Karen Christino recreates New York City in 1926 in her first novel, The Precious Pachyderm: An Evangeline Adams Mystery. Karen has also written horoscopes for Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire magazines, and seven books about astrology. To learn more about Karen and her books visit her website.
History for a Mystery
I easily lose myself in historical research, as it transports me back to a lost time. I had read many histories of the 1920s to write my biography of the famous American Astrologer Evangeline Adams. But when I decided to write a mystery novel about her, I knew I had to bring the period to life in a more vibrant way.
I’d already read too many mysteries set in the ‘20s featuring stereotypical mobsters and molls. Others made little attempt to capture the period. How might I bring real people to life while conveying to the reader the texture and feel of this long-ago time? My many office day jobs suggested I center the book round the astrologer’s office and her assistants. I expected I’d need to read more books, but I soon learned that my best sources were elsewhere.
My first real job had been working for an old film production company. They’d held onto their vintage switchboard for decades, and I was taught how to use it. I worked it into the plot since it would’ve been a key component of office communications – phones didn’t even have dials in 1926, the time I’d chosen to set my story.
I may have also been in the last generation to learn typing on a manual machine. Typewriters looked very different 100 years ago, but when I learned to type in high school, their operation, with carbon paper and few remedies for errors, was essentially the same. And I also remembered my brother’s retro-style candlestick phone, which had always been difficult for me to use – requiring two hands! But that was helpful, too.
As luck would have it, I discovered that my current job’s building had been built in 1927 – with many period fixtures of the time remaining. We’ve probably all gone through a revolving door – which I’m still never totally comfortable with. And the occasionally problematic elevator service would offer me an opportunity to ride the vintage freight elevator. I’d always been curious about it, but I now had an excuse to engage the operator and observe the mechanics.
I began to realize how many remnants of the past were still with us. Evangeline Adams’ offices adjoined the famous Carnegie Hall in New York City. When I visited, an archivist took me to a suite that was similar to hers. There’s nothing like seeing a space first-hand, and the turn-of-the-century building had 12-foot ceilings with high and wide windows all around – like nothing I’d ever seen before.
And Central Park – where I knew Adams often walked her Pekinese dogs – was just a few blocks away. While contemporary autos and buses whizzed by, I could see that the Park itself and many of the nearby buildings were virtually the same when Evangeline had settled there over 100 years before.
My research eventually turned online for books, magazines and old films from the time. But my personal experiences had been the most helpful in convincing me that yes, we could reclaim the past!
The Precious Pachyderm
An Evangeline Adams Mystery, Book 1
Manhattan, 1926. A wealthy businessman found dead. A priceless elephant figurine gone missing. And famous astrologer Evangeline Adams is a primary suspect. To save their jobs, Adams’ assistants Mary Adler and Clara Cosentino investigate the astrologer’s classy clients, oddball employees and offbeat associates to help discover who really committed the crime. And Evangeline solves her first case with the help of astrology in this funny, fast-paced whodunit.