Death in Salem books


I am thrilled to announce that I have received my first copies of Death in Salem and they look stunning. Here is the cover:

death in salem

The books look even better in real life. I will probably be having another Goodreads giveaway later in the summer.

To summarize the plot: Will Rees is on a weaving trip and stops in Salem to buy some imported cloth for Lydia. He gets stopped by a funeral and sees an old friend at the head. Anstiss Boothe, the deceased, has been ill a long time but the very next day her husband Jacob. a wealthy Salem merchant, is dead and this time it is clearly murder. Rees has already left Salem but his friend rides after him and draws him back to investigate.

Smuggling, piracy, prostitution, and of course all the dynamics of interpersonal relationships keep Rees investigating.

I had a lot of fun roaming Salem when I researched this book.

Salem tunnels late eighteenth century

So there were already some tunnels in Salem linking the fine houses, the docks, the brothels and the counting houses. Many of the men who had made their fortunes running privateers became Senators, a Secretary of State, and other wealthy and influential men. As Salem shipping  imported cargo from Russia, India, the East Indies, and finally China, Salem became not only the sixth largest city in the U.S. but the wealthiest.  Custom duties to a large degree supported the Federal Government.

To collect these duties during the time Rees visited Salem, the merchant ships were required to tie up about three miles out. The customs inspector would row out to inspect the cargo and assess the duties. Do I believe that this prevented smuggling? Not a chance. I’m sure a number of shippers found ways to circumvent these efforts and used the already existing tunnels to transport goods to the counting houses out of sight of the prying eyes.

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States and began, not only enforcing the already existing laws on the books but put in new strict laws on the collection of duties. The harbor was silting up and New Bedford, Boston, and other ports would soon become more prominent. Elias Haskell Derby Jr. found it difficult to maintain his lifestyle.  He embarked on a building program in the Commons, and put in tunnels to the wharves, the counting houses and the banks. But isn’t 1801 is several years after Death in Salem? Yes, that is so but a number of the houses listed as having tunnels connected to them were built before 1797.

I made a leap and decided to claim there were many tunnels prior to the Derby scion in 1801. The tunnels would have been helpful during the Revolutionary War and the British incursion, especially when it would have been important to move goods without British knowledge.

Finally, my excuse for this bit of slippery history is: Well, the story is fiction and I think the tunnels could have been there and been used as I described.

The tunnels of Salem – Privateers

As the conflict between the Colonies and Great Britain heated up, privateers began smuggling goods into the colonies. What is a privateer? Basically a legal pirate. Privateer ships were privately owned and armed ship bearing a letter of marque from the State legalizing piracy.

Salem ships would stream out of port in the mornings and many would return with prizes by evening. Even the fishing shallops joined in the fun. Two-thirds of the square-rigged ships were captured by the British but the faster  sloops did much better. Many of the captains of the shipping industry got their start with the prizes captured (or stolen depending upon your point of view) from the British.

In defense of the British, they were having financial problems, due mainly to the almost continual wars with France. And it must have been frustrating to have Ships, little more than pirates, stopping their ships and taking the cargo.

The Brand new United States of America found itself in a similar situation after the War of Independence. The new country was broke. Soldiers in the Continental Army had not been paid and there was no money to pay them so they were offered land on the frontier (which was western Pennsylvania at that time.) Some of these soldiers sold the land at rock bottom prices but many moved west to claim their property, adding themselves to the sparse population already there. To fill the empty coffers of this new country, Alexander Hamilton proposed a tax on whiskey. This became the seed for one of the first challenges to face the new government – the Whiskey Rebellion of 1793. But I digress. That’s the lure and excitement of history – everything is so interlinked.