All the Perils of this Night: a preview by Elizabeth Cunningham

When I wrote Murder at the Rummage Sale, my agent warned: “You have to have a sequel in mind!” I was supposed to write a second domestic cozy, same setting, same characters, different victim. But what came to mind was a memory. When I was a troubled teen visiting England, my uncle gave me a map and let me go sightseeing in London on my own. It was early winter 1968, the war in Vietnam was raging. I did not want to be an American; so I faked an accent, wore an eccentric hat, and called myself Eliza Doolittle. When a man picked me up, I did not know how to break out of character. I ended up drunk in his flat. I just managed to fight off rape. The man must have figured out that I didn’t add up and could land him in trouble. He took me back to my uncle’s office. The kernel for All the Perils of this Night is: what if he hadn’t? What if, like so many others, I had been trafficked? I couldn’t shake that “what if.”  So I wrote the standalone sequel, no domestic cozy but what I would call a numinous thriller.

In July, in honor of Mary Magdalen’s feast day, I usually post about Maeve, my Celtic Mary Magdalen. This year Maeve urged me to select an excerpt from the new novel. In the scene below Anne, teenaged Katherine’s mother, is searching for her vanished daughter in London’s red light district. A prostitute agrees to speak with her if Anne will pay for her time.

Cover artwork and design by Ray Curenton-Dillinger

Somewhat to Anne’s surprise, the spot was the London version of an all-night Greek diner, brightly lit. She realized that she had assumed all prostitutes were alcoholics or drug addicts. The frizzy-haired woman ordered a cup of tea, which she doctored with milk and lots of sugar, and a lemon cake. Anne ordered Nescafe and stared into its tasteless depths, not knowing how to begin.

“Right then, tell me all about it, luv. I ‘aven’t got all night. Name’s Margaret by the way, Margarita on the street.”

Despite the impatient words, the woman’s tone was kind.

“My name is Anne,” she said.

She looked up at the woman’s face. There was something about the mildness of her eyes, the slope of her cheek that reminded Anne of her best friend Rosalie. She fought back a fresh spate of tears and began, telling far more than she had intended to.

“She’s a lucky girl, that’s all I can say,” said Margaret, stubbing out another of Anne’s cigarettes.

“Lucky?” Anne repeated, looking at her blankly.

“If I’d ‘ad a mum like you come lookin’ for me instead of throwin’ me out when I was fifteen and me stepdad come after me, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And if I’da been a mum like you, maybe them social workers wouldn’t have taken me daughter into care.”

“Oh,” said Anne. “I’m so sorry.”

“ ‘sall right,” said Margaret, looking away. “Better off, maybe. Wouldn’t want ‘er to end up…”  Margaret trailed off, no doubt remembering where Anne’s daughter might be.

She might not have thrown Katherine out of the house, Anne considered, but she had sent her child across an ocean to stay with people she didn’t even like. Still, there was no point in wasting time in mutual self-recrimination with a stranger.

“Is there anything you can tell me, Margaret? Anywhere I might look?”

Margaret was quiet for a moment.

“You say the police ‘as searched all the corners like mine? All the known ‘ouses?”

“They say they have,” said Anne. “But there must be so many….”

“Yeah, the old needle in the ‘aystack, I’m afraid. Look, I don’t know if I should even mention a rumor I’ve ‘eard on the street. If it was me, I’m not sure I’d want to know.”

She looked at Anne.

“Tell me,” Anne pleaded. “Anything is better than not knowing. Anything.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that, but all right then. You be the judge.”

“Go on.”

And Margaret told her a tale of a legendary place. No one knew exactly where it was. On the outskirts of East London, disguised on the outside as a warehouse or an abandoned factory.

“Top secret, it is,” said Margaret. “A secret society, like, toffs only. MPs, landed gentry, foreign royalty, that sort. You’d think we’d all be fightin’ to work there. But the rumor is they don’t want no professionals wot knows the score. They don’t pay their girls tuppence. Keep ‘em as prisoners, slaves, like. They take raw girls off the street, on the lam, no ‘omes, no people, which is ‘ow a lot of us get caught in the Life. But wot we ‘ear is none of these girls is ever seen again. There’s some other sort of trade going on there…beyond rough. No one knows for sure. I don’t like to even fink of it.”

Anne felt cold all over. What was she saying? What was the woman saying?

“Look, time’s up, luv. I got to get back to work.”

“No, wait,” Anne reached for her arm, stalling her. She needed to know more. She needed to know the worst. “I haven’t even paid you yet.”

Margaret shook her off.

“You don’t owe me noffink, Anne. And don’t worry about wot I said. If the rumors is even true, they wouldn’t want a girl with a mum like you, out searchin’ every nook and cranny.”

Unless that girl was pretending to be someone she wasn’t, someone out of a Broadway musical wearing her mother’s old skirt and a hat from the rummage sale.

“Margaret!” Anne called after her. “Just tell me. Just tell me which way to start.”

The woman paused in the doorway, putting up her flimsy parasol.

“East, luv, though you ‘aven’t got a chance of finding it. Just keep ‘eadin’ east.”

Anne laid down much too large a note and did not wait for change.


Elizabeth Cunningham is best known as the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award winning novels featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen. Her novels The Wild Mother and The Return of the Goddess have both been released in 25th anniversary editions. She is also the author of Murder at the Rummage Sale. The sequel, All the Perils of this Night, will be published in August, 2020. An interfaith minister, Cunningham is in private practice as a counselor. She is also a fellow emeritus of Black Earth Institute.    

Author: Elizabeth Cunningham

Author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award-winning novels featuring the feisty Celtic Magdalen who is no one's disciple. I am also interfaith minister and a counselor in private practice.

32 thoughts on “All the Perils of this Night: a preview by Elizabeth Cunningham”

  1. Wow Elizabeth, you certainly hooked me with that story excerpt… powerful writing… and you left me wanting to know more! I guess I am going to have to read your book.

    Mary Magdalene has been a powerful figure in my own life. As an adolescent I couldn’t live up to the purity of Mary, and Mary Magdalene seemed so much more ‘real’ and approachable… when I discovered she was never a prostitute I was furious that I had been so duped – yet even as a prostitute she embodied some kind of power for me.

    And I love the way you portray the prostitute i your writing, with compassion and respect – I don’t believe any woman would “choose” this way of being in the world – its the world that forces women into these roles – the worst part is that it continues unabated today…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Forgot to hit the reply button. See below, Sara, and thank you again so much for your thoughtful comments on FAR–and your posts!


  2. This is absolutely chilling, and amazing writing, as always. It’s all the more frightening because all you need to do is read the news to know that it is realistic and possible. In these times stories like yours are so important for bringing out to readers that behind the headlines are real women and girls, with families, and dreams, and lives that need to be protected.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Carolyn. I suspect human trafficking is even worse now. As noted in my response to Sara, it is a time when so many people are desperate and displaced.

      These days I also wonder about how COVID-19 is affecting people, women, children, and men, too, who have been trafficked.

      Thank you again, Carolyn for your response.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Sara, for your thoughtful response. That real-life narrow escape I had in 1968, months after I turned fifteen years old, did have an impact on the rest of my life. Human trafficking is as bad as ever or worse these days when so many people are impoverished and displaced. In both this novel, set in the 20th century, and the ones set in the 1st century, my characters are taken taken captive and enslaved.

    Regarding Mary Magdalen, who is Maeve in my stories, there is very little known (which is why novelists can’t stay away!) Fourteen references in the Gospels, a book called the Gospel of Mary most scholars date to the 2nd century BCE, numerous legends, and yes, papal fabrications. More powerful than the scant factual evidence is how Mary Magdalen, as a human and numinous woman, continues to touch our hearts and imaginations, meeting us where we are.

    Circumstance and choice are hard to sort out sometimes. Maeve observes: “Here is the heart of the mystery: that moment when our own inner force meets forces beyond our control. That moment when the plot thickens or falls apart completely.”

    For a vivid, insightful account of Mary Magdalen’s later life adventures, I recommend FAR writer Christine Irving’s novel Magdalene AD. A very different depiction of Mary Magdalene from the one in my novels, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.


    1. Yet another WOW! What a sentence….”More powerful than the scant factual evidence is how Mary Magdalen, as a human and numinous woman, continues to touch our hearts and imaginations, meeting us where we are.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, Elizabeth, gave me chills. I hope that writing this book has banished that ghost for you and are you are finally able to lay those horrible “what ifs” to rest. You have certainly churned it through your amazing creative process. For that I congratulate you. I’m off the get your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, Janet! Yes, that book helped lay a number of ghosts.

    It’s publication date is August 7th. It will soon be available for pre-order.

    For updates you can go to elizabethcunninghamwrites dot com. (spelled it out as sometimes links can filtered in comments. You can see the link below.

    Thanks again, Janet!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve always said you’re one of the best writers on the planet. I’m ready to buy this book!

    And give my best wishes to Maeve. Bright blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m hooked – can’t wait to read your new novel. As always your writing gets right to the heart of things with such beauty and compassion. If you do a newsletter please add me to it as I’d love to get notice of when one can pre-order and any other news you might share. Thanks for continuing to share your deep understanding of the world with us all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Judith. You will remember all the characters from Murder at the Rummage Sale! If you click on my name in the bio above, it will take you to elizabethcunninghamwrites dot com. You can sign up for the newsletter. I would sign you up myself, but I am not sure I can do that for someone else. The website is very new to me. But I think anyone who visits can sign up easily. Thanks so much for your interest and support!


  8. Sounds like the Magdalene was guiding you to write this. I look forward to reading it.

    Although her misnomer as a prostitute arose out of the inherent misogyny of the Catholic church, perhaps the spirit of Mary Magdalene did have a hand in it, accepting thatt designation in order to provide an especial figure of comfort and strength for women plying “the most ancient trade”. If only it were a fair trade, freely
    undertaken without stigma, instead of a profession more dangerous than any other, fraught with peril to mind, body, heart and spirit. Things being what they are, these women desperately need allies. Speaking out about such evils in story form reaches an enormous audience, engages all the senses in propagating message and information, evokes compassion and models activism. It’s priestess work for sure. Thank you Elizabeth.

    Thanks too, for mentioning “Magdalene A.D.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am loving Magdalene AD. I read a little every morning. Not only is Magdalene a wonderful character, you evoke all the places and the atmosphere of the first century so vividly it makes me almost homesick and at the same time gives me the refreshment and pleasure of (time) travel. I am savoring the book. Thank you!


  9. I’m in! A page-turner. Ready to preorder, if that is an option.

    It is amazing how life-altering events can tuck away in the mind of an artist and wait for their transformational moment. And one never knows when the moment will find its voice or pallet.There is however an incomparable joy when one is overtaken by the muse, or surprised by the muse. That wonderment — oh, so this is what the story looks like, feels like, reads like! Who knew?

    Smiling here in Dallas, Texas, imagining the moment you got the tap on the shoulder.

    Congratulations on a new work!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Isabella! I am hoping pre-ordering is coming soon. A newsletter will be sent forth from elizabethcunninghamwrites dot com when that day arrives. I’ll probably also announce on Maeve Rhuad’s FB page and on my author page.

      I hope you are well and that your new work is coming along swimmingly or flyingly. White Monkey Chronicles lives on my favorite books shelf ready to be re-read.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Elizabeth, I’m spellbound already! This excerpt has me pawing at the ground like a nervous filly, so eager am I to read it.

    You have been my favorite modern writer since you published “Daughter of the Shining Isles.” All success to you when the new book appears!


  11. This is so haunting and terrifying. I think it is every mother’s worst nightmare. I sometimes just cannot process the evil of humanity, just how broken and sick and wrong humans are. :(

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, every mother’s worse nightmare! Spoiler alert. Everything works out in the end thanks to an outlaw saint named Robin Hoodlum!


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