How to Create a Fictional Country
By Richard Audry
When I was thinking about writing my next Mary MacDougall mystery, A Fatal Fondness, I realized that one thing I really wanted in the plot was a spot of international intrigue. In fact, I wanted it to be the main thread of the plot.
My problem was that this story would take place in the Upper Midwest in 1902 when agents of the Czar and King Edward and the Kaiser probably wouldn’t have much interest in doings there. Russia, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Empire of Japan, et al. were simply too grand for a little tale involving my heiress sleuth. Something serious was called for, but not grandiose. What I needed was a small fake country, preferably in Eastern European, that could be involved in some deadly conspiracy in the port city of Duluth, Minnesota—which, back in the day, was an important commercial and shipping center.
Faux countries, of course, are part of a long and distinguished tradition. Some of my favorites include: Atlantis (Plato); Bartovia (The Simpsons); Elbonia (Dilbert); Freedonia (Marx Brothers); Grand Fenwick (The Mouse that Roared); Krakozhia (Steven Spielberg); Orsinia (Ursula Le Guin); Oceania (Nineteen Eight-Four); Pottsylvania (Rocky and Bullwinkle); Shangri-La (Lost Horizon). For a comprehensive list, go to Wikipedia.
So, I’m writing a story set in 1902 and I need a very small Eastern European country that at least seems credible. Not a kingdom, but a principality—ruled by a prince, not a monarch. It’s got to have a little clout, but not too much. In other words, it has to have some agency with Wall Street and the U. S. government. So let’s say that in addition to being a center of timber production and wine-making, it houses two or three powerful banks, where the wealthy like to park their funds, unseen and unsupervised. Wall Street is very fond of those banks. In other words, a tiny Switzerland.
Okay, now where should my faux country be? For this, I had to refer to maps in my copy of The American Almanac, Year-Book, Cyclopedia and Atlas of 1904. (That and the 1902 Sears catalog are my go-to references when I’m writing a Mary MacDougall mystery.) And the best location looked to be tucked in between Romania and Bulgaria. I decided Romanian would be the predominant language and the Romanian Orthodox Church the primary religion. I came up with a handful of names for my little country, some of which have been used already or just sounded dopey. I tried a bunch of Romanian names, but they just didn’t sound good. So I settled on one that I couldn’t find anywhere that seemed somewhat credible: Ostovia.
The situation is this…
Circa 1890, a number of Ostovians immigrated to Duluth in reaction to the oppressive regime of Prince Marku—seeking better lives, settling in the Slabtown and West End neighborhoods. Several hundred more come over the course of the decade, forming a thriving ethnic community. Meanwhile, back home, Prince Anton succeeds his father and begins implementing liberal reforms looked on by the Ostovian banks with disapprobation. Sometime in 1900, he dies suspiciously, of “gastritis.” His ten-year-old son Nicolae becomes prince and Anton’s brother Vladislav becomes regent. Months later, Nicolae and several of his retainers disappear off the face of the earth.
Mary MacDougall, my heiress sleuth, has no idea, as she starts her own detective agency, that she’ll soon be drawn into an Ostovian affair ripe with conspiracy and murder.
By the time I wrapped up the book in late September, the place almost seemed real to me—a good thing, for a faux country in a piece of fiction. In fact, I wish I could visit it, or at least buy a bottle of Ostovian wine.
Mary has decided to open her own consulting detective business, much to her father’s (and many others) dismay. Things aren’t exactly going to plan for Mary. Her father has placed her cousin as a quasi-chaperone to try to keep his wayward daughter out of trouble. As if anyone can! Her business gets off to a slow start of finding missing pets and chasing down a street orphan at a discount price, not exactly the headline cases she dreams of. Meanwhile her personal life isn’t proving as easy as she had hoped. She soon, however, finds herself buried in a possible cover-up with international implications and learns that justice is a hard task.
It is always a pleasure to host Richard Audry and his audacious heroine here at I Read What You Write. Some time ago I reviewed the previous book is the Mary MacDougall Mysteries, “A Daughter’s Doubt.” Glancing over my thoughts on that book, I have to say that many of the great qualities I wrote about back then had stood out to me in “A Fatal Fondness” as well.
Reading this book is like diving into another time. It is the turn of the 2oth century, a culture clash of old school decorum and new-fangled technology that offers so much more opportunity for getting into mischief. The clothes, food, characters, and setting read so flawlessly as to make it possible to smell and taste it, to experience it as the characters do.
Mary is passionate and headstrong and as such often finds herself reacting with little thought about consequences, and there are always consequences. She has a real talent for sleuthing as does cousin Jeanette, despite her claims of being an inside kind of girl. I truly enjoyed how the various plot lines came together and am seriously looking forward to Mary’s next adventure.
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About This Book:
A Fatal Fondness (Mary MacDougall Mysteries Book 4) by Richard Audry
It’s September 1902, and Mary MacDougall has fulfilled her greatest dream—opening her own detective agency. But this achievement doesn’t come without complication.
Mary’s father insists that an older cousin come to work with her—as both secretary and minder. Jeanette Harrison pledges to keep the plucky sleuth away from danger, as well as from her unsuitable suitor Edmond Roy. This arrangement, embarrassingly, makes Mary the only detective in the state with a chaperone.
The new agency’s first cases hardly seem to portend danger or significance. There’s the affair of the nicked napkin rings…the problem of the purloined pocket watch…and the matter of the four filched felines.
Mary and Jeanette have not the slightest notion that one of these modest little jobs will blow up into the most consequential and perilous case of the heiress-sleuth’s budding career. What begins in triviality mushrooms into disappearance, betrayal, international intrigue, and murder. As she learns more and more, Mary’s prospects for making the acquaintance of an assassin’s blade improve exponentially.
Book Links: Amazon
About The Author
Richard Audry is the pen name of D. R. Martin. He is the author of the Mary MacDougall historical mysteries (four titles) and the King Harald canine cozy series (three titles). Under his own name, he has written the Johnny Graphic ghost adventure trilogy, the Marta Hjelm hardboiled mystery Smoking Ruin, and two books on some of his favorite authors: Travis McGee & Me and Four Science Fiction Masters.
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