It’s an absolute pleasure for me to do something a little different on the blog today. As regular readers will be aware, I came across L C Tyler’s work late last year (due to him being one of the speakers at the Bodies From The Library conference) and promptly devoured the entire back catalogue. I had the good fortune to be able to chat to him a little during the conference and we’ve exchanged the odd email since then. So it was a delight to receive a request from his “people” to be part of the Blog Tour to launch A Masterpiece Of Corruption, the second in his series of historical novels featuring John Grey, set during the rule of Oliver Cromwell. The review of the book will appear later on today, but to whet your appetite, I posed the author a few questions about the book. And luckily for you, he answered them. It’d have been a bit awkward otherwise…
For readers who haven’t read A Cruel Necessity, introduce us to John Grey
John Grey is a young lawyer. At the time we first meet him in A Cruel Necessity (in the summer of 1657, to be precise) he has just completed his law degree at Cambridge and is wondering whether he wishes to continue his professional studies at Lincoln’s Inn as intended. The murder of a spy in his Essex village, and an introduction to Cromwell’s spymaster, John Thurloe, open the doors on a very different world.
Cambridge was, in the 1650s, somewhat puritan – and later staunchly Whig. (Oxford remained high church – and later Tory.) John has imbibed slightly more Puritanism than he thinks, which sets him apart a bit from the more easy going inhabitants of the village, such as his mother and the royalist ex-lord-of-the-manor Sir Felix Clifford.
In the first two books, John is, I suppose, still fairly naïve – his judgments are right less often than he imagines, which is all part of the fun. In the third in the series, which I am working on now, he is seven years older and a little cynical, a little more circumspect and a little less puritan.
What prompted you to write an historical mystery series, and why this period of history?
I’ve always been interested in history (though I only managed a ‘D’ at A Level) and my first published work of fiction was a short story set on the twelfth century. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d end up writing historical crime sooner or later. What I like about the seventeenth century is its deviousness and lack of any sort of moral compass. Public offices were bought and sold openly. Bribery was the standard way of doing business. During and after the civil war, people frequently changed sides. Nobody knew whether Cromwell’s republic would last. Towards the end, some of the Protectorate’s senior figures were corresponding with the exiled Charles II and some of Charles’s closest allies, such as the Duke of Buckingham, were negotiating an accommodation with Cromwell. Buckingham chose badly and deserted Charles, only for the monarchy to be restored shortly after. Others became royalists at the right time and made their fortunes. Samuel Pepys was one of the winners, along with his patron, Lord Sandwich.
So there really was as much double crossing and side switching going on as you describe in the book?
Oh yes, if anything I’ve probably understated it. Charles had a mole in a senior position in Cromwell’s spy network and one of the leaders of the Sealed Knot, Charles’s organisation in England, had gone over to Cromwell. Neither was found out until after the Restoration.
Did you make a conscious effort not to paint Cromwell as an evil usurper? History hasn’t been kind to him generally…
It’s difficult to judge a seventeenth century statesman by twenty-first century standards. Of course, he gets a bad press for his actions in Ireland – Winston Churchill said that through the conduct of the war there Cromwell had ‘debased the standards of human conduct and sensibly darkened the journey of mankind’. I think he can also be accused of betraying the English Republic by setting up a quasi-monarchical Protectorate. On the other hand he gave Britain decent, stable government. He introduced a remarkable degree of religious toleration and invited the Jews to return; Catholics, at least in England, fared better under Cromwell than they had under Charles I or James I. I have however tried not to judge him in any of these terms, but to present him as he was as a private person – fond of music and a practical joke, devoted to his family, loyal to those who were loyal to him. As for the execution of Charles I, it was, as he said himself, a cruel necessity…
How does this series differ from your first – the Ethelred and Elsie books?
My other series is contemporary and features an author and his agent as protagonists and joint narrators. The next book, Cat Among the Herrings, is also out shortly. Ethelred is much put upon and the subject of his agent’s sarcasm. I’d intended the historical series to be different in many ways, but John inevitably acquired a sidekick, his childhood friend and tormentor, Aminta, the daughter of the afore-mentioned cavalier, Sir Felix. Her sarcasm isn’t yet quite up to Elsie’s level, but she’s working on it. The Ethelred and Elsie books are pretty much classic whodunits, albeit with a modern twist and a touch or two of humour. The new series is slightly more serious, though not without the occasional joke, and enters into the intriguing world of espionage. The Ethelred and Elsie books have allowed me to have a dig at all sorts of contemporary issues including Amazon reviews and indeed author interviews. The historical series sometimes throws a light on the present day too however – in the book I am working on now (set in 1665) I found parallels between the plight of people fleeing the plague and those of present day refugees. History tends to repeat itself.
Your first series is about a writer, which you clearly are. Why did you pick a lawyer as the protagonist for the historical series?
I probably knew less about being a writer, when I started writing about Ethelred and Elsie, than I knew about lawyers before writing A Cruel Necessity. I sit as a lay member on tribunals, and have to be familiar with areas of law that they cover. Our son is a lawyer, as is our daughter in law. Conversely, when I first wrote about Ethelred, I’d had one short story published and my knowledge of the publishing world was patchy to say the least. I’m surprised I got as much right as I did. Of course, I’m sure I’ve got plenty of legal stuff wrong too – but people have just been too polite to point it out. A bit of legal research was needed for the next Ethelred and Elsie, but that’s another story as they say!
So, as I said, be back here later today for my review of A Masterpiece of Corruption. While you’re waiting, why not pick up a copy of A Cruel Necessity, the first in the series (or at least take a look at my review of it)?
A Masterpiece Of Corruption is available from all good booksellers (and probably some bad ones too) on Thursday 14th January (in the UK, at least – no idea about overseas release dates).
Other Stops On The Tour:
Monday January 11th: Life Of Cri.me
Friday January 15th: The Book Bag