Saturday, July 02, 2011

THE DEVANE FILES: Victorian Mystery with a touch of the erotic...

Many years ago when I was in school, a very smart English teacher noticed my boredom and decided to cure it with a book. I was handed a worn copy of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and a love affair was born. I’d long been fascinated by this particular era in North America, via television Westerns, etc., but I’d never given a lot of thought to the same era elsewhere. Reading about Holmes and Watson and their adventures in the atmospheric world of Victorian London was like a new world opening up, and I was well and truly hooked on the whole thing. I’ve since lost track of how often I have read all the Conan Doyle stories and novellas, as well as countless other authors’ take on this most erudite character.

So, along comes a film called “Murder By Decree” that marries Holmes to the Ripper murders – the other on-going intrigue of the era for me. Imagine my delight, and so well acted with Christopher Plummer as Holmes, too! The intrigue deepens.

By the time Johnny Depp emerged to play Inspector Frederick Abberline in FROM HELL, I was already well and truly taken with the concept of a story in which there were clairvoyant ties to someone connected to the case. London of this era was filled with opium dens, and the aristocracy of the time were among the frequent visitors, despite the areas that housed the worst of the dens.

So, where did I begin when I decided it was time for me to submerge myself in all of these wonderful aspects of a new set of stories? Well, the Ripper murders was the logical starting point, because if your main character is someone who’s worked that case, you’d better have your facts in hand, and not make errors than are spotted by the most casual observer. I began reading, and found an incredibly good resource in a book called “Jack the Ripper: A to Z” – which is simply a quick reference in alphabetical order, with a basic breakdown of facts surrounding the murders, the victims, the dates, and maps of where they were found. Watching documentaries, many from British television, helped get the sequence of events clearly mapped in my mind.

I watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes to absorb the atmosphere of the city at that time. PBS was doing the Jeremy Brett series at that time, and believe me, I was cataloguing every minute detail when I watched those shows, actions, attitudes, manners... all of it. This was also when I discovered author Anne Perry and her Inspector Monk series, which of course then led to Thomas and Charlotte Pitt Mysteries. Ms. Perry’s factual knowledge and attention to detail is amazing. So I made copious notes while I read, or while I watched. Small things like mourning rituals, etc., all things that enrich a story, even if the reader is only aware of it on a subtle level.

The internet resources are too numerous to catalogue. Wikipedia is an endless and wealthy resource for everything! Then I found the VICTORIAN LONDON site owned and operated by author and historian Lee Jackson. It’s like finding the treasure for a pirate! I don’t think there is anything this man hasn’t got an article for, or an answer for – either on his site, or in his head if you write to him with a specific question. He is gracious and helpful, and even if all you want to do is look around... you really should visit his amazing website! The link is:

Maps of the city in the year 1888 were easily found, tracing the steps of the Ripper also relatively easy. So, then came the research into prostitution of the era – that wasn’t pretty, let me tell you. Photos are great, but the best thing about writing this era was that it is so well filmed for all the movies and shows set in the late 19th Century. In the Devane Files, the atmosphere itself is like a character, so it had to be brought to life for the reader. I hope I have done it some justice.

Odd movies also added fragments of “feel” to the layers within these two stories for me. Van Helsing – believe it or not, because it has a timeless yet Gothic/Victorian feel to it in places. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Dorian Gray as played by Stuart Townsend almost made me faint, because I’d never seen Townsend before and there I was staring at “Inspector Michael Devane” whom I had created shortly before... So, lots of influences. Even the original black and white Dracula has enough spooky atmosphere to have played a role in shaping my descriptions of London.

The drug of choice for Devane is a mix of Opium and other toxic and potentially lethal things like Absinthe and Laudanum. The process I describe for Devane is very like the scene in FROM HELL when we see Johnny Depp’s Abberline inducing his visionary sight. Again, research unearthed that it was well-documented that this was the practise and procedure for it in some cases, so that’s the way it was written.

I consulted a lawyer for the legality of having a woman inherit at that juncture in history, and the boundaries I laid out in the books are within accepted legal structure for the era. Again, the small details come into play.

The police force of London was never in the public eye quite so glaringly as it was during the investigation of the notorious Jack The Ripper reign of terror. From that first accepted series of killings – serial murders – has emerged a timeless fascination with the people who investigated and failed to bring to justice the bloody killer. In the two books of my Devane Mysteries, I have once again used these gruesome killings as a kind of eternal haunting of my hero, Police Inspector Michael Devane. Devane is haunted, clairvoyant and an opium addict in a time when such things were common but rarely talked about openly. If you would like to read the books, please visit Liquid Silver Books for excerpts and purchase links:



For anyone who is now intrigued with the whole idea, I’ll give away a copy of the two books to one of the visitors today. Somewhere on my website is a gorgeous ad that features the first Devane mystery on it – tell me the name of the magazine that did that feature, and we’ll choose a winner from the correct comments.

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