Fresh Blood

Name: Andrew Pepper

Title of Book: The Last Days of Newgate

'…travels to the very bowels of London'

In pre-Victorian England, Pyke, a disreputable Bow Street Runner, is employed in a personal capacity by Lord Edmonton to search for some missing family money. During his investigations he stumbles upon the gruesome murder of a young family, which comes to the attention of the Home Secretary, Robert Peel. Pyke is convinced that the murders are related to religious conflict in the city but he soon uncovers too much information for someone’s comfort and is set-up and arrested from murder.

From prison, with only his client’s daughter believing his innocence, Pyke has to find a way to escape and track down the real culprit.

This is an excellent, atmospheric mystery. The story travels to the very bowels of London, portraying its seediness and corruption. The Bow Street Runners are as disreputable as their surroundings, barely on the right side of the law and despised by the citizens they are trying to protect. The novel gives a fascinating insight into the origins of the London police force.

However, it is the character of Pyke that is of greatest interest. I struggle to find anyone to compare him with, with the possible exception of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley. He is an anti-hero who intends to prove his innocence at whatever cost. But his acts can be heroic - and there is no lack of morality in the book. The final chapter hints at the impact of some of the compromises made. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What type of crime book would you say you write?
The Last Days of Newgate is a historical crime novel, set in London in 1829, but I’ve tried to infuse it with a contemporary, hard-boiled aspect
2) What type of crime novel do you prefer? Series or stand alone?
It depends – both give different pleasures. Watching a character develop over a series of novels in conjunction with shifting socio-political circumstances (e.g. Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels) can be very rewarding and James Ellroy’s ‘LA Quartet’ and David Peace’s ‘Red Riding Quartet’ where some of the same characters reappear in different novels, constitute some of the greatest crime writing of the twentieth century. That said, ‘standalone’ crime novels like Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me and Charles Willeford’s Cockfighter bring their own peculiar pleasures.
3) Have you always had ideas to write a crime novel?
I remember reading an interview with John Harvey in which he described how he produced ‘four sub-Raymond Chandler’ pastiches before learning his craft writing westerns. Determined not to repeat this mistake, I wrote four sub-Elmore Leonard pastiches and then for good measure I wrote a sub-Newton Thornburg pastiche in which I ‘lifted’ the plot of Cutter and Bone. As a new writer, it’s very hard not to be excessively influenced by the favourite novelists working in the field.
4) What influenced you to write a crime novel in the first place?
Reading and being excited by the great crime writers like Hammett, Thompson, Willeford, Leonard, Burke and Ellroy and wondering if this might be just something I could do, albeit at a much lower level.
5) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Probably Newton Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone but any mid-period Elmore Leonard novel would push it close, as would all of David Peace’s ‘Red Riding’ Quartet – any book that makes me feel physically sick has to be doing something right.
6) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire?
In no particular order: David Peace, Chester Himes, Jake Arnott, Don Winslow, Newton Thornburg, George Pelacanos, Elmore Leonard and Dashiell Hammett.
7) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly or Huston’s The Maltese Falcon
8) Without giving away the ending, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The end of Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone is a contender but for its sheer, bare-faced outrageousness, the very last line of Charles Willeford’s Pick-Up takes some beating.
8) Without giving away the ending, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The end of Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone is a contender but for its sheer, bare-faced outrageousness, the very last line of Charles Willeford’s Pick-Up takes some beating.
9) Your book is set in pre-Victorian London. Is this a particular period you are interested in?
There has been a lot of interest in the Victorian era and the period starting with the French Revolution and ending with the Napoleonic wars but the 1820s and 1830s have largely been neglected by historians and, indeed, historical crime writers. This period fascinates me because many of the things that we associate with the Victorian era (the emergence of the police force, the rise of municipal government, the beginnings of mass political agitation, the start of the railways, and the growth of industrial sweat shops) all have their origins in the 1820s and 1830s. London, at any time, is a fantastic canvas but, in this period, you can literally see the fetid, crumbling, dilapidated city of earlier centuries colliding with the new avenues, parks and circuses that we associate with nineteenth-century London.
10) Your protagonist is not your typical crime investigator. Do you want your readers to like Pyke?
I see Pyke as someone who is bold rather than courageous, self-interested rather than heroic, pragmatic rather than idealistic and sceptical rather than romantic, but who is nonetheless capable of moments of courage, heroism, idealism and romance. In essence, an amoral man who almost in spite of himself is forced by circumstances to act in moral ways. As such I want people to like him – there’s more than a touch of Fleming’s Bond about him – but also recoil from him when he does things that contravene conventional moral sensibilities.
11) Do you have plans for Pyke in your next book?
It’s going to be called The Virtue of Greed. Having allowed Pyke a modicum of happiness at the end of the first novel, The Last Days of Newgate, this one sees this contentment gradually draining away until he’s left with nothing. It’s set in the world of banking and commerce where the criminals come at him with smiles and quills rather than pistols and knives.
12) Where do you see crime fiction going next?
No idea but I’d hope the growing dominance of the bigger publishers and booksellers will still leave enough space for the smaller presses to continue to make available the works of novelists like Ken Nunn, Charles Willeford and Newton Thornburg.