Thursday, 31 March 2011

Music and Murder in Newcastle

The latest in Roz Southey's Charles Patterson series is now out. The books, set in and around Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1730s, are historical crime fiction with a supernatural twist. Roz says she didn’t set out to write a paranormal crime series - the idea just came to her as she was writing the first one. Now with each book Roz has to think of a mystery that will challenge her hero, and the reader, within the rules of the universe she has created.

Charles Patterson is an impoverished musician who also has a talent for investigating murder. The character is based on Charles Avison, a Newcastle man who was one of England’s most important composers in the eighteenth century. The flourishing music scene scene of north east England in that period plays a major role in the books, as does Newcastle itself, with its quayside, narrow alleys and elegant squares.

Newcastle was a fast growing town in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its prosperity was based first on the coal mining in the region, and the export of coal to London and elsewhere. A hundred years after Charles Patterson’s time, around a million and a half tons of coal a year were being shipped out of Newcastle.

As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, a wide range of goods was manufactured in and around Newcastle. ‘Every description of goods in cast and wrought iron, and brass; steel goods; sheet and pipe lead; patent-shot; white, orange, and red lead; paint; crown, flint, and bottle glass; earthenware and pottery; alkali and other chemical preparations; copperas, soap, salt, and various other articles…. There are other foundries and forges for the manufacture of steam-engines, machinery of all descriptions, and agricultural implements; and extensive works for building railway and other carriages.’ Shipbuilding too was a major industry on the Tyne.

In 1827, the author of a history of Newcastle declared ‘The richer classes in Newcastle consist of the descendants of ancient and distinguished mercantile families, or of those who have accumulated a fortune by a long exercise of superior knowledge and industry. They are therefore well-informed, polite, and unostentatious; and to the influence of their manners may the respectful demeanour of the other classes be mainly attributed…. The insolent, vulgar, purse-proud upstarts, that swarm in some places, are almost unknown here.'

Charles Patterson would probably have disagreed.

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