A Magnificent Mystery

Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent Memoirs

Starting with A Natural History of Dragons and ending with the recently published Within the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan’s five-book series, the imagined memoirs of a woman naturalist in an imagined alternate world, offers a lot to the reader.

1) For one thing, from their stunning covers to their lovely interior drawings, they are physically beautiful books. See for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) For another, they’re fun.

Lots of this comes from Lady Trent’s starchy voice as she retells the major events of her long life in which she doesn’t behave properly.

More fun comes from figuring out what the places and peoples of our world are equivalent to in hers. For instance, she comes from Scirland that much resembles our own Scotland. I’ll let you have the fun of figuring out what other place names in her books parallel those in ours.

Though she comes from a society that severely limits the lives of its women, she goes on lots of adventures.

3) The science is sound and interesting. Though the series is classified as fantasy, because of the dragons, I suppose, in several ways the books are more like science fiction. For instance, the dragons are real biological creatures. And over their evolution, they’ve adapted, like mammals, to many of the ecological niches of their world including the air, the seas, jungles, deserts, and mountains.

4) Throughout the five books, Lady Trent plants clues that lead to solving the great mystery of her world.

But you’ll get no spoilers from me.

M. Louisa Locke’s Maids of Misfortune

Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke, a review by Juliet Kincaid

This historical novel, set in San Francisco in 1879, hooks you from the start with the widowed Annie Fuller receiving a letter claiming that she owes some gent the sum of $1,380 for a loan made to her late husband. If you keep in mind the statistic that what you could buy for a penny in 1900 would cost you a dollar in 2000, you’ll realize just how shocked Mrs. Fuller must have been with an unexpected debt of the equivalent of $138,000.

Dr. Locke follows through on her strong opening with the revelation that Mrs. Fuller supplements her income running a boarding house by giving advice on investing and personal matters as Madam Sibyl, a clairvoyant. Sibyl charges $2 (or $200 in 2000 dollars) a sitting and worth every penny of it, at least according to her favorite client, who sadly has died under suspicious circumstances. And so Annie goes undercover as the new hire maid to find out what really happened to him in this lively first book in Dr. Locke’s Victorian San Francisco Mystery series.

A couple of quibbles . . . Descriptions of San Francisco seem a bit thin, though of course lots of that city as it was in 1879 disappeared in the great earthquake and subsequent fires of April 18, 1906. The romantic subplot with a handsome lawyer who soon shows up seems somewhat conventional. These reservations disappeared, though, as I read Uneasy Spirits and Bloody Lessons, the next two novels in the series as well as her collection of Victorian San Francisco stories. Obviously I remain hooked by the engaging Annie Fuller and I suspect that other fans of historical mysteries will enjoy the series as well.

FYI: Maids of Misfortune is permanently free for Kindle, Nook, and other eBook readers.

Edward Marston’s Exciting Railway Detective

The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

A Review by Juliet Kincaid

The first in Edward Marston’s Detective Inspector Colbeck Mystery series, The Railway Detective has lots to offer the historical mystery fan.

Marston brings mid-19th century Britain to life with vivid descriptions of places like London’s Devil’s Acre, for one example, and for another, the Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Marston’s gentleman detective Robert Colbeck is both capable and clever. Marston presents lower class characters like a moneylender named Isadore Vout with gritty, almost Dickensian detail. Nut he also gives us members of the growing middle class and the gentry. He provides Colbeck with a love interest, the lovely Madeleine, a damsel in some distress.

The story includes exciting action like a train robbery and train wreck near the start of the book.

The plot is solid overall, but this reviewer has one slight quibble with it, though. Time and time again, Marston lets Colbeck pursue leads right up to almost catching a bad guy, only for him to be a little too late. At points like those, Marston cuts from the action with the detective to a scene with the current bad guy. To my mind, these are slight plot spoilers that bleed away some suspense and tension here and there. I sort of changed my mind about this, though, when near the end of the book . . . Well, you’ll get no spoilers from me.

If you’re hankering after a visit to Victorian England, I strongly recommend The Railway Detective.

 

Great Read only $0.99

From the Kansas City Star Tuesday, 6 February, 1900

A CAR KILLS A SCHOOL GIRL

Little Hortense Petty Horribly Mangled

On the Northeast Line

Hortense, the 12-year-old daughter of Wilfred Petty of 4116 St. John Avenue, was killed by an electric car at St. John and Jackson Avenues, almost directly in front of her own home at 8:30 o’clock this morning.

The little girl was on her way to school with her brother, Willy, 9 years old. They attended the Scarritt School, the little girl being in the fifth grade. There is no sidewalk along the north side of St. John Avenue west of Jackson and the two children were walking westward in the street along the north side of the track. The little boy says they heard no car coming. The cars run swiftly there, the neighbors say.

Just before the children reached Jackson Avenue, the little girl being at the left of her brother and a little in advance, started across the first car track. Just as she was stepping over the last rail of the first track the westbound car, running at high speed, struck her.

The man reading the previous evening’s newspaper lowered it to his lap. Across the bedroom a woman huddled against the wall. The lamplight transformed her red skirt into a pool of blood on the carpet around her.

That would work and well, the man thought. People constantly blundered onto the tracks of Kansas City’s streetcars, cable cars, and railway trains. The schoolgirl was the first of the month to die in that way, but undoubtedly not the last.

Not if he had anything to say about it at least.

He glanced over his shoulder at the rumpled bed and then at the girl. “Get up. You’re not hurt all that bad.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m not sure–“

“I told you to get up.”

“Yes, sir,” she said in her light, pretty voice and began a long, slow climb to standing, first her left foot, then hands flat on the floor as she got her right foot under her, but also on the hem of her dress. Still crouching, she yanked the red cloth out from under her scuffed shoe, and straightened, but never fully. Propping herself against the wall, she folded her arms across her hips and moaned softly.

“Quit your belly aching.”

“Okay.”

When she glanced toward the door, he said, “You’re not leaving until I’m good and ready.”

“But, sir,” she blubbered.

“Don’t worry. I’ll see that you get home.” It wasn’t his plan to take her home, but she wasn’t to know that.

He’d made a mistake with this one.

The others hadn’t mattered. But someone might care about this girl, a pretty thing with red hair. People might come looking for her, and if they found her alive, she might tell them what he’d done. That would never do.

Besides, she was ruined now, quite ruined. Why, if she knew what he planned, she’d probably thank him for ending her misery.

But evening was hours away and he needed darkness. Meanwhile, there was the bed and there was the girl. The newspaper dropped to the floor as he stood.

Then, quite by chance, somewhere nearby a train sounded its whistle, its great metal wheels rumbled on the tracks, and he smiled.

She surprised him by smiling in return.

<> <> <>

That morning, at her desk at Price Investigations, Minty Wilcox pounded the keys of her old Remington typewriter. She stopped and lifted the carriage of the blind strike machine to check the date on the report from earlier in the week that she was typing.

Did I get it right? she asked herself. Yes, she had. She had typed Wednesday February 7, 1900, and not the 1899 that she’d typed more times than she cared to admit so early in the year . . .

It’s February 1900, and a young woman has gone missing from a Kansas City garment factory. Price Investigations has been hired to find the girl, who may have come to harm. Minty Wilcox longs to help, but her boss doesn’t approve of women sleuthing. He also forbids any office romance at all, especially with the dashing detective, Daniel Price. When Minty decides to defy her boss and go undercover to find the girl, Daniel helps her, but he also hinders her with outrageous flirtation and other ploys. And, as she digs into the case, Minty comes into danger herself. Will Daniel rescue her? Will Minty even let him try? Read Fatal February to find out.

From January through December, the Calendar Mysteries tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a century or so ago.

Buy Fatal February from February 14 through February 20, 2017, for only 99 cents at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM.

Praise for January Jinx

Book 1 of the Calendar Mysteries

Mystery and romance in old Kansas City

By Juliet Kincaid

What fun it is to read a mystery set in a different locale, Kansas City in this case. Set at the turn of the last century, the book is well-researched and the details of daily life are woven into the story so expertly that you are transported. The characters are lively and everything they do and think is suitable for the era. The main character, Minty Wilcox, is the kind of young woman you root for: gutsy and daring for her time while still trying to maintain her manners. The love interest is fun, the plot engaging and the ending a surprise. Jump into another century with a rich variety of characters and have a good read.

The story moves with no dead spots at all. One little surprise after another triggers the wonder when the next in the series will arrive. Overall, an enjoyable few hours of reading. Cleverly done.

Sometimes a girl just can’t catch a break and that’s certainly true for Minty Wilcox. Everything just keeps getting worse, but Minty knows she’s not a murderer and she’s bound to prove it. January Jinx is a great mystery and a great kick-off for this series.

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

 

Good Deal for Mystery Readers

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Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price return in Fatal February for more adventure, mystery and romance in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. Now through May 7 only $0.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM Buy it now to share with your mom or baby mama on Mother’s Day.

PRAISE FOR JANUARY JINX, THE FIRST CALENDER MYSTERY

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic. The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

 

 

Encouraging Feedback on Fatal February

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My dear friend and fellow writer Anne Bauman recently wrote me this letter of praise for Fatal February, the second calendar mystery. (I’ve omitted or rephrased here and there to avoid spoilers.)

Dear Juliet,

 Congratulations on Fatal February, another terrific read. Yes, I enjoyed it immensely, both as a reader and a writer. Between the lines, it reveals lots of work, thought, skill and care.

It seems to me that your characters were even better developed than in January Jinx, though the characters were well-done in [it], too. In the second novel I enjoyed the actions and especially the dialogue. Each character is distinctly developed as his own person.

Minty seems to be maturing and improving as a character. I like the way you played off [Daniel Price, the love interest] to help develop the personality of each. It helps the reader to see Minty more clearly as she interacts with the other characters.

Of course, I always enjoy reading about Kansas City around the turn of the century. Since my grandmother was a young woman at the time of your books, it’s pleasant to imagine what K. C. was like at that time and how it helped her develop her independence and self-assurance. I like the details you use to develop Kansas City as a character, too.

All in all, Juliet, you’ve created a masterpiece and I’m now looking forward to March.

Thank you so much, Anne. And I’m happy to tell you and other readers that I’m working on Mischief in March, the third Calendar Mystery featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price in Kansas City, a downright dangerous place a hundred years or so ago.

If, dear reader, you haven’t read the first two in the series, January Jinx is available on Kindle at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Both are also available as trade paperbacks through Amazon.com.

And if you like these books, please review them on Amazon and Goodreads. Just a few sentences help. I would appreciate it very much. All the best, Juliet

P. S. Didn’t my daughter do lovely work on the cover of Fatal February?

Phenomenal Flavia

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A Guest Post by Diann Markley

On Saturday January 16, 2016, at the meeting of the Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime, my friend Diann Markley presented a thorough and very insightful analysis of Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Here are highlights of her presentation.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is the story of a precocious eleven-year-old girl living in England in the 1950’s. Bradley has several problems to overcome in making Flavia de Luce believable as an amateur investigator.

The police are neither incompetent nor comical, yet as with any main character, Flavia must be the one to solve the mystery. The author carefully sets up this outcome by having Flavia’s mother vanish in the wilds of Tibet while her father, suffering from wartime PTSD, is only peripherally involved with his child, leaving her free to come and go with little to no supervision.

And she does have transportation–an ancient bike she has named Gladys.

Having lived her entire life in the town of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia has contacts and inside knowledge of the residents not readily available to Inspector Lewis. Flavia is quite willing to flip her braids and flash her braces to convince witnesses she is only a sweet little girl they can spill any secrets to. Then there is her understanding of chemistry and a lab in which to do experiments. These confirm her suspicions on how the murder occurred. It doesn’t hurt a bit that Flavia is the one to find the dying man but conveniently forgets to mention his last words to the police.

Altogether a great read on a winter’s day! Diann Markley

The Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime meets on the third Saturday of the month. All SinC members are welcome. Here’s our schedule for the next two months.

February 20: Ann Friedman will lead a discussion of Ellis Peters’ The Raven in the Foregate.

March 19: Juliet Kincaid will lead a discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

If you’re a mystery fan, please share this blog with your friends and sign up through RSS to receive notifications for more blogs.

Best, Juliet

Encouraging Review of January Jinx

Jan.Jinx.e-bookHey, gang!

I just had to share the encouraging review that Judge 16 wrote for January Jinx that I submitted to the Writer’s Digest contest for self-published books this year.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 2
Production Quality and Cover Design: 2
Plot and Story Appeal: 3
Character Appeal and Development: 5
Voice and Writing Style: 4

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic.

The book is definitely good enough to deserve a better package. The cover and bound-manuscript interior of the book itself doesn’t do justice to the narrative. Likewise, a more thorough copy edit would have helped trim out some of the manuscript aspects of it, like underlines instead of italics, and other typos, etc. could have been smoothed out. The plot is a bit expected though not predictable, and as long as Juliet Kincaid allows herself to mature as a storyteller, readers will follow her through this book and onward.

The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

Isn’t this a great review? Thank you so much, Judge 16, for your encouraging review.

In case you’d like to check January Jinx out for yourself, here’s the link: www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4. January Jinx is also available as a trade paperback from Amazon.com.

In closing, I’d like to announce that Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery, is now available as a trade paperback at Amazon.com and as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM  Best, Juliet

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What’s going on with Juliet?

Hi, All!

Check out my Author Spotlight at http://eepurl.com/beLexH  featuring my most recent book, January Jinx, a cozy historical mystery. Enjoy mystery and romance in Kansas City in 1899 in the first of the Calendar Mysteries that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond. January Jinx is available from Amazon.com in trade paperback and as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 

Best, Juliet

P.S. “Cinderella, P. I.,” the first short story in my Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery series, is available as a Kindle eBook February 19 through February 22 for FREE at www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAZPXEM

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Boy, howdy, can that man write!

A week or so ago, I needed something to read and so I started buffeting the nine or so new books close to my bed where I do most of my fiction reading. (So what if I spend lots of bucks buying hardcover fiction? As an addiction, my fiction fetish is comparatively cheap. Plus, unlike other consumables, you can experience the high of reading a really great novel more than once.)

Oddly, at first I couldn’t find anything to suit me. The next alphabet mystery? There are so few letters left now that I thought I’d save it a while longer. The latest, just published, from the brilliant Canadienne? I thought I’d save that one, too, since it will be another year before the next one. The next choice of my book club? Well, no, I like to read those closer to the discussion date.

And so, going lower in my stack, I came upon Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name. The acknowledgments set me back briefly since Johnson says right up front that this book takes place in the winter and at least three of his previous Walt Longmire mysteries include hip-deep snow and harrowing blizzards. I needn’t have worried, though, because Johnson uses winter especially well in Any Other Name. In fact, it might be my favorite for reasons I won’t describe because I’m not given to spoilers. But I bet you’ll love it, too.

But anyway, Johnson’s great personal charm that showed up even in the acknowledgments in giving floral names to his helpers for the book got me through my misgivings to the first page. And there Walt Longmire’s voice hooked me and I knew I’d found the book I wanted to read next. I never regretted my choice from first page to last.

The eleventh in the Walt Longmire series (counting the delightful novella Spirit of Steamboat) centers on the suicide death of an old friend of Lucian Connally, the retired sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. As Walt and Lucian look into this, other possible crimes emerge and the whole case becomes very complex. The weather, too. Meanwhile, Walt’s daughter Cady is about to have her first child way across the country in Philadelphia and from time to time she calls him to remind him he must be present for this event. This is not easy when he’s. . . . Never mind. You’ll find out.

In keeping with my standard blogging practice of sharing what I learn from the books I read that help me write my own, I’ll offer this. Johnson is a master of the set-up and follow-through. So when Walt and Lucian are stuck waiting for a long, long coal train to pass on page 1, you can be sure that trains will figure importantly in the plot of Any Other Name. Boy howdy, do they ever!

For your additional pleasure, I’ve attached my first blog installment about Craig Johnson’s work, originally posted in August of 2011, when I was working on Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel (now available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Craig Johnson’s Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty

“Boy, howdy,” as Walt Longmire would say, is Craig Johnson ever a wonderful story-teller.

I’ve heard Craig Johnson speak twice, once on the book tour for Junkyard Dogs, the sixth in the series featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, and the second time for Hell Is Empty, the seventh. Both times were delightful.

Both times he visited here, he wore jeans, a casual shirt, boots and a cowboy hat, reflecting a genuine need since Mr. Johnson lives on a ranch and starts his work day with chores before he holes up to write. On his first visit, he’d recently returned from France where he’d received the Nouvel Observateur Prix du Roman Noir. (His mysteries are very popular in France.) While in Paris he had an encounter with a group of French school boys that I think of as “Le Cowboy at the Louvre,” a story Johnson told with great humor and flair.

I’ll give you highlights of Mr. Johnson’s other presentation at the end of this discussion. Before I start, here’s an update on the WiP.

This week I finished the fourth draft! A few whistles and a little applause, but don’t go on too long because I still have lots of work to do. One thing I’ve noticed is a big difference between the tone, voice, and style of the first half of the book and much of the second part. The former is pretty dark, formal, fairly literary. The latter is lighter, informal, chattier. In my fifth and I hope, final draft of this book, I really need to make those elements consistent throughout the book.

Right now, though, I’m wondering whether to go light or dark, but a comparison/contrast of Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty gives me much needed guidance.

Hooks

Junkyard Dogs begins out-and-out pratfall funny as Walt Longmire tries to take in the fact that an old man had been up on the roof of a house on an icy midwinter day and secured by a rope to an Oldsmobile when his grandson’s wife drove off.

Hell Is Empty begins in a much darker way with Walt Longmire feeding a hamburger to Marcel Popp, one of three murderers the sheriff is helping to transport. Popp has just threatened to kill Longmire for the twenty-eighth time so far.

Characters

Aside from the regulars, many of the characters of Junkyard Dogs are comic as well. For instance, Geo Stewart, the old man hauled off the roof and dragged down the icy road, waves to a neighbor as he slides by. Stewart’s grandson Dwayne seems pretty dim and Dwayne’s wife Gina initially plays the vamp.

There’s nothing funny about the antagonists in Hell Is Empty. Besides Marcel Popp, the sheriff and his deputy are transporting Hector Otero, a murdering gangbanger from Houston, and most sinister of the three, Raynaud Shade, a Crow Indian who has visited the Bighorn Mountains before.

Plot development

The action of Junkyard Dogs continues in the comedic vein quite a ways into the book with the discovery of someone’s missing thumb in a cooler as well as a revelation about Walt’s former English teacher that I won’t share because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

In Hell Is Empty the action escalates and the body count eventually is very high. Not surprisingly given the title, Walt must travel into hell before the book’s over. Both books are winter tales, but the weather provides much more grueling obstacles for Walt to conquer in Hell Is Empty than in Junkyard Dogs. In many ways also the plot of the sixth book is grounded in reality while in the seventh Walt goes on what is, in many ways, a mystical and spiritual journey.

Settings

The settings of Junkyard Dogs tend toward the interior and the manmade. Several important scenes take place in a hospital, for instance. Settings also include a huge junkyard guarded by two wolf-dogs and filled with trashed cars, stacked one atop the other and going decade by decade back in time.

More of the scenes of Hell Is Empty take place outside where wind, darkness, and cold threaten Walt’s life. As in Randy Wayne White’s Deep Shadow, nature is an adversary in Hell Is Empty.

Style, tone, and voice

Both of Johnson’s books are first person narratives, that is, told by Walt Longmire in Longmire’s voice. But inevitably the more comedic characters and plot of Junkyard Dogs make that book lighter.

When I planned this installment, I thought I should just stick to Junkyard Dogs because, long-time lit major that I am, I kept trying to trace all the illusions to Dante in Hell Is Empty, not just in the overall plot but in the characters’ names. I mean, there’s a waitress named Beatrice, for goodness’ sake, and another one named Virgil. I was going crazy doing that.

I don’t mean to imply that Johnson sprinkled in the literary allusions superficially because he didn’t. The references are integral to the plot. He set it up from the start by having Walt’s deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, reading a battered copy of Dante’s Inferno that Walt later takes on his journey. The style of the book doesn’t come off as literary. And Johnson does what all good writers do when they rework stories like journeys to hell. He transforms it and makes it his own timeless story, yet of and for our times.

The lesson for my WiP

I’m thinking that since I’m reworking fairy tales, in particular those known to most people through Disney movies, I should stick to the lighter side. In other words, I should stick to the lighter tone, style, and voice of Junkyard Dogs instead of the darker side of Hell Is Empty.

And finally, as promised . . .

The second time I heard Johnson speak, the word had gotten out about how great he and his books are and the place was packed. Again, he displayed his wonderful sense of humor as he told us about his involvement with the production of Longmire, a series coming to A & E in 2012. It sounds great. I’m sure I’ll love it and I bet you’ll like it too.

This closing comment from 9/11/14. I have loved the Longmire series and thought Season 3 especially strong. And so the news that A & E has cancelled the series disheartens me. However, at this time, it’s possible that another channel will pick the series up.