Saturday, May 24, 2008

Maureen Peters, 1935-2008

News about the death of prolific historical novelist Maureen Peters was sent to me by my dad, mystery critic Steve Lewis, by way of Al Hubin and John Herrington, compiler of a bibliography on Robert Hale titles. Mr Herrington had heard the news from Hale, her current publisher, who reported that she died last month.

I've gone searching for an obituary online and in various library databases but haven't found one yet. Per Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, she was born in Caernarvon, Wales, on March 3, 1935, and was married and divorced twice; she has two sons and two daughters. In addition to the novels written under her own name, which were historical fiction, she also wrote as Veronica Black, Catherine Darby, Belinda Grey, Elizabeth Law, Levanah Lloyd, Judith Rothman, and Sharon Whitby.

Her novels, which easily number over one hundred, fall into many categories: biographical fiction on royalty (written under her own name), Gothic romances, family sagas, Mills & Boon series titles, contemporary mysteries (her Sister Joan series was written as Veronica Black), and more.

Maureen Peters always knew how to tell a great story, even though her historical backgrounds were sometimes sketchy and her characterizations of real-life figures could be quite imaginative and unconventional. She wrote about many royal women that few if any other historical novelists took as subjects, such as Isabella/Hawise, first wife of King John (Lackland's Bride) and Joanna of Navarre, second wife of Henry IV (Witch Queen).

I collect the novels she wrote about royalty, but my favorites remain those in her 12-volume Falcon Saga (written as Catherine Darby), published in paperback by Fawcett Crest in the 1970s and 80s. Spanning Henry VIII's England through World War II, the first nine novels traced the lives of a single family, the Falcons, who owned the estate of Kingsmead in the small village of Marie Regina in Kent. The final three novels were set in the 14th century and looked at the lives of earlier generations of Falcons. These three were also considerably longer and more detailed than the others, in terms of historical content.

The Falcon Saga books weren't Gothics in the traditional "woman in danger" sense, although they were marketed as such, but rather dark family sagas. In each generation of Falcons was born a woman with a birthmark shaped like a half-crescent moon, proving her to be a true descendant of her Tudor-era progenitor, the witch Margred. Themes of illicit passion, family rivalry, witchcraft, revenge, and even reincarnation permeated the novels... Yes, some situations were outlandish, but I also clearly remember her vivid re-creations of the Great Fire of London, the WWII home front, and the Welsh hills where some of her characters (those from the nicer branch of Falcons!) resided. When I was in my teens, I read them so many times that I can still remember most characters' names and their placements on the giant Falcon family tree. Even though I haven't picked one up in at least a decade, I was able to do this write-up from memory.

Anyhow, I still have fond memories of reading these novels, as well as those in her Moon Chalice Quest series. I never got around to reading her newer Robert Hale novels; she moved from writing biographical fiction (most recently on the Brontes) to Victorian mysteries and also to other historical fiction set in 19th-century Britain and the USA. One of my fellow HNR editors selected her latest novel as an Editors' Choice title for May's issue.

For more background information on Ms. Peters and her works, see:

  • Author of Many Names, an interview with the BBC from January 2007. There are some mistakes in it: a pseudonym was Catherine Darby (not Derby), and her series was the Falcon Series (rather than Fallon). Her description of this series was rather tongue-in-cheek!
  • Details on her Sister Joan series, with a short bio on the author, from Clerical Detectives.
  • My review of her novel Song of Marguerite, from this blog last year.
  • Daphne's reviews of Witch Queen and The Queen Who Never Was from Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff.
  • Fantastic Fiction's bibliographies of Catherine Darby and Maureen Peters novels, with covers when available.
  • The editors' choice review of her novel Sun of Silver, Moon of Gold (Hale, 2008), from the current issue of the Historical Novels Review. Scroll down toward the end.

12 comments:

  1. Great write-up! I have several of her novels. I hadn't been aware that she was still active until I saw the May HNR.

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  2. I didn't realize she had written so many books under other names. Sounds like she was almost as prolific as Plaidy. I have several of her other books and even though the first two I've read were a little hit or miss, I'm looking forward to reading them.

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  3. This is sad news. Her novels are great and I snap them up when ever I see them.

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  4. Hi Amanda, glad to hear from another fan of hers. I wish her novels were easier to find.

    Daphne, I think your two reviews were spot-on... her royalty novels weren't as good as others she'd written. I prefer those where she wrote about fictional characters.

    And thanks, Susan! The one in May's issue appears to have been her final novel, unless her publisher knows more.

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  5. I own a few of her paperbacks about queens, including my favorite title: "Kathryn, the Wanton Queen" about, who else? Kat Howard.
    I also have the book tie-in by her for the movie "Henry VIII and his Six Wives." It was based on the very popular BBC series with Keith Mitchell, who reprises his role as Henry. But in this film version, Charlotte Rampling plays Anne Boleyn. Takl about some va-va-voom. It was released by EMI Pictures and I've never been able to find it on DVD or video. However the MP paperback tie-in features pics from the film, with the six wives lined up on the back cover.

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  6. Wow - quite the career. And talk about prolific! I'll have to look for some of those books :)

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  7. Oh dear, I've only just caught up with this. I remember crying my eyes out over 'Elizabeth the Beloved' about Elizabeth of York and Richard III. I had no idea she was also Catherine Darby and I much preferred her books to Jean Plaidy's.

    Nicola
    www.nicolaslade.com

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  8. Hi Nicola, I agree, I also prefer her books to Plaidy's - I think she was a better storyteller. Elizabeth the Beloved is one I haven't gotten around to reading (yet). I know I have a copy around here somewhere.

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  9. Hi its been lovely finding this site and reading all your lovely comments about Maureen Peters.She was my Aunt,(my mums eldest sister)I have many fond memories of her and her amazing ability to tell the most interesting stories both real and fictional to me as i grew up.She came home from Spain and died in her home town of Caernarfon,I miss her terribly...

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    1. Doreen9:54 PM

      Hi, just read Trumpet morning today and it was really wonderful. I lived in Bangor in Wales some years ago and Maureen's descriptive powers made me feel I was just there. This book is on par with "How green was my valley' and I wondered was it made into a movie?

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  10. Hi Emma, it must have been wonderful to hear all her stories as you were growing up. I still read through the novels in her Falcon Saga now and again. My sympathies on your and your family's loss.

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  11. Beth Sinfield8:25 AM

    Hi Emma, its Beth here... how wierd that I have found this site today....!!!! Mum (maureen's sister) asked me the other day if I had been online and seen info about 'Mo' x

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