I’m very excited to welcome bestselling author, Karen Charlton to my blog today.
Karen writes historical crime fiction, set in Regency England. Her Detective Lavender Mysteries, published by Thomas & Mercer, are based on the fictional adventures of Stephen Lavender, a real-life Principal Officer with the Bow Street Police Office in London. She has just finished writing the third book in the series: ‘The Sculthorpe Murder.’
Below, Karen gives us an overview of how London would have looked like during the time of her crime fighting duo, Detective Lavender and Constable Woods.
Bow Street Police Office at the turn of the nineteenth century
Imagine taking a trip back to London in the mid-eighteenth century. Be prepared to be shocked – and robbed. Pickpockets, gangs of thieves and prostitutes roamed the filth-strewn streets. Every fourth shop in London was a ‘gin house.’ A vast sex trade sprawled across hundreds of brothels and gangs of highwaymen and cut-throats terrorised the roads on the outskirts of London. Whole areas of the capital were no-go areas for anyone who valued their purse, their virtue or their life – especially the notorious ‘Seven Dials’ and the area known as the Rookery around St Giles Church.
In response to the growing call to find an effective means to tackle the increasing crime and disorder in the capital, Sir Henry Fielding, novelist and magistrate, persuaded the British government to establish a small police force in 1747. Fielding brought together eight reliable constables at the magistrates’ court on Bow Street in Covent Garden. They soon gained a reputation for honesty and efficiency in their pursuit of criminals and became known as ‘the Bow Street Runners.’ But Fielding faced an uphill struggle against both organised crime in London, and the mistrust of the politicians who paid for his policemen.
There was huge resistance to the notion of a centralised police force because of the brutal excesses of the French police system across the Channel, under the revolutionary fanatic, Joseph Fouché. Nevertheless, the crime fighting force started by Sir Henry Fielding expanded and gained national recognition.
By 1809, the year of my novels, the number of police personnel had dramatically increased and a horse patrol had been established to bring some law and order to the crime-infested outlying areas. Principal officers were restyled ‘detectives’ and had various roles. Apart from supporting their colleagues in the capital, they were often sent out to help magistrates in the provinces with difficult cases. Wealthy landowning citizens could request the help of a principal officer. Bow Street would charge them a hefty fee and the detectives could claim lucrative expenses on top of their salary. Many principal officers became very rich. According to the records I unearthed, Stephen Lavender spent a lot of his time working on difficult cases out in the provinces. The detectives also took part in undercover work in periods of insurrection, for example, during the Luddite riots in the Midlands.
The principal officers were a policing elite and were famous throughout London. The aristocracy loved them. They did security work for the Bank of England and acted as bodyguards for Royalty, especially the Prince Regent. They were the only policemen allowed into Buckingham House, the forerunner of the palace. On occasions they were even sent abroad to help with crimes and criminals who had spilled out over our borders onto the continent.
However, the Bow Street officers were still regarded with mistrust by the general population and there were many allegations of police corruption. In 1829, the government charged Sir Robert Peel with the task of creating a new national police force; a force which was properly funded and more accountable. Following this transition, the real-life hero of my novels, Stephen Lavender, became the highly-respected Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester.
My Detective Lavender Mysteries show how I imagine these early detectives worked. In a world with no Forensic science, motive and opportunity were everything. In my novels, Stephen Lavender follows a trail of clues and uses his intelligence, logic and common sense to piece together the sequence of events leading up to a crime and explain the mysterious circumstances that surround it.
The Sans Pareil Mystery
On a cold February night in Regency London, a dark curtain falls on the Sans Pareil Theatre following the death of April Clare, a promising young actress, whose body is found in mysterious circumstances.
Detective Stephen Lavender and his dependable deputy, Constable Woods, quickly discover that nothing is quite as it seems. As successive mysteries unfold, they soon realise that it is not only the actors from the Sans Pareil who are playing a part.
With the Napoleonic War looming dangerously across the Channel, this is a time of suspicion and treachery. Following the clues from the seedy back streets of Covent Garden up through the echelons of society, Lavender and Woods begin to fear that the case is much bigger than they’d dared imagine—and worse, that they are at risk of becoming mere players in a master criminal’s shadowy drama.
It will take all of Lavender’s skill and wit, and help from the beautiful Magdalena, to bring the mystery of the Sans Pareil Theatre to a dramatic conclusion in the final act.
For a complete list of Karen’s books, why not visit her on Amazon
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