Tag Archives: #histfic

My New Book “Villain” Out Now

As some of you know, when I’m not writing mystery stories, I write historical tales and my new one is now out. Here’s my latest…

Villain – the third in The Chronicles of Robin Hood series – is now available for pre-order on Kindle. Publication date is 30th June. The paperback is already available. Order before the publication date and you get either version discounted – the price goes up on the 30th.Villain Cover

Well, here’s what it’s about:

“AD 1203. Plantagenet England. A gripping historical novel and the third instalment of The Chronicles of Robin Hood. Robin of Loxley is in exile in the dark forests of the north, when a killing and a betrayal drive him back to his old battleground of Sherwood Forest.

A good man is slain and the full terror of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisborne is unleashed. With the King in Normandy and a people’s champion dead, only warriors outside the law are there to fight for the poor and desperate.

Outnumbered and surrounded by his enemies, Robin Hood is forced into waging a murderous campaign against the forces of evil.

Fighting against overwhelming odds, the outlaws divided and with a vicious warlord attacking the people of Sherwood, can Robin Hood and just a few of his men hold back the forces of oppression?

An exciting new historical novel by the author of Loxley and Wolfshead.”

To order just click on the link to pre-order the Kindle version. Look under “Books” for the paperback.

Please do share and tell your friends. Small publishers taking on the mighty publishing empire of Rupert Murdoch need word of mouth advertising.

For more details about my historical writing do check out my other blog at http://www.johnbainbridgewriter.wordpress.com 

 

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The Victorian Underworld

A little while ago, I blogged about Kellow Chesney’s classic book The Victorian Underworld, one of the best and most readable introductions to the subject for the general reader.

Donald Thomas’s book has the same title and covers some of the same ground, but it’s well worth a read as well. Reading both books will give you a good working knowledge of the subject and suggest avenues of research you might care to follow.

Mr Thomas is well known as an academic, an historian and biographer, and as a writer of crime fiction – I reviewed his novel Jekyll, Alias Hyde recently. He has also written a detective series and some Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Victorian Underworld, was first published in 1998 and was shortlisted for a CWA Golden Dagger.

Thomas begins with a prologue entitled “Darkest England,” setting the scene for the Victorian townscapes and countryside where the underworld thrived.

Mr Thomas pulls no punches in exposing of the hypocrisy of Victorian Britain. Sheer poverty drove people towards crime because of the basic need to survive.

On a personal note, I must say I get a little weary of present-day politicians preaching the merits of Victorian values,  and yearning to recreate such a world. Victorian Britain must have been an interesting place to live if you were very wealthy – but for the vast majority, it was a long struggle often just to put bread on the table.

As Aristotle pointed out a few thousand years ago, “poverty is the main cause of crime and revolution.” The Victorian Establishment suppressed – often with considerable brutality – most attempts to even up the odds.

The Underworld of the Age was an inevitable reaction to a Victorian lack of decency and fairness. Although there was a great deal of casual crime, there was also a considerable amount of criminal organisation. Mr Thomas looks at both in great detail.

Here we have the thieves, the swell mob and the pornographers, the way justice was loaded against the poor and there’s a lengthy examination of corruption at the heart of the Establishment and, in particular, at Scotland Yard.

There is a very good chapter on the stealing of the Crimean gold from a moving train, fictionalised in a book and a film by Michael Crichton as The First Great Train Robbery. The reality of the crime is much more sensational than any work of fiction.

Mr Thomas deals well with the subject of Victorian sexuality – there were, after all, tens of thousands of prostitutes on the streets of London.

He devotes a chapter to the mysterious memoirist called Walter, whose voluminous My Secret Life, gives some vivid pen-sketches by a man who was a customer of these women. There’s also a look at W.T Stead’s exposure of child prostitution and a glance at Victorian homosexuality.

Mr Thomas’s book was first published a few years after I first studied the Victorian Underworld as an undergraduate, doing a minor in Victorian social history at the University of East Anglia.

I seem to recall that, apart from the Kellow Chesney book, I was obliged to seek out primary sources – and so one should. But for the general reader without a great deal of time, these two books by Mr Chesney and Mr Thomas, offer a very readable and fascinating introduction.

My interest in the history of the Victorian Underworld has never wavered. I’ve read a lot more since graduation and tried to portray this world as accurately as possible in my own novels The Shadow of William Quest and Deadly Quest.

 

 

 

 

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Magsmen, Gonophs, Macers, Shofulmen and Screevers

What are Magsmen, Gonophs, Macers, Shofulmen and Screevers?

In my blog on Kellow Chesney’s book The Victorian Underworld I mentioned a few of the underworld’s “technical terms”. Kellow Chesney gives a very comprehensive list at the back of his book, but I think it’s only fair to give an explanation of the ones I mentioned.

They would have been very familiar terms to the characters in our books, and – certainly as far as William Quest goes – many of the characters in that series of books qualify to be included under one or more of these terms.

So here goes:

Magsmen – well basically a cheat or a sharper of the lowest kind – the sort who’d probably try and cheat you in a pub or out on the street. They’re still around so watch out!

Macers – Macers play the same sort of game as magsmen but at a slightly higher level. Think con-artist in modern terms and you’re more or less there.

Gonophs – gonophs are minor thieves and often the less skilled sort of pickpockets. Poverty drove many Victorians to crime in this way. My character William Quest starts his life on the streets as a gonoph, but becomes more skilled as time goes by.

Shofulmen – These individuals were purveyors of bad money. Not uncommon in the earlier decades of the century.

Screevers – Although it became an occasional name for pavement artists, the original screevers were writers of fake testimonials – quite a handy vocation in Victorian times when you might need a phony reference, especially if you’d been dismissed by your employer without a character. My character Jasper Feedle partakes in screeving amongst his other many talents.

If you want to enter the dangerous Victorian Underworld do seek out Kellow Chesney’s book – or if you want to walk the dangerous alleys of Victorian London do try my William Quest novels…

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The Victorian Underworld by Kellow Chesney

If any one book inspired me to write my William Quest Victorian thrillers it’s this one, Kellow Chesney’s very readable and scholarly book on the Victorian underworld. It was first published in 1970 and – for me – is the standard work on this fascinating subject.Victorian Underworld: Chesney, Kellow

I first encountered it when I was an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Although I majored in literature, I did a minor in nineteenth-century social history. The underworld was only a small part of my studies, but discovering Kellow Chesney’s book sent me of on a wider reading programme, both in secondary reading and the primary sources.

When I’m asked to recommend a book on the Victorian underworld this is the one I suggest as a first read. There are several other titles I like – and I hope to give these a mention on the blog in the coming months – but Kellow Chesney’s book is the most comprehensive and the best introduction.

It’s all here, starting with a walk through the mid-century streets of London – and how vividly the author portrays the place. This is no dull work of scholarship, it’s a page-turner as exciting as all the best mystery thrillers.

Then from the main streets frequented by the richest members of society, Kellow Chesney takes the reader to the borders of the underworld, the places where the dispossessed and those forced into crime to survive are obliged to lurk – and the boundaries between the rookeries and the smart streets of society are often back to back.

We are then taken on a journey into the rookeries themselves. Kellow Chesney conjures them up in all their awfulness. It is impossible to understand the Victorian criminal underworld unless you can understand the causes of crime.

Here are the beggars, the pick-pockets, the footpads and the swell mob. The skilled cracksmen who break the safes and steal the jewellery of the richest members of society. Here are the magsmen, gonophs, macers and shofulmen. The screevers and the Newgate mob. (I’ll talk more about these in a blog early next week.)

There were perhaps 80000 prostitutes in Victorian London alone. Kellow Chesney deals sympathetically with their plight, whether they were working the poorest streets in the East End for pennies or selling themselves for much more in the night houses in the West End.

The book is wonderfully illustrated, mostly with the sketches of the great Gustave Dore, adding to the feeling of being there so brilliantly evoked in Mr Chesney’s words. If you can, seek out one of the original hardback editions – the pictures are not so well reproduced in the paperback editions.

When I came to write William Quest, Kellow Chesney’s book was the first I re-read. If you want a good understanding of the Victorian underworld, I commend it to you.

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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:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deadly-Quest-William-Victorian-Thriller-ebook/dp/B01LYGNCNQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1473791400&sr=1-1&keywords=Deadly+Quest

 

 

 

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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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My Victorian Writing World

Just over a month now to the publication of the sequel to my novel The Shadow of William Quest. The new title will be available for pre-order at a special price a little while before that, so do keep visiting the blog for all the latest news. forgotten_00051-Kindle-Fina

From now until then, I’ll be putting out a few items both about the new book, and the first in the series.

How did it all come about?

I’d long wanted to write a book set in Victorian times, not least because much of the Victorian world is still familiar to those of us living in the UK. As we wander through the streets of Britain we can – if we lift our eyes above the modern fascias on the shops – still see what our Victorian forebears saw.

The same street patterns, by and large, many of the same buildings, and the much of the landscapes they knew. Too much has been lost, and we should be saving what is left, but the Victorian street map may still be traced.

If we could travel back in time, we could enter the world of William Quest – the new book is set in 1854 – with little difficulty. Though there would be some surprises. It could be a brutal world, not as settled as some people have implied. There are many Victorian Values that deserved to be relegated to the history books.

My William Quest is a bit of a reformer. His ideas bore fruit, though it doesn’t always seem like it.

I’ve always been interested in Victorian Britain, since the subject was taught at my primary school. Much of our great literature was written in the 19th century. Reading those classic books plunges back into that world. We are – for good or bad – still little Victorians in so many ways.

I knew some Victorians, of course, though they were all born late in the period. Nevertheless, I remember them well, their attitudes and the way they talked. My grandparents were Victorians, though they were all very young when the old Queen died.

For quite a time, I moved away from Victorian history, into other periods. As some of you will know, I also write historical novels about Robin Hood – Loxley and Wolfshead, with a third book out next year, so I have a passion for the that period. For a long time I’ve had an interest in the English Civil War. I like the Anglo-Saxons too.

The Victorians tended to go on the back-burner.

Then, nearly thirty years ago I became an undergraduate of the Open University, doing an arts course that was almost entirely Victorian. After a couple of years, I went as a full-time undergraduate to the University of East Anglia.

My major was literature, though I did a minor in 19th century social history, some of which looked at the Victorian underworld. It all stayed in my mind, though work pressures kept the writing of fiction at bay. I did, however, write the texts for a series of topographical books about the towns and landscapes of England.

I spent nine years working as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, founded in 1883 and very proud of its Victorian campaigning roots.

The Victorians never quite went away.

I wanted to write a novel with a slightly dubious hero set in Victorian times, a kind of Penny Dreadful, the kind of pulp literature of action and derring-do that the Victorians themselves enjoyed reading – though they’d often pretend that their literary tastes were a tad more pretentious.

I’ve always loved such tales myself, and used to hunt them out when I was an undergraduate. They were all good fun, sometimes morally dubious. But a reading of them tells a lot about Victorian popular taste. I go as far as to state that you cannot grasp the complexities of Victorian society if you don’t read them.

While I enjoy the finer works of literature I also worship their slightly more questionable cousins – and that in itself is something I have in common with my Victorian ancestors…

To order the FIRST William Quest novel, The Shadow of William Quest, please just click on the link below. And if you have read it and enjoyed it please do leave a review. The new Quest novel will be available to pre-order in September:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-William-Quest-Victorian-Thriller-ebook/dp/B00JEA3E64/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1472138246&sr=1-4&keywords=John+Bainbridge

 

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The Dead Woman of Deptford by Ann Granger

This is the sixth in Ann Granger’s series of historical mysteries featuring Inspector Ben Ross and his wife Lizzie. I was pleased when Ann Granger began a Victorian crime series as I’ve been a fan for years, really enjoying her Mitchell and Markby series, set in the Cotswolds, as well as her later Carter and Campbell novels. A prolific lady.

Ben and Lizzie Ross are very likable characters. The series is set in the late 1860s and began when Lizzie Martin came to London to be a companion to her ‘Aunt’ Parry – actually the widow of her late godfather. Her predecessor left in mysterious circumstances and Lizzie is drawn to investigate. The novels are mostly set in a particular district of London, though the second in the series took Lizzie to Hampshire’s New Forest. Much as I’ve liked them all, The Dead Woman of Deptford is my favourite so far.

On a cold November night, Inspector Ross is summoned to Deptford. The body of a well-dressed, middle-aged woman has been found in a rat-ridden yard between dilapidated buildings near the Thames. As always, the narrative is shared between Ben and Lizzie, both in first person.

Ann Granger has a lovely flow to her writing, making it hard to put down. Her characters and setting are vivid and believable. She writes with moments of humour, compassion for social injustice and shows many different layers of Victorian society; from the wealthy squares of the West End, Ben and Lizzie in their modest terrace near Waterloo station, to the bent old man collecting cigar stubs in the gutters.

The sights, smells and sounds of Deptford, its warehouses of spices and tobacco, raucous streets of dock-workers and foreign sailors, tenements and drinking dens are richly depicted. Rather like one of Atkinson Grimshaw’s moonlit quayside paintings come to life. It’s surprising that no production company has grabbed these novels for a television drama.

The solution to the murder is extremely satisfying. Ann Granger had me fooled, which is what I want as a reader. A lifelong love of reading detective fiction means I work out – or get an instinct for – the murderer far too often. It doesn’t necessarily detract from a great read but we all want to be hoodwinked. (Peter Lovesey is my benchmark for an author who dazzles with his deceptive plotting.) This time Ann Granger used a classic piece of misdirection worthy of Agatha Christie, very simple and effective. I’m kicking myself. In addition, I thought the psychology of the motive was eminently believable and thought-provoking.

Ann Granger’s name on the cover guarantees an excellent, detective novel in the classic English style. She’s always a pleasure to read.

To find out more just click on the link:

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Adam Adamant Lives!

We’ve recently been watching the surviving episodes of Adam Adamant Lives! – that iconic British television series first broadcast in 1966-67.Adam Adamant Lives! - The Complete Collection (5 Disc Box Set) [1966] [DVD]

I say, surviving episodes, for about half the episodes from the two series have been lost, the recording tapes wiped by the BBC soon after original broadcast. What survives makes you yearn for what we cannot see. The BBC is still searching for lost episodes of this and other programmes. See their website and contact them if you can help. Some taped episodes were transferred to film for foreign sales and it’s quite possible that some survived.

For those who haven’t met Adam Adamant, the premise is simple: Adam Adamant is a gentleman adventurer at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. In 1902, he is lured into a trap by Louise – the woman in his life – and a masked villain called The Face. He is frozen in a block of ice and emerges in 1966, to face a very different world, an England that is truly swinging.

Being a Victorian gentlemen, in every sense of the world, courteous to women, shocked by some of the modernities of life in 1966, there is a great deal of fun to be had here, as Adam is called upon to help fight present-day evils and villains and re-encounter some old enemies.

He is helped in this task by a 1960s girl called Georgina Jones, an admirer of the adventures of the historic Adam, who has a penchant for crashing into his cases, and a valet William E. Simms, whose provides us with cynical limericks and a supposed detestation of Miss Jones.

This sort of series succeeds or falls on the casting of the leads. Gerald Harper, as Adam, is the very epitome of the English gentleman, suave and handsome, polite and brave. Juliet Harmer, as Georgina, is so 1960s girl it’s quite incredible. She sums up that whole very colourful era and is real fun. Jack May is terrific as Simms, often stealing his scenes.

Adam is a superb fighter, both with fisticuffs and his sword-stick. I remember watching this as a boy and quite envying the sword-stick. This image of a man in a cape with one of those deadly weapons, never quite vanished from my mind, as you’ll know if you’ve read my novel The Shadow of William Quest, which owes something to the notion of similarly-armed gentlemen adventurers – though my Quest is nowhere near as pleasant to people as Adam Adamant.

Much of the joy of Adam Adamant Lives! is revisiting the 1960s, the last optimistic decade for us Britons, before it all started to go downhill. A time when it was taken for granted that there would be social justice and the world would become a better place. Ah, well… But how lovely to have programmes such as this, to see London again before it was wrecked by skyscrapers, the fashions of the time, the Mini car that Adam drives. And the lovely thought of Adam reconstructing his Victorian home on top of a multi-storey car park!

All this and terrific adventures too. The stories hold up really well, and there are a number of familiar acting faces both as friends and enemies. With Adam Adamant Lives! there was a crossover of production staff and writers, with other great series of the time, such as The Avengers and Doctor Who. The basic idea seems to have come from Sydney Newman, the producer was Verity Lambert, writers include Tony Williamson and Brian Clemens. If you love The Avengers you should enjoy Adam Adamant Lives!

See the link for more:

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Brilliant Beamish!

Beamish is a living history museum, just down from Newcastle, which celebrates the lives of working people and the culture of England’s North-East. Many of the buildings originally stood elsewhere and would have been lost altogether if they hadn’t been moved to this old colliery site.DSCF7276

There is an Edwardian town, a coal-mine and pit-village, a farm set back to the wartime period of the 1940s, an 18th century manor and farmhouse, an old railway station – all with staff and volunteers, dressed in costume, and living in the past.

It’s almost like time-travelling, as you follow miners into the original old drift mine, wander into cottages and offices, a printers, bakers and a sweet-shop, a freemason’s hall and a bank set back in the Edwardian period. Not to mention a pub, a steam wagonway and and church – just a few of the places to visit. The period fish and chip shop, where the food is cooked on a coal-fired range – and, golly, they’re good!DSCF7277

You can even have your picture taken in costume in a photographer’s studio.

For a writer, Beamish is particularly valuable. Where else can you see how a lawyer’s office of the early 1900s might actually have looked? Or ride on a tram of the period or an old bus or railway train?

I had ancestors who worked in coal-mining, so I particularly like the pit-village. My first school was in a pit village in the Black Country of the English Midlands. Not very different from the pit village at Beamish.DSCF8128.JPG

Beamish presents the real history of Britain; the kind of environment in which most of our ancestors actually lived. The history of the working and lower middle-classes which tends to get neglected by most historical novelists.

They also stage events set in their relevant period, and there’s something on most weeks. We visit Beamish quite often, most recently as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. Beamish is also a very valuable teaching resource, giving talks and with an outreach programme. They have a particular interest in aiding people with dementia, giving sufferers links with their own past.DSCF8127

Re-enactment groups were there, both as infantry and lancers, their uniforms reproduced in great detail, explaining to visitors just what life was like in the trenches of the Great War. These volunteers go into schools and relate this knowledge, which is particularly valuable now that all the veterans have passed away.

A great many local children visit Beamish in school-parties, which I’m thrilled to bits about. It’s important that British children are taught that history doesn’t stop and start with a procession of Kings and Queens. DSCF8129

These are the kinds of communities where our ancestors really lived.

And Beamish is still a work in progress. They are already planning to recreate a Georgian coaching inn, and a 1950s townscape.

A wonderful place for a visit – and your admission fee covers a year of visits.

We shall certainly be back – and often.

It positively inspires our writing.

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