I love the carefully crafted old-fashioned ‘locked-room’ mysteries, and for book seven in the Frances Doughty mysteries, I set myself the challenge of writing one – but with a difference. Instead of finding the body of a murder victim in a room locked from the inside, I wanted to make a man disappear. A wealthy philanthropist is last seen in a locked and guarded room together with a number of his friends. The lights go out, and when they are re-lit, he has vanished. The guards have seen no-one leave and the doors remain securely locked, the only keys undisturbed. How and why did the man leave? Was it voluntary or was he abducted? And where is he now? I decided to avoid the tricks used by many of the classic authors of the golden age; wires, invisible threads, trap doors, false ceilings, mirrors, etc, and make it a more plausible, less mechanical mystery. It was a mystery I had to solve myself before I could even begin to write it.
The nature of that locked room is also crucial to the plot. It is no ordinary room, but the Lodge room of the Literati, a fictitious Lodge of Bayswater Freemasons. The vanished man is a distinguished guest, and his disappearance takes place during the performance of a ceremony, one during which the lights are lowered for several minutes. The subject naturally required considerable research and what a fascinating one it is! Not all writers like research but I love to immerse myself in the past, and discover new things in our wonderful rich history. There was considerable reading to be done on Freemasonry, it origins, structure and practice, and I also had take into account how a Lodge might have been organised in the 1880s.
Despite its reputation as a secret society, Freemasonry really has very few secrets. Most of the cermonies can be found on the internet with very little effort, and I came to enjoy the archaic expressions and rhythm of Masonic ritual. That gave me the basic information I needed, but I also took care to seek expert advice, from which I gained additional knowledge and was also able to hone my work to give as accurate a picture as possible.
At the heart of the story, however is Frances Doughty, lady detective, who has suffered many sorrows. At the end of book six she is in an unhappy place, but this is the adventure in which she will find herself again. Solving a crime in an all-male organisation is the least of her worries, after all, she lives in a society dominated and controlled by men, but has been able to remain her own woman despite everything fate can throw at her. Not only will she unravel the mystery of the disappearing Freemason, she will also uncover secrets in her own family which have dogged her since her very first adventure, and emerge stronger and more confident than ever.
A True and Faithful Brother by Linda Stratmann is published by History Press