Park, near Charlotte Holmes three-story brownstone.

The word “skyscraper” does not yet exist. It will be coined in 1883 during what's then called the “high-building craze.” The tallest buildings in New York City skyline in 1880? Churches.

Chinese restaurants do not yet exist in New York City.

Thanks to horse-drawn transportation, some 100,000 to 200,000 horses live in New York City, with each horse depositing an average of 24 pounds of manure and several quarts of urine a day. Don't do the math.

Central Park was only seven years old and, until the Great Depression, sheep graze in its Sheep Meadow. The famous Dakota building sees the start of its construction in 1880 and will sit alone, overlooking the park upon its completion.

Thomas Edison establishes his Edison Illuminating Company in December 1880, basing it in New York City.

The city sees its first street lights along Broadway between Union Square and Madison Square, thanks to Brush arc lamps. But Thomas Edison does not provide the illumination—the Brush Electric Company does.

A massive man-made reservoir occupies the area where today's New York Public Library sits, suppling the city with its drinking water. Its granite walls holds up to 20 million gallons and are wide enough to serve as public promenades for the strolling populace.

Cleopatra's Needle, the Egyptian Obelisk that sits in Central Park, arrives in July aboard the SS Dessoug at Staten Island. It will take another six months to move and install it in Central Park.

Bestselling books in 1880's America: Uncle Remus, Joel Chandler Harris; Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney; Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace; and Nana, Emile Zola.


I was not surprised that I had slept through the morning sun and birdsong of the fine spring morning on which this exceptional adventure had started, but how I escaped the sounds of Madison Square Park and the nearby Sixth Avenue El, I still do not know. Coming to our table for breakfast, I found Charlotte's nose buried deep in the day's penny press. Without fail, she started and ended each day perusing Manhattan's most dreadful news accounts, paying close attention to the brawls between swells, what dead bodies were pulled from the nooks and crannies of the city, and things even more violent and horrid. I prayed she would tell me nothing gruesome this morning.
I preferred my first cup of tea without word of the city's more morbid distractions.
Good morning, my dear Miss Wilson,” Charlotte said, her eyes still glued to her paper.
Good morning, Miss Olms,” I countered. However formal our salutations, they were first and foremost an affectionate routine, an irreverent jest aimed at how society expected us to act and not a reflection of how we really felt about each other.
And, daring to remind Charlotte just how I preferred our interactions, I leaned over and placed a kiss upon her cheek, one soft enough to suggest I'd welcome more. It earned a chuckle from her and a quick, sly glance of promise.
A bustle from the kitchen told me that Mr. East had heard me, and our man's man who preferred serving women came laden with a full meal of eggs, bacon, and toast. Joining that bounty, a libation of some strange concoction—no doubt, another of Charlotte's attempts to fortify the temples that were our bodies with the fruits of exotic flora from God only knew where.
While I should have rued the presence of the strange beverage, it was the larger meal that caught my true attention. A big meal meant one of two things: We either had something physical to do that morning or a case to investigate.
Seated, I sipped my tea and tried to ignore the message inherent in my breakfast.
Halfway through my meal—the eggs scrambled to perfection, made better with a splash of maple syrup, the drink concoction decidedly not so—I caught Charlotte snapping her crisp newspaper and swiftly folding it with a flourish so dramatic it rivaled the sweep of a magician's hand. I shook my head, thinking of our poor butler, Mr. East, always having to iron the paper to Charlotte's perfection.
Charlotte caught my reaction from the corner of her eye. Without taking her gaze from the small corner of the paper she now consumed, she remarked, “He had no compunction about ironing my newspapers when we interviewed Mr. East for the position, Joanna. A crisp paper makes for a precise read, my dear.”
With Charlotte Olms, precision was paramount.
My eggs and bacon gone, I mopped my plate of syrup with my toast. “Dare I ask what this morning brings?” I hoped she would let me finish a third cup of tea and have a proper pinning of my hair before dashing us out the door.
Training, dear Joanna, training.”
I suddenly felt overfull. Physical exercise and a full stomach were not well paired for me, no matter how frequently I tried to dissuade Charlotte of that fact. I set down my toast.
Pick it up and eat,” she half-scolded. “We're not doing it—we're teaching it.”
Teaching what?”
Parasol defense.”
Charlotte's obsession with self-defense, especially as it applied to women, had long been a great passion of hers. I resumed devouring my toast, sipping away its dryness with tea and noting how very well the taste of India Black tasted with the sparse left-overs of maple syrup. Perhaps I would suggest Charlotte make a concoction based on those two ingredients. Maybe she would come up with something actually tolerable.
Another time, I thought. “And who are we training today?” I asked.
Mrs. Philomena Pelton has asked me to introduce several of her peers and their lady's maids to the practice,” Charlotte answered.
I pulled up from my teacup. We were teaching a lady's maids?
However did you finagle that?” The upper crust were not exactly sensitive about the betterment of their help.
Charlotte finally set her paper aside, slapping it onto the table, and leaned towards me, elbows planted firmly akimbo on a fine Italian cutwork tablecloth. Mannish behavior, of course, reflecting a competency that she could not innately express in any sort of feminine way.
I told them that no matter how well-versed they themselves became in the art of parasol self-defense, they would remain at risk if their help did not become adept as well.”
Really, Charlotte.”
No, no, it's true,” Charlotte claimed. “Mrs. Pelton herself was accosted just last week on the Ladies Mile. Her lady servant was of, shall we say, limited assistance.”
The Ladies Mile? So now even shopping puts one at risk. Of course you do this entirely for the benefit of the well-off,” I facetiously declared. I swatted at her elbows, smacking hard enough to sting.
Charlotte grinned. She heeded me, removing her elbows from the table. She might forget her manners from time to time, but she always enjoyed my corrections, minor or severe.
We both knew she believed that all women should be skilled in self-defense, regardless of class and station. And I knew that if Charlotte would ever deign to imagine a utopian society, men would be far too civilized to even think to accost the fairer sex. Not that we would carry that dainty an appellation in Charlotte's utopia.
Do I have time for Phoebe to pin and lacquer my hair?”
Charlotte waved me off. “Yes, yes, but we should depart in twenty minutes.”
Twenty minutes, then,” I said.
I rose and made my way across the room, only to stop and turn. “Charlotte?” I said.
Hmmm?” Her nose was in that paper again.
Should we not invite Phoebe to join us?”
Charlotte pulled up from her reading, glaring at me. The devil that I should put her high horse on the spot! But one look at me and she knew that I teased said horse with both warm regard and hard truth.
I shall tutor her myself,” she declared, flicking her newspaper dismissively.
Exactly what I wanted. What was good for the geese of Manhattan's elite was good for the gander in our own home.

About Debra

Debra Hyde writes erotic fiction for everyone, across the gender & orientation spectra. Her
lesbian BDSM novel, Story of L, won the 2011 Lambda Literary Award for lesbian erotica. A modern retelling of the classic Story of O, it updates the original tale to reflect the contemporary lesbian leather world and the women in it.

Romantic Times BOOK Reviews magazine named it and her heterosexual novel, Blind Seduction, to its Fifty Hot Reads beyond 50 Shades of Grey, calling Blind Seduction “a story about what happens after the BDSM seduction.” She is a contributing author to the ground-breaking and critically-acclaimed Entwined erotica series, penning two lesbian novellas for it, Hers and Provenance.

Now she turns her attentions to her new erotic Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series, recasting the classic eccentric detective genius in ways never before seen — in passions both criminal and carnal

Visit Debra Hyde at her website:

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