If you enjoy historical fiction then I have a treat for you today.
To the Fair Land
In 1789 struggling writer Ben Dearlove rescues a woman from a furious Covent Garden mob. The woman is ill and in her delirium cries out the name “Miranda”. Weeks later an anonymous novel about the voyage of the Miranda to the fabled Great Southern Continent causes a sensation. Ben decides to find the author everyone is talking about. He is sure the woman can help him – but she has disappeared.
It is soon clear that Ben is involved in something more dangerous than the search for a reclusive writer. Who is the woman and what is she running from? Who is following Ben? And what is the Admiralty trying to hide? Before he can discover the shocking truth, Ben has to get out of prison, catch a thief, and bring a murderer to justice.
To The Fair Land is a mystery thriller set in the eighteenth century. In 1789 an anonymous book about a fictitious voyage to the South Seas is a publishing sensation. Ben Dearlove, an ambitious young writer, wants to be the one who finds the author everyone is talking about. His quest takes him from the literary world of London with its coffee houses, book shops and theatres to the taverns and quays of Bristol and a dangerous world of spies and assassins. But in the eighteenth century going to the theatre was not necessarily the tame past-time it is now. In this scene from the opening of To The Fair Land, Ben is at Covent Garden Theatre watching The Life and Death of Captain Cook, a play about the (British version of) the death of the nation’s hero, Captain Cook, in Hawaii.
The Captain flung back his head and announced at length that he was proud to die in the service of his country. Then he ran through a couple of the foe for heroic good measure. His screaming enemies flung themselves upon him and he went down in a flurry of clubs and spears.
The curtain descended and pandemonium broke out. Wailing women flung themselves into one another’s arms. Men were not ashamed to be seen wiping their eyes, or blowing their noses on their sleeves. The spectators in the galleries applauded so enthusiastically it was a wonder there were no broken arms. The theatre echoed with cries of “Cook for England!”, “Bravo Captain Cook!”, and “God Save the King!”
Inflamed by the atmosphere, the front rows rushed the stage, where the boldest and most agile attempted to climb over the spikes, perhaps intending to slaughter the Hawaiians. It was a hot, affecting moment, and Ben and Campbell were on their feet with the rest.
“I’m off backstage before someone else gets there!” said a voice in Ben’s left ear. “Captain Cook was a fool,” hissed another in his right.
“What?” He turned in confusion from side to side.
“You know, the girl the Captain turned down. Catch me turning her away from my bed!” That was Campbell to Ben’s left.
“Captain Cook’s discoveries! A fool’s discoveries – little islands and barren shores. I wouldn’t give you that for Captain Cook’s discoveries!”
The thin woman to his right was a picture of madness, talking, gesticulating, her voice growing shriller and louder. Ben frowned a warning, willing her to be quiet, but she was oblivious to all hints of danger.
“What did she say?” shrieked a female in the next row.
“Why, she says Captain Cook’s a fool!” rejoined her gossip.
“D’ye hear that, gen’lemen?” This to their escorts. “’Ere, Mr Timmins, ask her what she means by it.”
“I ask her? Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
There was no need to ask her anything. She had no thought of keeping her heresies to herself. “Captain Cook found nothing, nothing at all… yet they make a hero of him. A hero of that blunderer!”
“Lookee, miss, don’t you go mullironing a brave and a gallant gen’leman in my ’earing,” cried the first woman.
“No, shut your mouth, you damned bitch!” added Mr Timmins.
“Ay, Mrs Harridan, you can keep your pinions to yourself,” put in a gen’leman in the row behind, leaning forward to give the woman a shove in the small of her back. She stumbled and looked about her in bewilderment. It was only natural for the Timmins ladies to feel that she committed a further outrage with her “obstropolous” look. They appealed to the pit at large: “Did you hear what she said?”
“Yes, and I saw her laugh with the murdering savages.”
“Who does she think she is, coming in and upsetting decent people?”
“Give her a ducking in the water trough!”
“No, roll her in the kennels.”
Heedlessly, Ben’s neighbour babbled on. “He turned back too soon. He didn’t find it. What a mercy is a fool! What would have happened to them all if he had?”
Ben grasped her arm. “Madam, for your own sake, be quiet!”
An orange hit her in the back and she staggered into him. He spied another piece of fruit flying through the air and put his arm around her to ward it off. He missed and it caught her on the shoulder before smashing on the boards at her feet. She looked down at the pulpy mess in astonishment. Gradually it dawned on her that she was under attack. He felt her sudden, panicky resistance to his encircling arm. Before he could assure her that he was not one of the crowd, Campbell tugged at his sleeve.
“Come on, Ben!”
“I can’t,” he said helplessly.
“Why not? Od’s bobs, leave her!”
“They’ll tear her apart.”
“It’s only a Billingsgate fight. Leave them to it.”
Doubtfully, Ben relinquished the woman. Unexpectedly deprived of his support she slumped onto the bench. Campbell was already pushing his way out of the pit. Ben followed. A raucous howl made him look back.
Lucienne Boyce writes historical fiction, non-fiction and biography. After gaining an MA in English Literature, specialising in eighteenth-century fiction, she published her first historical novel, To The Fair Land (SilverWood Books, 2012, reissued 2021), an eighteenth-century thriller set in Bristol and the South Seas.
Her second novel, Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery (SilverWood Books, 2015) is the first of the Dan Foster Mysteries and follows the fortunes of a Bow Street Runner who is also an amateur pugilist. Bloodie Bones was joint winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016, and was also a semi-finalist for the M M Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016. The second Dan Foster Mystery, The Butcher’s Block, was published in 2017 and was awarded an IndieBrag Medallion in 2018. The third in the series, Death Makes No Distinction, was published in 2019 and is also an IndieBrag Medallion honoree, recipient of Chill With a Books Premium Readers’ Award, and a joint Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month. In 2017 an e-book Dan Foster novella, The Fatal Coin, was trade published by SBooks.
In 2013, Lucienne published The Bristol Suffragettes (SilverWood Books), a history of the suffragette movement in Bristol and the west country. In 2017 she published a collection of short essays, The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign.