Author Topic: Hello , would love some genuine feedback on historical crime novel first chapter  (Read 248 times)

Offline azureblue

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Hello all , hoping for some feedback on my first novel - quid pro qou ( as Lecter would say ) - I'll read yours if you'll read mine :-)

The Kings Runner   

A Tales of Brighton Mystery 

Brighton 1826 

 King George IV is in his beloved Pavilion and Brighton has become the playground for the rich and famous, a place to “take the waters” and mix with royalty. Thousands have flocked to the town to be close to the King and the sea.  But when a series of bloody ritualistic murders take place in the royal household, it falls to Bow Street Runner Thomas Lavender, the “Kings Runner”, to follow a trail that leads from the slums of Brighton to the mansions of London and, using his unique talents, to uncover a plot that threatens King George himself. 



Chapter 1 

September 1826

                                               The Body


The sun rose on Brighton beach – a pale light that spread across the grey sea, staining the clouds amber and casting a shimmering golden beam across the water, while gulls wheeled above screeching their mournful morning litany.  As it crept across the waters the light picked out the bathing machines lined along the pebbled shore as if guarding against a seaborne invasion, perhaps another Armada or a successor to Bonaparte. The growing light threw the majestic span of the Pier into sharp silhouette, reaching out across the Kings Road, painting the grand seafront mansions in shades of peach and orange, glinting off the silver door knockers and ornate bow windows. It spilled across the Downs, leaving pools of shadow in the valleys and dewponds, and outlined the sparkling domes and minarets of the Royal Pavilion, seaside home of a King.



Mary Stevens was oblivious to the beauty of the morning and the quality of the light as she trudged her way to work, passing the stately squares and crescents of Brunswick Town with her head bowed against the bitter wind.  Like most people that live and work in the same town, day in day out, year upon year, she had grown inured to its sights and indifferent to its charms. All she knew was it was too bloody early and too bloody cold to be out, but that was the job and if she weren’t used it now then she never would be. She was lucky to have such a job, she knew. The town was increasingly crowded since “Prinny”, the Prince Regent, came to stay back when she was a girl. The town had grown, work was scarce, and people starved. She had been one of the lucky ones.

 Mary pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders as she headed out of Brunswick and its grand mansions and past the shops and taverns that served it. Up on the hill alongside of her she could see the old church of St Nicholas, where Tattershall was buried, the man that had saved the Merry Monarchs centuries before. Her ma was also buried up there on the hill. Every day she blessed her ma for the skills she had passed on before she passed on, how to make the flakiest crust, the sweetest meringue, the softest sponge. Mary had spent her working life, twenty five years and counting, as a baker, learning the intricacies of the trade as she went and for the last fifteen of those years she had been head ”pâtissier”, pastry chef to the Royal Household, baking for the Prince and his dandies, She had worked under the great Monsieur Careme, Boney’s man until the Prince had swiped him - a culinary genius whose chocolate confections were legend, until that grand gentleman had enough of George’s temper and buffoonery and decamped back to France.

Mary passed through the Steine with its closely cropped lawns and orderly oaks and reached the gates of the Pavilion. She recognized the guard on duty at the south gate but couldn’t remember his name – she had a fair memory for faces but not the names that went with them, but that didn’t matter on this chilly morning – neither were in the mood for chat, so they nodded a brief exchange of recognition and Mary passed on round to the servant’s entrance at the back of the building. She remembered the old house, the Marine Pavilion, which had seemed so huge to her when she was little, a grand thing with its domes and pillars, but this new design of the King’s was even grander and far stranger. Mary, of course, had never been to India (neither had the King by all accounts) but she had seen pictures in books of the Taj Mahal and other far-flung places and when she passed into the ornate grounds and looked up at the spires, domes and pinnacles she often liked to imagine she had been transported by some kindly djinn to another country, another world. But this morning the whistling wind and the screaming gulls kept her chained to the practicalities of the present and she took the brass ring of keys from her coat and unlocked the oak door that led to the kitchens. 

Being pâtissier to the King carried many responsibilities and duties and one of them was to be the first in the kitchen every morning, checking the work of last night’s moppers and making sure that everything was ready for the morning’s preparation. Most days it seemed Prinny was entertaining, and he liked his guests to have the best of everything – the King was famous for his Pavilion banquets, at any one of which enough food was consumed to keep her small family fed for a month, much of it consumed by the King himself. Maybe, thought Mary, if he had spent more time on his horse and less time at the trough, he wouldn’t be the tub o’lard he was now. She chuckled to herself at that, thinking on the picture she had seen at the print shop in the Lanes of Prinny depicted as a large spouting whale surrounded by admiring mermaids, and then she passed through the narrow dark corridor to the Great Kitchen.

As she entered the kitchen her eyes swept the room with practiced appraisal, noting the gleaming copper pots stacked neatly on the shelves or hanging from hooks, the jars and bottles of spice and sauce lined in neat rows, the knives and cleavers ordered and shining in their racks, everything neatly in its place - and then her eyes stopped, and her brow furrowed in confusion. In front of her was a dark shape on the huge oak table in the centre of the room, a shape that shouldn’t be there – that table was always left bare for the next day, but now a recognizably male figure lay sprawled face up across its length. Mary moved closer to the table. Her first thought was that a drunken reveller from above stairs had somehow found his way down here and decided to sleep it off here – his white pomaded hair and the golden buttons shining on his waistcoat gave him away as a person of means.  The gentleman’s arms and legs were splayed on either side of him, and she guessed he must have consumed a great deal of claret to have collapsed in such a fashion. Mary spoke loudly, her voice echoing from the pots and pans.

“Sir? Beg pardon sir?”

No response. She moved closer to the table, aiming to waken the gentleman with a gentle word or shake, but as she did, she began to notice the details. His eyes were open and unblinking, his gaze directed upward. Then she saw the glint of the knives and then the blood, trickling off the high table to pool on the flagstones beneath. Two carving knives (she knew they belonged here as they carried the royal crest) pinned the man’s arms outstretched on either side of him by his hands, palms raised upward like the murals of the Crucifixion she had seen at St Nicholas. As her gaze travelled down the table, she could see two more knives driven through his splayed ankles, staining the bottom of his white stockings crimson. Her attention was drawn back again to his face and his eyes, sightlessly staring up at the soot blackened ceiling. 

Mary gave a little sob of horror and backed away unconsciously from the table, colliding with a rack of pans, sending them clanging to the floor, and then she turned and fled back through the corridor, and out into the chilly air. 

As she rounded the corner at a run, she saw the guard whose name she could not remember turning to gape in surprise at her sudden appearance. Mary tried to shout but hadn’t the breath - she had gorged on too many of her own sweetmeat creations in recent years and the short run had left her wheezing. All she could do was beckon to the guard and point back the way she had come, the look of terror on her face managing to do the job that words could not. 



“What the devil do you mean by it? “shouted the King, his ruddy face poking out from the golden covers of his bed. “You know damn well I was on the cut last night - my head feels like to split and yet you come crashing in at this ungodly hour! Out with it you little shit sack!”

The chief steward stood impassively at the entrance to the bedchamber and waited. He had worked in the Royal Household for some years now and was used to the King’s outbursts, his temper and spleen, his petty rages and fits. Most of the servants in the Pavilion were and those that were not tended not to last very long in the job. He had been here eight years now and his respectfully stolid expression was finely honed and immovable. The King was sitting now in his canopied bed, the golden dragons on his bedsheets and on the walls around him seeming to echo his anger. Choosing his words with care, as he always did, the steward ploughed on. 

“Your Majesty, once more I beg pardon for this unsolicited intrusion at such an hour and would not have disturbed you if the matter was not of the gravest import. A body, sire, has been discovered. Here in the Pavilion, Your Majesty – in your kitchen.”

That got the Kings attention, and he ponderously swung his great bulk out of the bed, sequinned nightdress billowing voluminously as he moved until his legs dangled comically over the edge. He stretched out one of these massive limbs and massaged it as he stared owlishly at the steward. The King suffered intermittent gout and his legs were usually bandaged to the knee.

“How the deuce did a body end up in my kitchen?” The King said testily “Who is it, one of the cooks?”

The steward cleared his throat – having delivered the bones of the story he now had to get to the heart of it.

“It appears, Your Majesty, that foul play has taken place. The gentleman in the kitchen was...”

What, he thought?  Pinned to the table like a butterfly on a card? Laid out like a carcass to be sliced? He had seen the body and there was no delicate way of describing it.

“…stabbed, sire.”

He finished diplomatically. 

“Stabbed? you mean murdered?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”
« Last Edit: July 15, 2021, 01:33:55 PM by azureblue »

Offline Nether

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I'm going to admit that I checked out early. The opening sentence immediately turned me off, and then I just skimmed here and there to see if it would pull me back in.

I feel like you're trying to do too much with each sentence, and using grandiose-sounding words for the sake of using grandiose-sounding words even when those aren't necessarily the right words in context. (Case-in-point: You mention "while gulls wheeled above screeching their mournful morning litany" -- I wasn't sure what was "mournful" about gulls. I guess the sound of their cry is a little sad, but I don't really think of them as sad animals. And then by the time I get to "morning litany," my thoughts are more on trying to interpret what I thought you meant than on the story itself.) However, that might be a convention within the subgenre you're writing in, at which point I'm probably not the best judge as to whether or not it's marketable within that genre.

And the parenthetical statement about the carving knives felt unnecessary. When I hear "carving knives" when a character is in a kitchen, the idea that somebody might have brought their own doesn't enter my mind. And, historically speaking, would kitchen utensils normally have the king's crest on them? It's another detail that I'm getting hung up on instead of paying attention to the story.