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The Counterfeit Guest

A Novel

About The Book

In this rousing sequel to The Blackstone Key, Rose Melikan’s heroine returns to the world of espionage for an intelligent, thrilling adventure in Georgian England.

When the story begins Mary is a wealthy heiress. Young ladies in her situation ought to marry well—as her friend Susannah Armitage has. But is Susannah’s marriage to Colonel Crosby-Nash all that it seems? Mary thinks not, and when her suspicions lead to a meeting with the elusive spymaster, Cuthbert Shy, he reveals the terrible truth—the colonel is a traitor. At Shy’s request, Mary agrees to accompany the Crosby-Nashes to their country estate, in order to discover his secrets. It is a perilous assignment, and the danger increases when her only means of communicating with Shy is murderously cut off. If only Mary could contact the redoubtable Captain Robert Holland, but as he has inexplicably ended their friendship, his help seems out of reach.… In the grand tradition of Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier, Melikan presents a gripping tale of adventure and romance, while enhancing both with flawless details of time and place. The combination will keep readers holding their breath until the next explosive installment.


The Counterfeit Guest 1

ON THE SUFFOLK coast some eight miles east of Woodbridge stood what had once been a priory for women adhering to the Cistercian order. Its appearance had changed over the centuries, and the nuns had long since departed. Yet it was called White Ladies in their memory and, in the spring of 1796, it was to be restored to female rule. A young woman named Mary Finch had inherited both the estate and a considerable fortune, and she had resolved to make her home there.

This resolution could not be enforced immediately. Miss Finch had come to Suffolk under somewhat unusual circumstances, and the lawyers had only recently determined that she was indeed the rightful owner of White Ladies. Various practical matters would also have to be settled before she could take up residence. So, for the time being, she remained at nearby Lindham Hall, as the guest and protégée of its owner, Mrs. Tipton.

Lindham Hall was another sphere of feminine influence, a fact to which Cuff, the only masculine member of the household, could testify. Cuff held the offices of coachman and porter, and between Mrs. Tipton, Peggy the maid, and Pollock the cook (“them old cats,” as he was wont to call them, when he thought no one was listening), he rarely had a moment’s peace. Mary Finch also made occasional demands of him, but he did not mind these, somehow. Indeed, sometimes he went so far as volunteering his services, and he joined her in the flower garden on a sunny May afternoon without the least prompting. Observing the slim, straight figure poised on the edge of the lawn, a figure that managed to exude energy even when motionless, he reflected that Miss Mary surely had a way about her.

Mary was deeply engaged in horticultural matters and did not hear him approach. Fashionable ladies, she was convinced, spent a great deal of their time arranging flowers, and she knew little of the art. As a first step in her education she must learn the names of all the likely blooms, and now she repeated, “Wallflower, windflower, cowslip, narcissus, rockfoil,” in the direction of the items in her basket.

“Just so,” agreed Cuff, nodding and touching his hat. “And that one there?” He pointed at the colorful bed with the toe of his boot.

“Lungwort—what an unpleasant name! Like something witches might use for their spells.” A breeze lifted the curls that had escaped confinement while Mary’s attention had been elsewhere, and her smile was similarly mischievous.

Cuff bent and plucked a pale blue flower to add to her collection, and Mary said, “Forget-me-not. I did not pick any, as they are so small.”

“No, best left where they are, perhaps.” After a moment Cuff added, “Nothing for him, then, miss?” removing his pipe from between his teeth and frowning, as if its failure to draw had something to do with his question.

Mary shook her head, and her voice lost a little of its enthusiasm. “Not yet.”

The rather complicated logic of Cuff‘s remark had not confused her. “Him” referred to a Royal Artillery officer of their acquaintance named Robert Holland. He was part of the unusual circumstances that had first brought Mary to Suffolk and had set in motion what she still privately called her “Adventure.” Few people were privy to everything that had happened during those strange weeks in October when she had helped to defeat a French spy, and those few had been sworn to secrecy. For his part Cuff knew only that there was a sort of understanding between miss and the captain, and that he, old Cuff, meant to help it along.

The help he provided was of a particular nature. The two young people wished to maintain a correspondence, but they could not do so openly. Holland’s letters to Mary, therefore, arrived under cover to Mr. Josiah Cuff, and Mary’s to Holland were posted by the same J.C. (Mary had also coached him in a likely story should a letter be queried, for she had no confidence in his innate powers of deception.)

“It has been less than a fortnight,” she explained, fretting with her scissors. “I mean . . . not quite yet.”

“You know best, miss.”

Mary nodded, but she was far from certain that she did know best. It was all very difficult. She had not actually seen Holland for more than six months, and their communications in the meantime had been very sparse. In part this was because words did not flow easily from the captain’s pen. Indeed, he seemed to hesitate over every line. His efforts had also been restricted, however, by circumstances beyond his control. He held a staff appointment at the regimental headquarters at Woolwich—a place known as the Warren—but in November he had been sent to Gibraltar, ostensibly to oversee an extension to the great siege tunnels. This had not been the only, or even the primary, reason for his employment there, but the epistolary effect had been the same—the mail did not travel very quickly between Gibraltar and Suffolk, and there was always the chance that shipwreck or enemy action might disrupt it altogether.

The character and frequency of Holland’s correspondence had naturally affected Mary’s. She could hardly answer his cautious reports, in which details of fortress routine featured prominently, with wild displays of emotion. Her letters must mirror his, with accounts of her days at Lindham Hall, or the progress of her legal affairs, or references to the weather. Nor could she reply too promptly. If he waited a month between letters then so must she. None of this was the result of indifference or coquetry on her part, but rather a halfunderstood notion that she must not commit herself any further than she had done. What did she really know of Captain Holland, after all? A correspondence like theirs was not strictly proper—not proper at all, in fact—and people who did improper things often suffered for them, or at least were found out. And being found out, especially whilst she was under Mrs. Tipton’s authority, was not a pleasant prospect.

Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, the latter a particular gesture of decision, Mary told herself not to think about Captain Holland and informed Cuff that she must go inside. He agreed, saying it was just like Peggy to come out for a squint, and then they’d catch it. They parted on those wise words, Mary to the Hall, where she intended to arrange her flowers, and Cuff to the stables to give the harnesses a thorough clean, by which he meant that he was going to have a nap.

Mary pushed the heavy front door closed behind her, kicked off her old boots, and retrieved the neat leather slippers she had left in the passage. She had promised Mrs. Tipton to give up ineligible footwear, but with a private exception for gardening, long walks, and any activity that might prove particularly wet or muddy. Others of Mary’s station might not have taken such a frugal view, but she could not easily forget a girlhood of genteel poverty and, until very recently, the prospect of a straitened adulthood. Perfectly good shoe leather—or boot leather—oughtn’t to be wasted.

Having made the necessary change, she dropped her boots into the large urn that held a collection of walking sticks, a sword that had allegedly seen action at the Battle of Sedgemoor, and Mrs. Tipton’s umbrella and proceeded with her flowers to the kitchen. From there she was ordered to the pantry by Pollock, who suspected that worms and other undesirables were concealed among the blooms, and she wouldn’t tolerate none of them crawlies in her kitchen. It was from the pantry, therefore, that Mary emerged some time later, clutching two jugs of tastefully arranged spring flowers. One she placed on the sideboard in the entrance hall, and the other she carried into the parlor. This was strictly the second parlor, for the first parlor was grim and uncomfortable, as befits a room preserved for “best” and, consequently, almost never used.

As Mary crossed the room Mrs. Tipton awakened. She had been “resting her eyes,” but now she sought to ward off any suggestion that she had been asleep and might have missed something. She was a small, sharp, imperious old lady, and she blinked at Mary from behind steelrimmed spectacles. “Ah, there you are at last,” she cried. “What have you been doing?”

“Gathering these flowers, ma’am, as you asked. I hope you are pleased with them? The garden is looking lovely in the sunshine.”

“Yes, yes—very pretty. And where is Mr. Cuff? He ought to have been helping Peggy to lift the stair carpet, but I expect he has made himself scarce, as he generally does on such occasions.”

“No, ma’am, indeed, he was helping me,” said Mary, loyally, although she had heard something about the carpet project and suspected that it had stimulated his interest in the garden.

Mrs. Tipton made a scoffing sound and then declaimed pointedly on Cuff ‘s several shortcomings, all of which threatened to undermine the smooth operation of the household. “Something will have to be done about it,” she decreed. “That is how all the trouble started in France, you know.”

“In France, ma’am?” asked Mary, trying not to smile.

“Certainly. Servants getting above themselves, and people unwilling to take a firm hand. And what has been the result? Revolutions, and guillotines, and now this fellow Bonaparte. Well, I shall soon put an end to it. We shall have no Rights of Man at Lindham Hall, nor any other nonsense.”

Mary had to bite her lip to maintain her countenance. “Oh dear.”

“It is a serious matter, and one must regard it as such. Heaven help us if we go the way of the French—the whole country in an uproar and men taking off their breeches.”

Mary knew rather more about the political situation in France, and she attempted to explain. “I think, ma’am, that you mean—”

“I mean men with no breeches,” Mrs. Tipton repeated, her eyes flashing. She disliked being interrupted. “Sans culottes, they call themselves.”

“Yes, but they—”

“A perfectly ridiculous practice when it comes to governing a country, but history provides us with many instances of men behaving foolishly, and this is but the latest. In fact . . .” She hesitated as it suddenly occurred to her that this was not the best topic of conversation to pursue. Young persons were impressionable, after all. “. . . your letters have arrived,” she finished.

“My letters?”

“Yes, certainly—on the table.” Mrs. Tipton gestured irritably. She also disliked being misheard or misunderstood.

Mary likewise decided to abandon the sansculottes, albeit for different reasons. Instead, she gathered the small pile of neatly folded and sealed papers and sat down on the sofa. She was used to her friend’s crotchets, and she quite enjoyed receiving letters, particularly those that did not engender anxiety. Before she had come to Suffolk a letter had been a rare event. Her circle had consisted of other penurious females, and no one else had had occasion to write to her. Her circle was still small but lately she had begun receiving invitations to dinner parties, and dances, and musical evenings, often from people whom she did not know, but always expressing an earnest desire for her presence. This was what came of being well off, and it was really very charming.

Mary smiled as she glanced at the first message, and Mrs. Tipton’s own gaze softened into complacency. Almost since Mary’s arrival at Lindham Hall Mrs. Tipton had entertained an ambition for her—that she should succeed in County society. This ambition might have had something to do with Mrs. Tipton’s lack of a daughter to mold and influence. On the other hand, she liked to mold and influence most of the people with whom she came into contact. However it had come about, Mary Finch was her particular project, and Mrs. Tipton was not displeased with the changes she had wrought during the past seven months. Mary had always been a pretty girl, but pretty in spite of her dowdy, unadorned gowns and ingenuous manner. No one could have mistaken her for anything but a schoolmistress or governess. Yet now her celery-colored muslin might have been described in the pages of the Lady’s Magazine, and the color set off her auburn curls admirably.

That is what a pretty girl needs, mused Mrs. Tipton, a proper setting. And now that those rascally lawyers have consented to turn over her inheritance, who can say what might happen? It was fortunate that Mary had neither the freckles nor the pale complexion that often accompanied red hair—no, auburn, she corrected. And as for the sharp temper . . . “Well?” she demanded, nodding at the letters in Mary’s lap. “What is the tally?”

“Dinner at Woolthorpe Manor in a fortnight.”

“Yes, very well.”

“A card party at Miss Carmichael’s.”

“Negligible, and she will undoubtedly attempt to throw that nephew of hers in your path, which is tiresome. When is it to take place?”


Mrs. Tipton pursed her lips. “Do not reply straightaway. Something better may arise.”

“And there is to be a concert at Ickworth Lodge. The countess of Bristol begs we will attend.”

“Hmm. The Herveys are curiosities and not in the best of taste, but a plain refusal might do you harm in other quarters. We must consider how best to respond. What sort of concert?”

Even when she remembered to control her smiles or frowns, Mary’s eyes often testified to her state of mind, and now a sense of fun shone through the green depths. “ ‘In the Italian style.’ “

“Good Lord,” complained Mrs. Tipton with a shudder. “A decent collection of letters, however. What is that thick one?”

“It looks,” said Mary, turning over the wrapper, “to be from Storey’s Court, but I do not think it is Sir William Armitage’s hand.”

Mrs. Tipton urged her to open it. “If they are planning a ball you must certainly attend. With Susannah Armitage as good as married there may be some excellent opportunities. There is the carriage to consider, for I do not know that Mr. Cuff can drive such a distance . . . his rheumatism, you know, but I daresay something can be contrived.”

“I beg your pardon? Oh, yes,” agreed Mary, absently, as she continued to examine the packet. Was it really a ball? She had received a letter from Sir William quite recently, and he had said nothing about any sort of entertainment. Of course, he might have forgotten. She could almost hear him gaping at Lady Armitage and murmuring, “A ball, my dear? Here? Ah, certainly, but remind me when it is to occur?”

She smiled. Sir William had proven himself an exceedingly good friend. He had been ever so helpful about her Adventure; it was because of him that Mrs. Tipton had never been alarmed or distressed by it. He had managed to charm her, which was no mean feat, and he had not minded her outrageous hints about helping Mary to find her place in society. On the contrary, he had immediately invited Mary to spend Christmas at Storey’s Court! Were it not for Sir William she would never have met Susannah and Charlotte, and of course he was Captain Holland’s cousin—

Captain Holland.

All at once Mary experienced that prickly, shuddery feeling that Peggy said was caused by someone walking across your grave. That was nonsense, but might something have happened to Captain Holland . . . and Sir William had learned of it? Gibraltar was probably a very dangerous place—there were tunnels, after all—and if he had received bad news, dear Sir William would certainly write to her straightaway . . .

Her fingers were shaking. Something had happened, and she had been bothering about card parties and Italian singers!

“They might send a carriage and servant for you,” mused Mrs. Tipton. “It would be a thoughtful gesture on Sir William’s part, and I am sure that if he were reminded . . .”

Mary tore open the seal; the paper inside had a black border. “He is dead!”

“. . . of our situation. What did you say?”

Mary was reading quickly, and now she frowned in confusion. The color had drained from her face, and she felt stricken and relieved at the same time. “It is . . . dreadful news . . . Lady Armitage writes, and there is a message from Susannah as well. It was an apoplexy, they believe, and . . . the doctor says he did not suffer.”

“But what is it?” demanded Mrs. Tipton.

“It is poor Sir William . . . He is dead.”

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Counterfeit Guest includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Rose Melikan. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the development of Mary Finch’s character. Have wealth and social status changed her? Do you agree with Mary’s self-assessment that she has become “concerned only with satisfying her own vanity”? If not, provide evi­dence to the contrary.

2. Explain Captain Holland’s reluctance to pursue a romantic relationship with Mary. Do you believe his fears are justi­fied? How does Mary attempt to reassure him? Do you think she is successful? Why or why not?

3. What are the central elements of the plot regarding the military installations at Spithead, the Nore, London, and Woolwich? What roles do Crosby-Nash, Rabelais, Major Whittington, and Phoebus play with regard to mutinies at these locations, and why do their plans succeed or fail?

4. Compare Major Whittington’s way of thinking about his duties with Captain Holland’s. What insights do you gain about their characters and motivation? Do you believe that each could stand to learn from the other’s approach? Why or why not?

5. Revolutionary sentiments compete with personal or po­litical expediency for a number of the characters in The Counterfeit Guest. Who do you believe are true revolu­tionaries, and how do they meet their respective ends? In general, how does Melikan appear to regard 1790s England and its conceptions of revolutionary France?

6. What is Captain Holland’s attitude toward the mutiny at the Woolwich Warren? Why does he confront the men in the barracks with the mutinous handbill? What arguments does he use to challenge the handbill’s propositions? Did you find his arguments compelling? Why or why not? How would you have approached that delicate encounter?

7. To what extent do you believe Mary was an effective spy? What are her greatest strength and her most serious weak­ness? How is Crosby-Nash able to build a “case” against Mary, and when do you think that he begins to suspect her?

8. How do Mr. Shy and his men hope to thwart the attack on the Magazine at Purfleet? What does Captain Holland be­lieve to be the flaw in their plan, and what goes right and wrong in his and Drake’s attempt to save the day? What does Melikan’s portrayal of Holland and others seem to suggest about the nature of effective espionage work?

9. To whom does the title The Counterfeit Guest refer? Pro­vide evidence for your choice. Do you believe there are multiple choices possible? If yes, why? If no, why not?

10. How is Mary changed by her latest adventure? What common ground emerges between her and Holland with regard to their respective roles in it? What does Holland come to understand about Mary’s true nature, and what do you believe this suggests about their relationship going forward?

A Conversation with Rose Melikan

What have been the challenges of creating your second work of fiction? What lessons had you learned from the first novel that you were able to apply this time?

I suppose that the particular challenge of writing a sequel is to re­create the fictional world of the earlier book without retelling its story. By “fictional world” I mean not just the physical environment but the atmosphere—the degree of realism in the characters and situations, the extent to which either violent or comedic events occur, the rhythm and style of narration. I’d like readers to feel that they have returned to that version of late-eighteenth century Eng­land that they encountered in The Blackstone Key, and also to accept the new scenes, events, and characters as plausible in that world. On the other hand, no one wants to read about the same characters (or thinly disguised replacements) facing the same trials and tribula­tions—and certainly I didn’t want to write about them! At least regarding my own writing, I think that the experience of working through potential plotlines is a great help; the more times I have to ask myself whether this or that action is plausible, or whether I am revealing information in the most effective way, the better. So, the very experience of writing a first novel has helped me with the second. More specifically, because my stories are set in the past, the research for each book broadens and deepens my knowledge and hopefully makes my fictional world richer and more interesting.

Did you already have the plot for The Counterfeit Guest in mind when you were writing The Blackstone Key? Did you find your­self writing to a certain ending in order for the third book of the series to pick up there?

The story that became The Blackstone Key went through several drafts, and I wrote a great deal of The Counterfeit Guest while The Blackstone Key was taking shape. So, to a certain extent I knew quite early on that Mary Finch was going to have a second adventure and broadly what it was going to entail. I decided to focus on the mutinies of 1797 for several reasons. First, they were a very seri­ous threat to British national security, so they would constitute a real challenge for my characters. Second, because they took place in England and involved the armed forces, they could legitimately draw in both Mary and Captain Holland. And finally, the army mutinies have received much less attention than those involving the navy, so I thought it would be fun to bring them to light. As far as the timing between the three stories is concerned, it was very help­ful that the mutinies took place a year and a half after the events of The Blackstone Key, as I wanted to give Mary time to settle in as the owner of White Ladies before plunging her into a new adventure. I didn’t have quite the same concerns between the second and third stories, but I did have to keep a date in mind. In March 1802 Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens, which brought a halt to the hostilities between the two countries, so I had to decide whether a third adventure might emerge before, during, or after the peace—which lasted until May 1803.

Mary Finch is such a joy to read, yet she necessarily has had to evolve and grow, particularly as she adapts to her new social and economic status. How do you manage to develop a char­acter while keeping her recognizable?

I find that the longer I work with a character, the more he or she becomes like a real person with a will of their own, and it simply isn’t possible to “make” them do or say something con­trary to their personality—it just doesn’t work. However, different characters can present different challenges when it comes to their development between books. For example, Holland’s personality was deliberately obscured in The Blackstone Key, so with him the process of development in The Counterfeit Guest is one of making clearer those attitudes and motivations that had previously been suggested by what he said or did—but rarely by what he thought. With Mary, because her thoughts have always been revealed, it is easier to feel that we know her, and the challenge is to show her development in a plausible way. I think that the key to Mary is her intelligence and imagination. They don’t dictate her response to any given situation, but they indicate how she will arrive at a solution—by questioning, by posing alternatives, and by balancing an awareness of human foibles (particularly her own) with a strong sense of right and wrong.

The novel focuses on the danger posed by revolutionary senti­ments spreading across Great Britain. Was this a perceived as a serious threat to national security by people of the time?

Yes, and not just in the way that you might imagine. Especially after the French monarchy was abolished and the king executed, many in Britain developed a fear of abrupt political change—change that did not occur gradually, by a natural evolution in society. Even theoretically worthwhile reforms, they argued, were dangerous if imposed precipitously, because they swept away old assump­tions and ways of doing things, and in the confusion that followed, greater changes might take place, leading to more confusion, more changes,and the ultimate breakdown of society.As a result,cautious government ministers in this period were worried not only about the small numbers of British people who actually advocated the overthrow of the government (whether or not they had the means of doing so), but also about advocates of apparently moderate re­forms because of what these could inspire.

For those of us who are not well versed in French history, what should we understand about the philosophical ideas that were compelling to the French patriots in The Counterfeit Guest?

The French Revolution went through several stages between 1789 and 1799, with different principles gaining and losing ground, but broadly speaking the revolutionaries believed in the natural liberty and equality of mankind (though not necessarily woman­kind). Consequently, those institutions that failed to protect and encourage equality but instead promoted privilege and servitude were themselves criminal and had to be curtailed or abolished, prominent examples being monarchical government, the Catholic Church, guilds and monopolies, and the aristocracy.

Rabelais, in particular, is described as being a great admirer of Maximilien Robespierre, the man most closely identified with the Reign of Terror. During this period (September 1793–July 1794) France was threatened by civil war, economic collapse, and inva­sion by foreign armies, and the government took extreme steps to “protect the revolution” from its various enemies. General military conscription was introduced, paramilitary forces seized property for national use, wages and prices were fixed, and new laws made it very easy to convict those suspected of counterrevolutionary activi­ties. Robespierre argued that, while popular government relied on virtue during peacetime, it required both virtue and terror during a period of revolution. By “terror” he meant prompt, severe, inflexible justice (punishment) for all enemies of the state:“The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the na­tion; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death.”

Making a “good” marriage or avoiding a “bad” one seems to be a concern for several characters.Was marriage a theme you particularly wanted to explore in this novel?

Actually, I was more interested in the theme of wealth and the cor­rosive influence that gaining or losing it can have on a person’s character. Marriage is important in this context because it was a means by which wealth could be exchanged between families,and it was a mechanism that made women economically significant. Mary actually acquires her wealth by inheritance, but if she married she would gain new opportunities either for increasing it or squander­ing it. In a way Mary’s wealth depersonalizes her; she becomes “the Suffolk Heiress” and a topic of interest for strangers. How she and the other characters in The Counterfeit Guest deal with the prospect or reality of wealth is an interesting barometer of their integrity and strength. Might it even be significant in this respect that Mary and Romney communicate by means of a peculiar sort of coin?

Would you say that Captain Holland’s attitude toward the mutiny at Woolwich is typical of British officers of the period?

Holland’s situation is slightly unusual, in that he is an officer with­out a command, so he has little direct contact with the ordinary enlisted men until the mutiny breaks out.Therefore, he has devel­oped neither a paternalistic nor a condescending attitude toward them, but simply responds with the mixture of idealism—in this case loyalty to the regiment—and pragmatism that characterizes him generally. His attitude, however, is certainly not exceptional for the period. There was no officer caste in Britain with a common background and a shared political outlook. Officers in the army and navy might be aristocrats—typically younger sons—but they were more likely to have sprung from the rural gentry or landholding class, both of which were quite broad in terms of their economic circumstances. It was also possible to obtain a commission in either service after having served as a common soldier or sailor. There were Whig officers and Tory officers, and those with no particular political views. Strictly speaking, all had to adhere to the principles of the Anglican Church, but it was possible to avoid this require­ment, and the degree of Anglicanism required was often nominal.

The evidence from the two navy mutinies indicates a range of views among the officers affected. Some wished to take a very firm stance against the mutineers, but others were sympathetic— particularly as regards the demands for increased wages and im­proved conditions of service. It is difficult to imagine any officer sympathizing with those who advocated armed resistance to the government or surrendering their ships to the enemy, but it is also difficult to estimate how likely were either of these threats. The army mutinies did not last long enough for any such views to emerge, but even during the Nore uprising, many of the mutineers professed their loyalty and maintained that they would fight if the enemy were to appear. Only a few months after the mutiny col­lapsed, crews from formerly rebellious ships fought bravely in the Battle of Camperdown.

How did your own research background contribute to the content of this story? Were you surprised by any of the histori­cal details that you unearthed?

Fortunately, I knew quite a lot about the general political back­ground and the mutinies before I started working on The Counterfeit Guest, and that was a big help because it allowed me to set the story in what I knew would be an interesting period straightaway and then focus on the details that I would need to know in order to place my characters in and around actual historical events. For me that process of digging deeper—sometimes to find out what ministers did during a crisis on a day-by-day basis, and sometimes to learn which spring flowers would have been grown in England during the eighteenth century—can be both rewarding and frustrating, but it’s always interesting. I particularly enjoy delving into new areas, and I suppose that’s where I tend to find the most surprising details,things that I had never really thought about. For instance, while looking up eighteenth-century hymns, I discovered that hymn singing was not yet the norm in the Anglican Church in that period.A conservative rector in a rural parish would probably prefer the older-tradition metrical psalms, which the congregation would sing to the accom­paniment of a small church band rather than an organ.

What can we expect in your third installment of this series? Have you considered going beyond the trilogy? If not, what do you wish to tackle after you have finished this series?

I don’t want to give the game away, so I’ll say that the title is The Mistaken Wife, but let readers discover who is the wife and who is mistaken.The time frame is more compact than that in The Coun­terfeit Guest, but I think that the scope of the story is wider—cer­tainly this adventure will plunge both Mary Finch and Robert Holland into a very different sort of danger. . . .

I can’t honestly say what will come next, but it will undoubt­edly be historical. I do have an idea for a fourth Mary Finch story, but whether it develops beyond that stage—or when it might do so—hasn’t been decided. Perhaps Mary and I will have to discuss it.

As you continue to make the transition to fiction, what in­trigues you about writing historical fiction?

I love learning about history—understanding how things worked in the past, why wars were fought, the process by which ideas devel­oped—and I’m fascinated by the great men and women of the past and their stories. I don’t know that I would like to have lived in the past, particularly when I consider pre-modern medical and dental techniques, but by creating characters and placing them in the past, I suppose I am able to experience that life more vividly than if I were researching a work of nonfiction. I also enjoy the challenge of fit­ting my stories into an actual historical framework. It’s fun to have a calendar of real events and see if I can weave my story and char­acters into it, without sacrificing either the excitement of the story or the historical reality. I’ve heard it said that the truth should never get in the way of a good story, but I like to think that the harmony of fact and fiction makes for a better story.

About The Author

Photo Credit: Jeff Cottenden

Rose Melikan was born in Detroit, Michigan. Since 1993, she has been a Fellow of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. Her academic research centers on 18th and early 19th 
British political and constitutional history. She lives in Cambridge, England with her husband.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (August 4, 2009)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416560876

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