Harper, Karen 1945–
Harper, Karen 1945–
PERSONAL: Born April 6, 1945, in Toledo, OH; daughter of Robert A. (an engineer and draftsman) and Margaret (a teacher; maiden name, Mudge) Kurtz; married Don T. Harper, June 24, 1974. Education: Ohio State University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1967, M.A., 1969.
ADDRESSES: Home—Columbus, OH. Agent—Three Rivers Press Publicity, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: High school English teacher in Columbus, OH, 1969–74; Westerville Public Schools, Westerville, OH, high school English teacher, 1974–84; full-time writer, 1984–.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.
Island Ecstasy, Zebra Books (New York, NY), 1982.
Passion's Reign, Zebra Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Sweet Passion's Pain, Zebra Books (New York, NY), 1984.
Rapture's Crown, Zebra Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Midnight Mirage, Zebra Books (New York, NY), 1985.
One Fervent Fire, Berkley/Charter (New York, NY), 1987.
Tame the Wind, Berkley/Charter (New York, NY), 1989.
Eden's Gate, Berkley/Charter (New York, NY), 1989.
The Firelands, Berkley/Charter (New York, NY), 1990.
Almost Forever, Berkley/Jove (New York, NY), 1991.
Circle of Gold, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
The Wings of Morning, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
River of Sky, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
Promises to Keep, Signet (New York, NY), 1994.
Dark Road Home, 1996.
Empty Cradle, Signet (New York, NY), 1998.
Black Orchid, Beeler Large Print (Hampton Falls, NH), 1998.
Down to the Bone, MIRA Books (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
Shaker Run, MIRA Books (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
The Stone Forest, MIRA Books (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
The Falls, MIRA Books (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
Dark Harvest, MIRA Books (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 2004.
Dark Angel, MIRA Books (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 2005.
The Last Boleyn, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2006.
"ELIZABETH I" SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS
The Poyson Garden, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
The Tidal Poole, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2000.
The Twylight Tower, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2001.
The Queene's Cure, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2002.
The Queene's Christmas, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Thorne Maze, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.
The Fyre Mirror, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The Fatal Fashione, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2006.
NOVELS; UNDER PSEUDONYM CARYN CAMERON
Dawn's Early Light, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1988.
Silver Swords, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1989.
Liberty's Lady, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1990.
Freedom Flame, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1990.
Braden's Brides, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1991.
Wild Lily, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1991.
King's Man, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1991.
Also author of novelettes included in Christmas Stories, 1991, A Country Christmas, 1993, and Spring Bouquet, 1994.
SIDELIGHTS: Karen Harper writes historical novels with carefully researched backgrounds. Among her historical novels is Circle of Gold, which features a young heroine from Kentucky's hill country. Raised in the religious community of the Shakers, the protagonist eventually marries an Englishman and takes her place in the British aristocracy, where she shocks the gentry with her concern for social justice and the common people. Another of Harper's works, The Wings of Morning, was praised by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as being "well researched, meticulously detailed and written in agile prose." It concerns a Scottish widow who marries an American sea captain and moves to Sanibel Island in Florida. There she works to protect the local wildlife and to help slaves escape to freedom. "Harper's multi-plotted adventure/romance is richly textured, and her depiction of the [Scottish peoples'] cottage industry occupations (dye making, feather gathering, fabric weaving) is colorful and informative," remarked the Publishers Weekly reviewer. Harper explores other unique settings in River of Sky, in which the widow of a Mississippi riverboat captain strikes up a friendship with the Indian woman her husband secretly married, and Dark Road Home, in which a city dweller flees a stalker to hide out in an Amish community.
Harper is also the creator of a series of mysteries featuring Elizabeth I as a young amateur sleuth. In The Poyson Garden the author imagines a time just before Elizabeth's coronation. The young queen-to-be is at odds with her half-sister and reigning monarch, Mary Queen of Scots. Suspecting a plot against her own life, young Elizabeth sets out to foil it, aided by her childhood governess, her groom, an actor, and an herbalist. Some reviewers commented that certain scenes were a little beyond belief, such as when Elizabeth engages in hand-to-hand combat with a would-be assailant. Still, remarked a Publishers Weekly writer, "Harper has created an inspired if historically unlikely heroine, a young woman with natural curiosity … and the grit to solve the mystery rather than fall victim to it." In the first sequel, The Tidal Poole, "Feisty young Bess tackles her second investigation with a single-minded thoroughness and toughness that would suit any gumshoe," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. The plot concerns more murder and intrigue as Elizabeth prepares to ascend the throne. Barbara Bibel asserted in Booklist: "This well-researched volume, complete with maps and genealogical charts, puts readers in the midst of sixteenth-century England. They will enjoy the trip immensely."
Harper has continued to draw praise for her Elizabeth I series with each installment. Reviewing The Queene's Cure for Booklist, GraceAnne A. DeCandido compared the author's books to pearls, in that they begin with a grain of historical truth and then have layers of fiction built up around it. The effect is that of a story "sometimes fully rounded, sometimes baroque, but always engaging." In this tale, an effigy of the queen is discovered that is disfigured with smallpox sores. Later, a scarred corpse of a girl who resembles the queen is found in the royal garden; next, the queen actually contracts smallpox. She manages to recover from the deadly disease, but her inner circle suspects a conspiracy. Medical history is brought to the fore in this book as the various treatments for diseases are explored, and the political machinations at Elizabeth's court are also portrayed. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found this novel overburdened by its large cast of characters, but nevertheless recognized it as "a neatly plotted mystery, with genuinely terrifying scenes at the climax."
The sixth Elizabeth I mystery, The Thorne Maze, is set against a backdrop of the Black Death, or bubonic plague, which disrupts life in London even as a human killer is on the loose. Elizabeth is waiting in costume for a rendezvous with Robin Dudley, one of her court favorites, when she is nearly strangled by an unknown assailant. The attack takes place in a royal maze, and suspicion falls on one of her ladies-in-waiting, as well as Henry Stewart, the future husband of Elizabeth's rival, Mary of Scotland. A Kirkus Reviews writer credited Harper with keeping up her established standard of "brisk, energetic writing and terrific historical color" in this book, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer found that the maze setting contributed to "a thrilling conclusion."
The 2005 installment in the series, The Fyre Mirror, "reveals a lighter, less formal side" of Harper's Elizabeth character, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. This story has Elizabeth serving as patron to a young artist, Gil Sharpe, who joins the court after two years of study in Italy. The queen plans to have an official portrait made, and several artists are working on their own versions of her likeness. Shortly after Sharpe joins the group, another artist and his servant are killed in a suspicious fire, and another painter's work is damaged; Gil comes under suspicion for these acts. The queen's fear of fire is part of the plot, which might be engineered by one of her inner circle. Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett praised the story, the characterization, and the credible details in this "outstanding historical." DeCandido, in another Booklist review, found the novel's climax somewhat incredible but noted that Harper "makes full use of historical minutiae and does so imaginatively."
In The Fatal Fashione the author again creates a "sympathetic portrait" of Elizabeth and delivers a detailed picture of the culture of her era, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. The Fatal Fashione turns on the Elizabethan love of huge, starched collars, and the use of a poisonous root to obtain the starch used in this fashion. Elizabeth's herbalist, Meg Milligrew, comes under suspicion when a woman with whom she argues about the cost of the roots is discovered drowned in a vat of starch. A Publishers Weekly reviewer pronounced this book to be on a par with the others in the series, praising its "intelligent and gutsy" monarch-detective and the author's skillful blending of fiction and fact.
Harper once told CA that her "royal history" novels stem from her own love for England. She visits the country every other summer and spends much of her time studying historical maps, costumes, cosmetics, foods, and customs to present her readers with realistic settings. She commented: "I feel I owe these heroines who lived in earlier eras, where the status of women often ranged from chattel at worst to pampered pets at best, the right to have their stories told honestly but entrancingly.
"To choose the historical central characters of my novels, I usually select an exciting period or even a monarch I find intriguing. Next I focus my reading on that era or person until I find a hero or heroine whose life really touched the times. Then much other reading occurs until I see if that life will fit the plot structure I desire (conflict, excitement, final victory or happiness over great odds—the character learns or grows in the process). I work entirely within the framework of what is known so that my novels are what Alex Haley termed 'faction'—fiction which has one foot in fact or biography.
"My love of history—history as people's lives unfolding in exciting times—and my love of travel first brought me to a writing career. Also, perhaps because I have taught British literature for years and because my father was an avid reader of Victorian novels, I have always felt a special love for British settings. My heritage is European with both Scottish and English strains, and I have always felt attuned to the lives my ancestors lived."
She continued: "It is the power of people's relationships that most interest me: the myriad complications of family ties, the bonds between friends, and the many ramifications of romantic love. Whenever and wherever my characters live, I find such relationships universal, and therefore, appealing to modern readers. I strive to have the powerful emotions my characters feel also impact the reader. One of my major goals as a writer is to have my books, like life, brim with both smiles and tears."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1992, Christine Schlenker, review of Circle of Gold, p. 1502; December 15, 1998, Ilene Parker, review of The Poyson Garden, p. 728; January 1, 1999, Bill Ott, review of The Poyson Garden, p. 839; January 1, 2000, Barbara Bibel, review of The Tidal Poole, p. 884; March 1, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Queene's Cure, p. 1095; September 1, 2003, Barbara Bibel, review of The Queene's Christmas, p. 69; February 1, 2005, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Fyre Mirror, p. 945.
Drood Review of Mystery, November, 2000, review of The Tidal Poole, p. 15.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of The Thorne Maze, p. 1571; August 15, 2003, review of The Queene's Christmas, p. 1048; October 15, 2005, review of The Fatal Fashione, p. 1109.
Library Journal, April 1, 1992, Kimberly Martin, review of Circle of Gold, p. 146; May 1, 1993, Mary Ann Parker, review of The Wings of Morning, p. 115; June 15, 1994, review of River of Sky, p. 1994; February 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of The Poyson Garden, p. 124; January, 2000, review of The Tidal Poole, p. 166; April 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of The Queene's Cure, p. 146; February 1, 2003, review of The Thorne Maze, p. 122; September 1, 2003, Rex E. Klett, review of The Queene's Christmas, p. 214; February 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of The Fyre Mirror, p. 56.
Publishers Weekly, April 1, 1983, review of Passion's Reign, p. 57; October 27, 1989, Penny Kaganoff, review of Eden's Gate, p. 61; May 4, 1992, review of Circle of Gold, p. 41; May 3, 1993, review of The Wings of Morning; p. 295; June 13, 1994, review of River of Sky, 49; February 5, 1996, review of Dark Road Home, p. 82; February 16, 1998, review of Empty Cradle, p. 208; January 18, 1999, review of The Poyson Garden, p. 330; January 10, 2000, review of The Tidal Poole, p. 48; June 19, 2000, review of Down to the Bone, p. 64; March 11, 2002, review of The Queene's Cure, p. 55; May 6, 2002, review of The Stone Forest, p. 41; January 20, 2003, review of The Thorne Maze, p. 60; May 5, 2003, review of The Falls, p. 205; January 31, 2005, review of The Fyre Mirror, p. 52; May 23, 2005, review of Dark Angel, p. 65; October 17, 2005, review of The Fatal Fashione, p. 42.
School Library Journal, December, 1992, Claudia Moore, review of Circle of Gold, p.147.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2000, review of The Tidal Poole, p. 114.
Ohioana Authors, http://www.ohioana-author.org/(December 10, 2005), biographical information on Karen Harper.