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Tom Chaney. No. R757: The Price of Murder, a review

Of Writers and Their Books No. R757: First appeared 8 April 2007 in the Hart County Herald.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column :Tom Chaney. No. R756: No frigate like a book

By Tom Chaney

Bruce Alexander and historical mystery

Time is against the avid reader. About the time one gets to know a writer and has a yen to read another of his books, the author is inconsiderate enough to die. Over the last ten years that has happened to several of my favorites.

Lawrence Sanders did it. John D. MacDonald did it. Ellis Peters did the same. And now I learn that a recently discovered favorite has done it to me again. I had just hit a good stride with Bruce Alexander only to find recently that he died in November of 2003.

Nonetheless he is worth a look.

I have just read his Sir John Fielding mystery, The Price of Murder. Sir John is drawn from life. He actually lived in Eighteenth Century London. He was half-brother to Henry Fielding, author of the delightfully bawdy Tom Jones.

The historical Sir John, a London magistrate, was knighted for his work with crime in a crime-ridden age. He stopped the hanging of young boys for petty crimes. He convinced the powers that were that 'twould be better to send a 12-year-old to sea rather than dangle him at the end of a rope.

His Bow Street Runners were the beginning of the modern Scotland Yard and systematic British police work.

Fielding also founded the Magdalen Home for Penitent Prostitutes. And that thrived for about 150 years, until about 1900.

Bruce Alexander, an American writer and critic, happened upon the story of Fielding, realized that nothing much had been done with him, and set about making him the focus of some twelve mysteries.

In a 1999 interview Alexander described two sorts of historical novelists. "They say these are historical mysteries; actually, I think of myself as more concerned with writing about the past. And the past and history aren't the same thing, really, at all. I mean, the past is human experience. And history is the experience of nations and tribes and so on. They overlap, certainly. But I'm writing about the past that happens to be the 18th century."

He notes that the era is a good one to write about. "So much crime. The last witch was burned in England in the early 18th century. Yet the beginnings of modern times are right there, too."The Price of Murder begins with the body of a young girl being pulled from the Thames. Investigation of her sexual abuse and death leads to the world of prostitution where the selling of young children into bondage is rather common.

Since Sir John is blind, he must have a keen pair of eyes to do his investigation. That job falls to the intelligent young man, Jeremy Proctor, who is both adopted son and assistant to Sir John.

Jeremy is reading for the law. It is he who tells the story and who is involved when one of his friends is a victim of sexual abuse and kidnapping.

Alexander explains that his use of the past may differ from that of most writers of historical fiction. Trying not to be too much of a stickler for historical detail, "I never let the facts get in the way of a good story," he said in the 1999 interview.

I was pleased to note that Alexander admired Ellis Peters and her Brother Cadfael character set in Twelfth Century England and Steven Saylor whose mysteries are set in ancient Rome. Those are two of my favorite historical detectives as well.

I commend Bruce Alexander for your reading pleasure. The accompanying dose of history is not at all harmful. It even gives a right smart pleasure. And there are about a dozen of the novels. 'Though that's all there is, there ain't no more, 'twill have to do.

Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-04-08 04:30:00
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