The Dead Betray None
A Viscount Ware Mystery
by J.L. Buck
Genre: Historical Regency Mystery
An aristocratic spy and a highborn lady cross paths over a dead body. The Dead Betray None begins in 1811 when England is at war with France, facing the threat of revolutionaries at home, and on the verge of open conflict with America. Lucien Grey, Viscount Ware, has secretly spied for the Crown on the Continent the last four years. Called home on family matters, he soon becomes bored with such a leisurely life. Then a French spy carrying a vital dispatch is captured, but the document he carried--which could mean the difference between victory or defeat for Wellington's army--is stolen by a band of thieves.
Lucien agrees to assist the War Office in recovering the dispatch, but he never envisioned the mission would include such perilous complications that would lead him from London's crime world to polite society's ballrooms and even into the shadows of the very government he serves.
The thieves didn’t just steal a few precious baubles from the guests at Baron Sherbourne’s house party; they may have stolen England’s future. For among the jewels, money, and dueling pistols was a packet of papers that contain the key to cracking Napoleon’s new encryption system. So instead of letting the local constabulary investigate, Lucien Grey, Viscount Ware, is sent in by the British government to take charge of the case. Among the people Lucien questions is Lady Anne Ashburn, whose great aunt was one of Sherbourne’s guests. While Anne might not be involved with the theft, Lucien is convinced she is up to something. This becomes all the more apparent the next time the two meet, which just happens to be over a dead body. Expertly entwining an impeccably evoked historical setting and a compelling cast of characters, Buck launches her new Regency-set mystery series on a high note, making this an easy sell to fans of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series, not to mention C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr books. Booklist, a review magazine of the American Library Association, May 2022
The thundering hooves of swiftly moving horses echoed through the dense fog. Lucien Grey, Viscount Ware, feathered his pair of blood bays around the sharp curve, the curricle’s wheels slipping a brief moment on the wet road. The encroaching trees opened onto a broad misty park, revealing the familiar Doric columns of Baron Sherbourne’s yellow-and-gray sandstone manor. Despite the dismal morning, the estate held good memories for Lucien, and a fleeting smile crossed his lips.
Easing the bays to the left toward the stable yard, he brought the light carriage to a halt, and his groom, Finn, slipped off the back to run to the horses’ heads. The high bred team danced in place, snorting at the abrupt end to the journey, their hot breath forming tiny clouds in the icy air.
Lucien leapt to the ground, his top boots squishing the sodden maple leaves blown over the cobblestones. He tossed the reins to Finn. “Be good to them. They earned it.”
“Aye, m’lord.” The small man, somewhere in his thirties, but not much over five feet tall nor eight stone, gave his master a toothy grin and flipped a shock of reddish-brown hair out of his eyes. “Sev’teen mile in a’ hour an’ a bit more. They be getting oats an’ barley for sure.”
Lucien nodded casual approval and yanked off his leather driving gloves, using them to brush at the dried road dirt on his multi-caped greatcoat. A burst of rain and sleet from the same storm that must have blown through the baron’s estate had caught him on the Great North Road from London.
With a final slap of the gloves, he abandoned the futile effort to make himself presentable and strode toward the country house, his lean, muscled frame moving with the ease of a man used to action. A twinge of disquiet returned a frown to his face, and his eyes narrowed. Four years of clandestine missions in the glittering courts and ballrooms of the Continent—their elegant setting no less deadly than the wretched battlefields—had taught him to trust his instincts, and something was off the mark about this assignment. A part of him had known it since Lord Rothe’s man came pounding on his door before dawn.
Lucien’s nostrils flared in the cool breeze. Why was he sent to investigate a country housebreaking? Rothe had failed to tell him something about the theft, something vital that had captured Whitehall’s rapt attention. Lucien had sensed an undertone of anxiety in the habitually composed Marquess of Rothe, the man in charge of the Crown’s secret spies.
What the devil had Prinny’s War Office gotten him into this time?
J l Buck began writing full-time after she retired from a legal career with the Juvenile Court System. Over the next few years, she published sixteen urban fantasy/paranormal novels under the pen name of Ally Shields. In 2019, she decided to fulfill a childhood wish to write mysteries, chose a period in history that fascinated her—and began work on the Viscount Ware Mystery series set in Regency England.
Ms Buck lives in the Midwest with Latte, a mischievous Siamese cat, who attempts to co-author her writing by taking over the keyboard. When not writing or running two blogs, J L Buck enjoys her eight grandchildren (and a great-grandson), reading (preferably on a sunny deck), travel (USA and abroad), and binge-watching any sub-genre of mystery shows.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
How about really scary? While working for Juvenile Court (my career for 28 years), part of my job was to see that abused children were safe either by removing them from the home or removing the perpetrator. Late one Friday afternoon, I and an officer from the County Attorney’s Office went to a home to serve a No Contact order and remove the abuser. When we got there we found we were in the middle of a family birthday party, and they weren’t happy to see us. The family was in denial of the abuse, and they had us outnumbered. My partner called for backup. I was in the house talking with the grandfather, my partner got shoved off the porch by an aunt, and the backup officers arriving saw the incident—and couldn’t see me. They put out a call of “officer down,” and dozens of armed police officers responded. A bad situation quickly became alarming. In the end, it was peacefully resolved, the perpetrator left the home, and I assume the family got on with their party.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
I’d call both my boys and all my grandchildren, then I’d get a bottle of wine, invite my best friend over, and watch the new Downton Abbey movie! I wouldn’t want to miss seeing it.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
A terrible one. I don’t suffer fools gladly and would have no patience for those world leaders who cannot get along with the rest of mankind. On the other hand, I’m a sucker for a good cause, and I’d probably bankrupt the economy trying to meet every need everywhere.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
My days of horseback riding and hiking are over. Give me a good theater play or musical, a night out to dinner with friends, or a good book on the deck or by the fireplace depending on the season…and maybe a glass of wine.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not until my second book was published. The first one was wonderful, but I kept thinking someone would pinch me and I’d wake up. With book two, I began to think this writing gig was for real.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I have several. Tolkien’s trilogy has to be at the top of the list, but Man of La Mancha, Independence Day, Sleepless in Seattle, Sweet Home Alabama, and Sound of Music are all tied for second place—along with a lot of others that don’t come to mind right now.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Several years ago, I traveled to England with a friend and dragged her all over to the places I had read about in books, including those of Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, Georgette Heye, and Jane Austen. Little did I know that trip would eventually become the visual basis for settings in my Regency mystery series.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I currently have a four-book contact to write the Viscount Ware mysteries. Three of those books are written and the fourth has a first draft. I look forward to the other three books being released over the next 18 months and hopefully a new contract after that for a few more.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I haven’t written any side stories, but I know much more about Lucien, Lady Anne, and Sherry than appears in the books. For example, Lucien grew up in his uncle’s home and the two of them spent many hours fishing, an uncommon activity for most Regency men of the aristocracy. Those hours at the fishing stream gave them time to talk, and Lucien became very close to his uncle Robert. When Robert died, Lucien felt like he’d lost a father.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
For the character names in my Regency mysteries, I rely on four lists of names that were in use during that period of history. Lady Anne’s name came to me immediately, so did Sherry’s (Andrew Sherbourne). My main character Lucien Grey, Viscount Ware, wasn’t quite as easy. His first name went through several changes until I finally hit on the one that felt right. I can’t tell you what made it right—it just was.
For settings and place names, most of those are real, taken early 1800s London maps.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I loved the research, and then watching the first draft evolve on the computer screen. I’m a “discovery” writer, so I enjoyed learning the story as it came pouring out. I even liked the second draft, putting in all the settings and character movements I left out of the first draft. After that, it became work—the repeated passes to tweak this and that, the edits, the proofs. By the time the story was ready for publication, I was sick of it. That quickly vanished, however, as soon as I saw the cover and then the finished book!
Who designed your book covers?
My publisher employs an artist who does the covers, but I am fortunate that they have asked for my input, even allowing me to choose the model for Lucien! They always ask about the cover background and I get to approve of the final cover choice. It has been a great experience.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Writing historical fiction, I learn lots of things while researching each book—language, manners, political events, weather events, food, entertainment, you name it. And I love some of the stories, such as the Great Beer Flood of 1814. The bands on a huge cask of beer broke, sending 320,000 gallons into nearby London streets in 15 foot waves!
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I would love to visit with Lady Anne. After a ride in Hyde Park, we’d go shopping for hats, visit Hatchett’s book store, and end the day at the theatre with Viscount Ware watching a Shakespearean play. That way I’d get to spend time with both of my main characters. (And if you’ve seen the book cover, who wouldn’t want to spend time with Lucien?)
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
I doubt if any character comes entirely from an author’s imagination. While I don’t base any character on a specific person, my characters are made up of bits and pieces of people I know or people I’ve just seen in passing—little quirks of personally, an elegant gesture, an interesting face, an unusual way of walking or talking, a man wearing a bow tie. Most of the time it isn’t even a conscious decision, but I believe we all draw from what we’ve seen and heard. A writer first has to be an observer.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I have three thrillers that were written ten years ago. They’ve never been finished, and I doubt they will be as I feel they are dated now. They were a good learning experience. Any writing improves a writer’s craft. I still haven’t discarded them, so I guess there’s still that thought of “maybe someday.” I also have a half-finished fantasy, but after written sixteen fantasies, I seem to have lost interest. Whether my interest will return is unknown. I’m very happy writing Regency mysteries!
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?
I do my best writing late at night in my pjs or nightgown.
My Siamese cat Latte has as many cat trees as I have chairs.
Lady Anne, the female lead in the Viscount Ware series, is an only child. With no sister to confide in, she keeps a secret diary.
Lucien tends to keep people at a distance because he has suffered too many loses in his life—his mother, his uncle (a father figure), and his older brother.
My day doesn’t start until the second cup of coffee.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
These are in no particular order, and on a different day, I might choose a different 10. I love books and there are so many wonderful authors living and dead.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
Naked in Death by J. D. Robb
Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter) by Laurell K. Hamilton
Memorial Day by Vince Flynn
Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman
V. I. Warshawsky series by Sara Paretsky
Oh, just one more--Crocodile on the Sandbank (and the entire Peabody series) by Elizabeth Peters
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
As a general rule, my main characters are known by the time I start writing, and the secondary characters appear as they are needed. It was a little different for The Dead Betray None. Lucien came to be first, including his background, so I knew his father would be a secondary character who would be important to the ongoing storyline. Then came Lucien’s friend and fellow agent, Sherry, and I knew Sherry had a sweetheart back home in the country. Finally, Lady Anne introduced herself, but I knew bringing her into the story would involve her family members. So, I knew a lot more about the secondary characters than I usually do on the first page of a novel. Having said that, Mr. Cade, the Gentleman Thief, who appeared half-way through the story, was a total surprise, and he became an ongoing character in the series.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I always have the tv running in the background when I write. I actually think that shutting out that sound forces me to concentrate on my story. To the contrary, I have to proofread in silence. What’s that about? I have no idea. All I can tell you is the two different processes work for me.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
When writing a series, I much prefer to write one book at a time. Because of edits arriving on the previous books, I often find myself working on two at a time or even three because they are in different stages of the publishing process. I have to admit it gets confusing jumping back and forth and takes extra time to re-orient myself each time I make the switch, especially remembering what was known or said in this book but wasn’t yet known in another.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
The vampire Jean Claude from Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. He is such a multi-faceted character. I admire how Hamilton brought this feared creature to life, made him real, made his relatable, and made the reader care what happened to him.
Of course, I could name a dozen more favorites, but Jean Claude is definitely top 10.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first full-length story when I was nine and ran out of Walter Farley horse books to read. So, I wrote my own. In high school I wrote for the school paper, thought maybe I’d be a journalist, and took journalism classes in college. However, life intervened—marriage, children, then my husband died, and I was the sole provider for my children—writing would have to wait until retirement. When the time came, I wrote with enthusiasm, and seventeen published books later here I am—a full-time writer. And yes, I love it as much as I thought I would!
What are you currently reading?
I currently have two books open on my kindle:
Weddings and Witnesses by Diana Xarissa, book 23 in this cute, cozy mystery series set on the Isle of Mann
When Blood Lies, book 17 of C.S. Harris’s regency mystery St. Cyr series. A must read for me!
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Impatience, self-doubt. Writing is a long process. Even for the seemingly overnight successes—of which there are few—it takes time. It takes patience to keep working on a manuscript until it is truly ready to submit. But when it’s ready—when the writer and his/her trusted confidants believe it’s ready, then the time has come to send out those query letters. And keep send them until someone say “yes.” It only take one. An aspiring author must can succumb to self-doubt and give up too soon. My first book had 160 rejections before someone took a chance on me.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
The first book that was published took me three years, the second eight months. Now, anywhere from three to six months, depending on whether my publisher is pushing or not. ? I’m good with deadlines, so if it must be done, I get it done. I used to write 3 or 4 books a year, but in order to do that, I had to give up time with family and friends. I’m no longer willing to do that, and most books lately have been around that 6-month mark. Of course, that doesn’t include the process that starts with formal edits from the publisher and continues through copyedits, proofs, and finally publication—anywhere from another six months to a year.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe in procrastination, and I believe in your brain needing a time out. Both are often called Writer’s Block, and both are temporary. They often occur when the plot has taken a wrong turn or at least an unexpected turn, and the writer is not sure where to go from there. Stepping away from the computer is often a good cure, and perhaps brainstorming with another before returning to the computer. I’ve never suffered such episodes for long, and in fact, the are frequently just periods of “head writing.”