Q. The Speakeasy Murders takes place in 1920s Chicago. Even then parts of the city experienced urban blight and a reputation for mean streets, though likely it was part of the underground scene. Your main character, Detective Helen Williams seems to not have the typical personality for either a career in law enforcement or as a patron at the local speakeasy. Was this intentional?
A. The Speakeasy Murders is my first mystery/detective romance novel. I tend to write all of my books with an overarching love story and I wrote her character knowing whom she would be with and how she would meet him. So I think I focused on her character as an individual (civilian), not Helen the detective. Since the book is not a "hard-boiled" detective novel, she nor her colleagues would be of the sort who would experience the mean streets as expected in those types of books. However, a contrast does exist between the detective's mild-mannered personality and her presence at the station house. She is also the only female detective within the precinct. However, her kind and keen nature is useful when she accurately observes her colleague experiencing some difficulty at the office. It is she who, despite the chaos, offers a gentle nudge and a bit of advice to Detective Stephen Patterson. Yet, the detective further ensures he will remain well by escorting him to the gym and allowing him the room he needs to gather himself. Helen does not pretend to be someone whom she isn't. She is teased for it, but it does not alter her stance. For the most part, her co-detectives as well as their lieutenant respects her.
As far as the speakeasy, the contrast was likely more intentional. When Helen undergoes the flapper transformation process, she is stunned by her appearance. She is also intimidated by the steps necessary to maintain what she considers a complex hairdo. Even while she is present at the speakeasy she does not hide whom she is. In one instance she conceals herself behind her co-detective when she witnesses 'wild' dances. Each time she and her partner are patrons there, she wears a cardigan. The cardigan, for which Stephen admonishes her for wearing, is the one object that allows for Thaddeus to know her and easily determine that she, just like he, is not a usual patron of the speakeasy.
Q. The decedent most recently found is left in an empty field where the detectives are sent to investigate the murder. It is linked to others and the detectives determine that they originate from the local speakeasy. Is there a reason why had the bodies to be discovered above ground?
A. There is a lead which exists between the underground and above ground world. After the bodies are first discovered, there is an incident at the station house. Someone throws a brick and it busts through a small window. It is covered with a warning sign for law enforcement to keep their focus on the crimes that occur above ground. The criminals who threw the brick and the murderers both sent a message to the station house that even if their criminal activities reached above ground, that the police should keep from their territory—which is the underground world. This exactly where Patterson and Williams had to venture to restore the balance that had not been disrupted by the criminal element.
Q. Stephen Patterson has an interesting exchange with Helen Williams at his sister Ruby's house. He reveals that their family never drank alcohol. At the station house, he discloses that he had never been inside the speakeasy, yet Patterson generally appears to be a stoic character. How do you reconcile some of his experiences with how he generally presents himself?
A. I think Patterson is very much different than Helen. He teases her just as her other colleagues. Yet this is another moment in which he shares some sensitive information with Helen. This is something that he probably would never speak of with any of his other co-detectives. He still sees himself very much different than Helen—and he is. Williams has a more formal upbringing and still had not engaged in other activities that Patterson still may have. This just demonstrates the complexities of an individual without having to define him in a linear fashion. People can be multi-dimensional, some more than others. Nevertheless, Helen is still from a much different and formal world than Stephen and Ruby.
Q. One of the first times Thaddeus and Helen interact, he offers his hand in dance. Did you do this to tease Helen about the dances she had to learn to assimilate into the speakeasy culture?
A. That is an interesting way of perceiving it. They are at a speakeasy. Dance is one of the primary forms of entertainment there, especially in the 1920s. Thaddeus is a recent European émigré so it was doubtful that he would know much of those dances despite him being a patron of the speakeasy longer than Helen. I wrote the scene moreso to demonstrate how Helen and Thaddeus were a part of each other's world and what lied external of this was irrelevant. It not just their hearts that are kindred, but they also share a cultural similarity. When she accepts his offer to dance, they perform a formal one, one in which Helen was wholly familiar. Just as when Thaddeus did not care who was watching when he kissed Helen, he did was also not concerned as to whether people gossiped about how he and Helen danced. Of all that she learned from Stephen's sister, Ruby, it was she was formally reared in that further demonstrates that she and Thaddeus belonged together.
Q. At the speakeasy there is a scene in which Thaddeus, who is now her beau, kisses Helen passionately in the 'coloured' underground club. This is the 1920s. Did you think this scene would cause any major backlash from your readers?
A. Thaddeus kisses Helen who is somewhat more formal than he is though he is an Englishman. She initially pushes her head back, not from lack of attraction but due to their environment. Thaddeus informs her that he "does not care" what other people think or whether others are watching. He wanted to brush his lips against hers in that moment—and he did. Helen relinquishes control. She holds onto the front of his shirt, allowing for herself to enjoy what she and he wanted to right then. I wrote this scene thinking of the characters. Thaddeus is an Anglo Brit who is enamoured with Helen, the 'coloured' woman. Yet, Thaddeus' affection and love for her transcends either of their color or ethnicity. He just desired her. It did not matter that both of these characters existed in the 1920s. It was of no consequence to Thaddeus that they were in a speakeasy with all sorts of characters and most of them being 'coloured'. The greatest shock that the readers should have is the oblivious nature and sincere motive Thaddeus had towards Helen. A sincere affection that lies between a man and a woman should only cause shock as to how rare it is nowadays.
Q. On a different night at the speakeasy there is a police raid. Patterson loses sight of Williams. Thaddeus steals Helen away and takes her to his home. This happens as Helen and Thaddeus can no longer deny their attraction to one another. Yet Thaddeus is a complete gentleman. Did you write the scene in this matter because the reader assumed that he may have been able to cajole Helen into intimacy given the scenario?
A. No. Thaddeus, just as most of the characters are who they present themselves to be. He was sincerely interested in Helen. Thaddeus knew the sort of woman that Helen was which contributed to his initial attraction to her. She only displayed further of her personality as she held herself closer to the entrance of the house when they first entered. However, Thaddeus' patience outweighed her nervousness. It was not that he was just being patient with Helen, but he was displaying an aspect of his own personality. He truly was a gentleman. His kindness caused Helen to reach for him, not wanting for him to leave after he laid her in his bed. She held onto him until she fell asleep. He returned to the sofa. All he could do was think of that woman, the lady who would be his soon, and the only barrier was the door his bedroom. He understood what he had in Helen and he respected her just as much as she respected him.
Q. Although Helen Williams is a detective who is trained to use a handgun, when she is with Thaddeus, he exerts his authority, though sometimes it is subtle. How do you recognize Helen's acquiescence to him?
A. I would say that Helen's career is separate from her relationship. Williams in her capacity as a detective has to be quick-thinking, other times he must be astute to decipher clues to resolve her cases. This is her most rational side of her personality. Helen adheres to the standard expected of all detectives, though sometimes her perspective as a woman can assist her in her investigation. This was likely how she was able to determine that the murderer(s) was a woman, easily noting the slender fingerprints around the choking victim's neck. As far as her relationship with Thaddeus, Helen was reared traditionally in an upper class 'coloured' family. The time is the 1920s, where femininity was celebrated. Williams understood the balance of being strong and feminine and the time and place for each, or both. Her responses to Thaddeus were not absolute in the beginning, but once they became better acquainted with each other, this is where Helen could display even more aspects of being the young lady she was raised to be. For Helen, there was nothing to reconcile. She was who she was naturally because she was with the right person, Thaddeus, the Englishman who would soon become her husband.
Q. In one scene at the speakeasy, Helen is attacked by a black male patron with the assistance of an African male. Though she manages to escape mostly on her own, Thaddeus is waiting outside of the side room, quickly assesses that Helen is in need and trips the African male. Thaddeus is full of surprises. He instinctively protects Helen. Did you know when you wrote the character that Thaddeus would be a sort of Alpha male?
A. I think as it pertains to his relationship with Helen it would be more obvious. Though he is an Englishman, he is very protective of her. Her mild-mannered nature compliments his contrary one. There is yet another scene in which Thaddeus protects Helen towards the end of the novel. Without hesitation he picks up an available gun and it is he who shoots, not Helen, who is a detective. It was his instinct to protect her that elicits his nature, otherwise Thaddeus is a pretty easygoing gentleman.
Q. How many books did you write before penning The Speakeasy Murders?
A. I wrote quite a few books, several of which have yet to be published. The Silhouette Lost series and some of the historical romance novels were the first books I had written. The Silhouette Lost series is an 8-book series.
Q. Do you see The Speakeasy Murders as a standalone or part of a series?
A. The Speakeasy Murders is a standalone mystery/detective romance novel. The ending of the storyline where Thaddeus and Helen marry and leave the U.S. for England is the intended closure that both characters were destined to have. There is no reason to write anymore about it. It is their time now.
The Speakeasy Murders* is now available for purchase as an ebook from these online retailers:
Barnes & Noble: 2940162220978
Kobo ISBN: 1230004607311
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About the Author: Patricia M. Muhammad is a multi-genre fiction author. She writes in science-fiction/fantasy, fantasy, contemporary romance crossover, historical romance and mystery/detective romance genres. Patricia often includes multi-racial characters and interracial relationships in her books. She has written 20 novels. Patricia is currently based in the United States.
Connect with Patricia:
Social Media: @pmmuhammadbooks
Press: [email protected]
* CONTENT WARNING: This book is a work of fiction. However, the author intended to create characters and settings historically accurate to the era it takes place in, the racially tumultuous 1920s. Certain terms used as racial descriptions now considered archaic, outdated or even offensive are used to reflect the past usage by both black and white Americans of that era. Particular themes regarding race, references to certain crimes such as murder and sexual assault are included as part of the fictional plot. The author provides this content description for any potential reader who may consider any of these subject matters or references too sensitive to consider.