Today I have an excerpt from Circles of Deceit by Paul CW Beatty.
Murder, conspiracy, radicalism, poverty, riot, violence, capitalism, technology: everything is up for grabs in the early part of Victoria’s reign.
Radical politicians, constitutional activists and trade unionists are being professionally assassinated. When Josiah Ainscough of the Stockport Police thwarts an attempt on the life of the Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor, he receives public praise, but earns the enmity of the assassin, who vows to kill him.
‘Circles of Deceit’, the second of Paul CW Beatty’s Constable Josiah Ainscough’s historical murder mysteries, gives a superb and electric picture of what it was to live in 1840s England. The novel is set in one of the most turbulent political periods in British history, 1842-1843, when liberties and constitutional change were at the top of the political agenda, pursued using methods fair or foul.
The background to Circles of Deceit is the political upheaval of the first British General Strike in 1842. But these upheavals affect ordinary people in tragic ways. In this extract Constable Josiah Ainscow meets one such person, an older man named George Blandford, a hero of Peterloo…
A grey-haired man walking with a stick and shoulders sagging, came up. The man might have looked hale and hearty but for his demeanour: the depth of the creases in his face, the air of sadness that surrounded him. He stopped in front of them.
‘What can I do for you?’ said Josiah.
‘Listen to my tale, that’s all I ask.’
‘Tell me your tale, Sir, if it helps you.’ Shot through with pain, the old man lowered himself and sat next to Josiah.
‘Like you, I was young once. I had a sweetheart. We married and three sons and one daughter came along. My sons deserted me, but my daughter was true. She married and had a daughter herself. When she and her husband died my granddaughter survived, but she was murdered by a thief. She was innocent sir. Tell me what was the good in all of this?’
Josiah was shocked. ‘How did this terrible thing happen?’ To lose a daughter was bad enough, but a granddaughter murdered. Whatever the details of the story, it would explain the old man’s demeanour.
‘Thank you, Sir.’ He offered his hand to Josiah. ‘I am called George, George Blandford.’
‘Josiah,’ He offered George his hand, and then some of the bread and cheese.
‘It’s a long story, sure you’ve got the time lad?’
I was on the procession that delivered the National Petition to Parliament. Now… where to being?’ The old man thought for a moment, then resumed more confidently. ‘Someone was shaking me, “Wake up Grandad!” I tried to wake up but after a few seconds I was back in the arms of Morpheus. The shaking started again.
“Wake up Grandad!”
“Let me be Pet.”
“Come on Grandad, it must be soon!” Another shake.
“It’s not time yet.”
“How will we know?”
“Someone will wake us up for breakfast,” I said, turned over and hoped that sleep would return, but I was wide awake.
There was a soft knock on the door. “Morning Mr Blandford. Master hopes you slept well. I’ve some hot water for a shave, and I’ve strict instructions to help Millie get a good wash in the kitchen for the big day, while you get time to collect your thoughts. I’ll leave the water by the door.”
Millie was already up and at it. “Don’t forget to get up for breakfast Grandad,” she said as she closed the door behind her. I pulled on my trousers in case anyone saw me, as I collected the hot water. Then I washed, shaved and finished dressing.
Next problem was breakfast. Supper the night before had been more like a banquet, but then this was a well-to-do house. It belonged to Mr Cain, a high up clerk in a big bank. I never knew folk like him were on our side. When I got there, everyone, all the guests, family and servants were on the doorstep to welcome us. Almost the first thing that they had asked was where it was.
At first, I couldn’t think what they meant. But Millie tugged at my pack until I got the gist. Then I unpacked it. It was still as battered as it had been the day that I yanked it from the hands of that bastard hussar in St Peter’s Fields.’ The bell was all skew-whiff and the tassels faded from the bright blue and gold they had sported on that day.
Paul CW Beatty is an unusual combination of a novelist and a research scientist. Having worked for many years in medical research in the UK NHS and Universities, a few years ago he took an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University emerging with a distinction.
His latest novel, Children of Fire, is a Victorian murder mystery set in 1841 at the height of the industrial revolution. It won the Writing Magazine’s Best Novel Award in November 2017 and is published by The Book Guild Ltd.
Paul lives near Manchester in the northwest of England. Children of Fire is set against the hills of the Peak District as well as the canals and other industrial infrastructure of the Cottonopolis know as the City of Manchester.