Black Dahlia, Red Rose

Black Dahlia, Red Rose

I am delighted to tale part on the blog tour to celebrate Piu Eatwell’s latest book, Black Dahlia, Red Rose, which reexamines the sensational case of the murder of Elizabeth Short in 1947:   The murder of Elizabeth Short, known as the ‘Black Dahlia’, is a well-known historical cold case. What ignited your interest into this real-life murder mystery? As a former lawyer, I have a keen interest in cold cases.  Also, some years ago I was researching a television documentary for Channel 4 about the Manson murders.  This introduced me to the fascinating world of Hollywood and crime.  The Black Dahlia murder is the ultimate challenge for any true crime writer because it is the most famous unsolved cold case – with the exception of the Whitechapel murders in 1880s London.   Your last book, The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse, was set at the end of the 19th century, whereas Black Dahlia, Red Rose is set in the 20th. What differences did you encounter in researching the two periods? Did you have to adapt your methods? Although the worlds of my last two books are very different – ‘The Dead Duke’ is set in Edwardian England, ‘Black Dahlia, Red Rose’ in 1940s California – the methods of researching the books were essentially the same.  Both involved the detailed examination of court documents and police files.  They were both challenging to research, in different ways.  In the case of ‘The Dead Duke’, there was the sheer amount of information – literally hundreds of boxed files, housed at Nottingham University special collections.  In the case of...
Inspector Kildare and the Limehouse Golem

Inspector Kildare and the Limehouse Golem

This weekend the eagerly-awaited Ripperesque film, The Limehouse Golem, hit the big screen. After a false start (Vue Cinemas cancelled the scheduled showing without telling anyone) I finally got to see it, and it was well worth the wait. Based on Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd (now firmly on my TBR pile), the action opens in London, 1880, as reporter and failed playwright John Cree dies of poisoning. Reminiscent of the Florence Maybrick case (which took place 9 years later), suspicion is immediately cast on his wife, music hall star, Lizzie Cree. The day before this incident, the so-called Limehouse Golem, a brutal murderer, had claimed his latest victims, in the same location and with a similar MO as the Ratcliff Highway murders, when John Williams slaughtered linen draper Timothy Marr and his family, in 1811.     Enter Detective Inspector John Kildare, a previously overlooked police officer due to his not being ‘of the marrying kind’. Kildare (skilfully played by Bill Nighy) is instructed to investigate the latest Golem killing, despite his lack of experience, which leads him to the conclusion that he is being set up to fail. As he begins to follow the trail of the anonymous killer, he meets Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), who is on trial for the murder of her husband. These two plots become intrinsically linked as the late John Cree is on Kildare’s list of prime suspects (along with Karl Marx!). Kildare engages with Lizzie as he tries to unpick both cases, in the hope of unmasking the Limehouse Golem and saving Mrs. Cree from the noose....
The Manchester Town Hall Tussle

The Manchester Town Hall Tussle

I’m delighted to have a guest post by Sue Wilkes, expert historian and author of the excellent, Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors:     Before Manchester and Salford were incorporated (1838 for the former and 1844 for Salford), the two towns were controlled by the ancient manorial courts and their officers: the borough-reeve and constables. In 1765 a Cleansing and Lighting Committee was set up for Manchester and Salford, but little progress was made in sanitary reform. Following the Manchester and Salford Police Act (1792), the towns were divided into eight districts, each with fifteen elected commissioners. These 120 police commissioners were responsible for paving, lighting, sewerage, watching, and cleaning and the night watch; in many respects they took over the manorial courts’ functions. One success story was the introduction of gas lighting in 1807.     However, the two towns’ population had greatly increased following the industrial revolution. The streets were filthy and poor people’s houses were overcrowded, unsanitary and unfit for human habitation. The police commissioners could not raise enough money to perform their functions properly, and local ratepayers were reluctant to pay for better services. This archaic civic machinery could not cope with major problems of law and order, as was made dreadfully apparent at the tragedy of the Peterloo Massacre (1819).     After a spirited battle by calico printers Richard Cobden and William Neild, banker Sir Benjamin Heywood, industrialist Thomas Potter and others, Manchester gained its charter of incorporation. The first Borough Council met on 16 December 1838. The following year, Sir Richard Beswick was made chief constable for Manchester Borough. Unfortunately, the...

Interview with Linda Stratmann

I am a huge fan of both the fiction and non-fiction of crime author Linda Stratmann, and so I was delighted to have an opportunity to find out more about her work, and especially her latest book, A True and Faithful Brother, which is out now:     Like you, your fictional detective Frances Doughty has a background in pharmacy. What did you enjoy about that profession, and how have you used your experience in your writing? I enjoyed learning about medicines, and in those days we made a lot of them ourselves in the dispensary. In my training as a chemists dispenser, I learned to hand roll pills and mix ointments and powders— it was great experience which helped me understand what a late Victorian pharmacy was like. When I wrote the first book it seems quite natural to place Frances in that environment.   Your first books were non-fiction, with a particular focus on true crime. What prompted you to embark on writing fiction? I belong to a local writers’ group, where most members write fiction, and that encouraged me to try it. Also I wanted to write the kind of historical fiction I wanted to read. I still don’t know if I have succeeded!   I love Frances Doughty, and I’m currently reading through her crime cases. Is Frances based on a real person, and what inspired you to create her, as the protagonist for your crime fiction series? She is not based on anyone in particular, although my husband says she is like me in a lot of ways (only much younger and taller!)   The Frances...
Dark Angel

Dark Angel

Having researched and written about the nefarious crimes of Victorian baby farmer, Amelia Dyer, I was keen to find out more about her murderous contemporary, Mary Ann Cotton, especially as the convicted poisoner will be appearing on our TV screens this Halloween, played by Joanne Froggatt. Mary Ann Cotton (née Robson) was born in 1832 in a mining village in County Durham. Her father had been killed in a mining accident when she was eight, and Mary Ann had lived a difficult and poverty-stricken childhood. In 1852, at the age of 20, she married William Mowbray, a colliery labourer – the first of four husbands. The couple moved to Devon, where four of their five children died of gastric fever. On their return to the north-east, more children died, followed by William in 1865. On her husband’s death, Mary Ann received an insurance payout of £35, which would have been about a half of his annual wages as a labourer. Moving around the county, Mary Ann married two more men. Her second husband died of an intestinal illness in 1866, as well as most of her remaining children, bringing the total to eight. Once again, after her husband’s death, Mary Ann pocketed the insurance money. Hired as a housekeeper, Mary Ann married her employer, James Robinson, in 1867. They had two children, the eldest of whom died in infancy. Suspicious of his new wife, because of her insistence that he insure his life, James threw her out. Three years later she married Frederick Cotton, bigamously, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Her new ‘husband’ also died of gastric fever. Together with her surviving...
Killer Women

Killer Women

Last weekend I attended the very first Killer Women Crime Writing Festival, which featured a fabulous line up of writers, including Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Martina Cole, Ann Cleeves and Paula Hawkins, set in the atmospheric venue of Shoreditch town hall. It was a ‘criminally good’ event.     The shadowy assembly room was the perfect setting for the first session: History and Mystery – Writing Murder in the Past, as it was where the inquest took place into the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the last of Jack the Ripper’s victims – it hasn’t changed much since 1888. The panel was made up of some of my favourite fiction and non-fiction authors, including Denise Meredith, Kate Summerscale and Kate Colquhoun. They talked about the nature of historical truth, links between the past and the present, the enduring fascination of crime, and balancing research and writing. I was particularly encouraged by the advice to spend less time on research, but to dive into writing and then answer the questions that arise through the narrative, with further historical study. This will hopefully stop me from dithering for too long before plunging into my new work-in-progress.     Following my recent experiments with self-publishing I was very keen to hear bestselling indie author, Rachel Abbott. Her workshop was excellent, with plenty of practical and realistic advice about the benefits and challenges of self-publishing. As a professional marketeer, she gave very specific advice and tips about publicising your work and I gained many new ideas, as well as a boost in enthusiasm for marketing – I’ve already re-written my post-launch marketing plan...