Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Why is everyone talking about…

I know it’s happened to you too—you encounter something for the first time, and all of a sudden you hear about it or see it or even (if you’re particularly unlucky) eat it everywhere. Kale. Artisanal. Drone. Whatever purple food they’re eating in New York and Milan. Invites to puppy slumber parties**. The official term for the phenomena is “frequency illusion,” somewhat better known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.[**Okay, actually I really would like my puppy slumber party invite…]

Amelia Dyer (1837-1896) nursing training photograph [http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Hobley-10]

Amelia Dyer (1837-1896) nursing training photograph [Image credit: Wikitree]

Whatever you call it, it’s been happening to me. A few months ago I was researching for a new project referencing Jack the Ripper when I came across mention of one of the most prolific serial killers in history— a killer who makes the Ripper look like a rank amateur, a killer most people have never heard of, a killer who was a woman.

Her name was Amelia Dyer, the youngest daughter of a Bristol shoemaker. Her family was prosperous enough for young Amelia to learn to read and write, although after her mother died when Amelia was ten, she went to live with an aunt. At 23, she married a man 36 years her senior and trained as a nurse.

Shortly after that, she met midwife Ellen Dane, who showed her a faster way to make money—baby farming. With the passing of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, fathers were absolved of financial responsibility for their illegitimate offspring, with all blame put on the mother’s lack of morals. Lawmakers pulled no punches, claiming it was designed to protect men from being er…’tricked’… into fathering bastards.

‘The effect has been to promote bastardy; to make want of chastity on the woman’s part the shortest road to obtaining either a husband or a competent maintenance; and to encourage extortion and perjury’.—justification for Poor Law Amendment Act 1834

With few options available to them, unmarried and desperate Victorian mothers turned to advertisements promising care for their infants in return for monthly payments or to place their infants for adoption for a lump sum payment. The supposed caregivers would then drug, starve, and neglect their little charges until their deaths. Authorities typically looked the other way, ruling the deaths to be the result of ‘debility from birth,’ or ‘lack of breast milk,’ or simply ‘starvation.’

350px-Dyer_Resources-3At the death of her elderly husband, Amelia left nursing and turned to the lucrative promises of baby farming. When doctors questioned the number of infant deaths they were called on to certify, she decided to cut out the middleman, murdering and disposing of the bodies herself, while often moving around to avoid local suspicion. Within hours of receiving a baby for “adoption”, she would wind white dressmakers tape around their necks. By 1896 when the tiny bodies of seven infants—all murdered by strangulation—were pulled from the Thames, it is estimated that she may have murdered over four hundred babies.

I used to like to watch them with the tape around their neck, but it was soon all over with them.

This particularly chilling quote led me to a recent biography, Amelia Dyer, Angel Maker, by Alison Vale and Alison Rattle. But that was just the beginning. Within days, I’d found Carol Hedges’ blog post, Suffering Little Children, dealing with baby farming. This was followed by review requests for two new victorian police procedurals—Murder and Mayhem by Carol Hedges, and A Hunt by Moonlight by Shawna Reppert—which both involve baby farming as a plot element.

But here’s the thing with trying to apply the Frequency Illusion phenomenon to writing. It’s just that…an illusion. In this case, although both books are victorian police procedurals, and both involve baby farming as a key plot element, their differences serve to highlight the way two distinct, talented, creative authors can use similar circumstances to tell completely dissimilar tales. Please see my reviews below for the separate reasons I recommend each book.

‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’ Sherlock Holmes Quote —The Adventure of the The Abbey Grange Image credit: [Cast of "The Game's Afoot" The Telegraph] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/the-games-afoot-is-a-thrilling-sherlock-holmes-romp--review/

‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’ —Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the The Abbey Grange
Image credit: [Cast of “The Game’s Afoot” The Telegraph]


Review #1: What if Queen Victoria and H.P. Lovecraft’s love child was raised by Arthur Conan Doyle?


A Hunt By Moonlight by Shawna Reppert

Something more deadly than werewolves is stalking the gaslit streets of London. Inspector Royston Jones, unacknowledged bastard of a high-born family, is determined to track the killer before more young women fall to his knife. But his investigation puts him in the way of a lord who is a clandestine werewolf and the man’s fiancée , a woman alchemist with attitude and a secret of her own. Will they destroy Royston to protect their covert identities, or will they join with him to hunt the hunter?


gold starMy Review: 5 stars out of 5

 

What if Queen Victoria and H.P. Lovecraft’s love child was raised by Arthur Conan Doyle? The result might be something like Shawna Reppert’s new detective fiction, the steampunk/paranormal/detective mashup genre known as gaslamp fantasy. Like steampunk, its alternate-history cousin, gaslamp fantasy is set in a Jules Verne world of Victorian steam powered wonders. But this world includes magic and fantasy elements, and often steps away from the steampunk promise of simplicity, romance, and cool design to showcase the grittier elements of the Victorian world.

Shawna Reppert, an award-winning author of fantasy and steampunk, is proud of keeping readers up all night and making them miss work deadlines. She believes that fiction should ask questions for which there are no easy answers, while at the same time taking the reader on a fine adventure that grips them heart and soul and keeps them turning pages until the very end. “Definitely give this author a chance,” says one reader, “her storytelling will draw you in. Her style is just a hint of Andre Norton, a dash of J. K. Rowling, and the tiniest pinch of Anne Rice. The rest is her own unique stamp.” Her debut novel, The Stolen Luck, won a silver medal for original-world fantasy in the Global Ebook Awards and an Eppie for fantasy romance. The first three books of her Ravensblood urban fantasy series won gold medals for contemporary fantasy in the Global Ebook Awards, and her stand-alone high fantasy romance Where Light Meets Shadow won a silver medal in the same competition. Shawna’s love of live Irish music and dance frequently influences her work. Her four-footed children are a Lipizzan stallion and a black-and-orange cat named Samhain who occasionally takes over her blog. Shawna also likes to play with the Society for Creative Anachronism, and can sometimes be found in medieval garb on a caparisoned horse, throwing javelins into innocent hay bales that never did anything to her. She grew up in Pennsylvania, and now lives in the beautiful wine country of Oregon. Each has colored her writing in different ways.

Shawna Reppert, an award-winning author of fantasy and steampunk, is proud of keeping readers up all night and making them miss work deadlines. She believes that fiction should ask questions for which there are no easy answers, while at the same time taking the reader on a fine adventure that grips them heart and soul and keeps them turning pages until the very end.
“Definitely give this author a chance,” says one reader, “her storytelling will draw you in. Her style is just a hint of Andre Norton, a dash of J. K. Rowling, and the tiniest pinch of Anne Rice. The rest is her own unique stamp.”
Her debut novel, The Stolen Luck, won a silver medal for original-world fantasy in the Global Ebook Awards and an Eppie for fantasy romance. The first three books of her Ravensblood urban fantasy series won gold medals for contemporary fantasy in the Global Ebook Awards, and her stand-alone high fantasy romance Where Light Meets Shadow won a silver medal in the same competition.
Shawna’s love of live Irish music and dance frequently influences her work. Her four-footed children are a Lipizzan stallion and a black-and-orange cat named Samhain who occasionally takes over her blog. Shawna also likes to play with the Society for Creative Anachronism, and can sometimes be found in medieval garb on a caparisoned horse, throwing javelins into innocent hay bales that never did anything to her.
She grew up in Pennsylvania, and now lives in the beautiful wine country of Oregon. Each has colored her writing in different ways.

For the most part, the story is from the point of view of Detective Inspector Royston Jones—The Watson. In 1930, when the venerable British Detection Club drew up their list of rules for writing detective fiction—rules regularly broken by members such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, etc.—rule #9 was: “The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.” [see my post here]. 

In Detective Jones’ Victorian London, werewolves are a pathetic subsection of society, openly and legally discriminated against more even than women or Irish. So neither Jones nor most of London can explain why it’s a werewolf who finally takes down the Jack the Ripper-style murderer known as Ladykiller. But when a new series of murders occurs with the same methods used by the dead murderer, Jones finds clues leading him back to the werewolf, and to a pair of young aristocrats hiding devastating secrets of their own.

Although nominally the detective, Jones willingly admits that he’s the least intelligent person involved in the case. In the manner of every Watson—from Sherlock’s actual Watson to Poirot’s Captain Hastings, Harry Potter’s Ron Weasley, any of Dr. Who’s Companions, and every other member of the cast of House except Dr. House himself—Jones main job is to narrate the story as he sees it unfold, sharing all available clues with the reader, but never actually being the one to put it together until All Is Revealed.

But author Reppert plays with this trope as well. If the detective is The Watson, who solves the crime? With help from Jones’ friends, associates, and the murderer, the reader is offered clues. While Jones slogs doggedly on, always a step behind the murderer, the case also reveals his own backstory, as well as the desperate lives of lower class Londoners. His own history as the illegitimate son of an aristocratic family drives him to seek justice for vulnerable victims such as young women, and the even more vulnerable infant victims of “baby farms” where supposed caretakers murdered their little victims after promising care to the desperate mothers.

I wouldn’t hesitate to give five stars to this book. Not only is the pace perfectly suited to the increasingly desperate search to stop a killer, but the voice is a fabulously subtle nod to the original Watson. I particularly enjoyed the way the character of Inspector Jones grew and developed over the course of the novel, while the supporting cast was well developed and three dimensional. Clearly, we’re going to see more of all of them—the doggedly determined detective, the brilliant young aristocratic alchemist, and her equally aristocratic and ridiculously noble werewolf lover. I can’t wait.

***I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***


Book Title: A Hunt By Moonlight (Werewolves and Gaslight Book 1)
Author:
 Shawna Reppert
Genre:
Detective Steampunk Fantasy
Length: 259 pages
Release Date: Amazon (August 27, 2016)

Contact and Buy Links:

 Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Goodreads

Website | Facebook | Amazon Author Page | Twitter: @shawnareppert


Review #2: Why Carol Hedges writes better Dickens than Charles Dickens


Murder & Mayhem (Victorian Murder Mystery: Stride & Cully Book 4) by Carol Hedges

Murder_Mayhem Kindle BC 6x9_BW_270

 

The city is in the grip of railway mania when the gruesome discovery of several infant corpses in an abandoned house forces Inspector Lachlan Greig of A Division, Bow Street Police Office and his men to enter the dark and horrific world of baby farming. It will take all Greig’s skill and ingenuity to track down the evil perpetrators and get justice for the murdered innocents.

Meanwhile two school friends Letitia and Daisy stand side by side on the threshold of womanhood. One longs for marriage to a handsome man The other craves entry to higher education. Will their dreams come true, or will their lives be shattered into little pieces by the tragic and unexpected events that are about to overtake them?

Hope meets horror, and Parliament is threatened by anarchists in this rumbustious fourth Victorian crime novel, set once again amongst the dangerous twisting alleyways and gaslit thoroughfares of 1860s London.

gold starMy Review: 5 stars out of 5

 

Even though I’m looking over my shoulder in case someone from my University is standing there demanding the return of my English Lit degree, I have to admit it: I don’t like Dickens. Or rather, I like everything about his books except the writing. I love his subjects, the tropes he uses and even invents. But I’m in luck! Carol Hedges, in her wonderful Victorian detective series, channels the most Dickensian of tropes without the overly sentimental, I-get-paid-by-the-word-so-I-never-use-one-where-six-would-do Dickensian mush. Consider the writing in her latest book in the Victorian Murder Mystery series:

  • Carol Hedges is the successful UK writer of 14 books for Teenagers/Young Adults and Adults. Her writing has received much critical acclaim, and her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Her ebook Jigsaw Pieces, which deals unflinchingly with many of the problems that beset today's teens, is available on Amazon Kindle. She is currently writing a series of adult Victorian Crime Fiction novels, set in 1860s London and featuring the two Scotland Yard detectives Detective Inspector Leo Stride & Detective Sergeant Jack Cully.

    Carol Hedges is the successful UK writer of 14 books for Teenagers/ Young Adults and Adults. Her writing has received much critical acclaim, and her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal.
    Her ebook Jigsaw Pieces, which deals unflinchingly with many of the problems that beset today’s teens, is available on Amazon Kindle. She is currently writing a series of adult Victorian Crime Fiction novels, set in 1860s London and featuring the two Scotland Yard detectives Detective Inspector Leo Stride & Detective Sergeant Jack Cully.

    Priggish: In Dickens, the writing is an over the top mix of sentiment and satire, steeped in Victorian melodrama and sanctimonious prudishness. Author Hedges pares back the language to make every word count, while mixing in a welcome dose of humor. “It is much too early for urgent reports, but Greig begins to read it, silently tutting at the absence of paragraphing. As usual, the comma has looked in the face of the writer and decided not to disturb him.”

  • Emotional: Dickens’ characters and writing are constantly bouncing between narrowly suspicious and bizarrely credulous, making them seem shallow and flat. Hedges’ characters come complete with backstories that inform and drive their actions. Daisy Lawton, the beautiful young girl about to make her debut into Victorian society, could have been as one-dimensional as Lucie in Tale of Two Cities. Instead she has the conviction of friendship, and the example of her parents’ marriage to give depth to her character. Even better, despite clues and speculation on what drives Inspector Grieg, his backstory isn’t revealed until the end of the book.

 

He’s a single man. No children. But the Bow Street sergeants say he’s like a terrier after a rat up a drainpipe. Absolutely determined to catch these people, whatever it takes.

  • Social Critic: Dickens didn’t shy away from pointing out social issues, although his writing became increasingly dark as he realized that social woes such as poverty and child abuse were immune to his critique. It’s true that Carol Hedges has the advantage of 20-20 hindsight, but she uses that to take on the particularly difficult Victorian crime of baby farming, one which was virtually invisible to Londoners at the time, even though they routinely came across the corpses of children who had died of abuse or neglect. Murder & Mayhem’s Inspector Grieg muses, “He regards it as deeply ironic that there are laws against mistreating animals, strict licensing laws for the numerous cow-keepers who supply the city with fresh milk, but not a single law to safeguard the lives of children.” 
  • Twisty Plots: Probably as a result of being initially published as serials—the soap operas of his day—Dickensian casts are huge, plots convoluted, and plot twists rely heavily on contrived coincidences. This was lampshaded by Oscar Wilde in his play, The Importance of Being Ernest, which earnestly—sorry, I couldn’t resist—entreats, “Now produce your explanation and pray make it improbable.”  But this is where Carol Hedges comes into her own. Without abandoning the properly Victorian tone, her plots involve lots of characters who are constantly running into each other as they pursue goals ranging from apprehending baby murderers, to making a socially acceptable marriage, to education for women, to blowing up Parliament. Although Murder & Mayhem, like all books in this series, works as a standalone, it’s fun to welcome old friends like detectives Stride and Cully, and Cully’s wife Emily, while each has a role to play here. 

The descriptions of 1863 London are wonderful, especially as it contrasts the idyllic London of the upper and middle classes with the London being reshaped by the industrial revolution.

It is the month of May, and the city is in full bloom. Green leaves unfurl, yellow celandines peep from their lowly beds. Violets beckon coyly. Pink frothy waterfalls of blossom cascade from park cherry trees. Birds and bees go about the purposes for which they were created and everywhere from crook to cranny, in garden bed of bow pot warmth returns and nature reasserts itself in song, hum, bud and flower.

Except here.

Here there is only the shrill roar of escaping steam, the groans of machines heaving ponderous loads of earth to the surface, the blasts of explosives, and the clack of pumping devices as the future arrives in lines of steel rails and a thundering in the blood.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book and the whole series. If you want a great detective story, beautifully detailed within its historical context, with a well-rounded supporting cast, I recommend Murder & Mayhem as well as the earlier books in this series. The pace accelerates to a satisfying conclusion, while the descriptions of London, Victorian language (frowsty?), and society at various levels is pure entertainment.

I reviewed Resthaven for Rosie's Book Review Team

**I reviewed Murder & Mayhem by Carol Hedges for Rosie’s Book Review Team.**

***I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***


Book Title: Murder & Mayhem (Victorian Murder Mystery: Stride & Cully Book 4)
Author:
 Carol Hedges
Genre:
Victorian Detective
Length: 241 pages
Release Date: Coming from Little G Books (22 Sept. 2016)

Contact and Buy Links:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Goodreads

Blog | Facebook | Twitter: @carolJhedges

Advertisements