A fun story for the season. Will Caro unmask the The Phantom, the most audacious diamond thief since Raffles?
Some seriously clever sleight of hand is needed if aspiring lawyer Caro Addison is ever going to enjoy this Christmas.
To avoid an unwanted marriage proposal, she needs a distraction as neat as the tricks used by The Phantom, the audacious diamond thief who has left Scotland Yard clueless.
While her detective inspector uncle methodically hunts the villain, Caro decides to investigate a suspect of her own – the handsome Tobias Black, a magician extraordinaire, known as The Dark Duke.
He's the only one with the means, motive and opportunity but the art of illusion means not everything is as it seems, in both crime and affairs of the heart.
As Christmas Day draws near, Caro must decide whether it is worth risking reputations and friendships in order to follow her desires.
BUY THE THIEF OF HEARTS
“I want you to think I can read your mind, but in reality...”
Tobias split the deck and showed them the Queen of Hearts and then the other half of the deck. The card that had been just before the Queen of Hearts was fully a third shorter than the rest of the cards. He put the pack together and flicked through the deck once more.
“I make you see what you want to see. I suspect The Phantom does the same.”
“You mean his crime scenes are illusions?” Margaret asked. Tobias gave her a smile and Caro wished oddly that its brightness shone on her too.
“I think so. From what I read in the newspapers... no sign of entry or departure?” he asked. Caro confirmed it with a nod. “That tells me he’s creating an illusion of invulnerability. But it is an illusion. A trick. He wants to force the attention of the police away from something else – in the same way a magician will use a gesture or an action to distract you.
“Find out what that is then you will find his sleight of hand and that will be his vulnerability.”
“Now, if I’ve sated your curiosity, I’ll take my leave of you. My crew and I have our last show this evening.”
Caro rose and Margaret did also. Tobias took Margaret’s hand and bowed over it then released it. Then he took Caro’s and held it. Then his eyes held hers for a moment and he dropped a kiss on the back of her hand.
“I’m so glad it was you who paid me a visit... instead of a representative of Scotland Yard.”
“Not at all, Mr Black,” she replied, her voice a little huskier than usual, “you have been more than gracious with your time.
“Call me Tobias.”
He was flirting with her! Caro kept the smile to herself as he escorted them both to the entrance of the theatre.
“Just one more question, Mr Black,” Caro asked. “You wouldn’t happen to know how someone might dispose of a suite of diamonds would you?”
Australians suffer a little bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to celebrating Christmas. First of all, being in the southern hemisphere, we celebrating in the middle of our summer but happily sing about ‘dashing through the snow’, Frosty the Snowman and that the ‘snow lay all about, deep and crisp and even’.
Another thing we missed in our local customs was being outside of the TV ratings periods. Conventional wisdom had it that in the depths of bitter winters, people would gather around the electronic hearth and watch television. And since Christmas fell right in the middle of the northern hemisphere’s TV ratings period, all the best TV shows had a Christmas episode.
They were fun and whimsical, often suspending current storylines for something a little bit light-hearted and fun.
So, in that Christmas spirit, I wrote The Thief of Hearts, a veritable Christmas punch of few Hercule Poirots, Girl’s Own Adventures stories, a dash of While You Were Sleeping and other Christmas-themed rom-coms.
Why Did You Set It in Victorian England?
Many of our Christmas customs started with the Victorians, including our beloved Christmas tree and the fun Christmas crackers.
Victorian England was a fascinating era.
They were very mindful of their past and had built up quite a romantic imagery of its chivalry – just look at the pre-Raphaelite works as examples of high Victorian romanticism and yet they were very technologically advanced and sophisticated.
Many of the things we take for granted today, inexpensive mass-produced consumer goods, electricity, telephony, stored music, motorised transport, photography and film, even the concept of television had their origins in the 19th century – no wonder Steampunk has become such a popular sub-genre of sci-fi!
There were high hopes for the upcoming 20th century as being the most accomplished century yet. The groundswell for true equality for men and women was beginning and within a relatively short space of time, women were fully enfranchised and were open to the same job opportunities.
Late Victorian England was time of man-made wonders and magic falls into that neatly.
Why write a mystery?
One of my favourite authors is Agatha Christie. I love the way she blended mystery and romance in many of her stories. If you look at Poirot and Miss Marple, there are often secondary characters who begin or advance a romance through the story and, with the solving of the mystery have their happily ever after.
I thought it would be fun to do something like that for The Thief of Hearts, so the mystery is very much front-and-centre but there is a definite romance between Caro Addison, an aspiring lawyer and Tobias Black, a magician and former solider whose paths are destined to cross.
There is more than one mystery in The Thief of Hearts. There is the obvious one in the mysterious diamond heists where the thief as apparently left no clue, but there is also one a little closer to home and that is what are Bertie’s real intentions towards Caro?
She is positive that he is planning to propose. While her mother would be delighted by the news, Caro herself is having second thoughts. She loves Bertie, but she’s not ‘in love’ with him – so to avoid an unpleasant scene with someone she likes, Caro invents reasons not to be alone with him.
The Thief of Hearts is full of misdirection.
I had a lot of fun with the research for The Thief of Hearts.
Victorian England was full of innovation and invention – so discovering the polyphon which was a precursor to the record player, simply had to be included. So too the passenger lift, the glorious elevators found in the most luxurious hotels and as a necessity in the growing high rise buildings that is emblematic of New York.
The rise of literacy in the Victorian England which came as a result of pressure from the church welfare reformers, gave birth to a large number of newspapers to cater for interests and tastes of a wider group of readers. In fact it could be argued that modern journalism as we know it today, started in the Victorian era.
The Victorian period also gave rise to the mystery and detective story. The origin of this was also interesting. The 19th century saw the rise of the middle class who were at removed a lot of direct contact with crime – particularly street crime. In addition, criminal executions which were once public affairs, were now performed behind prison gates.
What didn’t change was the public’s appetite for the gruesome details and, indeed some broadsheets specialized in it thus beginning the still popular genre of True Crime and the origins of the crime and detective novel where real crime wasn’t enough.
What are you working on at the moment?
There’s so much! I’m working hard on another 19th century title called Captive of the Corsairs. Although it is set in the Regency era, it is not a typical Regency at all. It’s set in Sicily and Turkey and centres on the pirates of the Barbary Coast – North Africa who conducting slaving raids into Europe.
It’s intended to be a stand-alone, but some of the characters are calling for their own stories, so I think this may turn into a three book series.
I’m also keen to set started on another mystery romance series! This will be a six book series set in Medieval England. The hero and heroine are more mature, they will be in their mid-to-late 30s and there are some younger characters too who are terrific.
Hopefully my Roman era historical romantic suspense will have found a publisher.
Find Elizabeth Ellen Carter:
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