Detectives and Detection (Rust, post 2)

The second in the series of posts by author Margaret Callow, around Rust, this time touching on the history of detectives in Victorian literature:


“Circa 1850


A prisoner would not look happily on his surroundings. There was no charm about a Bridewell. Damp trickling down the cold stone walls, fusty air almost too thick to circulate and so deprived of light, almost no more than could squeeze through a key hole it seemed.
In this hellish place, a prisoner could feel in his pocket for a florin. It might purchase him a more amiable room with a lice-riddled mattress instead of hard wooden bed boards and a wooden pillow. Indeed a single room might come his way, a book or two and a snippet of marrowbone with his crust. But he didn’t have a florin nor a single copper in his thin pockets. Why else would he have been caught with two stolen onions, one in each?

The gaoler barely stifles a yawn. A constable looks bored. Petty theft, that is what it is. Nothing very skilful about solving the case. Not when there for all to see were two less than fresh onions and a prisoner who doesn’t deny. In this instance he would gain no notoriety.

But crimes would occur where proof was less obvious if at all and then a policeman with powers of detection and an intelligent, thoughtful manner could find himself one of the first professional detectives in the Metropolitan police. Such was the importance of this coming that no lesser man than Charles Dickens was prompted to write a detective into his novel Bleak House in 1852. He based Inspector Bucket on a real life detective by the name of Charles Field. So from the admiration of such a novelist grew the public’s taste for a detective story.

Police detectives would now be enshrined on the pages of crime novels for nothing is more complimentary than to be featured in the imagination of a successful writer like Dickens. The works of Wilkie Collins followed with the publication of The Moonstone published in 1868. This detective fiction featuring Sergeant Cuff was acclaimed as being written ahead of its time with Wilkie’s enlightened social attitudes. Finally Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes was presented to the Victorian reading public in 1887.

Fuller in Rust is of the same ilk as Bucket and Cuff with a similar working style. A person of the people perhaps? Solid, reliable, a ‘won’t do things in a hurry,’ sort of man, yet someone who rarely gets it wrong. Not for him or his companions the tardy ways of their forerunners, the Bow Street Runners who often emulated the ways of the very wretches they sort to apprehend. To gain information, a detective must mix with the sort of man who frequents the dark byways where a rat might loiter, but that is very different to colluding with such shady characters.
As a prisoner is ushered into his cell, no one would attempt to reform him. Instead, he is faced with an existence which offers strict discipline and hard labour. He gazes up at one small aperture that manages to eke out a pale light to reveal a soil pot for washing and a tin bucket that stinks. Never once does he wonder if such a sordid place of detention was worth exchanging for two onions.”

Rust, by Margaret Callow, will be available from all major distributors as of March 2015

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