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.

Goodreads Giveaway ends

I am thrilled to announced that 880 people put their names in for “Death in Salem”. That is just about half the number in two weeks than “A Simple Murder” dd in four. Thanks everyone. Good luck!

Goodreads Giveaway – One Day Left

I cracked the 500 level of requests. Yay! I am so close to 600 I am optimistic that I will cross that too. So, if you want a free book, put your name in. Reviews have been great.

Goodreads Giveaway – Two Days left

I think I will cross the 400 mark. My giveaway runs out Sunday night and I always see a big bump over the weekends. I am really excited since I, as the author, think this is my best. Salem is such an interesting town and with a fascinating history – right from the beginning. A community that evolved from witch trials to the leading shipping center of the fledgling USA – amazing.

Death in Salem Goodreads Giveaway

Well, I’m excited. After the first day of the giveaway, almost 200 people requested the book. Fantastic!

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.

Back to Salem



The  Customs House in Salem has now been set up as a Museum. It had some really interesting artifacts from the early sailing period. (Can anyone tell how much I love this town?)  The Customs House is set right across from the Derby wharf.

custom house


History of the custom house with a shot of the wharves and the pier during their busiest times.

Maps of Salem’s trade routes. Remember, this was in the days of wind power and those little bitty ships.



the Derby wharf which is still there today. In the late 1700s, all the wharves were lined with warehouses to hold the goods imported from India, Indonesia and China as well as slips where the ships were tied up.



The golden eagle sat on top of the Customs House. (I believe this is a replica). It is much larger than it appears in the photo. It must have been quite a sight to see for the ships sailing into port.

counting house

The counting houses, simple desk above, took in millions of dollars – and that was millions in the money of that time. Salem was not only the sixth largest city in the new US but also the wealthiest. The customs duties pretty much supported the federal government.

Tunnels had been constructed underneath Salem. I’ve read a number of reasons for this, including hiding the amount of wealth pouring into the city. The one that makes the most sense to me is that the merchants did not want to carry such enormous funds through the streets. It would have been very difficult to avoid paying customs since the Custom Officer rowed three miles out to where the incoming ships docked and assessed the duties then.

Finally, one final note. The museum has pieces of eight. Remember, anything that mentions pirates always includes pieces of eight. Well, this was money, made so that it could be broken into eight pieces. Can you imagine going to the store and breaking off a piece of a quarter and handing it to the shopkeeper? Wild, right?

Sailor Superstitions


I got started researching superstitions when I was researching my new book Death in Salem. It turns out sailors are a superstitious lot. As one might expect, many sailors thought women on board were bad luck. I wonder what happened to the wives of the captains who sailed with their husbands. Moreover, there were women who sent in disguise as men. (Always wondered how that was possible but it did happen.)

Sailors would also not sign up if there was a Jonah, someone who had served on more than one unlucky ship. They were afraid he might be the one who had caused the bad luck. I wonder how much this affected the sailors in Salem. They were very diverse, from Africans and Indians to escaped slaves, Irish, Portuguese and more. I would guess that this very diversity mitigated some of the superstitions carried over from England, and added a few new ones.

One belief that was carried over from Europe was a belief that killing dolphins was bad luck. And it may have been. There are plenty of stories of dolphins carrying sailors in danger of drowning to shore.

The belief that the caul (the membrane that covers newborns) protected from drowning was widespread and for awhile cauls were valuable. When a sailor left the sea, he sold his caul to another sailor.

It was once customary for sailors to be tattooed with good luck symbols to ward off evil. The compass rose was supposed to help a sailor find his way back home. Later on, the tattoos became more generalized and often identified which journeys the sailor had made, whether around the cape or to China.

A note about keelhauling. I remember hearing about this when I watched Popeye cartoons. (I know, right?) Anyway, the American Navy abolished this in 1800 and the British Navy in 1835. What a brutal punishment this was! The prisoners arms and legs were fastened with a long line. The end was held at the opposite end of the ship. The prisoner was dropped into the water and dragged underneath the ship (along the keel). Invariably he drowned or bled to death from the cuts left by the barnacles on the hull. Hanging would have been more humane.