Monday 26 November 2018

Gentleman Jack by Christina James @CAJamesWriter BLOG TOUR @EmmaDowson1 #GentlemanJack @saltpublishing

DI Tim Yates and DS Juliet Armstrong are investigating the widespread theft of expensive farm machinery and keep on drawing a blank. They don't know whether they're looking for a gang, an individual or an organised network; nor can they find any trace of the machinery once it's been stolen. Meanwhile, local property developer and philanthropist Jack Fovargue is assaulted in the street, and seems reluctant to help find his assailant. Visiting one of Fovargue's building sites to persuade him to make a statement, DI Yates sees a quad that he thinks may have been stolen from a nearby farm a few days before. Fovargue denies all knowledge of the vehicle, while his foreman says he picked it up cheaply from a traveller. Tim obtains a warrant to search the site and discovers something far more sinister than another missing machine.

Gentleman Jack by Christina James was published by Salt on 15 October 2018. My thanks to the publisher who sent a copy for review and who invited me to take part on this blog tour.

I'm delighted to host a guest post from the author here on Random Things today. I always enjoy this author's guest posts as she writes about Lincolnshire; my adopted home county.

Scene of crimes: the Fossdyke Canal

My novels are set in Lincolnshire. Its fogs and fens, its vast, sparsely-populated agricultural acres and small ancient villages are a gift to a crime writer. 
I grew up in Spalding and, having enjoyed the freedoms of a sixties childhood, am extremely familiar with the district known as South Holland. I spent long summers and cold, sharp springs exploring it by bike. 
As many of my friends were farmers’ daughters, I also had opportunities to walk across remote fields and pastures not accessible to the public: anyone who knows this area will tell you that it’s a huge disappointment to anyone searching for public footpaths. 
This is not the haunt of ramblers; it is the land of the curlew, the plover and the heron – and, in my youth, of escaped coypu and mink. 
I am less familiar with Lincoln and its satellite villages, together forming a more populous region dominated by the ancient county city and its Gothic cathedral, the latter set at the pinnacle of a steep hill which seems to mock the flatness of everywhere adjacent. 
As a child, I of course visited Lincoln, but family trips always seemed to focus on the cathedral and its environs. My most vivid memories are of being shown, by various devout great uncles and aunts, the Lincoln imp, squatting high up in the stonework. I do remember seeing the Brayford Pool, then a place of waterside ruin and sunken barges, but not the Fossdyke Canal, though that, too, according to photographs of the day, had also fallen into disuse. The regeneration of the nation’s canals for leisure craft had not yet begun. 
I was reacquainted with Lincoln when kindly invited by Tina Muncaster, of Lincoln Public Library, to give a talk there in 2017. Arriving early, I was able, after a break of many years, to wander the city again, this time as mistress of my own exploration. I walked around the Brayford Pool, which had narrowly escaped being filled in and turned into a car park and was subsequently transformed into a sparkling marina with a vibrant waterfront. It now bustles with shops and restaurants and is overlooked by some of the buildings belonging to Lincoln University; luxury pleasure craft and immaculately-painted narrowboats cluster together at the pontoons; there’s a wonderful view up to the cathedral. A few steps beyond the marina, I found myself for the first time at the entrance to the ‘Fossdyke Navigation’. 
I like canals. I’ve spent many happy hours riding mediaeval canals in the Dutch and Belgian equivalents of bateaux mouches; I’ve enjoyed several narrowboat holidays in Britain – harder work than being a passenger, but more rewarding; and I’ve frequently cycled along the towpaths in Yorkshire, where I live now. As soon as I saw the Fossdyke, therefore, I recognised its literary possibilities: at the time, I was searching for a setting for three of the murders that take place in Gentleman Jack; the Fossdyke fitted the bill perfectly.
Delving further into the canal’s history made it even more intriguing. 
I discovered that it was almost certainly built by the Romans, probably around AD 120, to link the mighty River Trent, at Torksey, to Lincoln and thence to The Wash via the River Witham. Like many succeeding generations that followed them, the Romans knew that using water transport was easier, safer and more efficient than trying to move men and goods by road. (This was true up to and beyond the advent of the railways to Lincolnshire in the mid-nineteenth century: elderly citizens of Spalding interviewed by historians in the 1970s recalled that when they were children the journey between Crowland and Spalding was routinely made by river. The water taxi service now operated on the Welland during the summer months rekindles past history.) 
The Fossdyke has enjoyed many peaks of activity and weathered troughs of neglect during its nineteen decades. The Roman navigation was refurbished in 1121 during the reign of Henry I. Responsibility for its maintenance was transferred to the city of Lincoln by James I. Improvements were made in 1671, when the warehouses and wharves were built at Brayford Pool. 
The canal was active during the first years of the industrial revolution, but, by 1795, was beginning to silt up. The channel was made deeper, but the silting process continued. The engineer John Rennie drew up plans to demolish the ancient High Bridge in 1805 to enable the canal to be deepened again, but these were never carried out. The waterway continued to be used to transport grain, but commercial activity on it was a shadow of its former self – the railways had taken over all the wood and coal cargoes. The last commercial cargo of grain was transported along the canal in 1972.
The Brayford Mere Trust, set up in 1965, set out to rescue the then derelict Brayford Pool. Gradually the canal benefited from this restoration work. A footpath and cycleway were constructed on the stretch of canal between Saxilby and Lincoln – a very handy development for the plot of Gentleman Jack – and officially opened in 2011. 
There are plans to continue the development of the canal and its environs, but as a writer I’m more than happy with what’s been achieved so far. The Fossdyke Canal is a busy working waterway that yet gives the impression of guarding well its many sinister and mysterious memories of the past. It keeps its counsel, yet on occasion yields up its secrets. In Gentleman Jack it holds a cameo part – it is contained, yet indispensable… as it has always been, down the ages.

Praise for Christina James

 ‘Reminiscent of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’ – Eurocrime 

‘Riveting, thrilling and with that trademark Christina James shock at the end. Cracking crime writing at its best.’ The Bookbag 

Christina James was born in Spalding and sets her novels in the evocative Fenland countryside of South Lincolnshire. 

She works as a bookseller, researcher and teacher and lives in Yorkshire. 
She is also a well-established non-fiction writer under a separate name. 

Christina will be doing a series of workshops and events in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire this Winter/ Spring and is available for interview. 

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