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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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Guest Post by T.G. Campbell, Author of the Bow Street Society Mysteries

We’re delighted to have a guest post this week by crime novelist T.G. Campbell, author of the wonderful Bow Street Society mysteries.

We love the two books in the series so far, The Case of The Curious Client and The Case of The Lonesome Lushington. They bring an engagingly fresh approach to historical detective novels with a collaborative sleuthing team of vividly-drawn, lovable characters. The cases are intriguing page-turners with Conan Doyle-style twists and the rich setting of 1890s Victorian London is lovingly evoked –

MURDER OF THE LONE DETECTIVE

Admirers of the World’s Greatest Detective would agree there is only one Sherlock Holmes. Purveyors of the English Golden Age of Crime Fiction would admit there can be only one Belgian solving crime with his “little grey cells”. Skip over the pond to the mean streets of 1940s Los Angeles and the likelihood is you’ll think of Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe. What do all these detectives have in common? They stand alone in their respective worlds as the pinnacle of deductive reasoning. They also have the tendency to keep their thoughts to themselves while the readers, like Doctor Watson and Captain Hastings, scramble to make any sense of things. Yes, we, as readers, are shown precisely what Holmes, Poirot, and Marlowe see & hear but we are often left awestruck by not only a mystery’s solution but also the ingenuity of the Detective’s deductive reasoning. The Case of the Curious Client: A Bow Street Society Mystery by [Campbell, T.G.]

Whenever we read a mystery featuring any of these Detectives we bring to it the subconscious expectation that it will be they who will lift the veil of confusion and resolve the conflict caused by the murder. They, and Detectives like them, may be assisted by others along the way but, generally, the sidekick doesn’t step in at the last moment to announce the correct identity of the murderer. This rule applies even in novels where the Detective openly airs his internal musings to a trusted colleague or friend. In short, these lone Detectives are put on a plinth as masters of their craft by us as readers – and there isn’t anything wrong with that. In fact, it is this consistent element within these stories which serves to reassure us that all will be well in the end. We have seen the Detective work his/her magic previously which makes us confident he/she will do so again.

What if there was more than one Detective, though? Furthermore, what if there were several Detectives who stepped into a mystery series only when they were required? No longer would you have this omnipotent Detective who always kept his cards close to his chest. Instead you would have a collective whose very success relied on their relying upon one another’s abilities. The Detective’s plinth would be lowered and we, as readers, would feel equal to the Detectives we were reading about rather than to their bumbling sidekick.

This is the idea I wanted to explore when I created the Bow Street Society. Every one of its members has been recruited, from the public, because they hold a great deal of knowledge in a particular field and/or are adept at a specific skill. For example, the first book, The Case of The Curious Client, features a Magician, Architect, and Veterinary Surgeon among the Detectives investigating the central mystery. They are not hard-boiled Private Detectives, retired police officers, or incredibly scientifically minded. They are, in short, average. Yet it is their averageness, and passion for their chosen occupation, which makes them perfect for solving crime. For example, an autopsy performed by the Veterinary Surgeon on a dead cat in The Case of The Curious Client helps the collective reach the final solution. I consciously made the decision that there wouldn’t be one, lone member of the Society who would deduce the solution. That is why, when it is given, they have all played a part in reaching the truth.

When it came to the Society’s next book, The Case of The Lonesome Lushington, I wanted to go one step further. The Architect, Lawyer, and Veterinary Surgeon who’d appeared in the first mystery were not included or even mentioned in the second. For the plain and simple reason their skills were not applicable to the case so they weren’t asked to investigate it. In the first book I’d stepped away from the idea of the lone, omnipotent Detective but in the second I’d stepped away from the idea of a static, rigid collective of Detectives, too.

One could argue that connections with characters can’t be formed if they’re not included in every book. I would beg to differ. Who is assigned to a case is decided upon by the Society’s Clerk, Miss Rebecca Trent. The reader doesn’t know who she’ll choose until the case has been accepted. Therefore part of the intrigue is discovering if your favourite character will be selected or not – this time. I fully intend to have reappearances of the Lawyer, Architect, and Veterinary Surgeon in future Bow Street Society books. Any connection the reader makes with particular characters would therefore never be in vain. The Case of The Lonesome Lushington: A Bow Street Society Mystery by [Campbell, T.G.]

There are, within this fluid collective, core characters that’ll always be featured to safeguard the reassurance of order, however. Miss Trent is one (she being the only person who knows the name of every Society member) and Mr Samuel Snyder, the Society’s Driver, is another. It must be pointed out that, though Miss Trent is the Society’s Clerk, she isn’t a Detective. Instead she organises and disciplines the members whenever necessary but otherwise keeps to the side-lines. Mr Snyder, on the other hand, is a Detective who works with the other members in addition to driving them around.

The Bow Street Society is designed as a reflection of us all. Within its universe the mundane becomes pivotal and we discover we all have the potential to solve the most baffling of crimes. The lone detective, or rather the idea of it, is murdered and we are all, quite simply, the ones whodunnit. Not because we despise the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Phillip Marlowe but because we all, deep down, want to be as brilliant as they are. In the 1896 London of the Bow Street Society, you now can be. The only question that remains therefore is this: what would be your field of expertise as a Bow Street Society member?

Biography

T.G. Campbell (short for Tahnee Georgina) wrote her first crime fiction story at the age of sixteen as a gift for her best friend. At only 40 pages long it fell considerably short of a “novel” but it marked the beginning of a creative journey that would eventually spawn the first of the Bow Street Society mystery novels; The Case of the Curious Client.

In April 2017 The Case of The Curious Client won a Book Award with Fresh Lifestyle Magazine (http://www.freshlifestylemag.com/book-award-the-case-of-the-curious-client-a-bow-street-society-mystery.html ).

Website: www.bowstreetsociety.com

 

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The Holly House Mystery

Our latest novella, ‘The Holly House Mystery’ is on sale at only 99 pence/cents. Offer ends on the 6th March (early evening British time).

Friends, please accept this, the only intimation!”

‘The Holly House Mystery’ is set in 1931 and is the second outing for Inspector Eddie Chance of Tennysham-on-sea in Sussex.

This is our take on a classic Golden Age-style murder mystery, set at a winter country house-party. Featuring the usual suspects – including the host, the male secretary, the femme fatale, the young couple and the butler – who murdered the house-maid found in the priory ruins and why?

The setting of Holly House was loosely inspired by the real-life Michelham Priory in present-day East Sussex. (Never taken to the idea of my birth county being split). Michelham Priory is owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society and open to the public. See http://www.sussexpast.co.uk for details. 

Originally an Augustinian foundation and ravaged in the Dissolution, today’s Michelham Priory is a lovely Tudor country house. The site is idyllic, a 7 acre near-island, surrounded by England’s longest medieval moat that still has water. A 14th century gatehouse and a picturesque water-mill have survived. The moat is a haven for wildlife and wild flowers and the gardens are glorious, including a medieval-style physic garden. (They also have delicious baking in the tea-room).

Places to visit in Sussex Michelham Priory

The enclosed nature of the setting inspired our homage to the popular vintage murder mystery with a limited number of suspects.

The length is 34,000+ words – ideal for a commute or a cosy couple of evenings.

We hope you enjoy – and would really appreciate any reviews as this helps all indie authors keep writing.

Here’s the link if you want to order a copy…

 

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Winter Mystery Reading

If you enjoy a wintry mystery, do look at our new detective novella The Holly House Mystery. Available on Kobo and Kindle as well as in paperback.  Thanks to everyone who has bought the book so far.

The novella is set on the Sussex downs in the last days of 1931 and features Inspector Eddie Chance who first appeared in The Seafront Corpse.

An affectionate homage to Golden Age detective fiction and the enclosed world of country house murder.

If you enjoy the book please do leave a review on the online selling sites and Goodreads. And if you could share this and tell your friends about The Holly House Mystery we’d be very grateful. Reviews help Indie Authors stay in business.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

December 1931. Inspector Chance investigates a country house mystery in a snow-bound Sussex village. Family and guests are gathered for Christmas at Holly House. A body is discovered near the ruins in the grounds. And only one set of footprints in the snow…

Can Inspector Chance solve the murder before Scotland Yard is called in?

The Holly House Mystery is a 34000 word novella, complete in itself, the second title in the Inspector Chance Mystery Series.

What Readers are saying about Inspector  Chance’s first appearance in The Seafront Corpse

“An excellent depiction of good old fashioned detective work.”

“An enjoyable trip down memory lane, authentically written.”

“Excellent period detective piece. Couldn’t put it down.”

“The mystery was good, the characters were GREAT!!”

To order just click on this link:

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Our Christmas Mystery Novella

If you enjoy curling up by the fireside with a seasonal mystery, you might like to try our Inspector Abbs novella A Christmas Malice. Set in 1873 during a Victorian country Christmas in Norfolk, our introspective sleuth has a dark puzzle to be solved. As is traditional at this time of year, there will be hope and a happy ending of a sort.Christmas-Malice-Kindle-Cover Reduced

Several readers have asked if the setting is based on a real Norfolk village. Aylmer is completely fictional though the descriptions of the railway line across the empty Fens, an ancient flint church and carrstone cottages fit the real area of beautiful West Norfolk. The towns of King’s Lynn and Hunstanton featured are described as befits their fascinating history.

In the way of any large British county, there are several Norfolks. The saltmarshes, the Broads and the Brecks, to name just three areas are very different from one another. Our story is set on the edge of another, the Norfolk Fens or Fenland. Norfolk is famed for its spectacular wide skies where a fairly flat landscape allows the traveller to see long vistas for miles in every direction. We use fairly advisedly because Norfolk isn’t as pancake flat as is often said. Much of the landscape has gentle undulations and many a fetching slope topped with an old copse or church tower.

On the western edge of the county the Fens (a local word meaning marshland) reach into Norfolk, though their greater part lies in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and the lost county of Huntingdonshire. Flat, few trees, remote and haunting. An empty landscape of long, straight rivers and dykes. Historically a land of windmills, pumping houses, wildfowling and eels. A place of refuge for monks and rebels, the most famous being Hereward the Wake. Cromwell too was a Fenlander. Artificially drained by Dutchmen in the 17th century, the Fens are the lowest-lying land in England and have some of the most fertile soil.

Border places are intriguing, having a face in two directions. A Christmas Malice is set in a village with the Fens starting at its back and a more pastoral landscape on the other side towards the North Sea, then known as the German Ocean. Our Inspector Josiah Abbs is a Norfolk man, living in Devon when the story begins. He comes to spend Christmas with his widowed sister Hetty. Although they grew up on an estate where their father was head gardener, this lonely part of the county is unknown to him. Abbs has only a few days to resolve the mystery, preferably without ruining his sister’s Christmas.

It was an interesting challenge to write a novella-length story (33,000 words) where our detective is alone, without the help of his sergeant or the resources of his county force. Fortunately he does find an ally in the village policeman.

Inspector Abbs and Sergeant Reeve formed an unlikely partnership in our novel A Seaside Mourning, set in Devon in 1873. We hope to finish the next full-length novel in 2017.

It’s available now on Kindle, Nook and Kobo and in paperback if you are looking for a stocking-filler.

Just click on the link below:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christmas-Malice-Inspector-Novella-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00NXQR8MQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1447933528&sr=1-1&keywords=a+christmas+malice

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Writing A Penny Dreadful

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. Now I’ve written a sequel called Deadly Quest.deadly-quest-enhanced

The whole project arose from my interest in the Victorian underworld, I’ve always wanted to write a novel that is part detective story, part thriller, and which hearkens back to the traditions of the Victorian Penny Dreadful tales and the Newgate Novels.

Many a Victorian writer wrote these popular tales, which were the staple fiction diet of the newly-literate classes in 19th century England. I’ve read a lot of them over the years. The best ones are fast-moving, often sinister and have lots of action. They are occasionally subversive, pricking at the mores of the day with often undiluted social criticisms.

Most of the writers are forgotten these days, but some went on to great heights. Even Charles Dickens used elements of the Newgate novel in Oliver Twist.

The first novel was set in London and Norfolk. The new book Deadly Quest is set entirely in London, mostly down by the River Thames. 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…

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.

It’s my intention to do a whole series of William Quest novels, though the original conception of a Victorian avenger has changed since the first book. The outsider now finds himself working on both sides of the law. This wasn’t unusual in Penny Dreadful novels of the Victorian Age, where the author often found his or her villain transformed into the hero.

With the creation of e-book readers we are finding ourselves in a very similar situation to those Victorian readers. A whole new audience has appeared, eager for books. It seems to me that we should study the methods of the writers of Penny Dreadfuls and Pulp Fiction to cater for this expanding market.

They found a popularity after all, and created their own genres.

Deadly Quest is now available in paperback and as an eBook On Kindle. Click on the link to order.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deadly-William-Victorian-Mystery-Thriller-ebook/dp/B01LYGNCNQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1474537824&sr=1-1&keywords=deadly+quest

This piece first appeared on Marni Graff’s excellent crime fiction review blog https://auntiemwrites.com/  

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‘The Seasiders’ by A.J. Griffiths-Jones

Browsing recently, I came across A.J. Griffiths-Jones’ The Seasiders and am so glad I did. It’s one of the most original crime novels I’ve read and I loved it.   The Seasiders by [Griffiths-Jones, A.J.]

Initially, I was attracted by the title. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, I can’t resist a crime novel set at the seaside. There’s something appealing about the setting of a resort, its feeling of being apart, unlike any inland town, its distinctive architecture and position on the edge.

The Seasiders is set in 1964, in a pleasant small holiday resort with cliffs and a harbour. We never learn the name or region. The reader sees various townsfolk through the eyes of Grace Thomas, in her forties, hard-working, on the frumpy side.  She and her amiable, lazy husband Dick, run the Sandybank boarding-house, overlooking the sea.

The summer season passes as the guests come and go by train, Grace has her weekly shampoo and set, loads the twin-tub and serves up her traditional English fare. And gradually she uncovers the secrets and quirky goings-on behind the net curtains of her home town,

A.J. Griffiths-Jones writes with a wonderful sense of place. She captures an authentic feeling of provincial life in the first half of the Sixties, making this a very enjoyable read for its social detail alone.

The narrative flows along, peopled with well-observed, believable characters. I found it hard to put down and had to ration chapters to make it last. This is a clever, deceptive novel with moments of black comedy. The Seasiders is hard to categorise, it subverts genres, never being quite what it seems. It reminded me of more than one stand-out Golden Age novel but to name them would give away too much about the plot.

I was also reminded of Colin Watson’s lovely detective series The Flaxborough Chronicles. Written in the 1960s, they too are set among the nefarious intrigues of small-town life. The Seasiders is a delightful read, beautifully written with a wicked sense of fun and unpredictable twists. I didn’t guess the reveal and loved its cleverness.

The Seasiders is the second in A.J. Griffiths-Jones’ mystery series. The first is The Villagers and The Congregation is available now on pre-order.

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