Dear readers, tonight with us is the owner of a local bookstore. Her knowledge of the Whitechapel murders and of Jack the Ripper bring her to the attention of the police. She is here to tell us about how investigating a current murder brought up a woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Emily, the proud owner of Emily’s Lair, a private, non-corporate bookshop in New Vernon, Connecticut, with a wonderful variety of books. There’s an entire wall dedicated to classic literature, for example, sections on art, exploration, science, history, ancient civilizations, even true crime. You can get the latest releases, of course, but most of the shop is made up of books that I find interesting and think other people will too. I’m especially proud of the special section in back that’s filled with books on the European witch hunts. It also features more than one biography on the woman responsible for singlehandedly ending the witch hunts, Liesbeth Jansson.
Liesbeth Jansson? Who was she?
She was a woman from Breda, a city in the Netherlands. She got married to a professor from Leiden, a city that became a beacon of the Enlightenment. He died when the Plague swept through Leiden, and because Liesbeth was smart and strong-willed and refused to conform to what citizens at the time considered to be a “proper Christian woman,” she became a target. At that time, women who were different, or, especially, who weren’t submissive to men, were often accused of witchcraft.
Was Liesbeth Jansson accused of witchcraft?
Oh yes. But she fought back. You see, none of the women accused of witchcraft—the accused were almost always women—were actually witches. Many were elderly spinsters, midwives, or rich widows like Liesbeth. If you had money, you were a prime target because a witch’s money was always seized by the state, and witch hunters loved money. But with Liesbeth they had stumbled on someone they never expected to encounter—a woman with real power. She escaped, hunted down each of her accusers, and killed them in a very public and brutal manner. Once people realized there was a chance that they might accuse a woman who could fight back, the witch hunts ended.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
I met Will, a homicide detective. I fell for him right away despite that he was questioning me. You see, I was a person of interest in a murder that Will was investigating because I had once dated the man who was killed. Will came in the shop to ask me some questions; that’s how we met.
What do you think was Will’s first impression of you?
I could tell that he liked me too, but he wasn’t willing to admit that to me, or to himself, until after the evidence proved that I had nothing to do with the murder. Once I was in the clear, we became involved rather quickly, but it wasn’t always easy being so close to someone who has to deal with murder as a career. They tend to be a bit cynical about life, understandably.
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
I was afraid of losing Will. He was the first person in a long time whom I felt really loved me and accepted me as myself. I’ve always felt like there was a part of myself that I’ve had to hide from people. Will is the first man I’ve ever known whom I felt comfortable enough with to be myself. Knowing the things that he suspected me of was unbearable at times.
What do you think was Liesbeth Jansson’s worst experience? Was it when they tortured her?
Well, that was horrific for her, certainly, but I think that if she were here she would tell you that the worst thing she experienced was witnessing people she’d known for so many years, people who had known her and known that she was innocent, stand up in court and testify to seeing her dancing with the devil, telling ridiculous stories of her casting spells to seduce their sons, things like that. She must have felt such a sense of betrayal.
What do you think was her best experience?
Revenge, of course! Delivering justice to those who had condemned her must have been extraordinarily satisfying for her. Three of her tormentors had raped her on the night before she was to burn. They had tortured her for weeks, all in an effort to make her confess to where she had hidden her fortune. She had stayed silent through the whole ordeal, not even giving them the satisfaction of hearing her scream. She lay chained to the wall in their dungeon, lying on a pile of filthy straw, half dead from what they had done to her, and one by one, they raped her. That was when she finally spoke.
What did she say?
She told them that it wasn’t over, that she would escape and come after them, and that she would not only kill them, but all their sons and daughters as well, every descendant they had until she wiped out their line to the last person. It was a promise she kept.
Any romantic involvement?
Liesbeth? Well, she certainly adored her husband. She took lovers after he died, of course, but no one ever made her feel the way she had with her beloved Willem. He had encouraged her reading, which was frowned upon then. It was scandalous at the time for a woman to be seen reading anything except the Bible. Education was for men. Women who were smart and bold enough to challenge a man could be accused of witchcraft. Willem taught her in secret and encouraged her to educate herself. She was never the same after he died.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
I don’t really hate anyone because I’ve seen what hate can lead people to do, and I don’t care for it. Hate can make people ugly and turn this wondrous world into a very desperate and scary place. But I’ve never had much fondness for false people, and I’m guessing that has to do with my studies of Liesbeth. She had seen what people were capable of, all the time hiding behind the church to burn women at the stake, rob them of their property, and such.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
Will and I both adore having coffee with decadent desserts. It was our excuse for seeing each other early on before I was in the clear of the murder investigation. We’d get together to talk because I knew a good deal about Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders. I was quite well read on true crimes and on the witch hunts, and Will thought that talking to me about these areas of expertise might give him some insight as to who the murderer might be. I’d always make something luscious to go with our coffee.
Can you share a secret with us, something which you’ve never told anyone else?
(Laughs) I can’t really do that without spoiling the book!
Cary Grossman got the idea for his first book after spending two decades in retail management, a career in which he found little to inspire him. It took him over ten years to write his first novel, creating a story and with painstaking care learning the craft of turning it into a novel. His goal was to make page-turners; books that would get the reader involved from the first page. He has happily abandoned retail for good and spends his time writing, reading, and pursuing art and beauty in all forms.
You can meet Emily on the pages of Emily’s Lair.
Join us next week to hear about dragons and railguns. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.