Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Thief Taker by T. F. Banks


The Thief Taker, by T. F. Banks, is the first book in the Memoirs of A Bow Street Runner. At this point, there are only two books in the series, but if the second is as good as the first, I'm down for it and any future volumes from T. F. Banks.

I've read a few books recently, many of them historical in nature, but this one is probably the best written I've read recently. Memoirs takes place starting in June 1815, in 'Regency London', before the time of Scotland Yard. It deals with murder and other elements, all of which are subtly influenced by the great war against Napoleon in the background.

The author uses a wide casts of characters surrounding Henry Morton, a 'Bower', a man of the law who works with the law but is not an actual police man. Henry is present when Halbert Glendinning is found dead and pronounced dead due to choking on his own bile, which Henry, a man of the world, knows not to be the case.

T. F. Banks does a solid job of providing a lot of background and unique language to bring the novel and its time to life. For example, when going to see a hanging, it's referred to as a 'necktie party'. The character's and their creeds stand out not only in what they do, but how they refer to and act upon one another. For example, Henry himself, due to his more law abiding nature, is often referred to as 'Sir Galahad' and is used when a well known honest Bower is needed.

While the timeline is more modern than many of the books I regularly read, it's not so far advanced that things are easy to investigate. For example, the use of, identification of, and mastery of, poison, is far more hindered, accepted, or even considered at this time. The proof to show poisoning, especially if the murdered victim appears to have suffered another fate, are great and can only be overcome with an excessive amount of evidence.

The backdrop of the war against Napoleon is also interesting in its use. The mention of the war showcasing many dead British soldiers in the field, as well as acting as an element to allow some to advance due to their own reckless skills. The pulling together of the British people as a proud nation, to embrace that patriotism and be a part of something bigger, even if the day to day struggles are difficult to overcome.

Most telling in other fields, is how the class society works itself. Much like in most societies, including Modern America, those from a certain 'class' are meant to act and behave in a certain way. Those who've managed to do better for themselves then they should, may often be looked upon with some degree of favor, but are always just on the edge of being noted for not actually belonging to those upper classes.

And those who are working with authorities? Even those who may not be of any means themselves? How could they be aught but traitors to those around them? How can man worry about looking over his shoulder daily when his fellow man is out to turn him in? And even worse if some who are doing evil, known that those who claim to be working for the law are taking bribes and kickbacks to insure that the money flows in the manner in which they want?

The Thief Taker is well written but isn't excessive in its length. Weighing in at 325 pages, it's a quick read that does its job in half the pages some authors need to just get into the prolog. If you're looking for a good murder mystery that keeps the pace, The Thief Taker is well worth your time.

For those wondering what Appendix N inspiration I may take from this volume, there are a few bits.

1. Mixed Origin: Henry Morton is a bastard child of a maid whose education was thanks to his mother being taken in by his father, sight unseen, sister, who was going to raise Henry for the church. This lead to him having an education that someone of his mother's means should not be able to afford. But Henry's eclectic mix goes a bit further than that. While Henry is described as a large man, he is able to make the best use of that with his boxing skill, one that he hones often. Despite that, Henry is also a reader of poetry, including that of such famous individuals as Lord Byron.

Having a character with a mix of elements to their nature is a good way to insure that your own characters don't fall into a flat or boring mix. It allows you to have a toe dipped into different factions for a reason.

2. Corruption: The police that Henry works with often do not like the Bowers. Turns out they have good reason as at least one group that Henry works with, is corrupt to the point of setting individuals up for murder. Having organizations that suffer from corruption can provide a nice change of pace for things. For example, the Harpers. Imagine that your party is sent to take out some Cult of the Dragon Members but are sold out by the Harpers who are actually in alliance with the Cult, sending stupid adventurers to them in order to kill them and strip them of their goods. Who is going to believe a group of random wandering adventurers that the Harpers tried to set them up to be murdered and robbed?

3. Ambush: When the party is on the move in a city, and reliant on transportation coming from a third party, say a wagon, and that wagon leads them into an ambush? Priceless!

4. Love: Part of the story involves murder and that murder is initiated by jealousy. There are many types of love in the world but when that love is bright with such unrestrained fury that there can be no others in the loved one's life? Things can get messy.

5. Suffer the Children: As in the Templar Mysteries, the children of 1800 London are not treated kindly. Things that should outrage any normal person are often seen as part of the normal establishment. Having characters witness such horrors should be a powerful motivator for them to do better for their homes and to be better people themselves.

The Thief Taker has a lot of bits that can easily provide many a night's inspiration ranging from the different names and aspects of the characters, to showing how an arc that doesn't involve the characters directly, in this case the war against Napoleon, can directly effect those characters as the nation and city must wait for baited breath of what shall happen next.