The Big Thrill Discusses THE BODY IN SEVEN DIALS With H L Marsay
In 1914, the idea of a female police officer is dismissed as absurd, but to a small group of determined women, not impossible.
With men departing to fight for king and country, women have new opportunities at home. Dorothy Peto and her fellow suffragettes propose forming the Women’s Police Volunteers to assist police keep order. At first, the suggestion is derided, yet the force is stretched thin. As Dorothy and her friends train and organise to help refugees fleeing the war and guide terrorised Londoners to shelter during the Zeppelin raids, the ‘ladies in blue’ gain a grudging acceptance.
During one nightly bombing raid, Dorothy discovers the body of a beautiful, Belgian refugee in Seven Dials. Convinced the woman was murdered before the bombs fell, Dorothy’s determined to investigate even though the battle-scarred Scotland Yard Inspector remains skeptical of her ideas and enthusiasm. As the list of suspects grows—a British aristocrat, a Belgian gangster and a wealthy German industrialist—Dorothy must outwit the killer, and even some within the WPV.
H L Marsay recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest historical thriller, THE BODY IN SEVEN DIALS.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
Absolutely! I was researching an idea for another book and needed to know when the London’s Metropolitan Police appointed their first female superintendent. That’s when I stumbled across Dorothy Peto and the other suffragettes who formed the Women’s Police Volunteers during the First World War. As soon as I started reading about Dorothy, Nina, Mary and Margaret, I knew I had to write a mystery for them to solve.
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
I totally immersed myself in films, music and books from, or inspired by, the First World War, including Dorothy’s memoir. This is my first historical mystery, and I really wanted to get the details right. The only downside was having It’s a Long Way to Tipperary constantly playing in my head for about three months!
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
I was amazed I had never heard of Dorothy Peto or her colleagues and really wanted to bring them to the attention of other readers. It’s thanks to their bravery and persistence that women were able to join the police and build careers in law enforcement. Although the real Dorothy spent much of the war in Bristol, I set my story in London during the time of the Zeppelin air raids. I tried to imagine how a young woman would have coped in that situation and decided she would need to have courage, determination, and a good sense of humour.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I really hope it sparks an interested in learning more about the real Dorothy and the other pioneering women who feature in the book. I find it very sad that history seems to have forgotten them and hope The Lady in Blue Mysteries will help to put that right.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
Yes! I am busy writing A Death in Chelsea, the second Lady in Blue Mystery.
H L Marsay grew up binge-reading detective stories and promised herself that some day, she would write one too. A Long Shadow was the first book in her Chief Inspector Shadow series set in York. Luckily, living in a city so full of history, dark corners and hidden snickelways, she is never short of inspiration. She has also written The Secrets of Hartwell Trilogy and The Lady in Blue Mysteries. The Chief Inspector Shadow Mysteries have recently been optioned for a television series.
When she isn’t coming up with new ways to bump people off, she enjoys drinking red wine, eating dark chocolate and reading Agatha Christie – preferably at the same time!
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.
The Body in Seven Dials with H L Marsay