The fun part about writing historical fiction, be that for crime or romance or any other market, is the chance to weave forgotten snippets and people into your protag’s world.
The setting for In Cases of Murder is the wartime era of the 1940s, so including the obvious icons of the era such as Churchill or Chamberlain is something of a given. It would be hard to avoid them if you wanted to build a believable backdrop for your story.
Knowing lesser names of the period can add that extra layer.
In Cases of Murder takes Bunch and Wright into South London, and while researching 1930s and 40s London crime I came across the infamous female Forty Thieves – allied by blood to the male dominated Elephant gang (after the area around Elephant and Castle). Though the gang’s roots stem from the Regency period the Forty Thieves’ heyday was the 20th century inter-war period. They were led in that time by Alice Diamond who held sway by that time over both the all-female gang and their male counterparts. Though the UK never had prohibition the gang used the newly found freedoms of the jazz age to befriend their victims via clubs and wild parties – fleecing the rich through society long before the Krays were born!
The gang had specialised in shoplifting on an industrial scale but once the large stores had grown wise to them moved on to the far more lucrative burglary of large houses. They specialised in country homes and seaside resorts, using the hedonistic lifestyles of the wealthy bright young things of the era to infiltrate parties and events. They used fast cars to outrun the police before transferring loot to the railway system. They would to travel to a town and deposited empty suitcases at railway stations and on the return trip, those suitcases would be filled with stolen goods.
In Cases of Murder sees the Elephants led by Diamond’s prodigy, Lily Kendall (nee Goldstein – aka the Bobbed-Haired bandit – known, according to history, to have started out as a getaway driver and risen through the ranks). In my version Kendall runs a series of nightclubs as cover for the gang’s businesses and it is to her that Wright turns for information on the second suitcase body linked to the investigation.
Though not the lead characters – Kendall only appears twice in the book – this gang’s links to trains, suitcases and South London were too good to miss! If nothing else they also add a new darker layer of intrigue to Chief Inspector Wright’s past.
Writing the nightclub/pub scenes were huge fun. A real eye opener for our Consulting detective Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney and hopefully for her reading fans.