Guest Post: Facts in Cozy Fiction: Daguerreotypes by Judy Penz Sheluk

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Guest Post

Facts in Cozy Fiction: Daguerreotypes
by Judy Penz Sheluk

As a former journalist and magazine editor, I’m all about doing the research and getting the facts. As an avid reader of mystery fiction, I also want to learn new things from the books that I read. What might come as a surprise, however, is how much you can learn from a cozy mystery. A terrific example is that of award-winning author Ellen Byron, who includes a “Lagniappe” chapter at the end of each book in her Cajun County cozy mystery series. Included are some of the real inspirations for fictional locations, characters, and moments.

The central theme of my latest Glass Dolphin cozy mystery, Where There’s A Will, revolves around the old Hadley house, rented out for years, rumored to be haunted, and now on the market as an estate sale. Enter protagonist and Glass Dolphin antiques shop owner Arabella Carpenter, who, along with her ex-husband, Levon, has been hired to appraise the contents of the house. Among those contents is a daguerreotype of a young woman reading.

For those unfamiliar, the daguerreotype is an early photographic process using silver-plated copper and mercury fumes (doesn’t that sound safe?), which results in a mirror-like image, similar to a hologram. While the use of negatives in photography would eventually become the norm, in 1840s and 50s America, the daguerreotype had little competition, especially in the area of private portraiture. Until the daguerreotype, portraits and miniatures were considered luxuries for the rich.

I first became familiar with daguerreotypes in my early days as a freelance writer specializing in antiques, and my fascination with them increased with every article written. Later, as the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal, I would interview Keith F. Davis, a renowned expert in the field, as well as members of the Daguerreian Society. One of those members was kind enough to send me a copy of The Daguerreian Annual 1998: The Official Yearbook of the Daguerreian Society. Inside, there’s an article on Reading Daguerreotypes written by Keith F. Davis, and while it took a few years, it eventually inspired one of the plot points in Where There’s A Will. Here are a couple of brief excerpts:

[The Set-up: The beneficiary of the old Hadley house estate, Faye Everett, asks Arabella Carpenter, owner of the Glass Dolphin, to appraise a reading daguerreotype found hidden inside the house.]

“”Arabella went to a packed bookcase at the back of the store and pulled out a gold-covered book titled The Daguerreian Annual 1998: The Official Yearbook of the Daguerreian Society and flipped to page 19.

“This article was written by Keith F. Davis, the author of several books on photography, though he is probably best known as the man who built the Hallmark Photographic Collection, which spans the history of American photography. The article is well researched and thorough, and he writes that daguerreotypes with people holding or reading a book are far from rare.” Arabella passed the yearbook to Faye and stayed silent as she studied the images, among them, a preacher with a bible, a man with chin whiskers reading, a young girl clutching an open book.

And later…

Arabella studied the daguerreotype from every angle. As was customary, it was housed in a leather case, somewhat worn but still intact, the delicate mirrored surface further protected by glass.

The portrait was of an attractive young woman, an enigmatic smile on her face. Her hair had been parted in the center, then carefully braided and twisted into small buns on either side of her head, not quite Star Wars Princess Leia, but close. The dress was clearly a “Sunday best” with a lace collar and black velvet ribbon at the neck, and scalloped edges on the sleeves. She held a half-open book on her lap, the title too tiny to make out.””

Of course, the daguerreotype is not the only thing hidden inside the old Hadley house, as Arabella soon finds out. What can I say? Old houses, especially those with the reputation of being haunted, are filled with secrets.

Readers: Do you enjoy learning new things from a cozy mystery?

(Leave a reply and let us know)

Photo credit: An example of a reading daguerreotype. Mary H. Lee, half-length portrait, seated, holding a book; McClees & Germon, photographer, 1850-55. Library of Congress #2008680501. Used with permission.

Find more Facts in Fiction on Judy’s website at

Arabella Carpenter has been hired to appraise the contents of the Hadley house estate. She finds a hidden will and a decades-old secret…In Where There’s A Will @JudyPenzSheluk

About The Book

About The Book:

Emily Garland is getting married and looking for the perfect forever home. When the old, and some say haunted, Hadley house comes up for sale, she’s convinced it’s “the one.” The house is also perfect for reality TV star Miles Pemberton and his new series, House Haunters. Emily will fight for her dream home, but Pemberton’s pockets are deeper than Emily’s, and he’ll stretch the rules to get what he wants.

While Pemberton racks up enemies all around Lount’s Landing, Arabella Carpenter, Emily’s partner at the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, has been hired to appraise the contents of the estate, along with her ex-husband, Levon. Could the feuding beneficiaries decide there’s a conflict of interest? Could Pemberton?

Things get even more complicated when Arabella and Levon discover another will hidden inside the house, and with it, a decades-old secret. Can the property stay on the market? And if so, who will make the winning offer: Emily or Miles Pemberton?

Book Links: Amazon  /  Bookshop /  B&N /  Apple

About The Author

About The Author:

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans and Heartbreaks & Half-truths, which she also edited. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors.

Author Links

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  1. Yes, I love learning things from cozies when I read them. One author who always has something I can learn is Janet Finsilver. I will have to check out this series, I am not familiar with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for hosting me today. Carla, i hope you enjoy the series. It has excellent reviews on Goodreads (4.4+). As well, the first book in my other series (Skeletons in the Attic) is on sale now for .99.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I find that true knowledge is in reading. I learn at least one thing while reading, particularly in cozy mysteries since they are my most read genre. I do have a fascination in photography in general. I think of as magic in that a person can make a still life of nature for later study,


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