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America’s WWII Blackout Cars

by M. Ruth Myers

While working on my current Maggie Sullivan mystery, I wanted to make sure when World War II blackouts went into effect in the United States, especially in Dayton, Ohio, where the series takes place. After all, private eyes wouldn’t be private eyes if they didn’t do a great deal of creeping around at night!

What will be book #6 in the series takes place in the spring of 1942. Despite nationwide fear of air attacks, however, local historian Curt Dalton writes in his book Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II, that the city’s first total blackout wouldn’t take place until a year later, on May 27, 1943.

Ah, but here’s where researching historical fiction yields countless collateral dabs of information that can enrich a story — and make the creative process just plain fun!

Note the lack of shiny surfaces on this WW2 “blackout car”.

Although buildings and streetlights weren’t blacked out until 1943, vehicles were. I’m not talking about extinguishing headlights and taillights. I’m talking about creating what a whimsical turn of mind could view as the 1940s version of stealth technology. Applied to cars.

Just a few weeks before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, production of new 1942-model cars had begun. It screeched to a halt as the US government almost immediately classified chromium as a strategic material since it was needed in the manufacture of stainless steel and necessary to the war effort. The nation’s auto manufacturers were ordered to eliminate “brightwork”, the chrome and stainless trim on cars, within one month. They would have to end production of passenger cars altogether in two months in order to switch to production of military trucks and ambulances, tanks, and aircraft engines.

The few thousand new cars produced in the weeks between when the supply of shiny parts ran out and early February of 1942 when US passenger car production ended entirely are known as “blackout specials”. Normally shiny parts were painted black, gray, olive drab or similar dark color. In some cases the trim was a color that looked attractive with the car’s background color, a decidedly unflamboyant relative to today’s pin stripes and detailing. Surviving cars, and even photographs, are rare.

The same flat, non-reflective painted trim was used on military vehicles as well.

What color do you think Eli and Calvin at Wheeler’s garage paint the trim on Maggie’s DeSoto?

 

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A .38, a nip of gin and sensational legs get 1940s private investigator Maggie Sullivan out of most scrapes,
until a stranger threatens to bust her nose, she’s hauled in on suspicion of his murder
and she finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadistic crime boss.  Amazon  iBooks  Kobo  Nook

Mystery Set in Ohio Captures America’s Entry into WW2

by M. Ruth Myers

Maximum Moxie, shiny new addition to the mystery series featuring the 1940s detective with great legs, Maggie Sullivan, has just landed in digital bookstores.  This fifth book in the series opens when the private eye takes on a new case days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and provides an unusual portrait of a mainland city left dazed but resolute.

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The Story:

Days before the Pearl Harbor attack plunges the U.S. into World War II, private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find a missing engineer in Dayton, Ohio. Has Gil Tremain been kidnaped, or has he turned traitor — to his employer and maybe his country?

As Maggie pieces together his last movements, she finds there are secrets the man’s ex-wife and his employers don’t want uncovered. Maggie herself is attacked and an innocent witness is murdered. The ruthlessness of her opponent — or opponents — becomes even clearer when there’s an attempt to abduct Tremain’s young daughter. Still more chilling, Maggie’s investigation suddenly attracts the attention of a local crime kingpin.

The attack on Pearl Harbor presses every cop in the city into service protecting manufacturing and research facilities. Stunned by the knowledge their nation will soon be at war, even fearful the mainland itself will be bombed, people cling to family and friends. Schedules and routines shatter. Amid the disruption, alone and aware she can’t count on help from the police, Maggie races to save a man who has now become a liability to his captors.

Maximum Moxie, fifth book in the author’s popular Maggie Sullivan mysteries series, gives readers fast-paced twists and turns along with a rare and vividly painted closeup view of a watershed event in 20th century American history.

3 Women Private Eyes You Don’t Want to Miss

woman sleuth peers over fence

If you’ve run through your supply of mysteries featuring smart, competent women private eyes, here are a few more for you to try. It includes two lawyer-sleuths.

I’ve never really considered such hybrids private eyes since they have another income source, but Private Eye Writers of America accepts them as P.I.’s, so it’s hard to quibble. Plus the plain truth is, I’m a fan of the ones listed here:

Arapaho Lawyer

Vicky Holden, lawyer protagonist of an extensive series by Margaret Coel, is a woman well-versed in two worlds. She’s Arapaho, but has lived for a decade in the outside world before returning to the Wind River reservation and her people. Cases take her across the reservation, through the vast, bleak distances surrounding it, and into Denver. It’s great to be able to truly visualize a setting. I can with this series because from age eight until graduating from college I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and had an Arapaho friend from the reservation who visited me.

Baltimore Attorney

On the other side of the country, Baltimore, Maryland, is the setting for one of my favorite detectives, Sam (Stephanie Ann) McRae, the creation of NY Times best-selling author Debbi Mack. Sam also is a lawyer, a tough, gritty one who can hold her own in rough blue-collar neighborhoods as well as snooty ones. One of the reason I like her is her empathy for others and her understanding of human foibles. There are four books in the series, but a new publisher (WildBlue Press) has begun reissuing them, and not all show on Amazon just yet.

British Private Investigator

Finally, there’s a fine woman private eye who works at that alone. She’s Kate Shackleton, a young World War I widow, and the series featuring her is the creation of British author Frances Brody. Kate’s widowhood allows her a goodly measure independence without making her unbelievable in her time period. She’s intelligent, resourceful and doesn’t scare easily. She owns her own home in a small village, but her cases take her not only through the countryside but into London. She owns and drives a car, and is a skilled photographer. If you like classic British detective novels or American P.I. yarns, I predict you’ll like Kate.

BOOK BARGAIN

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A .38, a nip of gin and sensational legs get Depression-era private investigator Maggie Sullivan out of most scrapes – until a stranger threatens to bust her nose, she’s hauled in on suspicion of his murder and she finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadistic crime boss.  Amazon  iBooks Kobo  Nook

What Do a Victorian Lady and a 1940s Gal Gumshoe Have in Common? — Part 2

When M. Louisa Locke and I discovered we’d be promoting books in our respective historical mystery series at the same time, we had an idea: Wouldn’t it be fun to ask our two women detectives — one a proper lady in Victorian San Francisco, the other a gritty young private eye in 1940s Dayton, Ohio — the same set of questions about their work and how they manage it as women?

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Maggie Sullivan mystery #1 shows woman private eyeOn the surface, at least, they seemed very different. Maggie Sullivan, my sleuth, lives in an all-women rooming house, gets her meals at the dime store lunch counter, and would rather take her chances with thugs than with domesticity.  Mrs. Annie Fuller, sleuth of Locke’s popular Victorian San Francisco mystery series, is a young widow who owns and runs a nicely appointed boarding house where she manages a domestic staff.

Being a proper lady, Annie would never indulge in any sort of Unseasy-MLalcoholic beverage.  Maggie is cordially disposed toward most of them, but favors gin and tonic or a glass of dark stout.  Annie’s closest friends are people at her boarding house, both “upstairs” and “down”.  Maggie’s are a photographer and his wife, a businesswoman with a bad reputation and a former hit man.

Yet resilience and a refusal to judge based on social class are only two of the things these two women have in common.  As some of their answers suggest, they’re often on the same wavelength.

Read Part 1 of our interview with them on M. Louisa Locke’s blog.

Here’s Part 2:

5: In a tight spot, how do you hold your own against a man who’s bigger, heavier, stronger?

MAGGIE: My first line of defense is awareness of my surroundings – people on the street, whether I’ve seen a car behind me before — and using my wits. Sometimes just confronting someone is enough to make them back off. I don’t like scars on my face any more than the next girl, so if I get backed into a corner I throw a mean punch. Making a man drop his trousers around his ankles takes a lot of the tough out and keeps him from moving unexpectedly.  Of course that generally requires persuasion from my .38 Smith & Wesson.  When necessary I use it for more than persuasion.

ANNIE: One of the things I have learned the hard way is not to go alone into potentially dangerous situations. For a woman, there is safety in numbers…even if the other people are other women. It is amazing what two or three determined women can do against a single man. You just have to be clever about these things, think ahead. However, since my father taught me to shoot when I was a girl growing up on our ranch outside of Los Angeles, I have been tempted to buy a small derringer.

6. What’s the biggest misconception men have about women in your era?

ANNIE: That we are too unintelligent to take care of ourselves. I hate to be so blunt. But as someone who had to sit by and watch my first husband squander away my fortune rather than take my advice, forcing me into five wretched years of financial dependence on my in-laws, I am a bit bitter. Then the whole reason I became Madam Sibyl, the clairvoyant, is that men would rather believe that my business advice comes from my ability to read the lines on their palms than from my excellent training and the solid research I do. Very frustrating. Thank goodness, a few men in my life, like the lawyer Nate Dawson, have been willing to recognize that I am their equal intellectually and that I can take care of myself.

MAGGIE: That we’re less competent than they are just because of our gender. That we’re smart enough to put on lipstick, but not to do as well at any job we choose as a man. Hand-in-hand with that is the notion that when we do work, it’s just to mark time until we meet the right fellow, because what we really want, even if we’re too silly to know it, is to settle down and have a family.

7. Of the people in your life, whom do you trust most?

MAGGIE: Seamus Hanlon, a cop who’s nearing retirement age. He was one of my Dad’s closest friends, and has been a part of my life as far back as I remember. I’ve never asked him to do me a favor, or to risk life and limb for me, but I know he would. At some point in the series, he’s going to, in fact. What I cherish him most for is that he never judges me or tells me what to do. He’s just there. A rock. Always.

ANNIE: It may be difficult for many people of my social class to understand, but the people in my life I trust the most are domestic servants. Beatrice O’Rourke, my cook and housekeeper, and Kathleen Hennessey, my personal maid, have always been there for me, helping me run the boarding house, even helping me solve crimes. And then there is the Chinese manservant, Mr. Wong, who I met on my first case. I swear I have never met a man of such kindness and integrity. Unlike many of the men and women of my class who seem to spend all their time pretending to be something they are not, these hard working but often despised individuals don’t waste time with artifice…and I would (and have had to) trust them with my life.

8. What gadget would you like to see invented to help you as a detective?

ANNIE: Only two years ago, a new-fangled invention called the telephone was introduced in San Francisco. This gadget magically permits you to speak to someone over some distance. They are expensive to install, so only a few wealthy families have them, and as far as I can tell they mostly use them to order meat from the butcher or call a doctor in an emergency. But I can tell you it would certainly make my job easier if these telephones were available everywhere. No depending on some errand boy to run across town to deliver a message, or waiting a day for a letter to arrive, or trying to say all you need in a few words for a telegraph message.

MAGGIE: I wish someone would come up with a telephone that worked in my car. When I’m out of my office and need to ask a vital question or warn a client, it would save so much time if I didn’t have to find a pay phone and dig out change. They’re already starting to put radios in cars. How hard could a phone be?

No Game for a Dame, first book in the Maggie Sullivan mystery series by M. Ruth Myers, is free for Kindle, Nook, Apple and Kobo through Jan. 26.  Uneasy Spirits, second book in the Victorian San Francisco mystery series by M. Louisa Locke, is free for Kindle through Jan. 22.

One Busy Woman P.I.

This week is a busy one for 1940s private eye Maggie Sullivan.  First, read her answers in Part I of an interview today on M. Louisa Locke’s blog where we jointly interview our two characters.  Part II will appear here tomorrow (Jan. 21).

One carries a parasol One carries a .38Two women sleuthsTwo novelsFREE1-20-22 (1)

 

Then learn more about Maggie Sullivan and the series in this video interview author Debbi Mack did with me on CrimeCafe.  Click the video button in the CrimeCafe graphic of the skyline & moon immediately BELOW Debbi’s introductory comments.

New Mystery Short Story Set in 1940

“A Concrete Garter Belt”, a new Maggie Sullivan short story, has joined the four novels and one other short story currently in the mystery series.   It was previously published in the Private Eye Writers of America anthology Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora, but is now available as a stand-alone.

Garter-Zon

The private eye’s search for a missing girl takes her into a secretarial service, a common resource used by countless small businesses before the advent of answering machines, Spellcheck and Office 365.  It also provides a window into an era when being pawed by the boss was the price young women often paid for keeping their job.

Maggie doesn’t take well to pawing.  And she carries a Smith & Wesson.

 

Crossing Gender Lines to Create a Woman Investigator

Grant McKenzie leads a double life, as a thriller writer under his own name and as author of the Dixie Flynn mysteries under the name M.C. Grant. The latter series features a young investigative journalist for an online news site who’s as tough as she is rumpled. Beauty With a Bomb, the third book in the series, was a finalist for this year’s Shamus Award for best paperback original P.I. novel — and is it a page-turner!

This year’s Shamus Awards Dinner gave me an opportunity to become acquainted with Grant and his wife, Karen. He generously agreed to be interviewed for this blog.

Angel With A Bullet

Ruth: You already were well established as a thriller writer when you started the Dixie Flynn series. What made you decide to tackle something a good bit different?

Grant: The Grant McKenzie novels are real edge-of-your-seat thrillers written in third-person, but I have always been a fan of crime noir that tends to be written in first-person. The Dixie Flynn series allows me to explore a genre that I adore, and write it from a different perspective. (I also write them in present tense, which is different from the Grant McKenzie novels, too).

Creating a series also allowed me to introduce quirky characters that can grow with each book, so that a minor character in one book could take on a larger role in the next book, while another character sits on the sidelines. Plus, as becomes very clear in the Dixie books, the ramifications of each book plays a toll on Dixie, shaping her in dark and dangerous ways. That’s why I always suggest that readers start the series at Angel With A Bullet before moving on to Devil With A Gun and Beauty With A Bomb.

Ruth: Why a female protagonist?

Grant: Dixie is such a fun character to write. She’s feisty, hard-headed and doesn’t pull her punches – either verbally or physically. I decided to make Dixie female in order to give her a vulnerability that can be difficult to create in a male character. Noir readers don’t necessarily like to see weakness in their male characters, but it is those moments of fear, doubt and despair that can really show character. Despite her toughness, I really wanted Dixie to have those moments when she got in too far over her head and the reader could really fear for her life. I also wanted to bring in her troubled love life in a humorous manner, and writing that from a woman’s perspective was just plain fun. There is a scene in Angel With A Bullet where Dixie describes two police officers by the seat of their pants that always gets a giggle from readers.

Ruth: It seems to me that women writers are more likely to cross gender lines and write a series with a male protagonist than men are to base a series around a woman. Of course there are exceptions, like J.A. Konrath, Alexander McCall Smith and the late Robert Parker, but in general, do you think that’s true?

Grant: I do. I think a lot of female writers believe that their work will be taken more seriously by the publishing industry if it features a male protagonist — and that may have been true at one point, though, fortunately, not anymore. While male writers choose to write in a female voice as both a challenge and for the sheer fun of it. There are likely male writers who wouldn’t be comfortable ever writing in a female voice, and the same trepidation is likely true of some female writers, too.

Ruth: Is the Dixie character based on anyone?

Grant: The character isn’t based on anyone, but the name is. When I first emigrated to Canada as a teenager, I met a girl named Dixie Dash who was the roller-skating queen of the high school I attended. As a Glasgow Scot, roller skating was as foreign to me as Canada was, and Dixie was kind enough not to mock my absolute uselessness at the sport. At the same time, I was reading S.E. Hinton and Gregory Macdonald, and just beginning on my journey to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane, etc. I always thought Dixie Dash was such a cool name and it stuck with me. Unfortunately, my publisher Midnight Ink, felt that Dixie Dash sounded too corny, so the name was changed to Dixie Flynn. In my heart, however, she is Dixie Dash.

Ruth: Both you and your wife are former journalists, correct? Did that influence your decision to let Dixie be an investigative journalist rather than a regular P.I.?

Grant: Yes. I spent over 30 years in the newspaper business, and have very fond memories of all the characters that I worked beside over the years. The business has changed a lot in recent years and Dixie mourns those early days when gutter-rumpled creatures could shuffle into work on a cloud of stale beer fumes and write incredible journalistic poetry. I like to close my eyes to those later paycheck years in journalism and try to remember when I was young, naive and wanted to change the world. Dixie is jaded, but she still has those dreams and ideals in her heart.

Ruth: What’s the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

Grant: Finding the time. Working full-time for a homeless shelter and trying to write books is a difficult task. I dream of having a break-out book that puts enough money in the bank that I can actually make writing my full-time occupation. There are stories I haven’t told simply because I couldn’t find time.

Ruth: What’s your current project? Thriller? Dixie?

Grant: I’m busy writing a new Grant McKenzie thriller that I’m very excited about. Polis Books is publishing three of my novels in 2016: The Fear In Her Eyes in April, K.A.R.M.A. in July, and the one I’m currently writing, tentatively titled The Butcher’s Apron, in September. It’s going to be an exciting year as I believe these three are some of the best thrillers I have ever written.

Ruth: If you were going to choose a line of work other than novelist, what would it be?

Grant: I’ve always fancied running an Exotic Cat Farm in Belize – the furry pet kind not a Nevada bordello – but I don’t think there would be much money in that. Apart from that, anything creative, really. Anyone hiring Dreamers?

 

COMING NEXT: Early women P.I.’s and police women

HERE’S THE DEAL:

Try the first of four books in the Maggie Sullivan series FREE.

Try the first book in the Maggie Sullivan series FREE.

Launch Party for New Mystery

Come on over to my Facebook page for a chance to win BOOKS, CHOCOLATES, and CD’s of traditional Irish music.  We’re celebrating the launch of Shamus in a Skirt, fourth book in the Maggie Sullivan series.  It’s now available from most ebook retailers.

Besides periodic prize drawings, there also are assorted videos of Irish music by folks I know — just tunes, no songs.

Maggie Sullivan mystery Number 4

Maggie Sullivan mystery Number 4

The festivities continue until midnight EST tonight (9/26).

Maggie Sullivan mystery #4 coming soon

Coming in September

Maggie Sullivan mystery Number 4

Maggie Sullivan mystery Number 4

 

Arcade featured in 1930s private eye mysteries

 

Here’s a recent picture of the now-deserted Arcade which usually is the locale of at least one scene in most of the Maggie Sullivan mysteries.  You’ll enjoy the brief account of its history.

Small wonder the spot turns up in my series, what with the detective division of the Dayton police just across the street in one direction and the newspaper building where Maggie’s friend Jenkins works across the street in another.  And where else could you get the equivalent of fast food in the late 1930s?

The rotunda section of the Arcade is in urgent need of repair. downtown dayton

Do click the image in the link to see the dome .  The round things that look like satellite dishes are…uh… turkeys.

The Arcade was still a thriving place when I was a young reporter working across the street.  Of course the food stalls weren’t as numerous or the offerings as picturesque as in Maggie’s day.

Now a small commercial: Tough Cookie, second book in the Maggie Sullivan mysteries, is discounted to 99c on Amazon & other sites now through Aug. 8.

cookie-final

 

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