Free Short Story!

There’s a new Lazarus Longman story free at Smashwords! I wrote this some time ago and wasn’t sure what to do with it. As I already have a free novella there I thought I might as well give this one away too.

Whereas On Rails of Gold was a prequel to the first Lazarus Longman novel, Through Mines of Deception is something of a prequel to the entire series, showing how Longman became an agent for the British Empire.

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Discover the start of the Lazarus Longman Chronicles in this thrilling novella written in the spirit of H. Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

On the scorching plains of the Zimbabwe Plateau a thrilling adventure is set in motion to prevent a catastrophic war between Boers, Zulus and British redcoats.

Archaeologist Lazarus Longman is contacted by an agent of the British Empire and given an important mission; find the mythical gold mines of Great Zimbabwe before the Boers do and prevent revolution in Southern Africa.

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Onyx City Released!

number-3-onyx-city-final-wallpaper.jpgThe third Lazarus Longman adventure is now available from Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. I’ll be taking a break from this character for a while but will return for future installments. Until then, thank you to everybody who lent their support and to you, the readers of this blog. The past year and a half have been a blast and I have achieved far more than I set out to.

The third Lazarus Longman novel sees the archaeologist-turned spy return to the British capital for a showdown with a group of radical anarchists who want to overthrow the British state.

 In two months’ time, Otto Von Bismarck – the Prussian Prime Minister – will arrive in London on a diplomatic visit that could prevent all out war with the German Empire. The city is on tenterhooks. Absolutely nothing must go wrong. That’s why it may be risky to give disgraced agent Lazarus Longman the job of smoothing the way for the dignitary’s visit.

Given a second chance by his superiors, Lazarus reluctantly finds himself in the company of Mr. Clumps – a steam-powered bodyguard – with a mission that plunges him deep into the filthy bowels of the British capital, where danger lurks around every corner. But timing is rarely convenient. A figure from Lazarus’s past has reappeared and a chance to learn the truth about his biological parents is too hard for him to pass up.

And as if the political conspiracies, riots and revolutionist clubs of the Big Smoke weren’t distraction enough, a deranged killer is stalking the gin-soaked slums by night, killing prostitutes and mutilating their corpses. And Lazarus believes that the killings may be connected to his friend; a prominent actor whose erratic behavior and mysterious blackouts could mark him out as a suspect.

Inventions and Discoveries of the 19th Century #9 – The Work of Henri Mouhot

Henri_MouhotContinuing my research into nineteenth century Siam, I couldn’t miss the journals of French explorer Henri Mouhot who, between 1858 and 1861, made extensive inroads into Siam, Cambodia and Laos, exploring uncharted jungles and sketching and describing old ruins and the people who dwelled in their vicinities.

Although a Frenchman, Mouhot received support from London’s Royal Geographical Society and the Zoological Society to collect botanical and zoological specimens. Convinced that he could ward off the terrible jungle fever by abstaining from alcohol and drinking only boiled water, Mouhot embarked on four expeditions, beginning with a trip to the ruined city of Ayutthaya and then to Angkor (written by him as ‘Ongcor’). His third journey was to Phetchaburi where he hoped to move north into Laos but was pushed back by bureaucratic stubbornness. He tried again the following year and succeeded in reaching Luang Phabang; the former capital of a Laotian kingdom of the same name.

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For the journals of a botanist, Mouhot’s travels are marked by high adventure involving attacks by tigers and leopards, audiences with kings and scrambling around overgrown temples and crumbling cities. Very much a man of his time, Mouhot’s opinions won’t sit well with most modern readers. As a staunch Christian and friend of missionaries, he sees the natives as clueless savages ignorant of the existence of ‘the one true God’. In his defence he does have a brief moment of uncertainty concerning the benefits western civilisation might have for the east, wondering if imperialism might only add to their present miseries. But the colonialist in him eventually wins out with his alarming defence of the French atrocities (rape and murder) in conquering Cochin China, seeing them as; “inevitable in time of war, especially in a country where the soldier suffers from the climate and privations of all kinds.” His clean and sober lifestyle eventually failed him however and he died of a fever in Laos in 1861. The final entries in his journal are a sombre read, clearly written by the hand of a man suffering terribly, delirious and begging for God’s pity.

Angkor_WatMouhot is regularly credited with ‘discovering’ the ruined temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia although technically it was never lost as its existence was always known to the locals. Rather, he brought the temple to the attention of the west through his extensive descriptions and sketches. Built in the early twelfth century as a Hindu temple by King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu and consisted of a ‘temple-mountain’ with five towers representing the five peaks of Mount Meru in Hindu mythology. It is surrounded by a moat representing the ocean and then ringed by galleries worked with extensive and beautiful bas reliefs. As the capital of the Khmer Empire, Angkor’s style was copied by temples built throughout its kingdom. Angkor was sacked by the Chams (hailing from Vietnam) in 1177 and the Buddhist king Jayavarman VII moved the capital to Angkor Thom and the state temple to the Bayon. Never completely abandoned, Angkor Wat gradually became a Buddhist temple itself while the Khmer Empire began to crumble. The Thai kingdom of Sukhothai gained independence in 1238 and was conquered by another Thai kingdom – the Ayutthaya – which went on to replace the Khmer Empire as the dominant power in the region.

A Quick Guide to Jack the Ripper

JACK THE RIPPER Jack the Ripper – the personification of shadowy evil in Victorian London and gruesome murder done in gloomy, gaslit streets – has become so entwined in popular culture, appearing in movies, graphic novels and video games, that there are many today who are unaware that he was in fact a real serial killer and not a fictional product of writers. But real he was and perhaps his morbid appeal over a hundred years since his killings has something to do with the fact that he was never caught and never unmasked to spill his secrets. He remains so mysterious and chilling because we have absolutely no idea who he was or why he killed.

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Annie Chapman – The second of the ‘canonical five’ victims

The Whitechapel district of Victorian London was one of the worst slums in Europe. Murder was nothing uncommon in those dim alleys but in the late summer of 1888  a series of killings connected by a modus operandi drew the attention of the police and the press. On 31st of August the body of prostitute Mary Ann Nichols was found in Buck’s Row, a backstreet in Whitechapel. Her throat had been slit twice and her abdomen cut deeply. Some newspapers concluded that a brutal gang was terrorising the working girls of Whitechapel as the body of another prostitute named Martha Tabram had been found stabbed thirty-nine times that same month and yet another prostitute died after being assaulted and robbed by a gang back in April. But on 8th of September another murder took place that suggested that something much more sinister was going on in Whitechapel.

Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, 1888.

‘The Nemesis of Neglect’ – Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, 1888.

The body of Annie Chapman was found in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, her throat slit and her intestines pulled out. Part of her uterus was also missing. The nation sat up and took note. It appeared that a single man was committing the most gruesome crimes with no motive but to sate his own blood lust. Theories ran wild. Perhaps he was a deranged doctor as the removal of organs hinted at surgical knowledge. Perhaps a butcher or a tanner? Suspects were arrested andreleased without sufficient evidence. An angry mob attacked the Commercial Road police station. A Whitechapel ‘vigilance committee’ was set up which offered a reward for the apprehension of the killer. There were attacks on Jewish businesses as the killer was rumored to be a Jew fulfilling some arcane ritual. In short, fear led to madness.

A further layer of mystery was added to the case by the receival of a letter by the Central News Agency allegedly penned by the killer. Written in red ink and addressed ‘Dear Boss’, the letter boasts of the killings, taunts the police and claims that “The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you.” It was signed ‘Jack the Ripper’. On 30th of September two more prostitutes were slain. Elizabeth Stride was found in Dutfield’s Yard with her throat slashed but was otherwise unmutilated. Later, that same night, the body of Catherine Eddowes was found in Mitre Square, throat slashed, face mutilated, intestines pulled out and kidney and uterus missing. Had the killer been interrupted during his murder of Stride and, thus unsatisfied, gone in search of another victim? An exciting clue was found several streets away in the form of a bloodstained piece of Eddowes’s apron discarded beneath a chalk graffito at the entrance to the Wentworth building (a predominantly Jewish tenement) that read; “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing.” Coincidence, or a message from the killer? This mis-spelt scrawling with its double-negative has been a source of much debate and it’s very meaning is hard to discern. It’s generally seen as a proclamation that the Jewish population of Whitechapel refuse to take any responsibility. The work of an anti-Semite with an axe to grind? Or done by the hand of a Jew who grows tired of blame being laid at his door? If so, then why the bloody rag? The decision of Police Superintendent Thomas Arnold and Commissioner Warren to wash the graffito off before it could be photographed for fear that it may spark yet more anti-semitic feelings and the poor transcribing of the words (resulting in differing versions) mean that this particular mystery is unlikely to ever be solved. 640px-FromHellLetter

Alarmingly within 24 hours of the killings (before the papers revealed them to the public) another letter from ‘Jack the Ripper’ was received by Scotland Yard. A postcard this time, the double-event is referred to and that there had not been time for him to get the ears as she ‘screamed a bit’ (although part of Eddowes’s ear had been detached by the killer’s facial mutilations). The writer also refers to himself as ‘Saucy Jacky’. The knowledge of the murder details before they were made public may make the letters appear genuine but journalists and locals knew these details more or less immediately and the letters are generally dismissed as a hoax or a publicity stunt by the press. One further letter however, was much more macabre as it enclosed a box containing part of a human kidney preserved in ethanol. Addressed ‘From hell’ the letter was clearly done by a different hand than the previous correspondence and was sent to George Lusk, head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. It read; “Mr Lusk Sor I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer. signed Catch me when you Can Mishter Lusk“. There is still debate over whether this or any of the letters are genuine.

The killer’s most gruesome act was yet to come. On 9th of November the hideously mutilated body of prostitute Mary Jane Kelly was found in her single room at Miller’s Court. Within the privacy of a house it seems, the killer had ample time to go to work. Kelly had been killed by a slash to the throat. Her face was mutilated beyond recognition. Her breasts had been cut off. Her abdomen cut open and her organs scattered around the room and her thighs cut down to the bone. And then, the killings appear to have stopped. There was a murder of a Whitechapel prostitute in July 1889 but that is generally regarded as a copycat killing due to a different implement and less ferocity used in the attack. As for the real ‘Jack the Ripper’, he seems to have vanished without a trace. So what happened? He may have died or been incarcerated for some other offence. The increasing brutality of his crimes point to a mind that was becoming more and more demented so perhaps he was placed in a mental asylum by concerned family members or he may have been one of many mentally ill drifters and vagrants the police had incarcerated in places like Colney Hatch Mental Asylum, forgotten while his crimes went on to spark theories and debate for the next hundred years.

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Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale

One of the more outlandish theories was outlined in Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight and published in 1976. The basic idea is that Queen Victoria’s grandson – Prince Albert Victor – had an affair with a lower class Catholic girl called Annie Elizabeth Crook whom he secretly married. The witness at the wedding was Crook’s friend Mary Jane Kelly. When the Queen and Prime Minister found out about the secret marriage (and resulting child) they ordered Annie placed under the care of Sir William Gull (the Queen’s physician) who certified her insane. The child remained in the care of Mary Jane Kelly whose friends – Mary Ann Nichols, Elizabeth Stride and Annie Chapman – got the idea to blackmail the Royal Family. William Gull and his coachman John Netley thus butchered the girls according to Masonic rituals as part of a coverup by the Freemasons. Catherine Eddowes’s killing was a case of mistaken identity. Despite being largely discredited due to inaccuracies, hoaxes and downright wrong information, variations on the Royal Family/Freemasons/William Gull theory have remained a fascinating idea ever since and form the basis for several fictional accounts such as the BBC’s Jack the Ripper (1988) and the From Hell graphic novel and 2001 film adaptation.

jtr-truthA more compelling theory is presented by true crime writer Martin Fido in his book The Crimes, Detection and Death of Jack the Ripper (1987). In it he claims that the killer was in fact known to the police and was even in their custody at one time! Memoirs and notes of high-ranking police officers at the time including ex-Superintendent Donald S. Swanson reveal the suspect to be a Polish Jew called Kosminski who was brought to a seaside home to be identified by a witness. Although identifying Kosminsky, the witness refused to give evidence as he was a fellow Jew and the police were forced to let Kosminski go, although they kept a close eye on him. Kosminski, a violent woman-hater, was soon sent to Colney Hatch Mental Asylum where he died “a short time after”. For a long time the mysterious Kosminski was generally thought to be Aaron Kosminski, a simple-minded but docile Whitechapel hairdresser who was admitted to Colney Hatch in 1891, over a year after the Ripper killings stopped, but didn’t die until 1919. Fido didn’t believe that this was the same Kosminski mentioned by the police and suggests that Kosminski was mistakenly named in Swanson’s notes instead of a Nathan Kaminsky, a Polish bootmaker in Whitechapel who had been treated for syphilis and vanished after 1888. There is no Kaminsky in the Colney Hatch records, but there is a David Cohen who, Fido argues, may have been a ‘John Doe’ type of label for any Jewish man who couldn’t be identified. Cohen was a violent inmate and died in 1889 and is altogether a better fit for the elusive ‘Kosminski’ mentioned by Swanson. Fido’s theory is that the killer was Nathan Kaminsky who was captured, identified and then released only to wind up in Colney Hatch under the placeholder name of David Cohen. Years later, the retired superintendent Donald S. Swanson, mistakenly recalled the killer’s name as ‘Kosminski’ which coincidentally was the surname of a harmless simpleton who also lived in Whitechapel.

Theories and speculation ramble on. Due to the length of time since the events and the poor records we have of all that occurred, it is unlikely that the truth behind the Whitechapel murders will ever be known. Jack the Ripper, whoever he was, is dead and his secrets died with him leaving us with nothing but our imaginations to fill in the gaps. My own novel Onyx City, while far from presenting a serious theory on the killer’s identity, uses the Whitechapel Murders as a backdrop for a Steampunk detective story. It is influenced by the notion that the production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which was on at the Lyceum Theatre at the time of the killings) was somehow connected to the strange case of Jack the Ripper.

For an excellent resource for all things Ripper visit Casebook: Jack the Ripper

Vintage Reads #16 – The English Governess at the Siamese Court

price190The third Lazarus Longman novel – Onyx City – deals primarily with Victorian London but there is a substantial subplot that is set in Siam (or Thailand as it is called today). In the writing of it I pursued firsthand accounts of nineteenth century Siam as well as researching the country’s complex history and religious fluctuations between Hinduism and Buddhism. The journals of Anna Leonowens, published in 1870, tell a story familiar by other names to modern readers. Fictionalised in 1944 by Margaret Landon as the bestselling Anna and the King of Siam, the film version came out in 1946 and the story was adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein as a Broadway musical in 1951 by the name; The King and I.

Anna Harriett Edwards was born in 1831 in India and showed an aptitude for languages at an early age. After travelling through Egypt and Palestine under the tutelage of a chaplain and his wife, Anna returned to India and married Thomas Leonowens. The pair moved between Australia, Singapore and Malaysia and had four children, the eldest two dying in infancy. Anna was widowed in 1859 and moved to Singapore where she set up a school for British expats. This brought her to the attention of the Siamese Consul who offered her a job opportunity teaching the many wives, concubines and children of King Mongkut of Siam. Anna sent her daughter, Avis, to boarding school in England and took her son, Louis, with her to Bangkok.

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King Mongkut and his son and heir Prince Chulalongkorn

Anyone hoping for a romantic adventure as seen in the movies will be in for a disappointment. Anna’s memoirs are more of a look into the customs and history of Siam and its people rather than a day by day account of her personal experiences although there are many amusing anecdotes that tell of her frustration in a court ruled by tradition and oppression. Although free with her criticism of the natives and her despair at their primitive ways, Anna was clearly infatuated with the land and her descriptions of temples, scenery and village life are indispensable to the modern researcher.

Her role at court was somewhat ambiguous and she remains a controversial figure in Thailand to this day. In addition to her duties as governess, Anna was also called upon by the king to translate letters and act as something of a secretary. It is debatable how much of an influence she had on his foreign policy and also on the political reforms of his son and heir which included the abolition of slavery. After King Monkut’s death in 1868, Anna travelled to New York and continued as a teacher and writer. She was a feminist and a suffragist as well as an extensive travel writer. She died in 1915 in Montreal, Canada. There have been many claims of inaccuracies in her descriptions of King Mongkut as well as exaggerations in her writings levelled at her by his descendants.

 

Inventions and Discoveries of the 19th Century #8 – Submarines

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The Turtle with pilot Ezra Lee

The concept of an underwater vessel goes way back with even Alexander the Great rumoured to have used some sort of diving bell for reconnaissance missions. Various designs were worked on in the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan era. Most notable is William Bourne’s 1578 design of a wooden vessel covered in leather that could submerge by decreasing its volume via contracting its sides with hand-turned screws.

The military implications of such devices were the focus of a 1776 attempt by American Revolutionists to destroy the British warship HMS Eagle. The Turtle, designed by David Bushnell, had two propellers powered by a foot treadle and was supposed to drill into the hull of an enemy vessel and attach a keg of gunpowder with a clockwork timer. It is not clear exactly why this plan failed. The pilot – Ezra Lee – may not have been able to penetrate the hull of HMS Eagle or perhaps he was unable to hold the craft stable enough to carry out the work, but the bomb was reported to have gone off downriver after being abandoned by the Turtle, giving the British enough of a fright to make them move their ships further away.

It was France that saw a big increase in interest concerning submarines in the early nineteenth century. American inventor, Robert Fulton, designed and built the Nautilus for the French government in 1800. It was based on the Turtle’s system of propulsion with an added mast and sail for use on the surface. While moderately succesful in tests, Fulton’s relationship with the French government was a rocky one and his submarine was never put into use. Frenchman Brutus de Villeroi pursued the idea and developed the Waterbug in 1833; a small vessel propelled by three pairs of duck paddles. He tried to interest the French and Dutch governments but was unsuccessful and it remained a working prototype. More impressive, was Wilhelm Bauer’s Diable Marin/Seeteufel for the Russians which, in honor of Tsar Alexander II’s coronation in 1855, took a small brass band underwater for a quick rendition which could be heard upon the surface.    

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The H. L. Hunley. A Confederate submarine and the first in history to sink a warship.

The American Civil War saw several more attempts to bring the submarine into the war arena, mostly by private enterprises in the South who wanted to break the Union’s blockade and cash in on the Confederate privateering law. Their earliest was the Pioneer which, in 1862, sunk a barge with a towed torpedo in a test on Lake Pontchartrain. Designed by James McClintock and financed by Horace Lawson Hunley, it was propelled by a two-man propeller shaft. The vessel never saw service as the Union soon captured New Orleans and the Confederates were forced to scuttle it. While the Union did not openly approve of submarines, there is evidence that they secretly pursued the idea. An early effort was the Alligator, designed by the Waterbug’s father Brutus de Villeroi. Technically the first submarine in the U.S. Navy, the Alligator was sunk in a storm in 1863 before seeing any action. Meanwhile, the Rebels were experimenting with different methods of propulsion. Hunley and McClintock’s American Diver (or Pioneer II) first had an electrical motor and then a steam engine but both were unsuccessful and they fell back on the old hand cranked propeller shaft. The American Diver attempted an attack on the Union Blockade at Mobile Bay but the vessel was too slow and later sank in stormy weather. Not to be deterred, Hunley and co. began work on a new vessel which was commandeered by the Confederates. Hunley remained with the project and was killed during one of its tests, ultimately giving his name to the first submarine to sink a warship. Reluctant to fully submerge the H. L. Hunley, the Confederates used the principal of the earlier ‘David’ torpedo boats which floated on the surface and prodded the enemy vessel with a ‘spar-torpedo’ (an explosive charge attached to an iron bar). In 1864 the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor. After the Union ship went down, the Hunley inexplicably sank on its way back to port.

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Replica of the Ictineo II in Barcelona Harbor.

Methods of propulsion were always a challenge and the first submarine to successfully make a voyage without human power was the French Plongeur in 1863 using compressed air. The Spanish submarine Ictineo II, designed by Narcis Monturiol, was the first combustion powered submarine. Built in 1864, it was improved in 1867 with an air independent engine relying on a chemical reaction of zinc, manganese dioxide and potassium chlorate which powered a steam engine as well as providing oxygen for breathing, thus skirting the need for a snorkel which all submarines up to this point had employed. Inspired by the submarine’s development (particularly in his homeland), Jules Verne wrote his 1870 novel; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which has been a radical influence on the public’s perception of early submarines. While Captain Nemo’s high-tech Nautilus (its name borrowed from Robert Fulton’s design) may be a far-fetched slice of steam-age sci-fi, long-range submarines were anything but a pipe dream by this point. 1888 saw the maiden voyage of the French submarine Gymnote. Powered by an electrical battery, the Gymnote had a periscope and side hydroplanes both of which became standard for submarines. The turn of the century saw gasolene and electic engines replaced by diesel engines which propelled subs on the surface and stored generated electricity for submerged propulsion. With more and more nations being turned on to the idea of submarines in their navy, increase in their construction exploded. By the time the U.S. entered the First World War, it had 24 diesel-powered submarines.

verneLike the airship, the submarine has become an indelible part of Steampunk. Although used in the navies of many countries today, there is something about the dangerous experiments of the nineteenth century that feeds the imagination of Steampunk writers who tap into a world where the ocean was seen as the final unexplored frontier, much like space would be in the latter half of the twentieth century. The likes of Verne’s Nautilus were brass-clad vessels of discovery in a world where the very nature of warfare was changing. The days of heroic charges into enemy ranks were being replaced by wars of subterfuge and espionage, where a surface-going vessel might be destroyed not by enemy guns, but by a submerged powder charge attached to its hull its crew didn’t even know was there. High-tech and ahead of its time, the submarine is a natural staple of the genre and I made some use of its potential myself in Onyx City.

 

 

 

Steampunk Wednesdays #10 – Van Helsing: The London Assignment (2004)

Van_Helsing_The_London_AssignmentSome time ago I took a look at the 2004 disappointment Van Helsing. Far better is its animated prequel The London Assignment which came out on home video to coincide with the movie’s release.

If you’ve seen the movie then you may remember its Paris-set opening where Van Helsing battles the Hulk-like Mr. Hyde, wrecking the stained glass window of Notre Dame in the process. This short animation leads up to that encounter and plays on the long established connection between the Jekyll and Hyde story and the murders of Jack the Ripper (utilised in the 1971 Hammer Horror Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde and in my own novel Onyx City). The plot involves a romance between Dr. Jekyll and Queen Victoria. Jekyll tries to keep Victoria young and beautiful by giving her potions made from the souls of young women – which spells bad news for the prostitutes of London’s Whitechapel district.