I find I’m reading an increasing number of historical fiction books these days – and I find they rarely disappoint me. Sadly, I just can’t manage to read them all – but I was particularly intrigued when K.M. Pohlkamp contacted me about her debut, Apricots and Wolfsbane, published by Filles Vertes Publishing, and subtitled “A Historical Thriller Inspired by the World’s First Serial Killer”.
Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies—to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Believing confession erases the sin of murder, her morbid desires are in unity with faith, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.
At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.
With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder— but the betrayals are just beginning.
I don’t know about you, but I really liked the look of this one. I’m delighted to welcome author K.M. (Kara) Pohlkamp to Being Anne to tell us more…
Men have accomplished most “firsts” in history, but there are some notable exceptions. A woman invented Kevlar. A woman discovered pulsars. A woman wrote the first computer program. More surprisingly, the world’s first serial killer belonged to the more “fragile” and “demure” gender.
I first came across that fact in fall of 2016: the world’s first serial killer was a woman.
The statement struck me. Even as a modern, non-traditional gal, it contradicted my expectation. My mind pondered what had motivated a female from Rome (Gaul) to pursue such violence in AD 54. What possessed Locusta to reach so far beyond expectation, to fulfill her sadistic cravings with poison? Where would she have learned her craft? How would she have honed the alchemy? The musings manifested in my historical fiction thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane.
There is not much known about Locusta, which incited my imagination. You can read a summary of what is known about her here. But as a story formed in my mind, my priest gave a sermon about how easy it is to fall into a cycle of sin and penance. How when we realize our actions are incorrect we feel guilt and avoid the mistake for a while. But once guilt wears, it becomes easy to commit the sin again. Of course he was talking about minor offenses, but as a matter of reductio ad absurdum, I applied this concept to a murderer. The main character of Apricots and Wolfsbane, Lavinia, believes she can continue to murder because confession forgives the sin.
Inspired by the notion confession could provide a source of false permission, I lifted Locusta’s inspiration out of Rome and placed my novel at the height of the Catholic church in Tudor England – my favorite historical period. The exact year is open within the novel, but I imagine it to be ~1520. During this time, the priest was a powerful official at the local level and the historic practice of “indulgences” helps bolster why Lavinia may (falsely) think she can simply go to confession to be forgiven for mortal sin.
So I had my protagonist, and an inspiration, but as an anti-hero, Lavinia had to be relatable. Despite her lust for death, Lavinia has weaknesses that make her accessible—that, and love. She may balance her dark profession as an assassin with faith, but she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves. And when the magistrate uncovers her game, he pressures the priest into breaking Lavinia’s confessional seal. Lavinia must decide which she loves more: the man or her lust for death, all while under pressure to create a tasteless poison for her ruthless patron.
Apricots and Wolfsbane is short listed for the 2017 Chaucer Historical Fiction Awards and contains a book club discussion guide in the back (I skype with book clubs!).
To learn more about this historical thriller, check out the links below:
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And for a final historical note: If you “Google” Locusta, you’ll discover she was ultimately executed for her crimes. I do not believe she was raped to death by a giraffe, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination . . . (Now you want to Google her, don’t you?)
Just fascinating, K.M. – thank you, and I wish you every success with this one.
About the author
K.M. Pohlkamp is a blessed wife, proud mother of two young children, and an aerospace engineer who works in Mission Control. She operated guidance, navigation and control systems on the Space Shuttle and is currently involved in development of upcoming manned-space vehicles. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain her sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. K.M. has come a long way from the wallpaper and cardboard books she created as a child. Her debut historical fiction novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, was published by Filles Vertes Publishing.