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Canada’s Great Unsolved Murder

Ann Shortell
Ann Shortell Author Interview

Celtic Knot follows a young girl who’s caught up in a murder mystery that has national consequences. What was the inspiration for turning this historical event into a thrilling mystery novel?

It was true inspiration, through a dream. I awakened with the vision of a girl, writing by candlelight, “I was on the other side of the door when Mr. McGee was shot.” I knew she meant the 1868 assassination of Canadian Father of Confederation T. D’Arcy McGee. Irish rebels were blamed, and one was hanged for the crime. Yet this remains Canada’s great unsolved murder mystery.

Clara is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character development?

Thank you, Thomas. Readers have described Celtic Knot as “Alias Grace meets a dark, twisty Anne Of Green Gables”. Certainly, Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s heroines, such as Anne Shirley and particularly her writer protagonist Emily Byrd Starr, served as inspiration. There’s a bit of Jo March in Clara as well. Yet Clara is a young female immigrant, the ultimate outsider viewing a strange new world with the particular gaze of a post-famine Irish-Catholic (& one hiding her late mother’s scandalous mixed-marriage to her negligent Anglo-Irish Protestant father.) Clara is bright, & surrounded by powerful men, yet absolutely powerless—except for her education, her knowledge of events, and her ability to ferret out information. She must work as a domestic servant to live, and must always make a fine calculation to balance her ethical duty and her best interests.

I enjoyed the historical references used throughout the book. What research did you undertake to ensure things were accurate?

There is a plethora of information available about McGee and his assassination, including books, trial transcripts, his own writings, newspapers of the day, and letters of prominent politicians & their civil servants. There is also no dearth of lore surrounding this story in the Irish-Canadian community, to this day. Much of what I’ve written is factual, but I’ve also learned facts and then taken great liberties with them. The trial is a representative pastiche, and I invented some character backstories and subplots—including the ending. One fact that still intrigues me: when slain, McGee did in fact have a recently-completed, politically-sensitive manuscript that went missing.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Yes, Thomas, young Clara Swift off having more misadventures–this time amidst a western Canadian rebellion, followed by high-level American Washington D.C. political intrigue, all of which culminates in a border raid of Canada by Irish-American Civil War veterans. This work-in-progress is titled An Irish Goodbye A Clara Swift Tale, and its publication date is Clara’s—and my—latest mystery.

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1868 Ottawa

Politician Thomas D’Arcy McGee is assassinated. As Prime Minister John A. Macdonald cradles his friend’s bloody head, he blames transplanted Irish terrorists: the Fenian Brotherhood. Within a day, Patrick James Whelan is arrested. After a show trial, Whelan is publicly hanged.

That much is history. Did Whelan do the deed?

What if Clara Swift, a mere slip of a girl, sees the trace-line of a buggy turn off Sparks Street, moments after the murder? What if housemaid Clara understands her dead mentor’s shorthand, and forges an unlikely alliance with the Prime Minister’s investigator? And ends up being trusted by the condemned man’s wife — and by Lady Agnes Macdonald . . .

Celtic Knot.
It’s reimagining a crisis that tested a new country.
It’s history with a mystery.
It’s A Clara Swift Tale.

And it all begins with a shot in the dark.

Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale

Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale by [Ann Shortell]

Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale is a thrilling murder mystery story that combines true facts with fiction in a compelling historical fantasy novel. The book follows the story of a young housekeeper, Clara Swift, who is sought by Prime Minister John A Macdonald to help find out who assassinated his master, Mr. McGee. Clara’s tenacity and abilities get her embroiled in a plot with national consequences.

Ann Shortell has creatively used a well known historical moment to tell a riveting mystery. Clara is an intriguing character right from the start. She’s smart and quick-witted and was someone that I empathized with along the nail biting journey she’s thrust on. Her perseverance and determination to seek the truth was something that kept me flipping pages. The story takes places in Ottawa Canada during the 1800’s and the time period is captured in striking detail.

Alluring characters in a memorable setting pulled me into the story, but the one thing that I think elevated this story above genre fiction was the theatrical mystery driving this dramatic novel. Ann Shortell is able to give readers just enough to keep them guessing, just enough to root for characters, and contine to feed you those bread crumbs until the finale. I am not familiar with the historical events discussed in the book, but still found the book to be entertaining. I will say that a reader may need a good respect for history and willingness to absorb the history and time period to be able to truly enjoy this novel as Ann Shortell really dives into the era. Like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, it’s still entertaining, but you’ll be engrossed if you know about, or at least enjoy, the history discussed in the book.

Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale is an enthralling historical fiction novel that places an unassuming but sharp girl at the heart of a spellbinding mystery.

Pages: 332 | ASIN: B07BN2TNQ3

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