• Richard James

Dicing With Death

You wouldn't believe the amount of people I've killed in the last six months. Purely in pursuit of a good plot, you understand. I've decapitated one young lady and hanged another. I've slit the throat of an elderly gentleman in the streets of Southwark and strangled another in the alleys of Holborn. Frankly, I dread to keep a running total of the body count (although I'm sure someone will one day). With the third book underway, I've already hanged a man from a tree, shot another in the head, drowned another in the Thames and run into another with a train. And that's all in the first twenty thousand words!

As a writer of historical detective fiction, I deal in death. But, how does that feel? Well, let's be clear, death is a terrible thing. Murder even more so. But my stories exist in an alternative universe where almost everyone who dies deserves it (and those that don't are pitied). There are some characters that I am glad to see get their comeuppance (and hopefully the reader will be, too) but crime is a nasty business, and there will always be collateral damage.

I do feel sad when I have to kill someone I like (I say have to because sometimes, narratively, there is just no other choice). There is a character in the second book, The Devil In The Dock, who I love. SPOILER ALERT! Kitty Baldwin is a delicate creature who, in spite of this, still manages to turn Sergeant Graves' head. But, the villain of the piece needed to send my detectives a message to cease their investigations, and the manner of her death seemed exactly the way they would do it. So, rest in peace, Kitty Baldwin.

Still, when it came to death in Victorian England the truth was often stranger than fiction. One of my favourite stories tells of how a jealous wife shot her husband dead when she saw him consorting with another woman. Turns out her love rival was, in fact, a tailor's mannequin. Another tells how a man was eaten from the inside by a mouse he accidentally swallowed. To save the ladies in his presence, the man caught the mouse in his hand only to have the thing scuttle up his sleeve, out the neck of his shirt and into his astonished mouth. Accidentally swallowing the creature, the man then endured a slow and painful death as reported by the Manchester Evening News; 'The mouse began to tear and bite inside the man's throat and chest, and the result was that the unfortunate fellow died after a little time in horrible agony.'

And if I put that in a book, you'd never believe me.

If you have yet to join the investigation, Bowman's story begins with the first novel, The Head In the Ice and continues through the short stories The Smithfield Murder and The Workhouse Poisoning to the second novel, The Devil In The Dock. Two more short stories follow, The Hampstead Garrotting and The Holborn Strangler. All the short stories are free to subscribers to my newsletter. The third novel in the series, The Body In The Trees, will be published later in 2019.

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