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.

Wild Horses

Despite domestication, true wild horses continued to live in Eurasia for the following millennia. I don’t mean the horses in North America that we call wild. These are domesticated horses that escaped human control and went feral. The wild horses of Eurasia had the more robust skeletons, heavier hair, and an almost uncanny skittishness of humans. (One of the traits that was bred into horses was an increasing tolerance of humans.) Forrest reports that wild horses were captured and bred into the more domesticated herds. One mare submitted to a halter but left her foal behind when she fled back into the steppes in early spring. The final wild horse was declared officially extinct in 1969. Who would have guessed it would be so recent?

There are has been an effort to reestablish horses in Mongolia with the Takhi, horses that still bear the genetic signature of the original wild horse breeds,  on the steppes,. This is part of an effort to repopulate the steppes with some of its original inhabitants. Other animals included in this effort are the red maral deer, Mongolian gazelles and argali sheep. Like the original wild horses, these are very wary of human. I suspect that trait may help them survive.

Next: Why horses are important.


More about Horses

As humans began using horses for transport – and war-horses rapidly became very valuable. Forrest quotes a Mitanni horseman as saying a trained horse was worth twice as much as an ox and even an untrained horse twice as much as a cow. For many cultures horses became too valuable to eat. The first talking horse in literature, (in cuneiform dating from the seventh century) the horse says ‘My flesh is not eaten’. He has become too valuable and not just in money. A horse lends prestige.  A trained horse was essential for warfare (the horse is a ‘glorious creature’ clothed in copper armor). Where would the chevalier be without his steed?

By the time of the Old Testament, horses were forbidden flesh.  Romans, who happily consumed dormice and ostriches, would only eat horse meat in extreme poverty. Christians, who moved away from the strict dietary restrictions and ate pork and shrimp, kept the one forbidding horseflesh. There are cultures now who eat them. True. When Christianity moved into pagan German and east to the steppes of Eurasia it moved into territories where the horse had been eaten for centuries. It took a long time to establish the taboo. Among these ‘barbarians’, horses played a mythological role and were sacrificed and eaten as part of the rites. Like the bull in Ancient Crete. horses were divine. After sacrifice they were eaten, partly because it was believed eating sanctified flesh took the divinity and the other attributes of the animal into the human body.

In France, in an effort to encourage eating horseflesh, horse banquets were arranged in the middle 1800s.

To this day, people in some countries such as the U.S. and Great Britain do not eat horse meat. In France, however, horseflesh  turns up on menus, sometimes to the chagrin of a diner whose French is not up to the translation. This happened to a friend who, when she discovered what was on the plate in front of her, went supperless. I share her revulsion even though I will happily consume chicken.I cannot imagine myself eating either horse or dog, the two companions that have shared our journey through history.

Early horses

I picked up a book called The Age of the Horse: an Equine Journey through Human History by Susanna Forrest. It confirmed most of what I remembered from my childhood but also included so much more information. So much I am still trying to organize it in my head. This is what happens in research: one starts on one thread and then is drawn into many different paths.

Eurasia is the only place where the wild horse survived after the last Ice Age. A lot of archaeological digs have taken place here but because of the many milennia that have passed there is a lot of uncertainty about the when of certain milestones. For example: when was the horse truly domesticated?

Besides Forrest, I also looked at some other sources. A Natural History article by Sandra L. Olsen (a zooarchaeologist from Carnegie Mellon)  confirms that after hominids arrived cut marks on the bones made by stone tools begin appearing.

These early horses – and I use the term loosely since there were several different species – shared some common characteristics. Heavy heads, heavy hair and round bellies. Skeletons indicate they did not vary much from one another. There is no recognizable ancestor of the Shire horse or the Arabian. (Of course humans had a hand in creating horse breeds. Once horses were domesticated, humans began selective breeding for favored characteristics).

So the wild horses were hunted first. When were they domesticated? It is thought they were first domesticated – or beginning to be domesticated – about 6000 years ago. Some archaeologists believe a culture called the Botai were the first (although I suspect domestication was one of those jumps forward that took place in many places).  It is hard to know. The arguments rest on interpretation of skeletons and teeth wear. This was the Copper Age but the Botai may not have had copper. Although archaeologists believe the wear on some of the skeletal teeth and jaws indicate use of bits, they were probably from rawhide and no trace of them remains. Proof of bits and bridles, however, means that horses were herded and maybe ridden.

We do know the Botai ate horses. 90% of the bones found at their villages were from horses. The remnants of horse blood and mares’ milk has been found in their pots so some domestication must have occurred.