Thursday, June 14, 2012

Scotland Yard and a New British Mystery

by Mary Simonsen

Although I am the author of several Jane Austen re-imaginings, when I read for pleasure, I like to kick back with a good mystery. After having achieved some success with my Austen novels, I decided to try my hand at writing a mystery. In Three’s A Crowd, Patrick Shea, a young detective sergeant serving at a police station in Greater London, has his eye on a position with a murder investigation team at New Scotland Yard. Part of Scotland Yard’s attraction for Patrick is an organization steeped in history.

London has always been a city of haves and have nots with many unsavory neighborhoods abutting some of London’s most posh addresses. If you walk the streets of Mayfair you might admire the shiny black wrought-iron gates that surround many of the properties. However, they are not there for decoration, but, instead, were used to keep the less fortunate from becoming more fortunate at the expense of London’s well heeled by smashing a window and gaining entrance to the townhouse for the purpose of thievery. Despite having a significant criminal element, London did not have an organized police presence until 1749 when the Bow Street Runners were founded by, believe it or not, Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones, who was also a magistrate, and his blind brother, John, aka the “Blind Beak,” who reputedly could recognize 3,000 criminals by the sound of their voices.

Fast forward to 1829 when Parliament passed an act introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel (who gave his name to the “Bobbies”) in which the first true London police force was organized under the direction of Commissioners Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. The men occupied a private house at 4 Whitehall Place, the back of which opened onto a courtyard: the Great Scotland Yard. The Yard’s name was inspired by its site, a medieval palace which housed Scottish royalty on their visits to London.

The police were originally viewed by the public as “spies,” but their role in several important cases cemented their reputation with the citizens of London. Inspector Charles Frederick Field became good friends with Charles Dickens, who occasionally accompanied constables on their nightly rounds. Dickens used Field as a model for the all-knowing Inspector Bucket in his novel Bleak House.


Following a major scandal in 1877, the Metropolitan Police was reorganized, and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), a respected unit of plainclothes police detectives, was born. In 1890, the police force moved to its new building on the Victoria Embankment, retaining its name, but as New Scotland Yard.

During the second half of the 19th century, one of Scotland Yard’s most durable detectives, Frederick Porter Wensley (aka “The Weasel”), began his 40-year career and investigated cases including the murder of 32-year-old French woman Emilienne Gerard. On the morning of November 2, 1917, street sweepers found Gerard’s torso along with a note reading: “Blodie Belgium.” (This was during the First World War.) Wensley questioned Louis Voisin, Gerard’s lover, asking him to write “Bloody Belgium.” Voisin made the same spelling error indicating his guilt. Wensley may very well have crossed paths with another superlative detective prowling London’s dark underside at this time: Sherlock Holmes.


With the setting of narrow streets and a London encased in a dense fog, the year 1888 also saw the first appearance of Jack the Ripper, who was responsible for five murders between 1888 and 1891 in the Whitechapel area of London. More than 160 people were suspected of being the Whitechapel murderer, including Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, and painter William Richard Sickert. Two letters received by the Yard gave detailed facts and were signed “Jack the Ripper.” With no more leads or murders, in 1892, the Ripper case was officially closed.


In 1967, the police force moved once again to its present location, a modern 20-story building near the Houses of Parliament. Today, Scotland Yard has roughly 30,000 officers patrolling 620 square miles occupied by 7.2 million citizens.

I hope my post on Scotland Yard has piqued your interest in my novel, Three’s A Crowd. It is available in e-book format only from Amazon. Here is a description:

In Three’s A Crowd, we are introduced to Patrick Shea, a detective sergeant with the Hampden Criminal Investigation Department, whose career is being fast-tracked by the Metropolitan Police in London. With an eye to an appointment with a murder investigation team at New Scotland Yard, Shea is doing everything by the book. Unfortunately, his love life is a bit of a mess and gets messier when he learns his former lover, Annie Jameson, has been assaulted on someone else’s patch. Will Shea’s involvement in the under-the-radar investigation of his ex-girlfriend put his career in jeopardy and possibly her life as well? If you are a fan of the television series Law & Order UK, you will enjoy Three’s A Crowd.

I am having a giveaway of two e-books for Kindle owners only. If you would like to participate, please post a comment and your e-mail address. The final day to enter is Monday, June 18th. Winners will be announced on Tuesday.

The winners are June Williams and Rhonda. Congratulations!


Further reading:
http://knowledgeoflondon.com/bobby.html
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/brief-scotland.html?c=y&page=2