When M. Louisa Locke and I discovered we’d be promoting books in our respective historical mystery series at the same time, we had an idea: Wouldn’t it be fun to ask our two women detectives — one a proper lady in Victorian San Francisco, the other a gritty young private eye in 1940s Dayton, Ohio — the same set of questions about their work and how they manage it as women?
On the surface, at least, they seemed very different. Maggie Sullivan, my sleuth, lives in an all-women rooming house, gets her meals at the dime store lunch counter, and would rather take her chances with thugs than with domesticity. Mrs. Annie Fuller, sleuth of Locke’s popular Victorian San Francisco mystery series, is a young widow who owns and runs a nicely appointed boarding house where she manages a domestic staff.
Being a proper lady, Annie would never indulge in any sort of alcoholic beverage. Maggie is cordially disposed toward most of them, but favors gin and tonic or a glass of dark stout. Annie’s closest friends are people at her boarding house, both “upstairs” and “down”. Maggie’s are a photographer and his wife, a businesswoman with a bad reputation and a former hit man.
Yet resilience and a refusal to judge based on social class are only two of the things these two women have in common. As some of their answers suggest, they’re often on the same wavelength.
Read Part 1 of our interview with them on M. Louisa Locke’s blog.
Here’s Part 2:
5: In a tight spot, how do you hold your own against a man who’s bigger, heavier, stronger?
MAGGIE: My first line of defense is awareness of my surroundings – people on the street, whether I’ve seen a car behind me before — and using my wits. Sometimes just confronting someone is enough to make them back off. I don’t like scars on my face any more than the next girl, so if I get backed into a corner I throw a mean punch. Making a man drop his trousers around his ankles takes a lot of the tough out and keeps him from moving unexpectedly. Of course that generally requires persuasion from my .38 Smith & Wesson. When necessary I use it for more than persuasion.
ANNIE: One of the things I have learned the hard way is not to go alone into potentially dangerous situations. For a woman, there is safety in numbers…even if the other people are other women. It is amazing what two or three determined women can do against a single man. You just have to be clever about these things, think ahead. However, since my father taught me to shoot when I was a girl growing up on our ranch outside of Los Angeles, I have been tempted to buy a small derringer.
6. What’s the biggest misconception men have about women in your era?
ANNIE: That we are too unintelligent to take care of ourselves. I hate to be so blunt. But as someone who had to sit by and watch my first husband squander away my fortune rather than take my advice, forcing me into five wretched years of financial dependence on my in-laws, I am a bit bitter. Then the whole reason I became Madam Sibyl, the clairvoyant, is that men would rather believe that my business advice comes from my ability to read the lines on their palms than from my excellent training and the solid research I do. Very frustrating. Thank goodness, a few men in my life, like the lawyer Nate Dawson, have been willing to recognize that I am their equal intellectually and that I can take care of myself.
MAGGIE: That we’re less competent than they are just because of our gender. That we’re smart enough to put on lipstick, but not to do as well at any job we choose as a man. Hand-in-hand with that is the notion that when we do work, it’s just to mark time until we meet the right fellow, because what we really want, even if we’re too silly to know it, is to settle down and have a family.
7. Of the people in your life, whom do you trust most?
MAGGIE: Seamus Hanlon, a cop who’s nearing retirement age. He was one of my Dad’s closest friends, and has been a part of my life as far back as I remember. I’ve never asked him to do me a favor, or to risk life and limb for me, but I know he would. At some point in the series, he’s going to, in fact. What I cherish him most for is that he never judges me or tells me what to do. He’s just there. A rock. Always.
ANNIE: It may be difficult for many people of my social class to understand, but the people in my life I trust the most are domestic servants. Beatrice O’Rourke, my cook and housekeeper, and Kathleen Hennessey, my personal maid, have always been there for me, helping me run the boarding house, even helping me solve crimes. And then there is the Chinese manservant, Mr. Wong, who I met on my first case. I swear I have never met a man of such kindness and integrity. Unlike many of the men and women of my class who seem to spend all their time pretending to be something they are not, these hard working but often despised individuals don’t waste time with artifice…and I would (and have had to) trust them with my life.
8. What gadget would you like to see invented to help you as a detective?
ANNIE: Only two years ago, a new-fangled invention called the telephone was introduced in San Francisco. This gadget magically permits you to speak to someone over some distance. They are expensive to install, so only a few wealthy families have them, and as far as I can tell they mostly use them to order meat from the butcher or call a doctor in an emergency. But I can tell you it would certainly make my job easier if these telephones were available everywhere. No depending on some errand boy to run across town to deliver a message, or waiting a day for a letter to arrive, or trying to say all you need in a few words for a telegraph message.
MAGGIE: I wish someone would come up with a telephone that worked in my car. When I’m out of my office and need to ask a vital question or warn a client, it would save so much time if I didn’t have to find a pay phone and dig out change. They’re already starting to put radios in cars. How hard could a phone be?
No Game for a Dame, first book in the Maggie Sullivan mystery series by M. Ruth Myers, is free for Kindle, Nook, Apple and Kobo through Jan. 26. Uneasy Spirits, second book in the Victorian San Francisco mystery series by M. Louisa Locke, is free for Kindle through Jan. 22.