In a book I read the other day, a 1929 speakeasy waitress (a flapper) was trying to solve the mystery of why a patron had been murdered. She went into a hardware store that one of the suspects owned, and started out her investigation by innocuously asking to see a Black and Decker electric drill.
That stopped me cold. It’s hard on me as a reader when anachronistic elements show up in a novel; it takes me out of the story, and makes me wonder what the author was thinking.
The worst example of such a literary crime was in a best-selling (or so she claimed) novel by a self-published writer who wrote racy regency romances. That’s so not my thing (though I did enjoy the books by Georgette Heyer, who has been credited as the creator of the modern regency romance genre). Still, at the behest of my publisher, I took a look at the books to see what the big deal was, and just about the first thing in the first chapter was a breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup. What? How could anyone have made such a ridiculous error?
Maple syrup wasn’t served on pancakes until after the regency era, and who knows if it would have arrived in England by then, and even more doubtful if it was used on pancakes. In addition, although pancakes have been around for hundreds perhaps thousands of years, they were not a common breakfast food in regency England. But I will give the author the benefit of the doubt since I can’t for sure say that rich people wouldn’t have eaten pancakes with maple syrup back then.
Also, although chocolate was known and favored during those times and served in the morning, it was in the form of a hot chocolate drink. Chocolate chips, however, were not invented until a hundred and fifty years later. Created in 1938, chocolate chips were called “morsels” until sometime in the 1940s when “chocolate chips” became the more common term, though “morsels” is still used by the first company who sold them.
Needless to say, I never read more than the first few pages of that book.
The flapper book turned out not to contain this sort of error. In fact, Black and Decker was in business in 1929; it had been founded in 1910. And they were selling an electric hand-held drill by 1917.
I had no idea that electric tools went back so far! It makes sense, though, that power tools would have been one of the first uses of electricity after lighting since electric tools make work so much easier.
As for the flapper book — after time out to research Black and Decker and power tools, I went back and finished the story. Apparently, it wasn’t that great because I can’t remember a thing about the story, but at least it didn’t suffer from an egregious error like the chocolate-chips-in-the-regency-era novel.
Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.