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Writers Inspiring Change feature book review: Murder by Ghostlight

Murder by Ghostlight, by J.C. Briggs, is an eloquently written suspense murder thriller, in the genre of Sherlock Holmes, but of course, in this case, the story follows the famous writer, Charles Dickens. Although fictional, the author has cleverly entwined Dickens in the plot, where, Dickens finds himself suspected of murder, and in the story that ensues, he must not only prove his innocence but becomes obsessed with finding the real murderer. The depiction of the dark and sullen world of 1850's Manchester, England, the leap from heart-breaking poverty and squalid living conditions of the normal working class, to the rich and wealthy, depicts a society where the gulf between them is a dark and deep hole. In the midst of this fog and smoke-ridden industrial city, Charles Dickens works with local police, trailing a series of murders. This is true suspense to the last page, tantalizing the imagination while challenging the reader to try and figure out just exactly who is behind the grisly deaths and what body will next be revealed when the fog clears. Written with a true panache for the English vernacular of the period - Murder by Ghostlight takes the reader back into the pages of time, walking streets lit by gas lamps, the sound of horse-drawn carriages, the backdrop harmony of its people - and of course, foggy wet England - so well described that one shivers as one turns to the next page and looks forward to that warm cup of tea.

Review by International Writers Inspiring Change

About J.C. Briggs

IWIC: Tell us about yourself?

I used to teach English and English Literature at a boarding school in England. Before that I lived in Hong Kong and taught there, where I also took part in a TV puppet show, playing the part of Violet the Vulture! I now live in a cottage by a river in Cumbria and look out to the hills from my study.

IWIC: What prompted your writing?

I have always written short stories and plays for school, so when I retired I thought I would try to write a novel. I have always loved historical crime fiction and knew that it would be my choice of genre.

IWIC: Tell us about your books.

In 2012 I started to re-read Dickens as it was the bicentenary of his birth in 1812. I read his journalism and came across his accounts of going out with the police to discover how they worked. I read a biography by Dickens’s great-great-great granddaughter, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, in which she mentioned that Dickens had wanted to be a detective. That was my inspiration. The plot of the first book, The Murder of Patience Brooke, was suggested by my reading about the home for fallen women which Dickens established with Angela Burdett-Coutts, the banking heiress. I thought about what if a murder happened at the home. I was certain that Dickens would want to investigate. Reviews tell me that readers love the characters, not just Dickens, but the other characters, too, especially the child characters. Publisher’s Weekly: ‘Briggs’s real triumph is the creation of secondary characters who could have come straight out of Oliver Twist and whose fates will tug at readers’ heartstrings.’ Readers also like my descriptions of the poverty in Victorian London, its dark streets, the narrow alleys, and the fog, and the atmosphere of menace surrounding the murder. Promoting Crime Fiction: ‘magnificent period detail…’ The Historical Novel Society: ‘the evocation of foggy Victorian London is excellent.’

I think all detective fiction seeks to explore the things that make the murderer do what he or she does – the motive might lie in the family background, the social conditions or the relationships, and I’ve tried to place my murderers in different sets of circumstances to show why the murder happens. Historical fiction recreates a time and place, but shows too that human beings are essentially the same in their feelings and motives. I like to think that my books bring to life Dickens and his time. I would like to think that readers will appreciate the portrait of Charles Dickens and the references to his works. He emerges as a man who cares deeply about social injustice and the plight of the poor, especially the children of whose sufferings he said: ‘It is enough to break the heart and hope of any man.’ And, I have a secret hope that readers might turn to Charles Dickens’s own works. My sister, not really a Dickens reader, now loves them. I just hope she has time to read my next book. Murder by Ghostlight is the third in the series. Part 1 is set in Victorian Manchester and was inspired by my reading about Charles Dickens’s acting. He took several productions to Manchester so I thought what if one of the actors was murdered? Amazingly, I read of the shooting of an actor in 1837 in the very theatre I had chosen for my setting. That was an accident, but mine is murder! And the first suspect is Charles Dickens who is found holding the murder weapon.

‘Charles Dickens is convincing not only as a sleuth but as the man himself.’ Linda Stratmann, author of the Frances Doughty mystery series.

‘… linguistic creativity, so like that of the master himself, made the book. ‘ John Cleal, Crime Review

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