When it comes to writing about crime you can’t go much further back than Robin Hood.
Put on a detective story level you could argue that Robin is the master criminal of Sherwood Forest and the Sheriff of Nottingham is the representative of the law dedicated to hunting him down.
Only that isn’t how we usually think of Robin Hood, because traditionally he’s a rebel engaged in fighting against an unjust society, with all the odds against him.
Robin is an outlaw.
Literally, in English historical and legal terms, someone outside the law. A man denied the law’s protection, who can be hunted and slain like a wolf by anyone at all for a reward, hence the description “wolfshead” attached to medieval outlaws.
In the terms of crime and mystery stories, he’s much more on a par with characters like Leslie Charteris’s Simon Templar, the Saint, who sees off very nasty villains, despite being on the wrong side of the law himself. All the time being hunted by the long-suffering Inspector Claude Eustace Teal.
In fact, there is quite a tradition of such characters, such as Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond (though Drummond’s a bit politically dubious), Bruce Graeme’s Blackshirt, John Creasey’s Baron and some of the characters in the novels of John Buchan, whose Richard Hannay in The Thirty-nine Steps (see blogs passim) is hunted across the wilds of the countryside by villains and the law together as he tries to do the right thing. In Buchan’s Midwinter we have an outlaw network operating on the side of right, not very different from Robin and his merry (or these days usually not so merry) men.
And going back to the comics of my childhood, wasn’t this the position of many of the superheroes? I recall that the early Batman worked somewhere between the forces of Right and certain legal niceties in American comic books. And my British boy’s comics were full of heroes who fought villainy from questionable sides of the law.
A great deal of crime literature, high, middle and low brow, depicts people determining their own view on what is right and then carrying through acts of justice regardless of the irritating letters of the law. Even Sherlock Holmes makes the occasional decision to let some offender go.
In real life vigilantes are unacceptable, but between the safe covers of a book, they make for some great reading.
These influences must have soaked into my psyche because they inspired me to create the Victorian vigilante William Quest in my thriller The Shadow of William Quest (I am at the moment writing the sequel). Quest operates outside the law for what he perceives to be the cause of justice. Whether he is right or wrong is up to the reader. Like Robin Hood he has a gang of fellow participants, all members of a rather sinister society dedicated to promoting their own interpretation of what is right. Even if it means breaking the real law to do it.
I suspect many of us have been tempted in such ways when we’ve come across some present day cruelty or injustice. The fleeting thought sweeping through our minds, then just as readily dismissed when we consider the consequences.
And so I come to my new book Loxley – The Chronicles of Robin Hood, which is published this week.
Having been brought up on the stories of England’s original outlaw, I couldn’t resist writing my own version of his deeds. From childhood I’ve loved the many retellings, adored the films and television programmes, even roamed around the remnants of Sherwood Forest. From my first memories I’ve loved the adventures of that outlaw.
So this was the book I always had to write. In fact, in my mind, I’ve been writing it for more years than I care to remember. But, having re-read the original ballads last year, I actually found a few months to sit down and write this first book which, while complete in itself, will be the first of a four-part series. I’ve gone back to the original roots of the legend, but not in some slavish retelling, but more my thoughts on a Robin Hood living in a real medieval landscape, where the men and women are not so merry and where there is some understanding of just what motivates the baddies.
In a world where the weak seem to be back-footed, their opinions ignored, the tales of Robin Hood seem peculiarly relevant and the idea that Right should always defeat unjust Might more important than ever.
All of my novels so far have been historical, though I haven’t before gone back so far in time.
I’d love to know what you think of it?
Loxley is out now in paperback and on most eBook readers. Just click on the link for more information: