Blog Tour: The Body in the Ice - Guest Post by A. J. MacKenzie

Today is my stop on the Blog Tour for the historical murder mystery, The Body in the Ice. This Story is out on Thursday and to celebrate it, author A. J. MacKenzie stops by to talk about amateur sleuths:

Amateur sleuths who do a better job than the professionals
by A. J. MacKenzie

Crime-fighting in eighteenth-century Britain was a pretty amateur affair, especially in the countryside. London had the Bow Street Runners, and by the end of the century a strong force of constables. The cities and larger towns had their own magistrates and police forces. Out in the country, though, law enforcement was down to local volunteers.

The backbone of the system were the local magistrates, the justices of the peace. They served as investigating officers, looking into alleged criminal offences; they were the detectives of the day. They also acted as judges at the lowest level, holding courts of petty session and quarter session.

In the cities and towns, magistrates were paid. Many were also trained solicitors. In the countryside, the job fell to whichever local worthy failed to dodge the bullet. At the start of The Body in the Ice, we learn that Reverend Hardcastle has been reluctantly co-opted into the role of J.P. because there is no one else available. It was not uncommon for clergymen to serve as J.Ps; they were well-educated, literate and a few might even have some rudimentary legal training. There were of course some unscrupulous J.P.s who used their position to line their pockets with payoffs and bribes, but there were also many honest officials.

The JPs right-hand man was the parish constable. Each parish was required by law to have a constable, and again, this was a job many people tried to evade. First, unless the J.P. was willing to dip into his own pocket, the job was unpaid. Second, other locals tended to regard constables as snitches. The job was not popular. Although there were some constables who took the opportunity to run a local protection racket, again there were many who tried to do the job in an honest and even-handed manner.

In The Body in the Ice, Hardcastle has hit upon the idea of asking Joshua Stemp, a leader of the local smuggling gang, to be his parish constable. In a community where virtually everyone is involved in some way with smuggling, Stemp is already well respected and can work with the rest of the parish. So long as his duties don’t conflict with his smuggling activities, Stemp is happy (and to see what happens when they do, you’ll have to wait for the next book in the series).

About the only true professionals were the county coroners and their assistants, who were qualified doctors. Coroners could inquire into the cause of death, but could not determine responsibility, or investigate matters of guilt or innocence. But at least the hard-pressed magistrate could be reasonably certain that the medical advice he received was accurate.

Why have such a ramshackle, amateurish system? The answer lies in the English allergy to authority. The upheavals of the seventeenth century had resulted in a deep hatred of pretty much every form of authority – and of the taxation that would be required to pay for it. A standing police force was considered anathema, for it could easily be transformed into an instrument of repression. People would rather put up with higher levels of crime, than pay for or follow the orders of an established police force.

How well did these amateurs do? As Frank McGlynn points out in Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England, there was a lot of crime around. But the criminals were pretty amateurish too. Somehow, the hard-pressed, unpaid, overworked magistrates and constables managed to stop the country from collapsing into anarchy. Just.

About the book:

Title: The Body in the Ice
Author: A. J. MacKenzie
Published: April 20th 2017 by Zaffre

Blurb: A twisting tale of murder, mystery and eighteenth-century England by a dramatic and gripping new voice in the genre.

On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.

It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim's identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared. 

With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor's attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

The Body in the Ice, with its unique cast of characters, captivating amateur sleuths and a bitter family feud at its heart, is a twisting tale that vividly brings to life eighteenth-century Kent and draws readers into its pages.

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