Mélanie and Charles Fraser


Mélanie and I spent a stormy afternoon yesterday at the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. The building itself is a treat, a replica the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris, surrounded by a rolling golf course, overlooking the city on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Mélanie calls it a “castle.” We saw Raphael’s “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” (and left with two stuffed unicorns from the gift shop) and a Pierre Bonnard exhibit, visited the 18th century Salon Doré that I love and the teacup display Mel loves, and listens to a wonderful organ concert.


The late 18th and early 19th century artworks and furniture and other household items feel like old friends and have inspired scenes and characters in my books. It’s fun now to tell Mélanie “that fireplace could be in on of Mummy’s books” or “doesn’t that lady look as though she could be on one of my book covers?” And just being in the museum – the soaring ceilings, the marble floors, the beautiful artwork and beautiful views is at once inspiring and relaxing – like stepping into another world. As we took a break in the café (Mel enjoying strawberry shortcake, me sipping a glass of brut rosé) I looked through the glass doors that run along one side of the room at the rain-splashed garden outside. Gray sky, a tracery of trees branches whipped by the wind, statues, a thick ivy hedge. Suddenly, a scene for the next Malcolm & Suzanne story (a novella following London Gambit) sprang to my mind. I’ve busy with research and plot logistics and felt a long way from writing, but this scene sprang vividly to mind, though I’m still not sure quite how it fill into the story. I left feeling refreshed and inspired to write and had a bonding afternoon with my daughter that exposed her to new things. Thank you, Legion of Honor!


Are there particular locations that you evoke scenes in books for you, as a writer or a reader?


At Marin Theatre Company’s The Little Mermaid


I was the wrong age for the Disney Little Mermaid – too old to be likely to go to cartoon movies myself much, too young to have a lot of friends with children or to have them myself. I had always stayed away from the fairy tale because the ending is sad. In fact I remember thinking how odd it was Disney had made it into a film until I learned they had changed the ending.

Then Mélanie discovered it, first through a lovely video someone gave us that’s a sort of novella about Ariel and a baby killer whale named Spot, then through the movie itself. She loves it. Ariel, I think, is her favorite Disney princess, alongside Anna and Elsa. We have several Ariel dolls, including two who sing “Part of Your World” (last  night we had them singing a duet). I’ve come to love it myself and find myself very grateful for the changed ending (which once horrified me).

It was only watching the movie with Mélanie that I realized the parallels to Suzanne Rannoch. A heroine who changes herself (mutes herself in fact) to live in the hero’s world. Suzanne gives up a lot of herself to marry Malcolm, including the ability to directly express much of what she believes in (though she’s finding ways around that). The mermaid saves the prince from drowning. Malcolm thinks without Suzanne he’d almost  certainly be alone and might well be dead, one way or another.

This afternoon Mélanie and I saw a wonderful children’s theatre production of the story at the fabulous Marin Theatre Company. The play was based on the Hans Christian Andersen original. I was afraid the differences from the movie she loves, and in particular the sad ending,  would bother Mélanie, but she was entranced. I was stuck by how much of the story (the mermaidcollecting things, seeing prince on his birthday, the storm) is the same as in the movie. The physical pain the mermaid feels in human skin (which isn’t in the movie) struck me as another parallel to Suzanne, who I think at times finds it quite uncomfortable to exist in her Mrs. Malcolm Rannoch persona (though less so now than at first). The fairy tale’s ending in which the mermaid has the chance to return to her old life if she kills the prince all struck me as having parallels perhaps to Suzanne’s betrayal. I’m often not sure what Suzanne might do or how far she might go, but I’m quite sure she’d never kill Malcolm. But there are echoes in the idea that returning to her old self would metaphorically kill the man she loves.

Do you see parallels between the mermaid and her prince and Suzanne and Malcolm? If so do you think their trajectory is closer to Ariel and Eric’s happily ever after or the original story in which they can’t be part of the same world?











Happy weekend! London Gambit is now up for pre-order and has it’s own pages on this site (the trade paperback will be available about the same time as the e-book, but won’t be up for pre-order). Above is a picture of Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington London residence, that I took on a research trip a few years ago. The denouement of London Gambit takes place at a banquet at Apsley House on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. The timeline of the series naturally put the book in June 1818, three years after Waterloo. Perhaps because I was subconsciously aware of this, echoes of the battle reverberate through the book. I needed a major social event for the denouement of the book, and I really wanted it to revolve round the anniversary of Waterloo on 18 June. I knew from a research visit to Apsley House, that Wellington had given banquets for Waterloo veterans on the anniversary of the battle.

Apsley House  (which stands on the edge of Hyde Park at Hyde Park Corner) was designed by Robert Adam and built in the 1770s for the second Earl of Bathurst (who had been Baron Apsley before he succeeded to the earldom). Wellington’s brother Richard, Marquess Wellesley, purchased Apsley House in 1807 and engaged James Wyatt to improve it (with the assistance of Thomas Cundy). Though the grateful nation was offered to build Wellington a London home, Wellington instead bought Apsley House from his brother in 1817 (to help Richard out of financial difficulties). In 1818 Wellington engaged Benjamin Dean Wyatt, James Wyatt’s son, to make repairs to the house. Wyatt installed the nude statue of Napoleon by Antonio Canova, which Wellington had acquired, at the base of the stairs.

But Wellington was still British ambassador to France in 1818. He probably didn’t give his first banquet for Waterloo veterans at Apsley House until 1820, and the first of his banquets took place in a dining room that could only seat 35, so the guests were limited to senior officers. After the Waterloo Gallery was completed in 1830, up to 85 guests could attend, including guests who had not been present at the battle, but the guest list was limited to men. While I worked on the first draft of London Gambit, I danced round what to do with the Waterloo anniversary. In the end I decided that Wellington could have come to London for the Waterloo anniversary in 1818 even if he did not in fact do so, and that he could have held a banquet with the guest list I needed. I blogged more about this recently on History Hoydens.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend! Mélanie and I had a lot of fun seeing a local production of Kismet last night and today we went to a “Pajama jam” (pic below) to which Mélanie insisted on wearing her ballgown and didn’t mind a bit that she looked different. She is very much my daughter!






photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy Valentine’s weekend! As a Valentine’s treat, here are some snippets of letters between the characters. They’re from Valentine’s Day 1818, before The Mayfair Affair (to skip ahead to Valentine’s Day 1819 would spoil about the next three books).  Malcolm is responding to Suzanne’s letter that I posted last year.

What’s your favorite romantic line from the series?

Hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

Harry Davenport to Cordelia Davenport

One of the areas in which I’ve never doubted myself is my ability to put pen to paper. At least when it comes to translating the words of others. Or writing my own commentary on them. Or drafting field notes, in or out of code. But when it comes to you I’ve never been very good at putting things into words, on paper or in person. Suffice it to say, only you could make me take seriously a day I have so long sneered at. Happy Valentine’s Day, Cordy, with all my heart.

Lady Frances Dacre-Hammond to an undisclosed correspondent

I can’t remember when I last wrote to anyone on St. Valentine’s Day. Or acknowledged the holiday at all come to think of it. I’ve received some rather dull overblown verses on 14 February through the years, but actually writing myself? I rather feel I should fight against this traitorous impulse. And yet I feel the most absurd compulsion to pick up my pen and write Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. You see what you’ve brought me to?

Bertrand Laclos to Rupert Caruthers

It’s only a day after all. I know that’s why you’d say. And a day we never could acknowledge very much. And what does a day matter now we’re together most days. And yet— When I got the news from France my first thought was “But it’s Valentine’s Day.” Rather absurd, given what we’ve been through, but it’s not Valentine’s Day so much as Valentine’s Day with you. Which of course shouldn’t stand against helping those in need, which I also know you’d say. Which is one of the many reasons I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day, beloved. I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Aline Blackwell to Geoffrey Blackwell

I never used to understand why Judith got so excited about Valentine’s Day, long before she was old enough to have a Valentine of her own. All the fuss about trinkets and ruffles and quoting (often bad) poetry. I still don’t carry about all of that. But I do quite like spending Valentine’s Day with you. No different in a way than any other day of the year, and yet— Happy Valentine’s Day, Geoff.
Lord Carfax to Lady Carfax

How many years is it? And how many 14 Februarys have I spent in meetings or buried in my study or been gone for entirely? You understand, of course, Amelia. You always understand. No man could have a better wife.

Simon Tanner to David Worsley

The problem with being a writer is that one expected to come up with clever things on occasions that involve the written word. Particularly hard on an occasion that drips in sentimentality. An occasion I’d once have been inclined to mock but now find I have no desire toYou mean the world to me, David. I hope tonight you’ll give me the chance to show you just how much.

Malcolm Rannoch to Suzanne Rannoch

Tears welling up in one’s eyes while in the midst of discussing political strategy has a most interesting affect on a group of M.P.s gathered at Brooks’s. I wish you could have seen it. You’re letter meant an incalculable amount to me, sweetheart. I’ll be home soon. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Happy Tuesday! Hope everyone had a great weekend, a holiday weekend for those of is the states celebrating Martin Luther King Day. Mélanie and I had a very fun weekend with a great live performance of Into the Woods Saturday night, time at our favorite bookstore Book Passage on Sunday, and dinner out on Monday, including reading a book we bought at Book Passage about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of making the world a fairer place.

Today brought a wonderful treat in the form of my first look at the cover for London Gambit, which I think beautifully evokes the scene in the first scene with Suzanne in the teaser that follows Incident in Berkeley Square. What do you think? Which color scheme do you prefer?

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my blog last week on History Hoydens about Rules Restaurant.

And a note to those of you in the Google Group – we don’t always seem to be notifications of new posts and new comments, so it’s a good idea to check the group every so often for new activity.

Have a great week!



New Years Eve 2015/6 (photo: Bonnie Glaser)

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a great holiday season and that your New Year  is off to a good start. I just send London Gambit off to the copy editor. Here, for January’s teaser, is the second half of the Malcolm & Suzanne scene I posted in November.




Christmas 2015 (photo: Julianne Havel)

“What did you learn about the dead man in the warehouse?” Suzanne asked.

“He appeared to have broken in the steal something. There was a hidden compartment in the floorboards that had been pried open near where he was lying.”


Malcolm nodded. “It looks as though he had a confederate who turned on him and took what they had come to steal or a second person broke in in search of the same thing.”

“Something of Craven’s?”

“There’s no way to tell at this point.”

“Jeremy wants you to assist him with the investigation?”

Malcolm nodded with the abashed look of one who didn’t quite want to admit he was pleased. “Someone will have to talk to Carfax given that Craven was his son-in-law, not to mention one of his agents. It’s only sensible for me to do that. And I can probably help with Eustace and Cecilia Whateley.” He twisted his head round to meet her gaze. “That is we can, if you’re willing.”

Suzanne felt a genuine smile break across her face. “Unlike you, dearest, I’m not going to even pretend I’m not pleased to have another investigation.”

Paradoxically, some of their most intimate moments had come in the course of investigations. And, a small voice said inside her head, hopefully this investigation would distract Malcolm while she looked into the rumors about the Phoenix plot.

Malcolm smiled. “I own there’s something appealing about a puzzle. Though I could wish it didn’t involve Carfax, however tangentially.”

“Carfax is in the middle of too many things for that.”

Malcolm gave a wry smile and pulled her in for another kiss. “I told Roth I’d call on Eustace Whateley tomorrow. He was at Harrow a couple of years before David and me so I can use the old school tie.”

Suzanne drew back to look at her husband. “Was everyone even remotely on the fringes of the beau monde at school with you, darling?”

Malcolm gave an abashed grin. “Most boys whose parents want them to grow up to be gentlemen go to Harrow or Eton or Winchester. So if they’re remotely close to my age there’s a one in three chance. Whateley’s father was a banker who wanted his son to move up in the world, know the right people, speak with the right accent. Looking back, I’m afraid he suffered more ribbing from the other boys than I appreciated at the time.”

No wonder thinking among their set could be so uniform. “I don’t want Colin to go away to school, Malcolm.”

He kissed her forehead. “I know. I shocked David today by telling him as much. One of the ways he and I see the world somewhat differently.”

“I imagine Simon was all for it.”

“Mmm. Though careful to acknowledge the decision is David’s.”

She put her hands against his chest. “I suppose I’m afraid—”

“That I’ll change my mind?”

Memories shot through her mind. Malcolm and David laughing over a school memory with a schoolmate. The almost palpable connection one could feel in the air when one learned two men had attended the same school. The unthinking way Malcolm would refer to someone as a Harrovian. “It’s a tradition.”

“You keep expecting me to revert to type.”

“And you keep confounding my expectations. I’m sorry, darling. But—”

“Once a revolutionary always a revolutionary?”

“A palpable hit. So I’m the one who’s reverting to type?”

“We’re all perhaps partly a prisoner of our world. Though you have more flexibility than most. Look at how well you tolerate the world you married into because you were trying to change it.”

She choked. “Talk about flexible thinking, dearest. But you can’t deny it’s part of who you are. I wouldn’t want it not to be. It’s part of the man I love.”

“Fair enough. I won’t deny it. But I won’t send Colin away to school. Even if you decide you want him to go.”

“I wouldn’t—”

He kissed her nose. “My point precisely, beloved.”

Suzanne laughed and reached up to wrap her arms round his neck. “Fair enough. Unless his thinking is as flexible as yours, Eustace Whateley isn’t likely to talk more freely if I go with you.” She frowned, staring at her husband’s cravat. “Darling. I never told you, because I was trying to keep her out of it as much as possible. Last April when Bertrand and Raoul brought Lisette to us and Lisette lost the letter in the garden. It was Cecilia Whateley who accidentally picked it up.” The letter Lisette Varon had been transporting had been from Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine’s daughter, to her former lover the Comte de Flahaut. They had all had some anxious moments when it was missing.

Malcolm’s brows rose. “Interesting.”

“Apparently Cecilia was in the garden to speak with a man she’d loved before her marriage. Just to talk, she told me. I don’t think she even looked at the letter. At least that’s what she said, and I’ve been telling myself it must be true. I don’t know if it makes her more or less likely to confide in me now.”

“Difficult to tell,” Malcolm said. “Though it means you’re already beyond social formalities.”

“There is that. But it also may mean she’s wary of me. I’ll see if Cordy has any connections to Cecilia. Despite the lack of girls’ schools, Cordy’s connected to nearly as many people in the beau monde as you. It’s almost as if the two of you spent your lives preparing to run investigations into their numbers.”

Malcolm grinned. “One has to put the social tedium to use somehow.”


Mélanie’s fourth birthday photo: Bonnie Glaser

Hope everyone’s holiday season is fun and not too hectic. It’s a busy time for us with Mélanie’s birthday on 13 December and lots of fun celebrations with family and friends. It’s also a busy time for the Rannochs/Frasers. I realized that a holiday letter for 1818 would contain spoilers for where the series is going. Last year I posted a letter from Suzanne to Blanca at Christmas 1817. Here are excerpts from a few other letters and notes written by the characters over that holiday season.

Happy holidays!!


Suzanne to Lady Isobel Lydgate

The trouble with the holidays is that at the same time one is scrambling madly to get everything ready, there is a constant round of frivolity and one feels positively guilty for not enjoying it or for regretting that a party of pantomime or round of holiday calls takes one away from shopping or wrapping gifts or assembling baskets for the servants or the dozens of other things that need to be done. Not that I don’t enjoy it. I do, far more than I ever would have thought. But at times I feel as if I’m jugging ten plates at once. Lying in bed last night trying to remember if I still had one more parcel to pick up from the toymaker and if I had sent in the measurements for Jessica’s new frock, it occurred to me that Malcolm (who was sound asleep) doesn’t have the least idea quite much planning truly goes into the holiday. Or perhaps he appreciates the amount of work (he certainly says as much) but doesn’t know quite how frazzled I get. Because, of course, I’m at pains not to let him see…

Lady Frances to her sister Marjorie

I trust Father is settled in. I rather regret him not staying in London for the holiday, but I expect he will enjoy it more in the country. I confess to feeling rather more holiday-ish than I usually do. Perhaps it’s the children. Claudia keeps looking about her with wide eyes at the decorations. I don’t think she remembers Christmas last year so she’s delightfully free of expectations. But Chloe never stops peppering me with questions about her gifts. Archie Davenport is keeping the puppy until Christmas Eve, which is very kind of him. I can only imagine the chaos our household will be thrown into by a small dog, but I confess the creature is quite engaging. I went to see the puppy at Archie’s yesterday. Raoul O’Roarke was there as well, and Malcolm and Suzanne have invited him for Christmas. Rather nice to have him about again. We go to Malcolm and Suzanne’s Christmas night. She seems to be outdoing herself this year – the tree is magnificent, garlands wound round the bannister, burgundy ribbon everywhere. Malcolm, thankfully, seems to have the sense to appreciate her efforts. In fact he’s seems more than usually solicitous of her this year. I  almost wonder— But I won’t speculate.

Malcolm to David

I trust you are surviving Carfax Court. In truth, my memories of holidays with your family are some of my happiest until I married Suzanne. Not that I am not fully appreciative of the stresses. I’m glad Simon went with you,though of course we miss you both. I expect I shall particularly miss you Christmas Day when I put together Colin’s new castle. Do you remember the hours we spent arranging yours in the Carfax Court nursery? Have I said lately what your friendship means to me?

Cordelia to Suzanne

Did Livia leave Portia in Berkeley Square this afternoon? Underneath the console table in the drawing room? And what are you wearing tonight?

Malcolm to Suzanne (left on her pillow Christmas morning)

The holidays never really meant anything to me until you. That’s never been more true than this year. Happy Christmas, sweetheart.

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