I am delighted to welcome
Susan ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo....
Fatal Forgery is your first full length novel - what can you tell us about it that won't give too much away?
In my day job, I am an anti-money laundering consultant, which means that I am thinking constantly about financial crime. I write a huge amount too – books on money laundering, articles for trade paper “Money Laundering Bulletin”, a work blog (www.ihatemoneylaundering.wordpress.com) and lots of policies and procedures. I also write a weekly column for our local newspaper. But, like most scribblers, I had always wanted to write a “proper book” – a novel. And financial crime seemed the obvious topic.
“Fatal Forgery” is set in 1824, which is a fascinating time for this subject. Paper money and share certificates were their infancy (people were much more used to dealing with physical coin) and – just as we today are coming to grips with e-banking and virtual currencies – the population was nervous about trusting them. Those who forged them were sent to the scaffold – but public opinion in general was starting to turn against wide use of the death penalty. There was still no standardised police force (the Met was not created until 1829) but some forward-thinking magistrates were encouraging their police officers not simply to arrest people, but to try and understand their motives – the birth of detection. And my hero, Constable Sam Plank, is one such officer.
Sent to arrest the banker Henry Fauntleroy on charges of forgery, Plank is astonished to find the banker willing – even desperate – to plead guilty, when such a plea will see him hang. Plank’s curiosity is piqued, and he resolves to find out more about Fauntleroy, his bank and his actions. Along the way Plank meets a thought-provoking cast of characters, including a one-legged jailer who loves roses, a courtesan with a wicked sense of humour, and a well-connected lawyer with a plan.
Did you outline the plot first, or did you allow the story to go its own way?
Many of the characters in “Fatal Forgery” are based on real people – the banker Henry Fauntleroy, the magistrate John Conant, the lawyer James Harmer and the keeper John Wontner all really existed, but they did not interact in the way I describe. And there was a Constable Sam Plank too – but I know nothing about him except that he testified in several cases at the Old Bailey and I just loved his solid, dependable name. I came across the basic facts of Fauntleroy’s life when researching bank fraud in my university library, but I took great liberties with the story when I was partway through the novel and realised that the group of characters I had assembled had other ideas about what they wanted to do!
And I have actually written this novel twice. The first time round the story was told from the point of view of the banker. But then I realised that Sam Plank was keen to have his say, and so I re-wrote the whole thing from his perspective, and I think it works much better. Quiet but forceful, that’s Sam.
In your research for Fatal Forgery, did you come across anything that surprised you?
Plenty! One day I went to the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, because I had read that this famous architect had bought a particular book from Fauntleroy and I wanted to see it. Archived along with the book was a small folder of papers – and in that folder was a confession, written by Fauntleroy while he was in Newgate. The actual confession that he had held, a scrappy piece of paper covered in pencil writing! I was more thrilled than you can imagine, and told the museum staff the significance of what they had – they have assured me that it is now properly catalogued and preserved.
I was also surprised to find how extensive was the debate about the death penalty during the Regency years, with many leading thinkers of the day very opposed to its wide usage. And even the more ordinary people were going off it; juries would often find someone not guilty when they plainly were, to avoid having to impose a death sentence. Despite this, executions – still public at this time – would draw enormous crowds of spectators.
Do you have a special place to do your writing?
Because I write so much for work, I thought it was important to create a separation for my fiction writing. So I bought myself a second-hand Mac (my work machine is a PC), and most of “Fatal Forgery” was written on that in my local university library. There is a desk I like up on the fifth floor, with a fabulous view over Cambridge, with King’s and the other colleges laid out before me for inspiration. The fifth floor is chemistry, so I am not tempted to read the books – although several of my minor characters have been named from the index of a chemistry book picked at random from the shelves!
Can you tell us what are you writing next?
Indeed! Several people who read “Fatal Forgery” asked me what Sam got up to next, so I have embarked on the second Sam Plank adventure. It is tentatively called “A Fool and His Money”, and Sam is trying to work out the connection between four seemingly unrelated crimes. All are based on the sort of real crimes that came before the Old Bailey in 1825 – and at this very moment I am researching what happens when you drink Prussic acid (it’s not pleasant).
Are you inspired by any particular era, author or book?
As I say, I love the Regency period because – from a legal and financial perspective, and with the country trying to recover from the seemingly-endless Napoleonic Wars – it is a time of great change. Also, although it is awash with romances, there are not many “detective” novels set in this period – most are Victorian. My main inspiration among authors is CJ Sansom – I could not aspire so high, but the way that he takes you into the world of Matthew Shardlake, so that you are immersed and then learning about the time without realising, is simply masterful. I hope one day to wear my research as lightly as he does.
Susan - thank you for spending time on our blog. Jaffa and I wish you continued success with your writing and look forward to more from you.... and Samuel Plank in the future.
Susan has very kindly offered a copy of Fatal Forgery to one lucky UK winner of this giveaway
My thoughts on Fatal Forgery
Was Henry Fauntleroy simply a common thief with a fine wardrobe and a good education?
Well, that’s what Constable Samuel Plank is determined to find out in this cleverly constructed financial crime story, which takes us on a journey though the complicated process of Regency justice. In 1824, methodical crime detecting is still in its infancy, and public trust in the burgeoning use of paper money is precarious. So much so, that anyone caught forging financial documents is sent to the scaffold. When Constable Plank is sent to arrest the banker, Henry Fauntleroy, who has been accused of financial fraud, Samuel has an inclination that there is more to this man’s crime than at first appears.
From the start of this story I felt as if I had been transported back in time to Regency London. Walking in Samuel’s footsteps, I could hear the same cacophony of sound, shared the same sense of disbelief in Fauntleroy’s modus operandi, and hung onto Constable Plank’s coat tails as he entered the squalid house of correction at Coldbath Fields.
I know absolutely nothing about bank fraud during the Regency era, but on reading Fatal Forgery, I was completely fascinated by the way the author has captured not just the spirit of the time, but also the minutiae of the financial world. The description of the people who inhabited this complicated world is exemplary, from the solid reliability of Constable Plank, to the irascible and curmudgeonly court dignitaries, and the fatally flawed perpetrator Henry Fauntleroy, all combine to form a fascinating insight into a very different world.
I am reassured that this is not the last we have seen of Samuel Plank. His steadfastness is so congenial that to spend time in his company in future books, is a treat worth savouring.