The Luddites

A friend called me a Luddite the other day after a fit of yelling about computers.. (I am actually good with computers. But after my laptop crashed in June, I still haven’t gotten my finances straightened out. According to Quicken, I am $14,000 in the hole. Hence my rant about computers in general and online banking in particular.) But I digress.

The name-calling prompted me to research the Luddites. Yes, it was a real group – of weavers and other textile workers in the early nineteenth century. New weaving and spinning machines were coming into the factories.The owners said that the machines were more efficient – they probably were – and would make cloth cheaper – and they did. (The word ‘shoddy’ came into being shortly thereafter. Coincidence? I doubt it.)  The weavers were not opposed to the new machinery; that was not the issue. The problem was greed.

Weavers spent seven years in an apprenticeship before they could set up shop. Now they feared that the time and effort put into this craft was wasted. They had reason to worry. As the factory owners fired the men, they hired women and children, who they paid much less, to work instead.This was the beginning of six year olds working 14 hour days in a factory.

So the men protested. They blackened their faces and broke into the factories to destroy the new and expensive machinery. They purported to follow a fictional character called Ned Ludd(a stocking weaver) or another fictional personage King Ludd. Thus the name.

The British Government sided with the factory owners and made breaking machinery a capital crime. Soldiers were sent to quell the protests. A large number of men (both members of the protests and not) were swept up and accused of being Luddites. Those that were found guilty were either executed or transported. That ended the protests very quickly.

The situation was slightly different in the United States. The first textile factory came into  being in Massachusetts in 1814. Lowell, who had seen the textile machines in Great Britain, wanted to do the same in the U.S. (The city of Lowell is named for him.) He built his first factories beginning in 1816. But the  United States had a smaller population and there was not a large number of unemployed men so there was not the same labor pool. To solve the problem Lowell hired young women, who became known as mill girls, between the ages of 15 and 35. He of course paid them less than men. (To his credit, he chose not to employ children.) The mill girls were housed in company owned boarding houses, were strictly chaperoned and offered other ‘improving’ activities so the jobs had decent working conditions. This changed as the century wore on. The mill girls unionized, went out on strike a few times, and finally joined forces with another union.

Since my character,  Will Rees, is a weaver he is going to be affected by the increasing industrialization. In fact, will lose his profession in less than twenty years. He will be in his middle fifties by then, however, a fairly advanced age for the time, so he will have missed this huge change by only a few years.


Goodreads Giveaway

To celebrate the publication of my new book, The Shaker Murders, which is coming out in February, I am giving away copies of the book that comes before it. In the Devil’s Cold Dish, Rees and his family are targeted by someone who wants to destroy them. Rees is accused of murder and then Lydia is accused of witchcraft. As Rees’s hometown turns against them, mobs of angry men descend on his farm to capture Lydia and hang her. He spirits his family to safety and then returns to Dugard. On the run, he attempts to identify the person behind the harassment.


I just heard this morning that new guidelines are being set for seats. Good. Although the flight to St. Petersburg was not long, the seat was so uncomfortable I spent the few hours twisting and turning.

Okay, flying itself is no longer fun. I love seeing other parts of the country but getting there – not fun.

I don’t have much trouble with security; they seem to have worked out the kinks. (Although my right ankle always rings. Why? I don’t know. I think the equipment gives a lot of wrong positives. The last flight, both my husband and I got tagged on the right ankle. Weird.)

But I digress.

The thing I really find annoying and strange is this. If there is a stopover at Newark or Dulles, the plan lands on the extreme opposite of the airport. To get to the other side, passengers have to walk to a door and go outside to a vehicle that looks like a subway car on wheels. At Newark passengers go down this tiny cement stairwell that is one person wide. At the bottom, an employee checks your boarding pass (because – sarcasm alert – we all know you can wander around the terminals without being checked in by security) before he allows you on the bus. Then the passengers are driven to the other side of the terminal and dropped off.

This doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of walking at both arms of the terminals either. So an extra 20 – 30 minutes have to be added to the layover time just to cross the terminal. And then the passengers still have to reach their gates. On our way back from Florida weather delayed our plane by almost an hour. We were running!

I couldn’t help wondering what happens to a disabled person or someone who can’t run.

And flying is not so quick either. With all the stopovers and delays, the flight took almost 12 hours. This is why I drive whenever possible.

Bouchercon and More

I haven’t blogged for awhile. Quite awhile. We moved and moving absorbs all of your energy, psychic as well as physical. Now we are unpacking which is almost as bad.

The week, yes, one week after moving, we left for Bouchercon in Florida. This was another wonderful conference. St. Pete’s was actually cooler than New York! And a wonderful breeze off the water kept the air pleasant. The Vinoy hotel was magnificent. I love this chandelier in the Grand Ballroom. It was huge. It looks like glass snakes, doesn’t it?


I attended several great panels. And, of course, I sat on a panel of my own. Jonathan Putnam (Lincoln and Speedwell mysteries) Christopher Huang ( a new author who writes about the 1920’s) Laura Anderson ( who writes about the Tudor Period). The panel was moderated by James Ziskin who writes the Elly Stone mysteries.


I also had the opportunity to talk to several authors I admire besides those on my panel. I greatly enjoyed meeting R. J. Koreto who writes the Alice Roosevelt and Lady Frances Folks mysteries set in Edwardian times.

As usual, I came away with a long list of authors that I now have to read!


Of Coroners and Constables

The positions of coroners and constables both came to the United States from Britain. Corner, the root of which comes from the same root as crown – think coronet – was set up in 1134 to certify the death of an individual within a jurisdiction. The position of constable was also an import but the word is much older. The stable part of constable is from the Latin for, you guessed it, stable so the word actually means the count of the stable.

The United States still uses ‘coroner’. Think Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta. But the office, and the requirements for, vary widely by state even now. Some require a forensics speciality, some just a physician. Some are appointed, some are elected. I suspect the results and the opportunities for abuse also vary from state to state.

Anyone who watches British TV knows about constables and all the ranks within the generic title. But even in the United States the early constables had the duties and privileges of a low level law enforcement officer – they have the power to arrest for example. In the era of my character Will Rees, constables (and the watch) were the agents of the law. The constables were under a Sheriff but in Colonial and early Federalist times there were few of those. In the District of Maine (Maine was not a separate state then but was a part of Massachusetts) there was only one Sheriff.

There are still constables in the U.S. but the duties vary widely. What happened? Well, in 1829, when the British Metropolitan Police were established, the states in the U.S. gradually adopted the model of a police force. And police officers took over the duties formerly assigned to the constable.

The Shaker Murders

After the events in A Devil’s Cold Dish, Rees and family return to the Shaker community of Zion seeking refuge. But Rees barely arrives when the body of a murdered Shaker Brother is found in the washtub. More murders quickly follow. Surely the Murderer cannot be a Shaker!

I am happy to announce this sixth Will Rees mystery will be published by Severn House, coming out in the United States next spring (2019.) I just finished the edits on the ms and sent it off. The seventh book, working title Simply Dead, will be published the following spring (2020).

I am hard at work on the eighth.

When I have a finalized cover, I will post it.