When I sat down to write Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women coming up with the plot was the easy part, but what I didn’t realize was that as I wrote the novel, I was also delving into the true motivations of three of my characters. Old friends, people I thought I knew like the back of my hand since I’d been writing about them for years suddenly began behaving in a way that revealed hidden depths to their characters.
Luty Belle Crookshank, Lady Cannonberry and Mrs. Goodge, my three wise women become the conscience of the Witherspoon circle when the others don’t want their Christmas ruined because of a murder. For goodness sakes, it’s a cold case; a killing that had been done six weeks earlier and the murderer is probably long gone. For once, they’ve all got plans for the holiday and having to solve a murder would ruin everything.
But the three wise women know that justice doesn’t take a holiday. So when appealing to everyone’s better nature doesn’t work, they come up with a way to manipulate their friends into doing their duty. That’s right, these three ladies become crafty schemers in their quest to prod the others into doing the right thing.
It was fun to see that side of their characters pop onto the page. But then I asked myself why these three, all of whom came from very different backgrounds, would have the same burning desire to make sure that a dead man, someone they’d never met, would find justice? Then it hit me, despite their diverse pasts, all of them had seen the horrifying consequences of injustice gone unchecked.
Lady Cannonberry was the daughter of a country vicar and took Christ’s admonition to love thy neighbor as thyself very seriously. In her youth, she’d witnessed how the poor were treated, seen them driven out of the homes and forced in factory jobs. She’d seen the misery of working twelve or fourteen hours a day for wages that kept them living in hovels and their children hungry. As a child, she had witnessed one of the last transports of convicts sent off to the western coast of Australia and had watched the anguish of families separated forever.
Luty Belle Crookshank married an Englishman and together she and her husband had made a fortune mining silver in Colorado and Nevada. They worked hard but along the way, Luty saw that hard work was no guarantee that life would treat you fairly. It instilled in her a sense that if the universe wasn’t fair then it was up to humanity to step up and do the right thing. She knew it was impossible to level the playing field completely, but after watching an innocent seventeen year-old boy get hung for a crime he didn’t commit, she vowed that if she ever got the chance, she’d make sure no one was ever unjustly convicted. When she met the Witherspoon household and Mrs. Jeffries in particular, she got her chance.
Mrs. Goodge has spent a lifetime living in other people’s house, cooking for the high and mighty, the aristocrats and the bankers. But along the way, she’d watched as young footmen had been tossed out into the street for improperly polishing a shoe or a housemaid had been sent off without a reference because she’d accidentally broken a lamp or caught the attention of the young master. For years, the cook had simply told herself that was the way the world worked and there was nothing anyone could do about it. But then she’d come to work for the Inspector and everything had changed. She’d realized that individuals can do something to right the injustices of the world and more importantly, that they should do something.
These three women were shaped by different backgrounds and even different cultures yet all of them have the same burning need to right the wrongs of the world and make sure that justice is always served. Now don’t get me wrong, most of the time, the rest of the Witherspoon household and their friends feel the same way, but sometimes, they give in to their own selfish desires. But occasionally, we all act that way. That’s why wise women are so very important; they remind us that justice never takes a holiday.