Behind the Book – Free from All Danger by Chris Nickson

Free From All Danger is the seventh intriguing historical mystery in Chris Nickson’s acclaimed Richard Nottingham series, set in 18th-century Leeds.9780727887535_FC

Bringing Richard (Nottingham, Constable of Leeds) out of retirement proved interesting. I hadn’t written a book about him in over four years, although only two years have passed as Free From All Danger begins. What would he be like now? How would he have changed? How would Leeds itself have changed, since it’s essentially a character in the book? There’s very little written about Leeds in the 1730s. But it was beginning to grow bloated on wool money – at least for the merchants – and money draws people. So it would be attracting new faces, hoping to make their fortunes in many ways.

That was a starting point. People bring their ambitions, but also their hopes and dreams. For most, that comes to nothing, especially with the poor, and that tension between the poor and the comfortable, that fracture in society, has always been a hallmark of the Richard Nottingham series.

The next question was how he would cope in this place now, with fresh faces and new criminals? He’d need to rely on Rob Lister, his deputy now and sort-of son-in-law, who has current knowledge. Yet Rob was hoping to become Constable, and to see that pulled away from him, to be overtaken by a man asked out of retirement, would rankle – both professionally and at home.

At the same time, the Leeds Richard knew hadn’t vanished. Some old friends remained, both friends and foes, and they needed to be part of his story, too. There’s continuity in everything.

Those were my starting points. There was factual research, of course, but far more thinking, mostly about the relationships, which have always been a big part of this series.

And that is the genesis of this book.

Previous titles in this series include:

 

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Did You Know . . . that Wordsworth wanted to hang you until you were dead?

Michael Wiley, author of the Daniel Turner mysteries and most recently Monument Road, the first in an intriguing new series featuring private investigator Franky Dast, has provided this week’s interesting fact.

9780727887436I’m split at the root. I write contemporary hardboiled mysteries set in the U.S. I also teach British Romantic poetry at the University of North Florida. In my new mystery MONUMENT ROAD, Franky Dast works as an investigator for an organization that fights to free wrongly convicted death row inmates – a story I started thinking about while reading William Wordsworth.

Did you know that Wordsworth wanted to hang you until you were dead? When he came in from tiptoeing through the daffodils and wiped the splendor-in-the-grass off his shoes, his thoughts turned to justifications for public murder.

Sure, Wordsworth wasn’t always that way. When, as a five-year-old, he stumbled upon a spot ‘where in former times a murderer had been hung in iron chains’, the experience scared the hell out of him. As a young man, he imagined springing a convict from prison and putting him in nature where he might ‘blossom again’.

After all, in his early years, he broke the law himself. As a schoolboy, he stole a boat. In his early twenties, he may even have plotted to kill King George III – the kind of crime that could have gotten him hanged and then dissected in a public exhibition.

But as he aged, his attitudes hardened and the humane spirit of his poetry sometimes floated off like a cloud o’er vales and hills. When he turned seventy, he started writing a series of ‘Sonnets Upon the Punishment of Death’ – which he could have subtitled Reasons to String Up a Man By His Neck.

He argued that if lawmakers ‘spare[d] the murderer’, they would ‘debase the general mind’.  According to his odd logic, a condemned man would ‘welcome death!’ lest ‘old temptations for ever blast’  him to hell. ‘Authority in earth,’ he said, ‘depends on Love and Fear’ – fear apparently triumphing over love.

When reading such sentiments, I find myself lonely for the young Wordsworth. I think he would sympathize with Franky Dast who, while digging into death row cases, meets men and women desperate for a life of freedom and love. For Franky and for them, such a life is the only redemption.

MONUMENT ROAD is available in hardcover now in the UK and will be published in hardcover in the USA and ebook on 1 December.

Michael Wiley is also the author of the Daniel Turner Florida Noir mysteries. Visit our website for more information.

 

 

 

 

#BookExtract – Murder in a Cornish Alehouse

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“Those interested in the fashion and cultural history of the period, not to mention Cornish dialect, will find a lot to like”  Publishers Weekly 

Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey is summoned to Cornwall and finds herself embroiled in an investigation involving smugglers, piracy – and rumours of treason.

 June, 1584.  On hearing news of the sudden death of her stepfather, Sir Walter Pendennis, Rosamond Jaffrey must leave London for Cornwall to look after the interests of her young half-brother and try to mend her strained relationship with their mother. However, on arriving in Cornwall, Rosamond makes the shocking discovery that Sir Walter was in fact murdered – and reluctantly she agrees to work with an agent of the queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, in order to unmask the killer.  Rosamond’s investigations will lead her into a dangerous maelstrom of smuggling, piracy – and rumours of treason.

 *****

Advance. Retreat
Advance. Retreat.
Glide. Turn.
Rosamond executed the dance-like steps with graceful precision despite wearing heavy skirts held as wide as any at Queen Elizabeth’s court by the undergarment known as a wheel farthingale. Since there might be times of crisis when her movements were restricted by similar garments, she practiced while wearing them. A wise woman learned how to overcome her disadvantages.
Advance. Retreat.
Advance. Retreat.
Glide. Spin. Stab!
The dagger in right her hand slid smoothly through leather and straw before imbedding itself in the heart of the man-sized bag suspended from the ceiling of the gallery at Willow House. It struck within an inch of the spot where its twin was already lodged.
‘Hah!’
Her cry of triumph went unheard by anyone but the cat, Watling, who had been watching from a cushion on a window seat. The large gray and white striped feline stared at her with unblinking green eyes. Then, with the supreme rudeness only a cat could manage, his mouth opened wide in a yawn.

Rosamond laughed. When she had retrieved her daggers, she crossed to the window to scratch him behind his one good ear. The other was crimped, damaged in a long-ago battle for supremacy with another of his species.

Although she was accustomed to the sight, this evening it made her frown, reminding her all too strongly of the injuries that scarred Rob’s body. He’d gone off adventuring, as so many young men did, and had nearly lost his life. Now she feared he was about to do something equally foolish.

‘What is he plotting?’ she asked the cat.

Ever since she’d made the decision to go to Cornwall, Rob had been behaving strangely. He’d spent much of his time, including this last evening before their departure, at the headquarters of the Muscovy Company in London.

‘I do not mind that he has his own friends,’ she said aloud, ‘but why choose those men in particular? That the old tsar is dead does not make Muscovy a safe place for Englishmen.’

She had no desire to make a return visit to that distant land, and had thought Rob was of the same mind. Had her assumption been wrong? Was their recent happiness an illusion? Did he mean to leave her at his first opportunity and sail off to new adventures?

What made matters worse for Rosamond was that she understood the lure of exploration and discovery, the desire to see and experience new things. She was as curious about the world as her husband was, but as a woman she had far fewer opportunities to indulge that curiosity.

Abruptly, she stood and returned to her exercises. She had repeated the movements of her deadly pavane dozens of times during the past hour, honing her skill, training her muscles to obey without conscious command. Now she reached for the new lynx-lined cloak she had left draped over a chair and flung it around her shoulders. The hem was weighted. Should anyone ask, this had been done to make it hang correctly, but the reality was even more practical. As any skilled swordsman knew, a cloak could be used as a weapon.

It could also conceal one. Rosamond sheathed one of her daggers in a purpose-sewn pocket on the inside of the cloak. The other blade customarily lodged in her right boot, but it was difficult to reach her foot when she was wearing a farthingale and voluminous skirts. The process of extracting that blade from its sheath was neither smooth nor unobtrusive. Returning it was just as difficult, frustrating her to the point where she had been tempted to hack the interfering fabric to bits. Better in future to suspend the second weapon from her waist, she decided, in place of her pomander ball or feather fan, but for the nonce she kept it in her hand.

During the earlier session, she had concentrated on stabbing with precision while wearing bulky, tightly laced clothing. Now she strode to the far end of the gallery to practice throwing her knives. She lifted a portrait of the queen from the wall and set it out of the way. Behind it lay a much-scarred wood panel.

The same knives she had just used for stabbing were balanced for throwing. The boot blade in her hand flew through the air to imbed itself in the wainscoting with an audible thump. It was followed a moment later by the second knife. Rosamond’s aim was true, pleasing her, but there had been a moment’s delay before the second blade slid free of the pocket inside the cloak. Even such a brief hesitation might prove fatal if she found herself face-to-face with a deadly enemy.

Mindful of her need to increase the speed with which she could draw that dagger, she repeated the exercise and again encountered an infinitesimal check in the smooth movement of her weapon. The situation was not as dire as the struggle to reach her boot sheath had been, but the source of the problem was the same – too much fabric in her way.

Annoyed, Rosamond flung the cloak knife for the third time without her usual care. It went wildly astray, the blade nicking the edge of a picture frame before tumbling to the floor. Wincing, she swore under her breath and went to examine the dagger for damage. She was angry with herself for giving in to that burst of temper. Strong emotion of any kind gave one’s opponent the advantage. So said Master Rocco Bonetti, the finest teacher of swordplay in all of England.

Praise for the Mistress Rosamund Jaffrey series:

“This meticulously researched, cleverly plotted story has plenty of twists and wonderfully colorful characters and will appeal to all historical-mystery fans”
Booklist on Murder in a Cornish Alehouse

“This novel is as much a spy thriller as a historical mystery. The author’s detailed knowledge of the time period is evident as she interweaves historical figures with her fictional characters. An exciting final twist ties the two story lines together. Rosamond is a feisty, fiercely independent, and very likable protagonist. Recommended for fans of Emerson’s previous series as well as for readers of Fiona Buckley, Karen Harper, and Amanda Carmack.”
Library Journal on Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe

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