Monday, 29 June 2015


When I began writing The Prosecution of Mr. Darcys Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery, I thought to use the actual Regency era case known as The Ratcliffe Highway Murders in the plot line for the although a suspect was identified, the man committed suicide and nothing was proved in court. P. D. James and T. A. Critchley discuss this case in great detail (and a bit of editorializing) in The Maul and the Pear Tree.

However, as I set up the story line for my novel, many changes needed to be made to the actual Ratcliffe mystery to fit my manuscript. Most importantly, the Ratcliffe murders occurred in December 1811. In my books, Major General Fitzwilliam (Colonel Fitzwilliam in the original Pride and Prejudice) married Miss Georgiana Darcy right after Napoleon escaped from Elba and right before the Major General returned to serve with Wellington at Waterloo. That means my story is set in 1816.

The Major General and Mrs. Fitzwilliam have been married sixteen months and are the parents of a daughter. The major general resigned his commission and became a landed gentleman in Oxfordshire. Yet, doing so brings Fitzwilliam no success for 1816 was the Year Without Summer, when the ash from the Mount Tambora eruption spread across Europe, England and America, disturbing the weather and disrupting crops. Fitzwilliam knew much success as an Army officer, and this failure plays hard with his nature.

I used the concept of the mass hysteria associated with the Ratcliffe Murders in this book. What would happen if several gruesome murders occur in Wapping? What if the prime suspect is the son of an earl? Would justice prevail? Would the victims, part of the poor of London, know justice? There are bits of Jack the Ripper-like hysteria in the tale.

I did draw some on the Ratcliffe murders. My first victims are modeled after the linen draper, Timothy Marr, and his family, but that is the extent of the similarities. I created a mystery within a mystery within a mystery.

In the original Ratcliffe Highway murders, there were two households attacked by an unknown assailant. The occupants of the house were clubbed to death; seven people lost their lives, including an infant. There was an outcry by the London populace, and the government advertised a reward for information leading to the discovery of the murderer. The Times gave the crimes a position of prominence in their headlines.

No metropolitan police existed at the time. People depended upon magistrates, night watchmen, the Thames River Police, Bow Street Runners, etc. Jurisdiction was often overlooked. Crime scene investigation was nearly nonexistent. In the case of the Ratcliffe murders, hundreds of spectators tramped through the households to view the gruesome scene.

In the foreword of The Maul and the Pear Tree, James and Critchley say their principal source [was] the Home Office paper (Domestic Series) now in the Public Record Office. Before the Metropolitan Police were set up, the Middlesex magistrates maintained a regular correspondence with the Home Secretary on criminal matters, and the bundles of papers for December 1811 and the early part of 1812 contain a wealth of material on the Ratcliffe Highway murders that has never before been assembled or, with the exception of a few documents referred to by Radzinowicz (Note: Sir Leon Radzinowicz was an academic criminologist and founder of the Institute of Criminology), published. The fact that the Home Office became involved with the crimes speaks to the devastation Londoners felt. Not since the Gordon Riots was there such an outcry.

Ironically, there is no record of the resting place of the victims. The grave sites of the victims of the Ratcliffe murders were replaced with new buildings or the gravestones were removed. The bones of the accused (who committed suicide) were uncovered as part of an excavation for public utilities. Amateur criminologists claimed various bones from the site. A scrapbook now in the rectory of St. Georges-in-the-East contains an undated entry about John Williams [the accused]. It ends: His skull is at present in the possession of the owner of the Public House at the corner of Cable Street and Cannon Street Road.’” (James and Critchley, page 264)


About the book

The Prosecution of Mr. Darcys Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery

Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying his marital bliss. His wife, the former Elizabeth Bennet, presented him two sons and a world of contentment. All is well until aggravation rears its head when Darcy receives a note of urgency from his sister Georgiana. In truth, Darcy never fully approved of Georgianas joining with their cousin, Major General Edward Fitzwilliam, for Darcy assumed the major general held Georgiana at arms length, dooming Darcys sister to a life of unhappiness.
Dutifully, Darcy and Elizabeth rush to Georgianas side when the major general leaves his wife and daughter behind, with no word of his whereabouts and no hopes of Edwards return. Forced to seek his cousin in the slews of Londons underbelly, at length, Darcy discovers the major general and returns Fitzwilliam to his family.
Even so, the Darcys troubles are far from over. During the major generals absence from home, witnesses note Fitzwilliams presence in the area of two horrific murders. When Edward Fitzwilliam is arrested for the crimes, Darcy must discover the real culprit before the authorities hanged his cousin and the Fitzwilliam name knew a lifetime of shame.
Regina Jeffers


Kindle    Amazon    Barnes and Noble     Nook


Read an excerpt  from The Prosecution of Mr. Darcys Cousin 
(Scene: Darcy rescued this cousin from a public house and brought Fitzwilliam to Darcy House. Fitzwilliams father, the Earl of Matlock, tracks his son to Darcys door.)
For the next hour, Edward offered an explanation to each of the earls accusations while Darcy attempted to soften the angry words spoken by both. It always was so. Matlock never recognized Edwards strengths, only his second sons faults.
Darcy did not approve of Edwards self-absorption: In fact, he found the squalor into which the major general sank deplorable; however, he knew his cousin did not abandon his honor. Edward would suffer for his moments of self-pity. Darcy intervened to allay the earls most recent attack.
At a minimumall of which the major general may be accused is drinking too heavily and exercising poor judgment.
The irony of those words would long haunt Darcys logical mind for as if he announced the next act of a Shakespearian tragedy, a second knock upon his door changed the rooms tenor.
He looked up to find Thomas Cowan framed by the open door, a painful expression upon the mans features. Behind him, two cleanly dressed men created a formidable wall.
Cowan? Darcy remarked in curiosity. What brings you and your acquaintances to Darcy House? I thought upon this day you were to search for a certain ladys lover. I did not realize you meant another social call upon my household.
Recognizing Cowans wariness, Darcy waved away his servants.
It was my purpose, but Mr. Richards and Mr. Parker, Cowan gestured to the men behind him, called upon me this morning. It seems word of our visit to Wapping reached the ears of those of Bow Street via the Thames Police.
A sharp unease settled in the pit of Darcys stomach; he realized Cowan symbolically placed himself between the Runners and the major general.
Why would the Thames Police have a care for my cousins presence in Wapping?
Darcys first thought was of a report of Edwards altercation upon the docks, but Cowans expression cautioned of more shocking news.
Extending his arm in Darcys direction, Cowan handed over a folded newsprint.
What is amiss, Darcy? the earl demanded.
Darcy unfolded the paper and scanned the page for something of significance, which would affect his cousin, but nothing unusual jumped from the page to draw his attention.
I fear I do not understand, Cowan.
His friend pointed to the lead line: Murder Most Foul.
Murder? A murder in Wapping? Darcy whispered into the silent room.
His nerves remained tense.
Murder? the earl expelled in exasperation. What murder? This is ridiculous. What could a murder in Wapping have to do with an earls son?
The earl was on his feet and storming toward Cowan when Darcy stepped between the irascible Matlock and the former Runner.
We should listen to what Mr. Cowan has to say, Sir, Darcy cautioned.
Falling into the familiarity of their military roles, Edward asked, What is the issue, Sergeant?
Cowan smiled with the major generals slip.
During the past sennight, Sir, two gruesome murders occurred. All of London is astir with fear. Saunders Welch sent Mr. Richards and Mr. Parker to escort you to No. 4 Bow Street.
Matlock blustered, the earls face turning red with anger.
You think my son holds knowledge of this murder simply because he had too much to drink one night. With that type of logic, half of London should be under suspicion!
The innkeeper at the Sephora testified that Fitzwilliam stayed with him for more than a week, and the innkeeper has yet to observe the major general sober, Cowan explained. The innkeeper also provided a statement that the major general returned to the Sephora covered in blood on the night of the first murder.
Darcy attempted to reason with the Runners sent by Mr. Welch.
We spoke to a dock overseer of an altercation involving my cousin and several crew serving on the ship Towson. The sailors meant to impress the major general into service. You were with me, Cowan, when the harbormaster, Mr. Belker, described the incident.
I gave Mr. Welch my statement, Darcy, Cowan assured, but as the Towson set sail, it will be difficult to question the ships captain or his men.
Even those in the infirmary? Darcy asked.
Even those in the infirmary, Cowan confirmed. They sailed with another ship to rejoin the Towson in Dover.
What proof then? Matlock demanded. If you, Darcy, and this Belker fellow describe a fight, what proof would draw a shadow across my sons name?
Could you produce your sword, Sir? The one from your uniform, Richards asked.
While the others argued, Darcy scanned the news story for details that might be connected to the major general.
It says here a man, his wife and child were killed by a military-style sword. Their throats slit, even the childs.
Edward glanced to Cowan and Darcy.
I have no idea of the swords whereabouts. It was not among my things when I awoke this morning. I assumed either Darcy or Cowan retrieved it when they carried me from the inn.
We gathered your purse, the watch Uncle presented you upon your enlistment, your gloves, and the Queen Anne pistol you carried, Darcy admitted, but I took no notice of your sword Did you, Cowan?
No, Sir, but we hurried our perusal of the room because the carriage would not wait more than a quarter hour. We could have overlooked it.
This is preposterous! Matlock exclaimed, appearing black with rage. My son spent more than a decade in the Kings service in both America and upon the Continent. For Gods sake, he was with Wellington at Waterloo! Fitzwilliam received his latest commission at the hand of the Prince Regent!
You possess little choice, Sir, Cowan cautioned. Mr. Welch means to question any suspect. Concerned with the outcry, the Home Office offered a reward in the case. It would be best to make your statement.
Did the major general wear a uniform when you rescued him? Mr. Parker asked.
Cowan answered before Darcy had time to form a response.
Why would the major generals clothing be of interest?
Darcy recognized what Cowan wished him to know: Edwards uniform could be used as evidence against the major general.
I ordered it burned, Darcy swore, although he knew his household staff washed his cousins filthy clothing. Fleas and lice polluted the garment. I would not risk the life of my servants or of my infant children with the prospect of typhus or worst. We destroyed my cousins items as quickly as we could remove them from his back.
Was there evidence of blood upon the items? Parker asked.
Darcy did not wish to lie, but he knew that even in a drunken state Edward could not commit willful murder. The deaths of war haunted his cousin, but Fitzwilliam would not lash out at an innocent family as part of his anguish.
I cannot say for certain. My cousins clothes were caked with mud and dried dirt and human feces. I did not recognize blood as part of the stains.
We should depart, Cowan suggested in a tone of false calmness. Edward shot a look of panic to Darcy.

Surely there is another means for the major general to respond without creating a public spectacle, Darcy concluded.

I will escort my son to Bow Street, Matlock declared with authority. Fitzwilliam and I will follow you in my coach.
Richards and Parker looked to Cowan for assistance.
If you hold no objections, Sir, Richards and Parker will follow you. They have very strict orders, Cowan explained.
I mean to go with you also, Darcy assured Edward. We will clarify any misconceptions, and then you will return to Darcy House to reunite with Mrs. Fitzwilliam and the countess later today.
My God! Edward exclaimed as his anguish returned. What will Georgiana and mother think of this shame?
About the Author 

Regina Jeffers is an award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency, and contemporary novels. She is a retired English teacher and an often sought after consultant for media literacy and language arts.

You may also find Regina at  Amazon Author Page    

Twitter @reginajeffers     
Facebook     Pinterest   Google+    


Regina Jeffers said...

Thanks for hosting me on the blog. You have always been a loyal supporter of Austen fiction.

kim hansen said...

Cool New author to read for me.

Vesper said...

Didn't realise that the story was based on fact, but I declare that the Major General is innocent

Ana said...

Team Fitzwilliam!! (and then with this name I can fit both of them!!)

Regina Jeffers said...

Kim Amundsen, this is my 23rd novel and my 12th Austen book.

Regina Jeffers said...

Hello, Vesper. I am of the persuasion that the madness will have an HEA.

Regina Jeffers said...

Team Fitzwilliam! I'm with you Ana.

Wendy Norris Roberts said...

It sounds intriguing! Thank you for the giveaway!

Sonja said...

I have read several spin offs of Pride and Prejudice and would certainly enjoy yours.

bn100 said...

sounds interesting

cyn209 said...

congrats to Regina & continued success!!!
I cannot wait to read another of Regina's gifts!!!
thank you for the giveaway........

Regina Jeffers said...

The characters remain very much as always, except they are thrust into dire situations, Sonja.

Regina Jeffers said...

I appreciate your kind words, Wendy.

Regina Jeffers said...

Glad you could join us, bn100.

Regina Jeffers said...

Good day, Cynthia. I hope this finds you well. Had a great time at Rebecca's wedding this past Saturday with Kim and Rick.

Euridice said...

Poor guys. Darcy was thinking the worst was already in the past but then other bigger trouble happen... Thanks for the giveaway

Anonymous said...

Not a place I would want to be in. I have to read this! Thanks for the giveaway.

junewilliams7 said...

Wow, you found a great piece of history! Very intriguing, although not as well known as Jack the Ripper. I wonder if the Ratcliffe murderer will ever be identified, Thank you for the preview and post!

Dung said...

I love all the excerpts I've read so far! Looking forward to read it!

Regina Jeffers said...

The book is worth the time, tgruy.

Regina Jeffers said...

The P. D. James book answers some questions about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders, Jette, but still leaves a mystery behind.

Regina Jeffers said...

The excerpts are meant to entice, Dung. LOL!

Wendy Norris Roberts said...

Oooooh!! I think that I am a winner! Yay!! Thank you!