Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Walk Into The Victorian Underworld

If you wander down the right bank of the River Thames from Tower Bridge, you’ll come to a block of luxury flats, close to the old St Saviour’s Dock, that is still called Jacob’s Island. It is one of those anonymous dockland blocks, where each individual property costs a great deal of money. To live there would cost the kind of wealth that would have been unimaginable to the folk who lived around Jacob’s Island in the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign.folly_ditch

For, until the 1850s, this was one of the worst slums in Victorian England. A rookery too, in many ways. A place where people were forced to resort to crime in order to exist.

I’ve always been fascinated with Jacob’s Island, ever since I first read about it in the works of Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, and the social commentator Henry Mayhew. Having walked around the site of the old rookery, I wanted to write about it too.

In my new book, Deadly Quest, which is published this Friday, I’ve featured Jacob’s Island quite a bit. My novel has its climax there.

I first heard of Jacob’s Island when I was a boy, and first read Oliver Twist, a novel which reaches its conclusion there. It’s portrayed as the last refuge of Fagin and his gang of pickpockets. It’s the place where Bill Sikes meets his end. Charles Dickens visited the place several times, though it changed over his time. I’ve walked there a few times as well, though there is nothing of the old Victorian rookery to see. But then, when I walk the streets of London, I live in an imaginative past, constructing from a few old buildings the city that has long gone. Here is some of Dickens’ description (I urge you to re-read it in full):

...surrounded by a muddy ditch, six or eight feet deep and fifteen or twenty wide when the tide is in, once called Mill Pond, but known in these days as the Folly Ditch… in Jacob’s Island, the warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls are crumbling down; the doors are falling into the streets; the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke… the houses have no owners; they are broken open, and entered upon by those who have the courage; and there they live, and there they die. They must have powerful motives for a secret residence… who seek a refuge in Jacob’s Island. Oliver Twist, Chapter 50.

So outraged were some London officials by Dickens’ description of Jacob’s Island that they attacked him quite publicly. One city Alderman denied that Jacob’s Island even existed. But it did, and it was probably much worse than even Dickens described. The then Bishop of London, concerned about the appalling conditions, agreed that Dickens’ description was accurate.

Influenced by the social commentary of Henry Mayhew, Charles Kingsley gives his own description of Jacob’s Island in his social novel Alton Locke. If you want to understand the full horror of the place all three writers’ works are well worth seeking out.

Given these descriptions by some of our greatest writers, I was  daunted at the thought of portraying Jacob’s Island in Deadly Quest. But, in a way, my portrayal of Jacob’s Island is much later than theirs. Oliver Twist is set during the reign of William IV, Kingsley and Mayhew’s work a trifle before my book, where the events take place in 1854.

At that time the old rookery of Jacob’s Island was going through its death throes. The London authorities had recognised that the conditions were too appalling to be tolerated any longer.

There had been an outbreak of cholera in the early 1850s – not surprising given that the residents took their drinking water from the Folly Ditch. Some of the island’s buildings had been demolished. Parts of the Folly Ditch, a foul waterway that penetrated to the heart of the district, had been filled-in by 1854. In fact, I’ve taken a few liberties and preserved – for the sake of Deadly Quest – a little more than probably actually survived in 1854.

In my novel, only the truly desperate are still living on Jacob’s Island. I’ve made it the haunt of criminals – after all, my book is a thriller. The sad truth is that only the most pitiful would have still been clinging on, criminals only in the sense that they had to survive.

My book Deadly Quest is now out in paperback and will be published on Kindle from Friday. It’s cheaper if you buy it on pre-order before the actual publication date. Just click on the link for more information.

Illuminated cobbled street in old city by night




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Writing “Deadly Quest”

Visit the Goodreads site at site to win one of three signed copies of my new novel Deadly Quest.

A couple of years ago I wrote the first adventure of a Victorian vigilante called William Quest, a gentleman adventurer with a swordstick who seeks to right wrongs and even up the injustices of society. That book was called The Shadow of William Quest.

Illuminated cobbled street in old city by night

William Quest has pleased me by his popularity and the book has achieved good sales, not only in his home country, but in the USA and several other lands around the world.

A big thank you to everyone who’s bought a copy, told friends about it and left reviews on the online sites. If you’ve enjoyed the book – or any of my other titles – and haven’t left a review on the online sales sites, please do. Every review helps all Indie Authors with sales.

I’ve now written the second book in the series, Deadly Quest, which is already out in paperback and which will be published as an eBook on Kindle on 30th September.

Cheaper if you pre-order as a Kindle book before the publication date, by the way.

Here’s the Link to Order:

The first novel was set in London and Norfolk. The new book Deadly Quest is set entirely in London, mostly down by the river. I’ve tried to capture a real feeling of London in 1854. Fortunately, I’ve spent years studying Victorian history – I did it as a minor subject in my university degree. I’ve devoted a lot of time since to an expanded study of the Victorian underworld, particularly as regards London.

I’ve walked the streets and alleys used by my characters, by day and night. London has changed a great deal in 160 years, of course. Much of the Victorian cityscape has been bombed or swept away by  developers. The London that is in my imagination is more real to me now than the modern city. There are traces of Quest’s London still to be seen, but they get fewer year by year…

Some of my novel has scenes in a notorious rookery of the time called Jacob’s Island. A district of appalling poverty in Victorian times, Charles Dickens visited it with a police guard. It features in the climax of Oliver Twist. It was already partially demolished by the 1850s. The area was bombed by the Luftwaffe in the London Blitz. Redevelopment accounted for much of the rest. Today that once dreadful slum is a development of luxury flats. You can still visit Jacob’s Island, but it takes quite a leap of imagination to get back to Victorian times.

One problem I encountered in my sequel was that I revealed virtually the whole of Mr Quest’s back story in the first novel, explaining why he decided to take the law into his own hands, fighting for truth and justice and so on. In the new book we start with a completely clean slate.

Many of the characters from ‘Shadow’ make a re-appearance, and there are several villains waiting to be vanquished. It’s been fun encountering the minor characters again. They’ve become quite real to me over the years.

There was also going to be another major character, dominating a sub-plot of the novel. I wrote a number of scenes with this character, before realising he’d wandered into the wrong novel. And yet those thousands of words written are not wasted. This character will encounter William Quest – just not yet.

Visit the Goodreads site at site to win one of three signed copies of Deadly Quest.

As Indie Publishers we are taking on the big boys in the publishing industry, like the Rupert Murdoch empire. That’s why we need the help of our readers to get the word around about our books. So please do us a great favour and tell your friends. Word of Mouth is the greatest form of advertisement.

As a reward to our loyal readers we’ll be doing more giveaways – signed copies of our books – on the Goodreads site over the coming months.

If you haven’t tried the first William Quest novel yet, and wish to read the series in order, do click on the Books link at the top of this page to order The Shadow of William Quest or any of our other titles.

And yes, there will be more William Quest stories. The next tale will appear next year.



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Fritz Lang’s “Man Hunt”

I’ve written before about my enthusiasm for Geoffrey Household’s classic chase thriller Rogue Male (see blogs passim). Most recently I passed on the news that there is to be a new film version starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

However, it’s not the first time film-makers have tried to bring Household’s book to the screen. There was a television version on the BBC in the 1980s starring Peter O’Toole, which stuck very closely to the book.

But long before that, in 1941, just before the United States entered the War, Hollywood had a go, though it changed some elements of the original story. The producers and the director, Fritz Lang, had something of a battle to get the story passed by the censor who – with the USA not yet at war – was frightened of upsetting Nazi Germany.

The resulting film might have toned down some of Household’s original plot, but Man Hunt is quite stunning in its own way, particularly with Fritz Lang’s clever direction and the atmospheric black and white photography. There’s an edge of suspense that keeps the action rolling along. Hollywood studios seldom re-created London quite so well as here.

We never learn the name of Household’s hero in the book, but here he’s Captain Alan Thorndike, played with gusto by Walter Pidgeon. Following a failed “sporting stalk” – and the target in the gun-sight is Adolf Hitler – Thorndike is captured by the Gestapo.

We never see the scenes of interrogation, the torture and beatings are only hinted at, though very effectively. Thorndike escapes to London where he’s rescued by a beautiful street waif called Jerry (played with real poignancy by Joan Bennett). There is no such character in the novel, but she’s a great addition to the film.

They are chased across London by Gestapo officer Major Quive-Smith, played with considerable relish by George Sanders in one of his finest performances – a truly believable Nazi – and a tall cadaverous man with a walking stick (John Carradine at his most menacing).

These London scenes are particularly well done, particularly the chase through the London Underground, which is the first climax of the original novel. Gripping stuff! The photography, direction and editing, plus the seedy settings of dockland London and the Tube, give this part of the picture a film noir feel.

In Household’s novel, his hero constantly considers whether his attempt to kill Hitler was just a “sporting stalk”, just to see if, as a hunter of big game, he could get close enough to the Fuhrer. Or did he always intend to pull the trigger and end the Nazi tyranny?

This question, fundamental to the aim of the original story, isn’t ignored. Thorndike considers the answer until the end of the film, when the tragic consequences of his actions come to haunt him. The answer was very relevant to audiences in 1941, on both sides of the Atlantic. It has a relevancy today.

A few months after the film was made the USA was at war with Germany. Hollywood fully joined the propaganda battle against the Third Reich, with movies good and bad. But Fritz Lang and 20th Century Fox set a very high standard, months earlier, with Man Hunt.


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Agatha Christie’s ‘The Secret Adversary’

Agatha Christie – and Hercule Poirot – entered the crime fiction world in 1921 with The Mysterious Affair at Styles. A year later, her second novel The Secret Adversary was published, the first of five Tommy and Tuppence Beresford stories. It’s interesting that Christie was showing her versatility so early in her writing career. Instead of building on her great success with a second outing for her Belgian detective, she took a new direction with new sleuths, this time a pair. The two novels are very different.

The Secret Adversary is an adventure yarn. Much more of a light thriller in tone than a detective puzzle, parts of the plot are jolly far-fetched but who cares? I don’t, being happy to suspend disbelief for a good old-fashioned page-turner that’s lots of fun.

This novel reminds me of some Margery Allingham titles – also much-enjoyed – such as Mystery Mile and Sweet Danger. These exciting, light-hearted romps seem out of fashion. Perhaps because they belonged to such a different time, less cynical and a far more rural England. Anyway, they’re still terrific reads and a relaxing escape from our modern age.

Perhaps Agatha Christie had a similar thought at the time, for she dedicates the book:

To all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they may experience at second-hand the delights and dangers of adventure.

Kindly meant of course but how times have changed. Can’t imagine any author today endearing themselves by suggesting their readers have dull lives.

When we first meet our lovable duo, Tuppence is still Miss Prudence Cowley, the daughter of a Suffolk archdeacon and Tommy is her childhood friend. They haven’t seen one another since 1916, when Tuppence worked in an officers’ hospital in London and Tommy was sent there from France.

Both recently demobbed, looking for work and dreadfully hard-up, they meet by chance in Piccadilly and decide to join forces. Over a council-of-war in a Lyons’ Corner House, they decide to form The Young Adventurers, Ltd and place an ad offering their services. Tuppence takes the lead in this enterprise, as she tends to do and the advert is never needed. Someone has been listening and adventure finds them shortly after. We’re off on a lively, racing plot with spies, a criminal mastermind and assorted sinister baddies, full of danger, excitement and fun.

This reads like an early novel only in the sense that Agatha Christie captures the feeling of the time very well. It’s a story of bright young things, two resourceful people who are at a loose end. They’ve just been through the War to end all Wars and are left with no satisfying purpose or money. They’re looking for a role in life, preferably not too humdrum. The writing of The Secret Adversary is as assured as any of Christie’s later work with an observant eye for characters, strong atmosphere and a dazzling twist.

Tommy is in the best tradition of a pre-war Englishman, dogged, resourceful, brave, a gentleman and sportsman. Tuppence is the brains of the outfit, quick-witted, impulsive and liable to get herself in hot water. They’re both engaging and very real. Reading this again after decades, I can’t help ‘seeing’ James Warwick, Francesca Annis and Reece Dinsdale who played them so well in the 1985 LWT drama. A year earlier they’d also made the wonderful Partners in Crime, based on their second outing of short stories.

Agatha Christie said that this was the series she most enjoyed writing. If you fancy curling up and escaping into a great adventure with lots of period charm – The Secret Adversary is one of the very best.

Click on the link below for editions:






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My Latest Book Is Out!

William Quest is back! Deadly Quest (A William Quest Victorian Thriller Book 2) by [Bainbridge, John]

My new novel, DEADLY QUEST, the second in the William Quest series, is now available for pre-order on Kindle at a special offer price.

Publication day is Friday September 30th. The paperback version will be out at the same time. The price will increase that weekend so please do order today for the bargain price.

And if you haven’t read the first novel, The Shadow of William Quest, it’s available both as a Kindle e-Book and in paperback.

Please share this post with your friends, whether they enjoy historical fiction, crime fiction or just have a love of adventure stories…

Regards, John

Here’s more about DEADLY QUEST, with a few readers’ comments on William Quest:

“A reign of terror sweeps through the Victorian underworld as a menacing figure seeks to impose his will on the criminals of London.

On the abandoned wharves of the docklands and in the dangerous gaslit alleys of Whitechapel, hardened villains are being murdered, dealers in stolen goods and brothel keepers threatened.

The cobbles of the old city are running with blood, as pistol shots bark out death to any who resist.

Who can fight back to protect the poor and the oppressed? The detectives of Scotland Yard are baffled as the death toll mounts. There is, of course, William Quest – Victorian avenger. A man brought up to know both sides of the law.

But Quest faces dangers of his own.

Sinister watchers are dogging his footsteps through the fog, as Quest becomes the prey in a deadly manhunt, threatened by a vicious enemy, fighting for his life in a thrilling climax in the most dangerous rookery in Victorian London.

Dead Quest or Deadly Quest?”

An historical crime story by the author of The Shadow of William Quest, A Seaside Mourning and Wolfshead.”

What readers are saying about William Quest…

A page turner of a mystery from the start… I couldn’t put this one down for long as I was caught up in the twists and turns of this richly constructed tale.

Great author, fantastic book. Such a unique story and very well told.

A new hero for these times has entered literature, and is destined to capture the attention of all those yearning for a better chapter within the human saga – it is William Quest.

Great read! Couldn’t put it down.

Superb plotting, believable characters, and a very effective writing style

…a real feel for history and storytelling.

Here’s the Link to Order:





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“Jekyll, Alias Hyde” by Donald Thomas

Donald Thomas’s novel Jekyll, Alias Hyde, is described on its title page as “A Variation”. And so it is, in every sense of the world. Donald Thomas re-imagines Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, from the point of view of the police detective investigating the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, slain by Hyde in Stevenson’s original.

The police officer is Inspector Alfred Swain, who features in several other novels by the same author. He is assisted by the argumentative Sergeant Lumley, and supervised by Superintendant Toplady. The dynamic between the three is quite wonderful, often combative, and occasionally very funny – the passages where the three inter-react would make the book worth reading even if there was no other plot.

For readers who are unfamiliar with Donald Thomas’s non-fiction I’ll just mention that Thomas is a very noted biographer and historian. His account of The Victorian Underworld, has achieved classic status. Thomas knows all there is to know about Victorian crime and society. It shows here, as he presents a Victorian scene you can almost climb into.

In this re-imagining of the original story, Thomas’ detective is already involved in the story before the murder, as he is on familiar terms with the solicitor Utterson, who is Dr Jekyll’s solicitor. Swain also has an infatuation for Utterson’s daughter.

And through this connection we enter the strange world of Dr Jekyll and, eventually, Mr Hyde. Much of Victorian London is portrayed with stunning accuracy, from the miserable slums to the fashionable salons of the West End. And just what is the mysterious connection with the Zulu Wars?

This is, first and foremost, a crime novel. The victim, as in Stevenson’s original, is the politician Sir Danvers Carew. Stevenson never quite explains just why Carew is murdered. But Donald Thomas does, in a particularly convincing plotline. But who else knew why such an apparently harmless man was killed? And how reliable is the only witness?

And just who is Edward Hyde? We think we know, especially if we’re familiar with the original story, but can we be sure?

I don’t ever give spoilers, for this is a book you should seek out for yourself.

Sufficient to say, that Donald Thomas plunges us into a very familiar tale and then turns our expectations upside down with his “Variation”. This very skilful author has written a literary detective story that is first-rate.

For editions just click on the link below…



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Join us on Goodreads

We are now playing a more active role on our Goodreads page.

You’ll find a list of all our books there, plus information on what we’re reading.

There’ll be giveaways of signed copies of our paperbacks coming up, plus publishing and writing news.

The page also gives you an opportunity to ask us questions about our work.

So just click on the Goodreads site at type in John Bainbridge in the Search. There are several other John Bainbridge’s so enter one of our book titles as well, say Wolfshead, or A Seaside Mourning etc.

If you like, please join us on the Goodreads page as a friend…

Here’s the page address again –



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