T.G. (Tahnee Georgina) Campbell wrote her first crime fiction story at the age of sixteen as a gift for her best friend. At 40 pages long it fell short of a “novel” but it marked the beginning of a creative journey that would eventually spawn the first of the Bow Street Society mystery novels; The Case of the Curious Client. During that time she attended the University of Winchester where she acquired her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Studies and wrote a dissertation on the social and cultural importance of the works of Agatha Christie.
She also worked in the not-for-profit sector. Her first role was for a project assisting offenders in training or employment. Following this, she worked for a charity supporting victims and witnesses through the often difficult process of giving evidence at criminal court. Both of these roles helped her to understand the impact crime has upon both offender and victim. They also provided her with invaluable knowledge and second-hand experience of the criminal justice system in England.
Tahnee, thank you for agreeing to this interview. The Bow Street Society mysteries are solid detective novels set within the 1890s Victorian London, which are said to “read like a classic” and have “immersive, full characters”. How would you classify this genre of literature and what sparked you to begin writing this sort?
Thank you for inviting me! I’d classify this genre of literature as clue-puzzle crime fiction with historical fiction elements. The term “clue-puzzle mystery” has been applied to those written during the golden age of detective fiction during the 1930s and 1940s, e.g. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton et cetera. In basic terms, a “clue-puzzle mystery” is a game played between the author and reader in which the former challenges the latter to solve the puzzle (a.k.a. the crime) by spotting the clues and red herrings. In this particular subset of crime fiction, fair play is as important as character, plot, description, and dialogue.
I’d always enjoyed reading Agatha Christie’s books when I was younger. As I’d also enjoyed writing I wanted to challenge myself to write a mystery like Christie’s as a gift for my friend’s sixteenth birthday. I therefore read H.R.F. Keating’s book Writing Crime Fiction and wrote my first crime fiction story, about a one-eyed ex-soldier and a rural newspaper journalist playing detective, called Death of a Kindred. The structure of, and thinking behind, clue-puzzle mysteries fascinated me both then and now. Without a doubt, this is what sparked me into writing in the genre I do.
In looking at your many covers, I cannot help but think of how reminiscent they are of the mystery novels I grew up reading. Whether The Hound of the Baskervilles, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, or the works of Agatha Christie. How much plotting went into the design of your books? Were you hoping readers would be reminded of classical stories such as these?
Yes, I was. I came up with the concept for The Case of The Curious Client’s cover after seeing a set of classic crime fiction books in my local bookstore. Each had vintage illustrations on their cover reminiscent of the period in which they were originally published. As The Case of The Curious Client is set in the past I wanted its cover to have the same vintage and nostalgic style. This is why I commissioned freelance artist Peter Spells to create the cover’s central artwork. He’d previously created travel posters and postcards in a vintage/art deco style for other clients. I was therefore confident he could bring my vintage-like vision to life. My decision to set the illustration against a black background—with stark white text surrounding it and the Bow Street Society logo above—was to enhance the vintage feel further.
You may have noticed the covers for the Bow Street Society novels have black backgrounds while those of the Bow Street Society Casebook short story collections are red. I planned it this way for two reasons: 1) the elements and layout of the novels’ covers allow them to stand out in thumbnail lists, and 2) there’s a visual distinction between the two series.
The first two books in your collection, The Case of the Curious Client and The Case of The Lonesome Lushington, introduce your series as well as your style. Please tell us a bit about the novels and the research you completed to link them to historical happenings in order to enhance realism.
Well, the series is about a fictional group of amateur detectives called the Bow Street Society. Each of its civilian members has been enlisted for their unique skill or exceptional knowledge in a particular field derived from their usual occupation. Members are assigned to cases by the Society’s clerk, Miss Trent, based upon these skills and fields of knowledge.
The “Curious Client” of the first book’s title is Mr. Thaddeus Dorsey. He hires the Bow Street Society to locate a missing friend he knows only as ‘Palmer’ after he fails to keep a late night appointment with him. Whereas, in The Case of The Lonesome Lushington, the Bow Street Society are privately commissioned by Mrs. Suggitt to investigate the murder of her sister whose mutilated body was discovered in the doorway of the London Crystal Palace Bazaar on Oxford Street.
Despite neither book having a specific historical event either at its core or as its backdrop, they both have rich, historical detail which enhances their realism. The London Crystal Palace Bazaar on Oxford Street was an actual retail establishment in 1896 (the year in which the Bow Street Society series is set). Its description in The Case of The Lonesome Lushington is therefore based upon contemporary accounts from the nineteenth century. This is also true of the Lily House at Kew Gardens that appears in the same book.
I was fortunate enough to find a pictorial record of London from 1896 called The Queen’s London: A Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis in the Fifty-Ninth Year of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria published by Cassell & Company, Limited. The photographs, and accompanying text, in this collection have proven invaluable when describing the appearance of real-life locations as they were in 1896. Likewise, Charles Booth’s poverty map from 1889 allows me to place fictional crime scenes and suspects’ homes on real-life streets appropriate to the social class of those involved. An example of this is the placement of the fictional Turk’s Head Public House on the corner of the real-life thoroughfares of Queen Street and Edgware Road. The pub has appeared in both books.
Finally, the search for Mr. Dorsey’s missing friend on the tram and omnibus routes by Bow Street Society member Sam Snyder is based upon research from the nineteenth century. These sources were the Railway Map of Central London in The Pocket Atlas and Guide to London by J.G. Bartholomew from 1899, and the “OMNIBUSES” and “TRAMWAYS” sections of Reynolds’ Shilling Map of London from 1895. The result is a historically accurate route taken by Mr. Snyder as he searches for witnesses.
In addition to ensuring historical accuracy of real-life locations, I also conducted extensive research into the history, structure, regulations, and code of conduct of the Metropolitan Police (a.k.a. Scotland Yard). This was to ensure the portrayal of the fictional police inspectors—specifically their attitude towards and treatment of the Bow Street Society members—is as historically accurate as possible. Alongside this research was that of the forensic techniques available to the police in 1896, specifically the scientific detection of poisons.
As each Bow Street Society member is recruited based upon the skills and knowledge from their usual profession I also conducted research into the history of the various occupations to identify their level of evolution in 1896. It also enabled me to identify the technology/equipment available for each member’s use. For example, the Society’s clerk, Miss Trent, uses a Salter 5 typewriter due to the recommendation given to me by the curator of The Virtual Typewriter Museum. Whilst the description of Dr Weeks’s mortuary table in The Case of The Lonesome Lushington is based upon the recommendation given to me by the curator of the old operating theatre and herb garret in London.
The above process of researching real-life streets, buildings (exteriors & interiors), professions, scientific techniques, technology et cetera is one I repeat each time I plan a new Bow Street Society mystery. As a result, I have an array of weird and wonderful reference books upon my shelves, from The Writers’ Guide to Poisons to The Secrets of Houdini. Needless to say the research never ends!
Last year, you released the third book, The Case of the Spectral Shot, which challenges the Bow Street Society beyond anything prior. Did you find it difficult to have the sleuths separate scientific evidence from the metaphysical findings in this story? How did this impact your characters?
As each Bow Street Society member draws upon their knowledge and expertise to investigate a crime there was no difficulty in having them separate the scientific from the metaphysical. The spiritualist of the group applied his knowledge of séances to test the metaphysical. Whilst the criminal defense lawyer brought enough cynicism to question the proceedings. The illusionist, medical, and clockmaking Bow Street Society members also applied their scientific reasoning to the situation. Thus, between them all, they were able to sift through the misconceptions to eventually uncover the truth.
The impact the metaphysical elements had on the characters varied from person to person. Those of a more nervous disposition—Mr. Maxwell and Miss Dexter, for instance—found it frightening. The entire prospect of a puzzle that pitted scientific arguments against those for the metaphysical meant the Society members had to challenge one another’s personal convictions while still investigating the mystery. This made for some interesting confrontations, particularly between the lawyer and spiritualist. Each cited real-life, historical evidence for their personally held beliefs but both were compelled to consider the others’ point of view in order to get to the truth. The chemistry between Bow Street Society members is something I like to explore whenever I can in the books.
I think there are massive misconceptions about crime fiction. For one, it’s not perceived as “proper” literature by some. Even Agatha Christie considered her Mary Westmacott works as her “serious” writing compared to her detective fiction. For two, it’s a genre considered to be “boring” due to its formulaic structure.
I wish people knew how much skill is required to hoodwink the reader while simultaneously leading them to the correct solution. It’s a balancing act that can easily tip the wrong way. If a writer reveals damning clues too early and/or introduces the murderer too late the reader can feel cheated. Likewise, if the writer relies too much upon detective fiction clichés and the “three act” structure the reader can guess the solution too early via the narrative’s predictability. These are all elements one has to bear in mind when writing crime fiction.
Personally, I plan my mysteries so my readers have a good idea as to the murderer’s identity by the penultimate chapter (even if they’re unsure as to why or how). This ensures they feel satisfied when they’re proven to be correct at the mystery’s conclusion. Additionally, I plan the detectives’ investigations so they draw upon their unique skills and knowledge to solve the crime, rather than simply relying upon eyewitness testimony.
Before you tell us about the upcoming year, give us the scoop on the Gaslight Gazette.
The Gaslight Gazette is the fictional tabloid newspaper Mr. Joseph Maxwell, a Bow Street Society member, writes for in the books/short stories. To help my readers form a stronger connection with the Bow Street Society universe I created a free, monthly newsletter of the same name for them to subscribe to. In addition to news about upcoming Bow Street Society releases and book signing events, subscribers are also given a first look at brand new, unpublished Bow Street Society Casebook short stories. Each story is exclusively released in parts over 4-5 months. Subscribers are also given sneak previews of upcoming novels and an authentic Victorian “Slang Word of the Month” to drop into conversations with their friends. In the past, anyone subscribed to the Gaslight Gazette has been automatically entered into a prize draw to win the entire Bow Street Society catalogue, too.
What can we expect from you in 2019? Anything else you would like to add?
The fourth mystery novel in the Bow Street Society collection will be released later this year. Its title, illustration, and excerpts will be announced in the Gaslight Gazette as and when they are confirmed. I also intend to release a third volume of Bow Street Society Casebook short stories at Christmas. Finally, the official trailer for the first Bow Street Society mystery, The Case of The Curious Client, can be found on the official YouTube channel (link below). Filmed on location in the Victorian Parlour at the Milton Keynes Museum it features Sabrina Poole as Miss Rebecca Trent and Daniel Toal as Gaslight Gazette journalist, Mr. Oswald Baldwin.
It has been a pleasure, Tahnee! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
BOOK SIGNING EVENT:
UK Indie Lit Fest 2019
27th JULY 2019 1000-1700
Kala Sangam Arts Centre
1 Forster Square
I will have a stall at this event where fans can meet me, buy signed copies of the books, and talk about all things Bow Street Society.
Book FREE tickets: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/uk-indie-lit-fest-2019-tickets-50880476876