Andrea/Cara here, MURDER AT HALF MOON GATE, the second book in my Wrexford & Sloane Regency-set mystery series, releases on March 27th, (it's available for pre-order) and I thought I give you all a little backstory on what inspired the series, and on the specific theme in this upcoming book.
The series is inspired by two fascinating developments in the Regency. First is the birth of modern science in Britain—the spirit of curiosity, analytical observation and creativity. (I confess there is a certain irony about me writing about science, as the last formal class I had in the subject was ninth grade biology.) I now really regret not realizing how fascinating science is, but better late than never!
The second was the sense of camaraderie between scientists and artists during the flowering of the Romantic movement. They saw each as kindred souls, exploring the nature of life and the world around them. The Lake Poets attended scientific lectures at the Royal Institution and Percy Shelley was captivated by astronomy. In turn, Humphry Davy, the great chemist, wrote poetry. They cross-pollinated each other and helped each other see things from different perspective. I thinks it’s part of the reason for the great energy and excitement in both disciplines.
So, I’ve created two main protagonists in the series. Lord Wrexford is a bored, irascible aristocrat, but a brilliant man of science (Note that I don’t use the word scientist as that wasn’t invented until 1834.) Charlotte Sloane is a streetwise young widow who has secretly assumed the identity of her late husband and pens the most popular satirical cartoons fin London.
The pairing of Reason and Intuition has been really interesting to develop. Lord Wrexford analyses everything. Charlotte Sloane trusts her intuition. They both are very careful observers, but see things in different ways. In the first book, circumstances force them into an unwilling partnership to solve the crime. To their surprise, they come to have a grudging friendship.
In each of the books, the plot—in other words the mystery—revolves around a certain aspect of science. In MURDER AT HALF MOON GATE, it’s around how new technology is disrupting society—and how frightening it was to people.
I chose steam engines, and how they were revolutionizing mills. It starts with the murder of a genius inventor in the slums of London. The authorities dismiss it as a random robbery, but the inventor’s wife asks my hero to investigate, as she’s convinced the drawings to his latest innovation have been stolen. As the mystery unfolds, there’s a question of whether it was fringe group of Luddites (an invention on my part) trying to stop progress or a scheming rival who’s aware that a patent on a new innovation would be worth a fortune.
My use of the Luddite revolts is taken from actual history. The Luddite Movement caused great unrest in the north of England from 1811 through 1816. According to legend, Ned Ludd was a weaver who in 1779 had smashed stocking frames in protest over the new technology stealing his livelihood. Whether the story was true or not, his name became byword for the weavers and textile workers who engaged in violent protest against the machinery taking away some of their skilled jobs. It broke out in Nottingham and spread over the next few years. Workers organized in militia-like bands, drilling at night to practice well-coordinated attacks on their targets. Some mills were burned, while in others machinery and looms were smashed. The violence then began to escalate and a mill owner was killed by three Luddites.
The British government, fearful of the riots spreading, dispatched troops to quell the violence—at one point there were more soldiers fighting the Luddites than there were in the Peninsula campaign. A mass trial in 1813, which dealt out harsh punishments of death and transportation, cooled the fervor, but the unrest continued for several more years.
Lord Byron spoke out in favor of the workers, denouncing their plight in the House of Lords in 1812. “I have been in some of the most oppressed provinces of Turkey, but never, under the most despotic of infidel governments, did I behold such squalid wretchedness as I have seen since my return, in the very heart of a Christian country.”
Apparently his eloquence fell on deaf ears for Parliament passed an Act in 1812 making “machine breaking” a capital offense.
Though the Luddites are commonly thought to have been against all machines, for the most part they actually weren’t protesting “progress, but the fact that owners could hire less skilled workers (and pay them less) to run the machines. However, in time, “Luddite” has come to mean someone opposed to all progress/technology.
There are times in today’s world when I feel like a Luddites and would like to rid of some of modern technology—like cellphones on crowded trains! What about you? What piece of today’s technology would you like to see fall victim to a Luddite sledge hammer? I’ll be giving away an e-book copy of MURDER AT HALF MOON GATE to one lucky winner chosen at random from those who leave a comment here between today and Sunday evening.