I had a lot of reasons for making the heroine of my historical mystery an operatic soprano, but that’s another blog entry altogether. It would have been much better to make Penelope Harris a torch singing flapper down on her luck. Trust me—I thought about it.
Dip into the history torch singers and you will find the Queen of them all - Helen Morgan. She practically invented the torch song, slowing the beat down and hypnotizing her audiences with her control and her range. And what did Ms. Morgan want to be when she travelled all the way from Illinois with dreams of making it big in New York City? That’s right, she wanted to sing opera. In fact, she was a trained soprano who had a career before she came to New York.
A good number of articles will tell you she wanted to sing in a cabaret. Don’t believe it. She had the bug. Helen Morgan studied at the New York Metropolitan Opera and kept her act at the Speakeasies on the quiet. Until she was signed by Rogers and Hammerstein, Ms. Morgan had her eye on an operatic career.
Sopranos weren’t just popular; they drew crowds of thousands. Geraldine Farrar, a soprano at the Met, stopped traffic when thousands of her enthusiastic young female fans (called “Gerry Flappers”) flooded the streets, surrounded her car, and wouldn’t leave until she stood on the running board and sang an aria from Manon. In 1915, Ms. Farrar made the first film rendition of an opera - Carmen. It was a silent film. House managers across the U.S. reported back that the melodies were so well known that audiences sang along to the pianist – in French.
In the end, giving my heroine an aspiration to take
the stage as an operatic soprano made sense. It made even more sense when you
consider the operas themselves. Bloodthirsty fathers, mad daughters, secret
affairs of the heart, ruin, murder, robbery, criminal activity—Grand Opera
has it all. When I put Penelope together with her career and her talent, a
germinating idea took flight. I started with one story which grew into another,
then another until I can hardly bring myself to stop. The groundwork was all
there, all I had to do was put the characters on the stage and begin to
It took no time at all for The Jade Tiger to take shape – a cautious young woman with good intentions and a dark past who would like nothing better than to start fresh, a former policeman who lost his heart and has no inclination to get it back from the woman he loves, and a blackmailer there to spoil both their dreams. Set in the glittering rot of excessive wealth and staggering privilege, the characters of The Jade Tiger found their rhythm and I found my story – starring an operatic soprano.
Excerpt from The Jade Tiger:
je vous aimerai?” Powerful enough to reach through the large crowd to the
foyer, the voice struck all but a few in the crowd mute. She needed no
announcement of quiet, no clap to silence the conversation. As Penelope cast
her gaze across the crowded room, she captured their attention with a raw
display of stage presence. Before their eyes, she transformed from a faceless
member of New York society to a dangerous French street apache, from Penelope
to Carmen. She stood with her hands loose, head bent low, eyes hidden by the
shadow of her wild white-blonde hair. Her stance squared off with the crowd,
facing them off as if in a knife fight. Though
she sang in French, Lund heard only the English translation, as he did whenever
he heard her sing Carmen. When am I going to love you?
she could have given me some warning!” James exclaimed. Thoughtfully depositing
his empty coupe on the mantel, he crossed the room in three quick strides, took
the Amazing Gilberto by the collar, and roughly deposited him on the Axminster.
Gilberto rolled over backward and sat up to stare at the wild thing at Lund’s
side. Penelope looked at him once and dismissed him entirely. Returning her
attention to the crowd, she took them in as James’s fingers found the right
keys. The room was so quiet Lund could hear her footsteps on the carpet.
imperious carriage of careening charisma, Penelope stepped forward, walking Renee
backward across the floor until she was forced to move out of the way, almost
tripping on the train of her dress. Charles caught Renee before she fell, never
taking his eyes from Penelope. Renee’s eyes followed Penelope with a dark hatred.
And fear, Lund thought. Yes, that too.
reached the piano. When am I going to love you? My word, I don’t know. Her
eyes passed over the crowd, falling here and there with deliberate review.
Penelope swayed, then laughed. Perhaps
never? Perhaps tomorrow? She lifted her hands to the rapt audience as if to
ask, then let them fall, disappointed. She stood back, her body relaxed, and her
face appeared intent as she spoke the last line. It had the finality of a death
sentence. But not today, that’s for
picked out notes on the piano one at a time. Most singers rushed into the Habanera
like mad dancers pounding their heels into the ground with the click, click,
click of a rising tempest. Always there were drums and trumpets and loud
clashes of cymbals. The beat of Penelope’s Habanera was slow. She put one hand on
the piano and began again to sing. The words came out like a jeering child at
first, then dangerous, cooing, then seductive. She stared at Renee and smiled
wide, her teeth white against her lips. Releasing Renee from her gaze, she
Lund stared back. He forgot to blink.
The Jade Tiger blurb:
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 1928. The Big
Apple teems with the glitter of Bright Young Things, Prohibition, and
scofflaws—the perfect place for Penelope Harris to start her life over.
As a former opera singer turned
Shanghai nightclub owner, she’s seen and done a lot, maybe too much. With any
luck, she’ll leave more than The Jade Tiger casino behind her—along with a
murdered husband, a blackmailing torch singer, and Thom Lund, the former
policeman who stole her heart. But Penelope has never had that kind of luck;
her past is already waiting for her in New York.
When someone murders her
chiseling blackmailer at an out-of-control party and Thom accused of the crime,
Penelope must face down her darkest memories to prove his innocence. Is the
murderer her cousin Charles, suckered into a hasty marriage by Penelope’s
blackmailer? Or is it Penelope’s over-protective mother, who can’t remember a
thing after a blow to the head? Or was it Thom after all, ready to commit
murder to save Penelope from the blackmailer’s wicked plans?
Among the opulent mansions of the obscenely wealthy and the grit of a Hell’s Kitchen speakeasy, Penelope and Thom must navigate double-crosses, bad liquor, bootleggers, and dark, obsessive love to find the murderer before the past reaches out to put a noose around their necks.
Murder at the Met: Publish date Spring 2021:
There are two things Penelope Harris
would rather do than get involved with another murder—sing opera and flirt with
Thom Lund. When two tickets ensure Penelope and Thom get some precious time
together at the Metropolitan opera, neither believes another murder will
interrupt their romantic evening.
Fate has a different plan. Before the
night is over a failed manufacturing tycoon is found dead at the bottom of a
staircase, his poisoned and dying daughter nearby. Is it an accident? Suicide? Or
murder? When a fellow soprano pleads for help, Penelope just can’t help her
As Penelope pulls back the cover on a
diabolical crime, Lund rushes to complete the investigation of a suicide on the
Gold Coast of Long Island. What they find will uncover the sordid underbelly of
high society and put Penelope on the wrong side of her own gun.