Grabien, Deborah 1954-

views updated

Grabien, Deborah 1954-


Born 1954; married Nicholas Grabien (a musician), 1983; children: Joanna. Hobbies and other interests: Playing guitar and keyboard, rescuing cats and finding them homes.


Home—San Francisco, CA. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, musician.



Woman of Fire, Piatkus (London, England), 1988, published as Eyes in the Fire, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Fire Queen, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Plainsong: A Fable for the Millennium, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Then Put out the Light, Pan Books (London, England), 1993.

Still Life with Devils, Drollerie (Cleveland, OH), 2008.


The Weaver and the Factory Maid, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Famous Flower of Serving Men, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Matty Groves, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Cruel Sister, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2006.

New Slain Knight, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Writer Deborah Grabien has a love of history, particularly medieval history and Elizabethan drama, that is obvious in her work. Grabien has traveled extensively and lived in various European cities, which helped cement her interest in the past. This, combined with her love of music, provides the foundation for much of her writing, which also has strong leanings toward fantasy. Her first novel, Woman of Fire, splits the point of view between a modern-day Englishwoman and a woman of the Dumnonii, a tribe that lived during the Iron Age, approximately two thousand years ago. In another work, Plainsong: A Fable for the Millennium, she explores a world where nearly everyone has been killed by a plague, leaving animals, some children, a moron, and a pregnant poetess as the few survivors. In the style of fables, the animals can communicate with the people, and mythological characters also appear throughout the narrative. In a review for Publishers Weekly, Sybil Steinberg called the book "an alternative vision of life and remarkable understanding of faith."

Grabien took a ten-year break from writing, then returned with the first of her "Haunted Ballads" series. It begins with The Weaver and the Factory Maid, in which Ringan Laine, a British folk musician who also restores houses, is living for free in an eighteenth-century cottage in exchange for restoring it. The cottage proves to be haunted, and Ringan and his girlfriend, Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes, find themselves involved in a long-buried mystery while they try to determine what happened at the house. Appropriately enough, the story of the ghosts is linked to a haunting folk ballad. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that the book "offers too little plot and a less than engaging protagonist." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews wrote that "although unthreatening ghosts produce low-voltage thrills, pastoral warmth and sunny prose from Grabien … entertain." Rex E. Klett, in a review for Library Journal, found Grabien's effort to be "filled with charm, personality, and wit."

In The Famous Flower of Serving Men, Penny inherits a wonderful old theater from a relative she barely remembers. Believing it to be the perfect home for her acting company, she asks Ringan to take charge of renovating the theater. Unfortunately, a ghost seems intent on chasing away the workmen. Penny and Ringan research the theater's past in hopes of finding a way to set their ghost to rest. Sue O'Brien, in a review for Booklist, remarked: "Interesting period details … likable characters, and an absorbing plot distinguish this fast-paced mix of mystery and ghost story." A contributor to Publishers Weekly wrote that "Grabien's grasp of theater, folklore and history provides a feast of enjoyment."

The next book in the series is Matty Groves, which begins with Penny away supervising her company's production of Much Ado about Nothing. Ringan is invited to perform at the Callowen Arts Festival with his band Broomfield Hill, and Penny is also able to attend but hesitates because Callowen House, where the event is to take place, is reported to be haunted, and Penny would rather not become involved with more spirits. When she does, however, she soon finds that Lord Callowen's daughter, Charlotte Leight-Arnold, who has little use for theater, is attracted to Ringan. Jane Castle, a band member, bears an eery resemblance to Lady Susanna Leight-Arnold, whose centuries-old portrait hangs on the wall. Jane, and then Ringan, show signs of being possessed, and Penny calls on a local genealogist to help solve the mystery. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "Penny and Ringan may be the most appealing couple of modern mystery, and Grabien again provides terrific historical tidbits."

In Cruel Sister, Penny asks Ringan to help her brother and his new wife plan a Tudor-style house on the Isle of Dogs, which is located on the Thames and is the site of a post-World War II bomb accident. He agrees, but while he works, he is visited by the ghost of a dead Italian musician who played in the court of Henry VIII. The musician is but one of the visions experienced by Ringan, whose music is an integral part of the plot. "Grabien's skillful blend of reality and the supernatural will chill even skeptical readers," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Still Life with Devils is a supernatural crime novel in which a psycho killer named Captain Nemo has been murdering pregnant women, then leaving their bodies in very particular arrangements that follow the principles of feng shui. Leo Chant and brother Lt. Cassius Chant attempt to solve the crime together, but their first break has an eerie twist. The police sketch developed from an interview with a witness looks disturbingly familiar to Leo, who soon finds the face matches drawings she saw in her niece Mara's sketchbook. Mara has a gift for the sight, and her drawings provide the trail that ultimately leads to the killer. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "Leo's blend of art and magic is a novel and intriguing method for closing cases."

With New Slain Knight, Grabien returns to her "Haunted Ballads" series. Musician Ringan Laine and his lover/producer Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes are ready to leave for a vacation when they find themselves watching out for Ringan's violinist niece Rebecca due to a family emergency. They manage to switch their plans to find accommodations to fit all of them and happily set off for Cornwall. However, their pleasant stay is interrupted when Penny, a sensitive for spirits, begins channeling in the middle of a musical rehearsal, and soon they must discover how a spirit that cannot rest is linked to their little group. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews observed that "even those who don't believe in ghosts will enjoy this illuminating window into the past, complete with musical and historical tidbits."



Booklist, October 1, 2003, Sue O'Brien, review of The Weaver and the Factory Maid, p. 304; November 15, 2004, Sue O'Brien, review of The Famous Flower of Serving Men, p. 565; September 15, 2005, Barbara Bibel, review of Matty Groves, p. 35; September 15, 2006, Barbara Bibel, review of Cruel Sister, p. 32.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2003, review of The Weaver and the Factory Maid, p. 1156; September 1, 2004, review of The Famous Flower of Serving Men, p. 838; August 15, 2005, review of Matty Groves, p. 884; August 15, 2006, review of Cruel Sister, p. 811; October 1, 2007, review of New Slain Knight.

Library Journal, October 1, 2003, Rex E. Klett, review of The Weaver and the Factory Maid, p. 120; November 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of The Famous Flower of Serving Men, p. 60.

Publishers Weekly, March 9, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Plainsong: A Fable for the Millennium, p. 50; November 10, 2003, review of The Weaver and the Factory Maid, p. 46; October 11, 2004, review of The Famous Flower of Serving Men, p. 59; August 29, 2005, review of Matty Groves, p. 37; August 28, 2006, review of Cruel Sister, p. 35; October 8, 2007, review of Still Life with Devils, p. 38.


Deborah Grabien Home Page, (May 28, 2007).

Greenman Review, (May 28, 2007), Cat Eldridge, reviews of The Weaver and the Factory Maid and The Famous Flower of Serving Men.