Behind the Book: HARDCASTLE’S QUANDARY by Graham Ison

9780727888556Has Captain Guy Stoner been murdered? His uncle, the Reverend Percy Stoner, is convinced he has. He recently received a letter, supposedly from Guy, claiming that there had been a fire at his farm in Ditton, Surrey, and asking for money. Hardcastle and Detective Sergeant Charles Marriott are assigned the case, and make a shocking discovery…


HARDCASTLE’S QUANDARY is the fifteenth entry in the popular detective series featuring DDI Hardcastle and DS Marriott. Author Graham Ison continues to take inspiration from his thirty-year career in Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and his keen interest in the First World War. Find out more below…

I have always had a consuming interest in the Great War.  Two of my uncles took part in the conflict – one in the London Regiment and was gassed at Arras, the other in the Royal Flying Corps – and both fortunately survived.  That, combined with an interest in the history of the Metropolitan Police, and of crime, created a desire to write an historical crime novel set during the Great War.  Divisional Detective Inspector Ernest Hardcastle is the result.  However, Hardcastle’s Quandary has moved to 1927 and introduces his son Walter, who at 39 will be a DDI in 1939, and may well feature in a series set in the Second World War.  Who knows?

Did you know?

In several of the stories in the Hardcastle series, I have mentioned the 1917 mining of the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge in Flanders during the First World War. During a research trip to Ypres, I called on a friend of mine in the Belgian Gendarmerie (as it was then called) in order to find out more about the mining. I already knew that of the 23 mines that were set by the British and Empire Armies, nineteen were detonated on 7th June 1917. It is said that the explosions were heard in England and even rattled the windows of 10 Downing Street. And in Switzerland, some five hundred miles from Messines, they were recorded as an earthquake.

The twentieth mine exploded on 17th July 1955 near Ploegsteert Wood, and was one of the four that either malfunctioned or were deliberately not detonated. It was thought to have been set off by lightning and left a crater some sixty feet deep and two hundred feet in diameter. The twenty-first and twenty-second mines subsequently exploded involuntarily or were defused. That left one dormant mine and my gendarmerie friend told me that no one knows where it is.

HARDCASTLE’S QUANDARY is available from 28 December in the UK and from 1 March 2019 in the US. Read more here.


Behind the Book: IN THE SHADOW OF THE ENEMY by Tania Bayard

9780727888433Scribe sleuth Christine de Pizan must discover who wants to kill the king in the second of this richly-imagined historical mystery series set in 14th Century France.




From frenzied fire dances to royal lion keepers, author Tania Bayard reveals some fascinating behind the scenes details about her new French medieval mystery…

The inspiration for IN THE SHADOW OF THE ENEMY was an actual event. In 1393, mad King Charles VI of France staged a masquerade at the palace. He and five of his friends disguised themselves as wild men by covering their bodies with pitch and flax, and as they performed a frenzied dance, a spark from a lighted torch set them on fire. The king was saved, but the other men went up in flames, and four of them died. The incident came to be known as the Bal des Ardents.

No one has ever proved that the fire was anything other than an accident, although many people believe that the king’s brother, the Duke of Orléans, was responsible. In this novel, the queen is convinced that someone deliberately threw the torch at the king. Convinced that that person will try again to kill her husband, she asks Christine de Pizan to find out who it was.

Did you know?

One of the characters in my novel, which is set in 14th Century Paris, is a woman, Loyse, the lion keeper’s assistant at the Hôtel Saint-Pol. Loyse is fictitious, but the lions are real: they were among the many exotic animals and birds King Charles V and his son, King Charles VI, kept at the royal residence. The king’s lions were famous, and they were at the top of the list of things the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV wanted to see when he visited Paris in 1378. There were also female lion keepers during the middle ages. The names of some of the people who cared for the lions of Saint-Pol are recorded, and among them is Marie Padbon, who in 1463 received payment for their care and feeding.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE ENEMY is available now in the UK and from 1 March 2019 in the US. Read more here.

Did you know? ROUGH MUSIC by Robin Blake

Rough MusicThe year is 1744 and an epidemic threatens. Lancashire Coroner Titus Cragg repairs to a remote rural backwater, but life here is far from quiet as he and his friend Dr Luke Fidelis probe the death of a woman, victim to a cruel community punishment, and the subsequent disappearance of the squire’s wife. Robin Blake’s latest is a twisty tale of dark secrets, vicious lies and strange surprises.


Robin Blake is known for incorporating thoroughly researched details of the Georgian era’s life and times in his his Cragg and Fidelis mystery series. Read on for some interesting snippets from his research…

The way in which suspicious deaths were investigated in the mid-Georgian era was radically different from how it is done today. The expression on a dead person’s face – placid, surprised, horrified, terrified – was regarded as a sure guide to how they died. Victims of murder were thought to haunt their murderers, so that anyone seeing visions of the deceased would be automatically suspected. A suspect would then be made to shake the corpse’s hand; if its wounds started bleeding anew, this was a sure sign this was the murderer.

There were no police and criminals were prosecuted by their victims, at the victims’ own expense. In high crime areas such as London people insured against these costs by subscribing to Prosecution Clubs, which created a pool of money to fund court cases.

Apart from criminal matters many odd details of everyday life come to light during research. I have learned that every 18th century roadside inn had a bootcatcher employed to pull off the boots of arriving guests. Piepowder Courts were held at fairs ‘for redress of all disorders committed therein’. Tea was so valuable that there was a secondary market in used tea leaves dried out and resold by household servants as a perk.

ROUGH MUSIC is available from 28 December in the UK and from 1 April 2019 in the US. Read more here.