Regency London is vividly brought to life in this extraordinary page-turner, the first in a series of historical thrillers featuring Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood – a dangerous, sexy and fascinating hero.
Hunting down highwaymen was not the usual preserve of a Bow Street Runner. As the most resourceful of this elite band of investigators, Matthew Hawkwood was surprised to be assigned the case – even if it did involve the murder and mutilation of a naval courier.
From the squalor of St Giles Rookery, London's notorious den of theives and cutthroats, to the palatial homes of the aristocracy where knights of the realm conduct themselves in a manner unbecoming to their rank, Hawkwood relentlessly pursues his quarry.
And as the case unfolds, and another body is discovered, the true agenda behind the robbery begins to emerge: the stolen naval dispatch pouch held details of a French plot that, if successful, will send the Royal Navy's entire fleet scurrying to port in terror, leaving Napoleon to rule the waves. With no way of knowing who can be trusted, Hawkwood must engage in a desperate race against time to prevent the successful execution of the Emperor's plot.
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‘Ratcatcher has everything duels and derring-do, London highlife and lowlife, French lechery and treachery – all contained in a fast-moving, cleverly constructed plot with an immaculately detailed historical background. Add a hero who is ruthless, mysterious and sexy, and it's a safe bet that ‘Ratcatcher’ marks the start of a series that will run and run … and run!’ Reginald Hill
‘Ratcatcher is a richly enjoyable and impressively researched novel – also very gripping. James McGee is clearly a rising star in the historical galaxy and I look forward to Hawkwood’s return.’ Andrew Taylor, author of ‘The American Boy’From the Author:
A few years ago – well, all right, quite a few years ago - I wrote a novel called Wolf’s Lair, an adventure story, set in the Aegean, about the hunt for World War Two German U-boat. It was during my research for that book that I came across the American inventor Robert Fulton and his involvement in submarine warfare, and a vague memory of childhood was reawakened.
From the back of my mind emerged a hazy vision; a flickering television screen and a grainy black and white image of a brooding, round-shouldered man dressed in an army greatcoat and an odd-looking hat standing on a stretch of shoreline, peering out to sea. Cut to a view of the water and movement beneath the waves as a strange, humpbacked shape begins to rise from the depths…
And that’s as much as I remembered. I’d always assumed the scene to have come from one of those old BBC serials that, for a ten year old lad weaned on Biggles and Treasure Island, was the mainstay of Sunday afternoon viewing, before the grown-up stuff came on. Why that particular image should have remained dormant for over four decades only to surface – er, sorry about that - at such a moment, I have no idea. Fate, perhaps, but it was enough to fire my imagination.
Curiously, Robert Fulton had appeared on screen before, in a 1940 movie, released under the woefully uninspiring title: ‘Little Old New York’. Fulton, inexplicably, was played by the British actor Richard Greene, later to achieve fame as television’s Robin Hood. The film gave new meaning to the word turgid, due not only to Greene’s insipid screen presence, but also to the strange decision to base the plot not around Fulton’s submarine experiments but on his less interesting, albeit noble, attempt to build the first steamboat. Unsurprisingly, the film - and I’m sensing you’re way ahead of me on this - sank without trace.
Fast forward. After penning a trio of contemporary thrillers, it was in my mind to try a change of genre. I’d always been interested in the Napoleonic Wars. The trouble was, a worrying number of novelists had got there before me. I needed something new. And then I recalled my encounters with Fulton and his Nautilus. The idea that both Napoleon Bonaparte and the British were considering the use of submarine warfare against each other’s navies was an opportunity too good to miss. I was convinced there was a story waiting to be told.
Gradually, as the strands of the plot began to come together, I realized I needed a different kind of hero. Despite the subject matter, I didn’t want him to be a naval officer. The competition was too fierce. Besides, my knowledge of nautical jargon, especially of the Napoleonic era, was sketchy to say the least. I didn’t feel my RYA Day Skipper certificate was a sufficient qualification. What about the military, then? Well, there were two main problems, namely Messrs Mallinson and Cornwell. I didn’t feel comfortable competing with them on the battlefront. So, where did that leave me?
Enter Donald Low and his immensely enjoyable ‘The Regency Underworld’. I learnt that by the beginning of the 19th Century, London was one of the most violent cities in Europe. At its heart lay the Rookeries, nurseries of crime, founded and run by outcasts from society, who lived by their own rules, with little or no regard for authority. Arrayed against them was a mismatched force of lawmen. The majority, known as watchmen or Charleys, were, by general concensus, totally unsuited to the task of tracking criminals. The exception was a small band of specialist thief-takers, operating out of a house on Bow Street, known as Runners. When it was suggested that the Runners were the original Flying Squad, I knew I had my hero, but what about his background?
There’s a lot of material on Regency London, though not much on the Runners themselves, beyond the odd chapter or paragraph in books on the period. I did, however, learn some interesting facts. As well as chasing criminals, they were also employed by the State in cases of sedition and treason. They were involved in undercover infiltration and preventive work, at home and abroad, and during the wars with Napoleon they even tracked down escaped French prisoners of war.
That gave me the idea of giving Hawkwood an army background and a dark history; a man who lives by his own moral code and who’s not averse to handing out summary justice if and when he feels it’s warranted; someone who could move easily between the military and the criminal worlds. I suppose, subconsciously, I was creating an old style gunfighter, along the lines of Wyatt Earp. He’s certainly more at home in the dark, lawless alleyways of the St Giles Rookery than in the brightly lit salons of high society.
The early history of submarine warfare is well documented. A visit to the Royal Navy’s submarine museum at Gosport paid huge dividends, especially with regards to the political shenanigans surrounding the Pitt government’s attempts to recruit Fulton to the British flag. Documents outlining the astonishing fees the British were prepared to offer him for his services proved fascinating reading. The illustrations of Fulton’s Nautilus were invaluable in allowing me to bring the fictional Narwhale to life and Wallace Hutcheon’s book Robert Fulton, Pioneer of Undersea Warfare also helped enormously.
So there it is. The work’s done; Ratcatcher is about to hit the shelves. And, oddly, the novel has turned out to be as contemporary in tone as those thrillers I wrote all those years back. For, despite the setting, the cast of characters and the period details, the essence of the story, involving an act of terrorism and a plot to spread panic in a nation at war, could just as easily be taken from any of today’s newspaper headlines.
Now, is that spooky, or what?
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Book Description HarperCollins, 2006. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: Fine. First Edition - First Impression. A mint copy signed without dedication by the author. In a fine unclipped dustjacket. In a protective mylar sleeve. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Signed by Author. Bookseller Inventory # 4003502
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Book Description HarperCollins, 2006. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0007212666
Book Description HarperCollins, 2006. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110007212666