The Story Behind the Story

More Love and Laughter  

Margaret Brownley


The Story Behind the Story

Suspicion ain’t proof unless you’re married.

                                                                                                         -Gunpowder Tea

After reading about Kate Warne, the first known female Pinkerton detective, I just knew the heroine of my new book Gunpowder Tea had to be a detective.


I have to admit, writing that book was a challenge. I watch all the detective shows on TV and could probably do a pretty good job swabbing for DNA and dusting for fingerprints (autopsies not so much so). Unfortunately, my knowledge of nineteenth century crime-solving was next to nil.  That meant hitting the books.


First, I read everything about Kate I could get my hands on. She worked for the Pinkerton National Detective agency from 1856 to her death in 1868. Since women were not allowed to join the police department until 1890, the firm’s founder Allan Pinkerton was well ahead of the times in hiring her.  Originally, he thought she was applying for a secretary job, but she convinced him to hire her as a detective.   I wish I could have been there for that interview!


Quick to realize that women could go where angels—and male operatives—feared to tread, he put her in charge of the Pinkerton Female Detective Bureau. She also managed the Pinkerton Washington department during the war.


With few crime-solving options available Kate became a master of disguise, and could change her accent as quickly as she could change her clothes. This gave me the idea to have my heroine work undercover at the Last Chance Ranch.  She hopes to catch the outlaw believed to be hiding there and known only as the Phantom.


Unfortunately, my research took me only so far. Pinkerton personnel records were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, so I wasn’t able to find much about Kate’s background or even why she chose her profession. Allan Pinkerton described her being graceful of movement and self-possessed, but that was all I could uncover about her personally (except hints of a possible love affair between the two).


I still needed to flesh out my heroine. Fortunately, inspiration turns up in the most unexpected places. While browsing in a tea shop I noticed a packet of gunpowder tea. Originally hand-rolled, the pellets made little popping sounds when added to hot water, hence its name.  I was intrigued, especially when I saw gunpowder tea described as being strong as soft honey.



I knew immediately that I’d found the perfect metaphor for the heroine of my book. Miranda is one tough lady when she has to be, but can be surprisingly vulnerable in matters of the heart—Gunpowder Tea is, after all, a romance. She is in essence as strong as soft honey.  Just like the tea, however, her real strength comes when she lands in hot water—which is more times than she cares to count.


Gunpowder tea (the beverage not the book) is said to cure everything that ails you from tooth decay to high blood pressure. It supposedly even slows aging. You won’t find this in health books but, as my heroine clearly demonstrates, this particular tea can also issue a strong warning to an annoying (albeit handsome) hero.

Thrills, mystery, suspense, romance: Margaret penned it all. Nothing wrong with this—except Margaret happened to be writing for the church newsletter. After making the church picnic read like a Grisham novel, her former pastor took her aside and said, “Maybe God’s calling you to write fiction.”
Margaret wasn’t sure that was true, but she wasn’t about to take chances. She’s now a New York Times bestselling author with more than 30 novels to her credit including her current Brides of Last Chance Ranch series. Also look for her work in the following recently released collections A Bride for All Seasons, A Log Cabin Christmas and A Pioneer Christmas.  Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English.  Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.


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