Tasha Alexander is the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Emily mystery series. Her latest novel in the series, Uneasy Lies the Crown, is a non-stop race to find a London serial killer at the end of the Victorian era. The daughter of two philosophy professors and the wife of British novelist Andrew Grant, she has written fourteen books, plus many short stories and novellas, and is known for her meticulous research and smart storytelling.

Stay Thirsty Magazine was delighted to visit with Tasha Alexander at her ranch in southeastern Wyoming for this Conversation.

STAY THIRSTY: The latest book in your Lady Emily Mystery series, Uneasy Lies the Crown, opens five days before the death of Queen Victoria. With her passing, you conclude your time in the Victorian era. What attracted you most about the life and times of Queen Victoria and why did you choose that period in which to set your stories?

TASHA ALEXANDER: The Victorian era was a time during which women were (finally) able to make significant strides toward suffrage, and that, combined with the political situation on the continent and in England, as well as the social mobility brought by the Industrial Revolution, gives it a depth and excitement not found in many other periods. The world is in turmoil, and on the verge of a war that will reshape civilization, but no one can see that in the 1890s, a fact I have always found poignant. The English aristocracy believed they – and the Empire – would go on forever, but in fact they were in the midst of a decline that would not be stopped. The luxurious trappings of the Gilded Age may have allowed them to ignore what they wanted to ignore, but it could not stave off the inevitable. It’s the perfect tapestry to inspire a writer’s imagination.

Tasha Alexander

STAY THIRSTY: How do you explain the enduring appeal of the Tower of London as a setting for compelling stories?

TASHA ALEXANDER: People are drawn to great stories, and the Tower is full of them: royal intrigue, ghosts, the theft of the Crown Jewels, famous prisoners, and horrific executions. On top of that, the buildings themselves all but pulse with history, making the place a perfect setting for fiction. There’s plenty of truth to ground a story, with infinite room for imaginative twists and turns. A deft combination of fact and fiction is irresistible.

STAY THIRSTY: You have expressed great reverence for English history. How did your interest develop and what have you done to further your understanding of it?

TASHA ALEXANDER: My passion for history started when I was a child, and I’ve made a lifetime study of it. My years at university enabled me to train as an historian, and I’ve continued to hone my skills throughout my career. I spend a great deal of time doing research—in libraries, digging through primary sources, visiting locations, and consulting with experts who offer phenomenal insights—because it’s critical to get details right and to have a deep understanding of the time about which I write. Fiction is full of truth.

STAY THIRSTY: In Uneasy Lies the Crown, there is a race against time to find a killer. How do you as a novelist think about the “ticking clock” as a device to keep readers turning pages at an increasingly rapid rate?

TASHA ALEXANDER: I didn’t deliberately set out to use the device, but was driven to it by the character of the book’s villain—he hadn’t finished his “work.” There’s a different sort of pressure on Emily and Colin when they’re in pursuit of someone who is in the midst of committing murders, and that, in turn, can make readers turn the pages more quickly. But it’s not the right choice for every story. For me, the way plot develops is entirely dependent on the characters in question.

STAY THIRSTY: At the heart of your story lies the work of a serial killer whose signature is seen in how the killer leaves the victims. Where did your fascination with such grisly slaughter come from and how do such actions fit into the Victorian era?

TASHA ALEXANDER: Grisly slaughter has always horrified me, but I’m interested in exploring what drives people to it. I find motives more interesting than methods, and prefer to write about villains who are, in some small way, sympathetic.

Most people think of the Victorians as prudish and repressed, but they lived in a brutal time. Everyone’s familiar with Jack the Ripper, but he wasn’t the era’s only serial killer. Amelia Dyer, a baby farmer who took in infants born to mothers couldn’t afford to stop working, strangled hundreds of her charges. The Black Widows of Liverpool, sisters who got arsenic off of flypaper, killed at least four people in the hopes of getting money from their victims’ insurance policies. William Palmer, a physician, poisoned more than a dozen people—members of his family and friends. His public hanging was witnessed by a crowd of 30,000. The Victorians were, perhaps, less squeamish than we’d liked to believe.

STAY THIRSTY: You have also expressed an interest in Medieval history, a subject that you studied when you attended Notre Dame. How did that interest work its way into Uneasy Lies the Crown?

TASHA ALEXANDER: The history of Medieval England is particularly rich. Most of us are familiar with Henry V from Shakespeare’s brilliant play. We know about his spectacular victory at Agincourt and are pained by his early death—we don’t like our heroes struck down by random illnesses. Early in the Emily books, we learn that Colin’s family estate was built on land given to one of his ancestors for bravery at Agincourt. I had long wanted to delve deeper into the history of the Hargreaves family. Combining this with Queen Victoria’s death and a mystery that starts at the Tower of London seemed an obvious choice, rolling all the history together.

STAY THIRSTY: With the long, multi-generational family histories that the English are so proud of, do you think that such heritage is a help or a hinderance to modern life?

TASHA ALEXANDER: I think it can be both. On the one hand, it makes for marvelous—and often eccentric—traditions that continue to edify us today. But on the other, it can act as a barrier against those who didn’t come from the “right” background. In the modern world, we need to balance respect and appreciation for the past with a new order that is based on merit rather than birth.

STAY THIRSTY: Will Lady Emily return in the Edwardian era?

TASHA ALEXANDER: I’ve just completed the next installment in the series, set in Pompeii, 1902. Beyond that, if people keep reading, I’ll keep writing…

(Tasha Alexander photo credit: Charles Osgood)


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.