It is my pleasure to welcome Cat Gardiner to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Undercover. I will be reviewing this fantastic-sounding novel in June, so stay tuned!
UNDERCOVER – AN AUSTEN NOIR
THE ROMANTIC COLLISION OF THREE WORLDS
Thank you, Anna, for inviting me to share Undercover with your readers at Diary of An Eccentric. It is an honor to visit for the first time and introduce another side of my Pride and Prejudice inspired work.
My latest novel was written on a dare, believe it or not. Pamela Lynne, my publishing partner and friend at Vanity & Pride Press, and I were chatting one night when she had a light-bulb moment for me to write something that hadn’t been done in the JA fandom before: A crime fiction Noir in my own Cat-style. I was unsure that I could do it justice lest both Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler rolled over in their graves. But Pamela wouldn’t let up, confident that if I can write WWII-era Romantic Dramas as well as a Mr. Darcy on a Harley that I would be up for the task and neither authors would be offended — too much. My muse, feeling uninspired in another project, eventually took up the challenge. And what a challenge it was given that I only write third person and that I didn’t want to make the story too dark, and, of course wanting to provide a happy ending. The latter two, IMHO are essential for an Austenesque novel, but not for a true Noir. Yet, I needed to incorporate all the other elements that make an intriguing, hard-boiled detective novel, simultaneously giving it my own voice within, something that my readers have come to expect.
Undercover became a collision of three worlds, two that were already familiar. My adoration of 20th Century Historical Fiction and my love of Pride and Prejudice together combined with the sultry, dramatic theme of Noir (or more precisely, in the case of Undercover, hard-boiled crime fiction, but that wouldn’t read well on the book cover. 😉 )
The Austenesque theme for me was easy since my style of P&P is inspired, giving me much more latitude in where I can go with our dear characters in a modern world. This novel kept certain character traits but focused on a 20th Century “What-if” scenario.
What if in 1952:
• What if Wickham was more debauched than we had realized?
• What if Mary King’s uncle hadn’t whisked her away to safety?
• What if Elizabeth hadn’t married, either to save her family’s future or for love and instead chose to become a career girl.
• What if Jane was truly a vain and mercenary creature and sibling rivalry existed between the two “most beloved” sisters?
• What if that relationship with Jane altered Elizabeth, making her insecure and feeling unworthy — maybe even unloved? Would she be more susceptible to Wickham’s advances?
• What if Bingley had arrived — with Darcy — after Wickham had come and gone?
• What if Darcy’s back story tormented him? Any other man (except our Darcy) would have been broken, but he hid his anguish behind a façade.
• What if Elizabeth met Darcy as a matured, confident woman who knew what she wanted and was already settled into a non-traditional role in society.
Now for the challenging part of incorporating some of the thematic elements of a post-WWII, hard-boiled detective story. Unlike characters Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, and Philip Marlowe, we are not hearing their voice in a first person narrative – Undercover is told in a third person, alternating POV. But what we do have is:
• A gruff tone when in certain characters’ POV, using slang and period words like “dame,” “flatfoot,” “moxie.”
• Necessary characters such as a police detective, a femme fatale, a private investigator, the shrew, the sympathetic friend, the psycho, and the emotionally scarred, beefcake hero who always gets the girl.
• An intricate plot with flashbacks and a smoking gun.
• A visual mood, filled with shadows and a dark city, smoky bars, and the ever-present cigarette.
• Sensuality in the darkness.
• Clichés and similes that don’t quite make sense, yet add to the thematic traits of a rough-around-the-edges police detective from the wrong side of the tracks.
The third component of Undercover is the part I live and breathe: 20th Century Historical Fiction and the fun of weaving research finds into the novel. The backdrop is set in New York City, 1952, at a time when gender equality wasn’t any further along following the gains of the “Rosie the Riveter” vital movement into the workforce. Post-war life had settled back into a focus on family (hence the following Baby-boomer Generation) in an attempt to return to normalcy by restoring all things to pre-war 1941. Women had been forced out of the factories when “the boys” returned home. “Career girls” existed, of course, but in limited areas such as nursing, secretarial, and shop girls. Certainly not as a gumshoe (private investigator) such as Elizabeth. But in Undercover, we also explore an alternative career choice prevalent in NYC at the time on 52nd Street: that of a bump-n-grind girl, a stripper.
Historically, 1952 was an iconic (and atomic) year of milestones – but today, they seem blips on the map of forgotten historical significance. Just to name a few:
• In this early Cold War era, we were two years into the Korean War, which, then, had been referred to as a “police action,” yet history would tell us how more than 40,000 American G.I.s never came home.
• General Dwight D. Eisenhower became President with a slogan “I Like Ike,” vowing to bring our boys home.
• Codename “Mike,” the United States’ first hydrogen bomb had been successfully tested on an atoll in the South Pacific.
• The first sexual reassignment was performed.
• Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigation into un-American, Communist activities sparked the Second Red Scare in America, coining the term “McCarthyism.”
As our hero and heroine travel from New York City to Havana, it was a wonderful experience to embark on research about the complicated political atmosphere, yet dynamic lifestyle of pre-Castro Cuba in 1952.
In a coup d’etat, Fulgencio Batista had returned to power as president and brutal dictator and the Communist movement went temporarily underground. With a corrupt government fostering the long relationship, the American Mafia continued to have a pretty good gig in Havana, running luxury hotels, casinos and the nightlife. The capital had been prosperous and bustling with both commercial and high-roller tourist trades.
This brought me to discover a true historical gem within the pearl of Cuba: Central Hershey, a little-known sugar plantation, refinery, and chocolate manufacturing worker town thirty miles outside of Havana. This town with its houses, school, hotel, shops, railroad, casino, and orphanage had changed lives from 1920-1945. I used this location as a backdrop to a dangerous rescue in the dark of night by our gumshoe and her brooding man.
History—and chocolate aficionados—will enjoy this video.
Pull it all together, sprinkle in a soundtrack with period music that sets the scene in places such as the Copacabana and the Tropicana Club, add a dash of visual inspiration with a Pinterest board, and you have a mixture of three worlds in an Austenesque novel that was supposed to have been a novella! Take a chance on Undercover; I hope you’ll enjoy this unique, sultry mystery with a Mr. Darcy in a fedora!
Thank you again, Anna, and thank you, dear readers, for the welcome to Diary of an Eccentric!
Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy, and Jane Austen. A member of National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America, and her local chapter TARA, she enjoys writing across the spectrum of Pride and Prejudice inspired romance novels. From the comedic Christmas, Chick Lit Lucky 13, and bad boy biker Darcy in the sultry adventure Denial of Conscience, to the romantic comedy Villa Fortuna, these contemporary novels will appeal to many Mr. Darcy lovers. Her newest release is a sultry Pride and Prejudice Noir, just released 4/20/16.
Her greatest love is writing 20th Century Historical Fiction, WWII-era Romance. Her debut novel, A Moment Forever, will release in late spring 2016 with The Song is You following.
Married 23 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world — their orange tabby, Ollie. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.
Cat is generously offering 2 ebooks of Undercover to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address telling me why you want to read the book. The giveaway will close on Sunday, May 1. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!
© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.