Kick back, get some tea, and start this book. Just do it, thank me later.
Love Potions and Other Calamities by Charlie Laidlaw released in November in the Comedy, Cozy Mystery genre.
Welcome to the strange world of Rosie McLeod, an amateur detective with a big difference. Her deductive powers are based solely on the careful preparation and use of plants and herbs.
Love Potions and Other Calamities is pure comedy, with a bit of drama thrown in, as Rosie sets out to discover whether her husband is having an affair and, as the story unfolds, to solve a murder – before she becomes the next victim.
Rosie McLeod, pub proprietor and a gifted herbalist of some renown, is thirty-nine and holding, but only just. The talons of her fortieth birthday are in her back and her bloody, bloody husband hasn’t laid a lustful hand on her for months.
She has the fortune, or misfortune, to live in one of Scotland’s most famous places – the East Lothian village of Holy Cross, which takes its name from the legendary Glastonbury Cross that was spirited away – and subsequently lost – when Henry VIII purged the English monasteries. The cross of pale Welsh gold, reputedly buried within the village, had at its centre a fragment of emerald from the Holy Grail. The story is, of course, complete baloney.
But the association with the Holy Grail and the later witch persecutions of James VI mean that the village is as well known around the world as Edinburgh Castle, haggis or Loch Ness. It has been described as “the heartbeat of Scotland” and is a major tourist destination – many of whom visit the village with metal detectors, hoping to discover the elusive cross.
However, a sighting of a large, black cat by the local Church of Scotland minister sets off a chain of events that lead back twenty years and, although the villagers are blissfully unaware of it, to a woman’s murder. The black cat had last been sighted near the village some two decades before, and the minister’s predecessor was sure that it had triggered something evil. The villagers, of course, think otherwise.
Nothing ever happens in Holy Cross.
Coincidentally, Rosie had once owned a black cat, although it was very small, and was eaten by an eagle on the Christmas morning she was given it. That was also the Christmas she stopped believing in Santa Claus. One minute, the kitten was on a scrubby patch of grass in their Sussex back garden, a round ball of black fluff, peering fretfully at her new world; the next, she wasn’t anywhere to be seen until, looking up, Rosie saw large and predatory wings disappear over the farmhouse roof. She was at an age when she knew that bad things happened, but still believed that Christmas Day was somehow exempt: guns fell silent, everyone had enough to eat, and pestilence was postponed until Boxing Day. Her parents tried to console her by saying that eagles weren’t native to Sussex, searching fruitlessly in flowerbeds and, then, in the surrounding fields. In a way, that day had become a metaphor for her life: that in unexpected ways good things can be randomly snatched away. It felt like that now: sagging boobs, carpet slippers, a dreaded birthday – and the revelation of a precise delusion.
About the Author
I was born in Paisley, central Scotland, which wasn’t my fault. That week, Eddie Calvert with Norrie Paramor and his Orchestra were Top of the Pops, with Oh, Mein Papa, as sung by a young German woman remembering her once-famous clown father. That gives a clue to my age, not my musical taste.
I was brought up in the west of Scotland and graduated from the University of Edinburgh. I still have the scroll, but it’s in Latin, so it could say anything.
I then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist. I started in Glasgow and ended up in London, covering news, features and politics. I interviewed motorbike ace Barry Sheene, Noel Edmonds threatened me with legal action and, because of a bureaucratic muddle, I was ordered out of Greece.
I then took a year to travel round the world, visiting 19 countries. Highlights included being threatened by a man with a gun in Dubai, being given an armed bodyguard by the PLO in Beirut (not the same person with a gun), and visiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave in Samoa. What I did for the rest of the year I can’t quite remember
Surprisingly, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence, which just shows how shoddy government recruitment was back then. However, it turned out to be very boring and I don’t like vodka martini.
Craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize, and I’ve still to listen to Oh, Mein Papa.
I am married with two grown-up children and live in central Scotland. And that’s about it.
About Love Potions and Other Calamities
by Charlie Laidlaw
Love Potions and Other Calamities is a book that was decades in the making. It was also first published in 2015 as The Herbal Detective.
I’m grateful that Accent Press acquired rights to it and, now that Accent have been acquired by Headline, that it’s being republished. It completes my trilogy of standalone books set in East Lothian, just outside Edinburgh.
Rude and risqué, it’s also a book that I’m proud of, not least because it’s the book on which I really learned how to write, and which has guided my writing style ever since.
It started off being a rather spooky book set in the south of England. It then moved to the Scottish Borders and became a quasi-police procedural.
Only later, when I realised that neither of those genres worked, did it become a rather wacky comedy.
My books are character and plot driven, and now balance humour with poignancy. Love Potions was the journey that got me to where I am.
The idea for the book came to me at university when, for one module, I studied the Scottish history of the 17th and 18th century.
This was the time of the witch persecutions, which was really another chapter in the story of Christian imperialism.
In the early days of that imperialism, the church much preferred to assimilate by stealth. For example, until 834, All Hallows was on 13th May – moved to 1st November by Pope Gregory to overlay an older pagan festival. So too Christmas, to overlay the pagan winter solstice (also known as Yule, hence our Yule log).
Witchcraft’s journey to demonic intolerance took several centuries. In 8th century Saxony, the death penalty existed for anyone killing a witch. In 11th century Hungary, Charlemagne decreed that there was no legal remedy against witches “since they do not exist.”
Bit by bit, the church flexing its muscles, tolerance was chipped away. By 15th century Hungary, the memory of Charlemagne now dimmed, a first offender found guilty of witchcraft was made to stand in the town square wearing a Jew’s cap, a symmetrical punishment alongside Europe’s other principal scapegoat.
Indeed, in many parts of Europe, the social exclusion of the witches was only matched by the social exclusion of Jews. It was merely a matter for individual societies to pick the scapegoat which best suited their particular circumstances.
In the Alps and Pyrenees they burned witches, in Spain they burned Jews – for the simple crime of being either a witch or a Jew. In 14th and 15th century Germany, it was the Jews who suffered; by the 16th century it was the witches. In the 20th century, it was the turn of the Jew again, the cycle of persecution turning full circle in the ovens of Auschwitz.
The last person in the UK to be prosecuted for witchcraft was Scottish housewife Helen Duncan, jailed for nine months in 1944 because, a spiritualist, she seemed to know too much about the war effort.
The real story of the witch persecutions was the church’s successful PR campaign to define as evil everything that had gone before. It was brutally effective.
But the cult of the scapegoat isn’t dead, and has contemporary resonance. Take your pick from immigrants, benefits scroungers, health tourists, investment bankers, gays, gypsies, Muslims… the list goes on and on.
And that’s witchcraft’s relevance for today, because by picking scapegoats we are also defining our own prejudices and intolerances, and looking for somebody to blame for society’s ills.
That is the premise of Love Potions. The central character, a gifted herbalist, may or may not be a witch…but just suppose that someone in the locality believes that she is, and also believes in the old punishment for a witch?
After all, one of the principal targets of the witch persecutions were the local wise women. These were the local herbalists – and therefore pharmacist, doctor and midwife. During the persecutions, it wasn’t a good career choice.
(As an aside, there is evidence that the demise of the wise women led to women giving birth of their backs. The male medical profession that replaced the wise women thought it was more decorous).
For the book to work, my herbalist had to be more than one-dimensional. To suspend readers’ disbelief, she has to demonstrate a real knowledge of herbalism. To make her enigmatic, she also has to demonstrate a knowledge of wicca and wiccan spells – for example, using poisons.
In that regard, it’s a book I wish I had never embarked upon. Having decided on its direction, I had to balance its idiocy with all those large dollops of herbal and wiccan facts.
All the herbal lore and wiccan spells in the book are therefore fact-based, a task that took forever to research!
I hope readers see beyond its humour and at least glimpse the real message the book contains. That bigotry and intolerance are wrong.
It might be rude and risqué, but humour can sometimes be a good medium for making a good point. I hope Love Potions does just that.
Charlie Laidlaw: https://www.charlielaidlawauthor.com/
- Signed Copy of Book (International)
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