Crime and Corruption: Dearborn’s Next Case

crimeInspector Dearborn’s London, like my great-grandfather’s and, to a certain extent, my grandfather’s, was the age of the Music Hall, of drunkenness and decadence, crime and corruption seething beneath a layer of respectability in an energy-driven capital city, hub of a mighty global empire. Prostitutes abounded and social hypocrisy was rife. And I love every bit of it, which makes it so fascinating to write about. When a certain Music Hall star fell out of favour with the public and drowned himself in the murky Thames, I like to imagine it was my great grandad who first saw his floating body in the glimmer of dawn and towed it to shore with a boating hook and a philosophic sigh of “Don’t I know this cove from somewhere?” on turning him face upwards. Before he became a Thames river policeman my great-grandfather had been a waterman. Among other incidents he vividly remembered the Princess Alice Disaster of 1878, when a Thames pleasure cruiser collided with a collier, and sank with great loss of life. My great-grandfather retired from the Police in 1906 after 25 years’ service.

Crime Reconstruction

During a period of my life when I worked as a television ‘walk-on’ between writing assignments, I’ve acted the part of a copper in such programmes as Z-Cars and The Bill, and even been arrested on camera by genuine police when playing a criminal for a reconstruction of a crime in Crimewatch. One of these jobs was strangely predictive. A film company was making a documentary for Channel 4 about Jack the Ripper, the killer of prostitutes in Whitechapel. His identity was never discovered. I was cast as Inspector John Littlechild, a real-life detective in the 1880s who in later life said he believed he knew who the Ripper was. Filming was inside the Hackney Empire, once a famous Music Hall venue, and I was sat at a table on the stage where so many famous feet had trod in years gone by, tapping out my ‘recollections’ on an ancient typewriter as the camera moved around me. Dressed as I was in the style of the times, with the fashionable drooping moustache, I ‘became’ for a while that Victorian detective, and my Inspector Dearborn was born.

Ripper Prequel

So I can’t resist having him meet the Ripper in my next story, a prequel to The Mystery of the Stolen Brides. Solomon Dearborn had his own ideas, but were they listened to by the likes of Inspector Littlechild and his ilk? Having a highly original and searching mind like Dearborn’s at work on the case, with his wry humour and flashes of insight from painstaking and often brutal experience, may not have always sat well with his superiors. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens.

 

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