Our guest today is Jane K. Cleland, author of the Agatha-, Anthony-, Macavity-, and David-nominated Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. Dolled Up for Murder, the seventh in the series, is a tale of rare dolls, the Civil War, and obsession. And a cat named Hank. Her first non-Josie short story, “Last Supper,” appears in the June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. In addition, Jane hosts The Writers Room, where she interviews guest authors for broadcast on cable and online. More information about Jane’s books is available at her website. -- AP
by Jane K. Cleland
If the dolls in the seventh Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery, DOLLED UP FOR MURDER, could talk, ah! the tales they’d tell. Some would talk about the little girls who played with them, whispering to us about how they were imaginary friends and trusted confidants. They’d explain how they felt when those little girls outgrew doll-playing and left them in a closet or a toy chest or on a shelf. Others would talk about how they were used for smuggling.
There’s a Civil War-era doll named Nina who, it seems, came to America from Europe with her papier mâché head filled with morphine or quinine, an effort orchestrated by Southern sympathizers to get medical supplies past the Union blockade and into the hands of sick Confederate soldiers. Nina lives in the Museum of the Confederacy, by the way, in Richmond, Virginia. Nina hid medical supplies. Think what else could be hidden in dolls’ heads or in their hollowed out legs, or under their clothing, strapped to their little bodies. Jewels, perhaps, or illegal drugs, or military secrets… or who knows what else.
Dolls of all kinds have been used for smuggling for as long as dolls have existed, and smuggling itself has been going on for even longer than that. I am a realist, so I get it. If you have something to smuggle, you want to find a container that’s not likely to attract attention. I may understand the smuggler’s motivation, but to my mind, there’s something especially distasteful about using dolls for illicit purposes. Dolls represent innocence, or should. When a drug dealer or a spy or a thief use dolls to stash contraband, it isn’t merely breaking the law. It’s a betrayal of innocence.
Yikes! I hate thinking about that. So does Josie. Instead of thinking about how dolls can be abused, let’s do what Josie does when she’s upset or confused. Let’s talk cats. Josie finds her Maine Coon cat, Hank, and cuddles with him, chatting, venting, and sometimes asking his opinion. Since smuggling dolls is so dark, I thought I’d include a brief excerpt from Josie #7, DOLLED UP FOR MURDER, that isn’t. Here’s Hank as you meet him on page 33 in DOLLED UP FOR MURDER:
Downstairs, I made a beeline for Hank’s area. He was curled up in his basket, asleep. I squatted beside him and stroked under his chin, his favorite place to be rubbed. Second favorite was his tummy.
“Hank,” I cooed, “you’re such a good boy. Are you a good boy, Hank? Yes, you are. What a good boy.”
Hank’s fur was mostly silver with charcoal and apricot highlights. His vet called the color chinchilla. Hank had lived at Prescott’s for just over a year now, ever since Gretchen had spotted him wandering around outside. We hadn’t been able to find his owner, so we’d adopted him. It had taken him about a minute to settle in. It had taken me about two minutes to fall in love with him.
“I’m leaving a little early, Hank. I’ll see you tomorrow… okay?”
He turned his head just enough to lick my hand. His eyes stayed closed. I stood up and he settled back in, curling into a tight little comma.