Sunday, 10 December 2017

Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster + Giveaway + Excerpt

Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster
Published by Drama Llama Press in August 2017.

Where to buy this book:
Add Blackmail, Sex and Lies to your Goodreads

Blackmail, Sex and Lies is a story of deception, scandal, and fractured traditional Victorian social values. It is the tale of a naïve, young woman caught up in a whirlwind romance with a much older man. However, both have personality flaws that result in poor choices, and ultimately lead to a tragic end.

For 160 years, people have believed Madeleine Smith to have been guilty of murder. But was she? Could she have been innocent after all?

This Victorian murder mystery, based on a true story, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, 1857. It explores the disastrous romance between the vivacious socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, and her working class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier. After a two-year torrid, and forbidden relationship with L’Angelier, that takes place against her parents' wishes, the situation changes dramatically when William Minnoch enters the scene. This new man in Madeleine’s life is handsome, rich, and of her social class. He is also a man of whom her family approve.

Sadly, insane jealous rages, and threats of blackmail, are suddenly silenced by an untimely death.


The novel is based on the true story of the infamous Madeleine Hamilton Smith, a young socialite from Glasgow. In 1857, she was accused of murdering her working-class lover, Pierre ‘Emile’ L’Angelier with arsenic. In this excerpt we see L’Angelier’s young colleague, Robert Baird, being placed in an invidious position when he asks his aunt and uncle, on Emile’s insistence, if they could arrange a meeting between Emile and Madeleine. Emile is not of the same class as the Smith family, and the request is not well-received at all. How will Emile finally manage to contact young Madeleine on whom he has now set his sights?

‘Robert Baird hoped Emile would forget about wanting to meet Madeleine Smith. He did not. Emile’s constant bombardment of requests became insufferable until finally, under intense pressure, he broached the subject with his aunt and uncle one evening at dinner.
Robert cleared his throat.
“I’ve a friend who’d like to meet Madeleine Smith. He wonders if you’d help arrange it.”
“Well that depends, dear,” replied his aunt, briefly looking up at him before daintily manoeuvring her spoon around her bowl. “How old is he?”
“Difficult to say, perhaps ten years older than Madeleine. I think he’s about twenty-seven or twenty-eight.”
“I doubt he’s established at that age, unless he comes from good money. Do we know him?”
“I don’t think you do, Aunt.”
“Well why not? Who is he?”
“His name is Pierre Emile L’Angelier, but his friends call him Emile.”
“Ah, a Frenchman, that sounds intriguing, Robert. Is he part of the diplomatic corps?”
“Um, no, he isn’t. His parents are French, but actually he was born on the island of Jersey.”
“Well, there’s money in Jersey. What does he do?”
Robert stirred his soup for the twentieth time. Sweat bloomed on his neck. He could feel the small beads trickling down under his stiff shirt collar despite being seated nowhere near the fireplace. 
He drew in a deep breath, avoided looking at his aunt before he managed to say, “He’s a packing clerk at Huggins.”
Robert’s uncle, unusually mute during the entire conversation, roared. Robert involuntarily jumped. The silver spoon in his hand jerked too, ejecting tomato soup in a far-reaching arc over the crisp damask tablecloth. He stared in horrified fascination as the orange-red droplets beaded, sank and spread into the woven fabric leaving behind unsightly blotches. 
“The audacity of the man! Doesn’t he realize who she is? What man of his position would dare ask to meet a young girl such as Madeleine? A packing clerk? This is preposterous, Robert. I forbid you to raise this topic ever again in my company or your aunt’s. I will not entertain this conversation a minute longer, and you should know better than to have raised it.”
“Yes, Uncle.”
“You can go back and tell this scoundrel, Pierre or Emile, or whatever he calls himself, that Madeleine Smith is a young lady of good social standing and he should rather look to his own for female company. If he doesn’t, he will have me to answer to. A good whipping should soon settle this.” ‘


I don't remember having been aware of the Madeleine Smith / Pierre Emile L'Angelier poisoning case prior to reading Blackmail, Sex And Lies despite, like Kathryn McMaster, being a keen reader of true crime books as a teenager. It's a fascinating affair of young love set against strict Victorian rules and I couldn't help but wonder if there would have been such a murderous outcome if the situation arose in our less class-defined society these days - excepting that it is now far more difficult to buy sufficient arsenic of course!

I liked how McMaster combines fiction and nonfiction elements within her novel. The writing style is very much nonfiction rather than historical fiction. The inclusion of lots of Madeleine's genuine letters to Emile adds great authenticity and fictional scenes are cleverly woven around them so we can experience events as McMaster imagines them before reading Madeleine's own words written at the time. Dialogue is occasionally a tad clunky, but I felt I got a good idea of Madeleine and Emile's characters - she the naive socialite, he the obsessive and controlling older man. At times I wondered what on earth attracted Madeleine to such a bullying and (by modern standards) obviously disturbed potential partner, but considering the other men she was allowed to meet and the example of her dictatorial father helped to understand her motivations.

Blackmail, Sex And Lies details every aspect of Madeleine and Emile's relationship, but refrains from 'taking sides' until the very end. We as readers are given the facts and allowed to make our own minds up about guilt and innocence before McMaster weighs in with her thoughts on the legal outcome. It's an interesting device, quite different to most historical fiction I read so refreshing in that sense, although as a result I did sometimes feel more detached from the story than I would have liked.

Meet the author:
Kathryn McMaster is a writer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and champion of good indie authors. She co-owns the book promotion company One Stop Fiction, where readers can sign up to receive news of free and discounted 4 and 5 star reviewed books. She is also a bestselling author of historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her debut novel, "Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?" was well received. All her novels are based on true stories, and she melds fact with fiction, writing in the creative nonfiction style. She lives on her 30 acre farm in the beautiful Casentino Valley, Italy for 6 months of the year, and during the other half of the year, on the small island of Gozo, Malta.

Author links: 
Website  ~ GoodreadsFacebook ~ Twitter

And now for the Giveaway

The Prize is one ebook copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster.
The Giveaway is open worldwide. Entries must be submitted through the Gleam widget below by midnight (UK time) on the 25th December and I will randomly pick a winner on the 26th. If the winner does not respond to my email within 3 days, they will forfeit the prize and, yes, I will be checking that entrants did complete whatever task they said they did!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Kathryn McMaster / Historical fiction / Books from South Africa


  1. I haven't heard of this before but it's definitely going on my TBR! I can never resist a good historical novel (especially one that weaves fact with fiction) in the Victorian era. Thanks for the giveaway and lovely review, Stephanie!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

    1. I love finding unusual books!
      Good luck in the giveaway :-)