Thursday, August 24, 2023

Virtual Tour + #Giveaway: To Kingdom Come by Claudia Riess @GoddessFish

To Kingdom Come

by Claudia Riess

GENRE: Mystery


Amateur sleuths, Erika Shawn-Wheatley, art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, art history professor, attend a Zoom meeting of individuals from around the globe whose common goal is to expedite the return of African art looted during the colonial era. Olivia Chatham, a math instructor at London University, has just begun speaking about her recent find, a journal penned by her great-granduncle, Andrew Barrett, active member of the Royal Army Medical Service during England’s 1897 “punitive expedition” launched against the Kingdom of Benin.

Olivia is about to disclose what she hopes the sleuthing duo will bring to light, when the proceedings are disrupted by an unusual movement in one of the squares on the grid. Frozen disbelief erupts into a frenzy of calls for help as the group, including the victim, watch in horror the enactment of a murder videotaped in real time.

It will not be the only murder or act of brutality Erika and Harrison encounter in their two-pronged effort to hunt down the source of violence and unearth a cache of African treasures alluded to in Barrett’s journal.

Much of the action takes place in London, scene of the crimes and quest for redemption


The first page identified the journal’s owner and date of inception in neatly penned script:

Andrew James Dexter Barrett
Book One: 22 March 1897 – 17 August 1897
The subject of where Book Two and beyond might have gone off to was not raised because it would have been futile and, at least for now, irrelevant. Erika carefully turned the page to reveal the journal’s first entry, thankfully in that same legible, script: 22 March, homecoming. They read on, silently.

Hard to believe it has been less than ten weeks since the SS Malacca, cargo steamship refitted as a hospital ship, set forth for the Benin coast with me and my fellow medics aboard. It seems like a lifetime ago, perhaps because I have become a new man, or rather a newly awakened man, in the interim.

I have learned firsthand what history books and hearsay can only, at best, inadequately describe, and I will never again shut my eyes to the indignities and injustices we self-proclaimed entitled few, heap upon our brethren: those less fiscally sound as well as those of darker skin.

On Saturday, 20 March, when the ship pulled into Gosport, England, Father was waiting for me on the dock in top hat and frock coat, dapper as the nobleman he is. As I heave-hoed my laundry bag containing the rescued Benin treasures into our horse-drawn carriage, Father commented on its obvious weight. “What have you got in there?” he asked, with barely a trace of curiosity. “Medical books and instruments,” I answered without hesitation, realizing as I uttered the words that I had no intention of bringing him into my confidence.

I had been getting about on my own for years and could very well have hired a carriage to take me on the sixty-six-mile journey home, but Father had been adamant about accompanying me, even though it meant that both he and his coachman must overnight at an inn to, and again from, Gosport. In retrospect, I wonder if his intention, perhaps not conscious, was to use our extensive time alone to reclaim his control over me, since he did, after all, spend a good deal of time speaking of his activities in the House of Lords and pressing upon me the certainty that I was “marvelously suited” to that rewarding life. Mid-point between Gosport and Hertfordshire, we rented rooms at the inn in Guildford, where Father and the coachman had stayed the night before. To dilute Father’s lecture disguised as conversation, I must have consumed more ale that night than I had in the previous six months.

I awakened this morning well rested, but with a raging headache. Father must have taken pity on me because for the balance of our journey he eased up considerably on his mission to refashion me as a slightly taller version of himself. We arrived home late this evening, and Mother’s embrace and smile of relief comforted me no end. Never mind my goals in life. All that mattered to Mother was my safe return to Barrett Farms. 

Interview with Claudia Riess

How many books have you written and which is your favorite?

Seven. The answer to the second part of the question that comes immediately to mind is: the one I’m working on. I get immersed in the characters and their predicaments, and I’m sometimes surprised by how they lead me to re-imagined paths en route to the plot’s resolution. But on reflection, I guess I can say I have a number of favorite books, each for a different reason: Reclining Nude because it was my first, and the experience of investing myself in new characters and, in a sense, bringing them to life and sharing their story, was thrilling. Love and Other Hazards because it was the first book where I fully projected myself into both the female and male protagonists. Knight Light, book 3 of my art history mystery series, because my protagonists’ personalities and love story were already well established, and it felt like I knew them outside the realm of my computer. To Kingdom Come because I learned about a subject I had been virtually ignorant about—the seizing of African art and artifacts during the colonial period—and bringing it to light in fiction laced with history, was a unique and rewarding experience.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

I’m presently working on book 5 of the art history mystery series—working title, Dreaming of Monet, scheduled for release winter 2024. It opens on a gala evening auction at Laszlo’s, an upstart auction house in New York City. After a much sought-after Impressionist still life painting is without notice withdrawn from the auction block, its broker is found dead at the foot of an imposing statue in Laszlo’s courtyard. Amateur sleuths Erika Shawn and Harrison Wheatley are once again drawn into an investigation involving an art-related homicide, this time with one sharing an unnerving coincidence with violent crimes occurring abroad.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Both, really. The books are sequenced chronologically (Erika and Harrison evolve from potential lovers to parents with toddler), but are structured as stand-alones. It’s an interesting challenge, telling just enough in a sequel without giving away the plot points of its predecessor, and refraining from repeating too many minor details and bore the reader who’s already familiar with them.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

The title To Kingdom Come has a double meaning. First, it refers to the Kingdom of Benin, which was attacked in 1897 in what the British dubbed a “punitive expedition.” Second, the area was in a manner of speaking blasted, as the expression goes, to kingdom come.

How long did it take you to write this book?

It took about two months to research the subject. The book with which I began the research: Dan Hick’s The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution. It took about a year to actually write the book.

What did you learn while writing the book?

First, I learned about a chapter in history and its present-day repercussions. Second, I learned how to pare down the historical information to its essentials. I was filled with facts and figures I’d just taken in, and it was tempting to incorporate a lot of this information into the story to give it heft, so to speak. But I discovered that just as the impact of a sentence is diluted by too many adjectives, the impact of a storyline is weakened by too many peripheral, albeit supportive, facts.

What surprised you the most?

Interspersed through the book are passages from the late 19th century journal of my fictional character, Andrew Barrett (a medic in the Royal Army Medical Service). I was surprised these were among the easiest passages to write. I was able to get into the man’s head and write in his vernacular—or at least what I imagined was his vernacular. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I’m writing in first person, from the POV of a character, even a character as foreign to any individual I’ve ever encountered in life, the words—thoughts—come easily. Surely because the POV replicates the one with which each of us perceives our own narrative unfolding in real time.

What do you do to get inside your characters’ heads?

Without intentionally planning this, I think what happens is that I set aside my inner censor and proclivities and slip into the mindsets of each of my characters as they talk to each other or otherwise interact. As I in a sense inhabit the characters, my reasoning and emotions come into play, but not always with the same intentions that they do in my real life.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Claudia Riess is an award-winning author of seven novels, four of which form her art history mystery series published by Level Best Books. She has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart and Winston, and has edited several art history monographs. Stolen Light, the first book in her series, was chosen by Vassar’s Latin American history professor for distribution to the college’s people-to-people trips to Cuba. To Kingdom Come, the fourth and most recent, will be added to the syllabus of a survey course on West and Central African Art at a prominent Midwest university. Claudia has written a number of articles for Mystery Readers Journal, Women’s National Book Association, and Mystery Scene magazine. At present, she’s consulting with her protagonists about a questionable plot twist in Chapter 9 of the duo’s murder investigation unfolding in book 5; working title: Dreaming of Monet, scheduled for release winter 2024. For more about Riess and her work, visit

All four books in the art history mystery series are available through,, and at independent book stores. For bulk discount purchases, contact



$25 Amazon/BN GC 

Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning.


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting today.

Claudia Riess said...

Thanks so much for featuring my book on you blog!

traciem said...

What inspires your book ideas?

Rita Wray said...

I liked the excerpt.

Claudia Riess said...

Thanks for the question, Tracie. Inspirations include: interesting and surprising relationships among artists of different periods and styles; historical subjects, like repatriation of looted art; inventing mysteries surrounding contemporary and historical facts that I imagine might have been; following the evolving relationship of my sleuthing couple--see where they take me! Art is a rich subject to draw inspiration from--from beauty in many forms to its manipulation in the criminal world.

Claudia Riess said...

Thank you again, Rita!

Sherry said...

The book sounds really good.

Claudia Riess said...

Thanks so much, Sherry!

Bea LaRocca said...

Thank you for sharing your interview, bio and the book details, I have enjoyed reading about you and your work and I am looking forward to reading To Kingdom Come

Claudia Riess said...

Thank you for your kind words, Bea! I hope you enjoy the book!

Daniel M said...

looks like a fun one

Claudia Riess said...

Thank you, Daniel!

Bridgett Wilbur said...

I would love to read your book.

Claudia Riess said...

Thank you, Bridgett!

Nancy P said...

Gorgeous cover