Aug 20

A Spell for Crime Detection Jane Austen Style by Shereen Vedam

It’s a great pleasure to welcome my friend, Shereen Vedam.

shereen-05-flower 2Anna, thank you for inviting me to your Passionate About Historical Romance blog. It gave me the chance to talk about three of my favorite topics: history, mystery and magic.

If a crime’s committed during the Regency, who you gonna call?

In the early 1800s, Bow Street runners were as familiar as Ghostbusters1 are now. This was a time before Scotland Yard2 (created in 1829) and before being a constable was a full-time, paid position. It was an intriguing period in history when England was on the verge of becoming industrialized.

In 1811, Prince George IV (pictured in the portrait) became Regent of England because his father, King George III, due to a malady, was declared incapable of performing the necessary royal functions. This was also the year Jane Austen released her first novel, Sense and Sensibility.

In Britain, during the Regency3 era (a mere 9 years: 1811-1820), like pieces of a puzzle, the elements that would impact policing procedures for decades to come were being assembled. Jane and George puzzle

To accurately depict a hero and/or heroine solving crimes during the Regency, we need a spell that will convince a reader s/he has been transported back in time to the Regency era to meet a Bow Street Runner, to solve a crime, and perhaps to catch a killer.

On with the spell casting!

To successfully cast any enchantment, we need three things:

1)    The right ingredients
2)    A clever spell caster
3)    A pinch of magic

THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS (aka tools of the trade)

Picking the proper ingredients for this spell is essential because our crime detection tools during the Regency were severely limited. There was no police force, per se, and the men who did this type of work were untrained and only rewarded if a case against an accused was successfully prosecuted. Not surprisingly, considering the pay scale, corruption was rife. Since our crime fighters were often men from the lower classes, they could not easily interrogate suspects from the upper classes, especially a peer (without risking getting thrown off the property).

A peer was a person with a title bestowed on him by the monarch, and one of the privileges of his peerage4 stated that he and his wife did not have to participate in criminal investigations. A peer could not be called as witness to a crime, and even if he gave a statement in court, he did not have to take an oath, he could not be arrested even for taking more than one or two of the king’s deer. The only thing he could be arrested for (if caught red-handed) was if he committed a high crime, such as murder or treason. Even so, if a peer were accused of a crime, he would then be tried by his peers in the House of Lords, not in the commoners’ courts.

Yes, fighting crime within Jane Austen’s society was tough and our crime solving tools were indeed thin. A good detective5 (don’t use that word) investigator worth his/her salt, however, would make use of whatever was at hand to ensure justice was done.  So, what was at hand to help solve a crime?

Our Crime Fighters

There were four main types:

  1. Night Watchman and Parish Watchman (watchmen/constables worked for various parishes and vestries. If they worked for an affluent parish, they might even be paid a little, but all were restricted from pursuing criminals outside their jurisdiction)
  2. City of London Police (wore blue coats and trousers, did not appreciate anyone interfering within their tiny but important jurisdiction: about one square mile of the old city)
  3. Thames River Police (patrolled the river merchants’ warehouses and ships on the Thames River to guard against theft and fight smuggling)
  4. Runners/Officers (plain clothed and working for a Magistrate, these men were authorized by the Home Office to cross boundaries between London’s various parishes)
    • The elite of this group were, of course, the Bow Street Runners6 (they preferred to be called “Principal Officer”). They were authorized to pursue criminals not only anywhere within London, but in all of Britain as well.
    • A runner handed out a magistrate’s warrants for arrests and searches, hunted for murder weapons, investigated crime scenes, questioned witnesses and brought in suspects. As a means to call on the public’s assistance with a case, they also published information on wanted criminals and stolen property in journals and Broadsheets like the Hue and Cry.
    • Best of all, by the Regency period, in addition to rewards for successful prosecutions, and charging fees for their services from private citizens, the runners were also paid a regular salary by the Home Office.
    • Bow Street Horse Patrols guarded the roads leading up to London to protect the public from highwaymen.

Criminal Prosecution and Incarceration

Coroner – the purpose of a coroner was to determine cause of death. If the cause of death was in doubt, he could call a jury (an inquest) to make that determination.

Attorney7 (solicitor, prepared the case and barrister, presented the case in high court)

Prosecutor – often the victim himself, but sometimes, if he could afford the funds, he could hire a solicitor, who would then procure a barrister to present the case in court.

Defender – No such thing during the Regency era. Anyone standing trial for a crime could ask people to speak on their behalf, but they could not cross examine witnesses. Proper criminal defense was not born until the Victorian era.

Prison System8 – In London, depending on the type of crime, there were several prisons where criminals could be taken. Below are a few of them:

  • Fleet Prison and King’s Bench (debtor’s prisons)
  • Hulks (for prisoners sentenced to transportation to another country). While the prisoners were still in England, they could be put to hard labor improving the River Thames waterway.
  • Ludgate (for debtors and petty offenders)
  • Newgate (for serious offences like murder).

o   Newgate was conveniently located near the Old Bailey, where trials (for cases from London and Middlesex) were conducted and executions carried out.

Available Weaponry

For our Crime Fighters

  • Lantern
  • Candle
  • Wooden staves / Truncheon / Walking sticks
  • Pistol and Sabre (issued to Bow Street Horse Patrols)9

Wielded by the Criminals

  • Anything at hand during the early 1800s, including, but not limited to, fist, cudgel, sword, flintlock pistol, blunderbuss, poison

There you have it. These were the available ingredients during the Regency era to help an investigator solve a crime. Choose wisely, for this decision can make or break the spell.



2013 A Beastly Scandal (500 x 750)The spell caster is not the writer, but rather the hero/heroine of our story. As such, s/he should be someone who is both appealing and clever enough to work within the societal restrictions of Jane Austen’s world. This person will need to interrogate witnesses from a wide swath of the public, from dukes and earls, to butchers, bakers, maybe even a candlestick maker. Our spell caster must be someone with whom any one of Jane Austen’s characters would be comfortable conversing. Often, this has meant that s/he was a member of the Ton10(rich, well born, well educated, part of the fashionable crowd).

In A Beastly Scandal, I have two spell casters (the hero, an earl, and the heroine, a daughter of a Marquis, each working separately to solve the same crime). Since this tale was inspired by the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, my beastly hero, Rufus, is not always likeable but he is counterbalanced by the loveable beauty. In the excerpt below, see Rufus question a poor, out of work farmer who has lost his wife and children. Notice how this clever spell caster adjusts his language in order to better communicate with a possible witness.


Before we get to the excerpt, there is still the matter of that pinch of magic. How else but with magic could we hope to convince a perfectly sensible reader that she has stepped outside her everyday world of cell phones, rapid transit and online shopping and into a realm where missives are hand-written, horse drawn carriages take couples through Hyde Park, where a lady might enjoy an excursion to a haberdashery shop in order to purchase the perfect material that her maid can fashion into a scrumptious ball gown in the current style (as seen in an Ackerman’s Repository fashion plate)?

To accomplish this feat of enchantment – to procure that pinch of magic – a writer (the spell caster’s assistant) must:

o   have passion for our work (comes from working at craft every day)

o   revere authenticity (take history courses, join Regency specialty groups, and read widely)

o   write with flare (develop a unique style/author voice, which comes from practice, practice, practice)

Cultivate the above, and that pinch of magic will appear of its own accord, because as every good spell caster’s assistant knows, magic can never be controlled, it can only ever be enticed closer.

Excerpt from A Beastly Scandal

His guest [possible witness] ordered ale, and Rufus [our spell caster] paid for it and waited. Once the drink arrived, Brindle abandoned his cap on his lap and grabbed the sweating mug with large, coarse hands. He downed the contents. Dribbles slid along the sides of his mouth while he swallowed in rapid succession. He returned his empty mug to the scarred wooden tabletop.

Rufus ordered the mug be replenished. Slowly, he sipped his own whiskey, enjoying its sharp, dry bite. As the chatter about the room rose, the man’s tight shoulders loosened.

“The innkeeper tells me you are an avid source of village gossip,” Rufus said. At his guest’s blank stare, he rephrased. “You know a lot about what happens around the village?”

“I knows some, milord.”

“Do you remember the last time my father came to Terrance?”

“All knew whenever the Black Ter, um, his late lordship, were here.”

The man’s gaze swung to the doorway as if he were considering bolting for the exit. Brindle’s fear and his hesitation over Rufus’s father’s name would have to wait for later consideration. He must be careful, or he would lose the man’s cooperation.

“Do you remember what my father did the last time he visited?”

Brindle’s attention returned to him, and a light appeared in his dull brown eyes. He straightened his shoulders, and his face changed from slack and lifeless to alert, with a hint of optimism. The man lifted his mug and emptied the remnants. Though his hands still shook, this time Rufus suspected it was more from excitement than fear. With care, Brindle laid the empty mug down with a soft thunk. He leaned forward, bringing with him a nauseating odor of stale sweat and horse droppings.

Holding his breath, Rufus also leaned forward.

“I might knows something about something, milord.”

Rufus reclined and let his breath gush out in relief. Before the day ended, he might know who killed his father. He hid his excitement behind a bland face, like the ones Phillip wore in polite circles. A flick of his finger again brought the innkeeper to replenish his guest’s mug.


Since this blog post began with mention of “Ghostbusters,” I leave you with a look at ghost busting during Regency times, with a debut cartoon based on A Beastly Scandal.Regency Cartoon SRV——————-

Links to Buy




Ghostbusters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKbg7CfG7i4

2   A Brief History of Scotland Yard: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-scotland-yard-172669755/?no-ist

3  The Regency Period of Jane Austen’s time: http://www.janeausten.org/regency-period.asp

The Regency Read: http://dbschaefer.com/the-regency-read/

4  Peerage Law: http://www.regencyresearcher.com/pages/peer1.html

Privilege of Peer: http://historyhoydens.blogspot.ca/2012/04/privileges-of-peer.html

5  The Oxford Universal Dictionary attributes the first use of the word “Detective” to 1843.

A Note on the word “Detective”: http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=5701

6 Bow Street Runners: http://www.janeausten.co.uk/bow-street-runners-and-the-marine-police/

7 The Courts: http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/georgians/crime/crimeandpunishment.html

8 Prisons and Lockups: http://www.londonlives.org/static/Prisons.jsp#NewPrison

9 Henry & John Fielding: https://suite.io/joseph-allen-mccullough/v7r27g

10 Regency Language: A Primer: http://www.likesbooks.com/regencyspeak.html


Shereen Vedam is the author of fairytale-inspired Regency romances. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and SF Canada. Visit her website at http://www.shereenvedam.com/ or keep track of her upcoming books by liking her Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/ShereenVedam or subscribing to her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/vuU_b.


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  1. Jo-Ann

    Fascinating blog post. I loved it. Thanks for sharing.
    Best Wishes

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hey Jo-Ann, thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. Pat Amsden

    Oh, I do love this post. If I hadn’t already bought and read your book (which was wonderful) I would be doing so now. This is a fascinating look at crimefigjting in the regency period.

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Pat, thanks for your kind words. 🙂

  3. Linda Andrews

    Excellent post. I learned some things I didn’t know. Do you plan to write more mysteries during this era?

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Linda,

      Glad the article was interesting.

      I do have 3 more books coming out in this series, all published by ImaJinn Books. The next full novel will be out in Nov and is called A Devilish Slumber. It’s a Sleeping Beauty inspired tale, with a mystery embedded, where the hero is investigating a murder and the heroine, a recluse, is his main suspect.

      I also have a Regency romance novella (inspired by Goldilocks) due for released in September 2014. It’s part of a Christmas Anthology from ImaJinn Books. That novella, too, has a Regency mystery in it (someone’s out to kill the hero).

  4. Lana Williams

    Wonderful information! So interesting to hear how crime fighting evolved! The book sounds great! Tweeted as well. 🙂

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Lana,
      Thanks for checking in! And I really appreciate the tweet.

  5. Christy Carlyle

    I love the references you shared and all the information you were able to impart in this post. Your book sounds wonderful and just the kind of story I’d enjoy. Can’t wait to read it. Thank you, Shereen.

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Christy,

      I’m glad you like the references. I think you will enjoy A Beastly Scandal. It’s a fun, light-hearted, book. 🙂

  6. Melissa Keir

    Very fascinating post! I didn’t realize all the different pieces of the puzzle! All the best!

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Melissa, thanks for checking in. History is such a fascinating subject, huh? Thanks for you well wishes.

  7. Jacquie Biggar

    Great post Shereen, Those guys had it tough back then, One wrong move and the investigator could be the one in the hoosegow, 🙂
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Jacquie,
      Lol, yes, dangerous times indeed. Glad you could drop by!

  8. Sydney

    I only wish the excerpt were longer. I got pulled right in. By the way, the distinction still exists in UK courts. I had a lawsuit there recently and the solicitor brought in three barristers to see what each thought their chances were of winning before a judge.
    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Sydney,

      Good insight into current practice and how some of those old puzzle pieces are still in place in the UK courts!

      Thanks for checking in.


  9. Mimi Barbour

    Thanks for going to so much work to help us see the situation clearly. Fascinating stuff, Shereen 🙂

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Love to hear from you again, Mimi! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  10. Karalee Long

    This history of “policing” during the Regency period is very interesting. Also, I enjoyed the excerpt from Shereen Vedam’s novel. While I write and read contemporary romantic suspense, I love to read historical romance. I’m always interested in crime detection. Thanks for this blog post.

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Karalee,
      Glad you enjoyed the blog post. Thanks for checking in!

  11. Judy Hudson

    Wow, you’ve really done your research! Then getting it across to the reader without lecturing is another skill entirely.
    I liked the part about the spell caster. Of course the reader shouldn’t be aware of the writer’s presence at all. Well put.

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hey Judy,
      You’re making me blush. 🙂
      Thanks for coming by to check out my blog post. I really appreciate it!

  12. Jennifer Ann Coffeen

    Great info! Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Jennifer,
      Glad you found the article helpful.

  13. Judith Laik

    Good article, Shereen! I’m so glad to see that you have more books coming out!

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Judith,
      Nice to hear from you and, yes, I’m very glad my next few novels are finally close to releasing, too!

  14. Shereen Vedam

    Someone sent me an email asking the City of London police wearing the blue coat, and when that practice began.

    In looking that info up, I found this really great site that might be of interest:

    This is a quote from the above site:
    “In 1785, in response to social anxieties sparked by the Gordon Riots and a post-war crime wave, the City created a City-wide Patrole with the responsibility to arrest vagrants and disorderly men and women and suppress minor disorders. Armed with a staff and a cutlass, and given a uniform of a blue coat and hat, the City Patrole anticipated many characteristics of the Metropolitan Police.1”

    Hope this is of use.


  15. Lindsay Downs

    Wonderful and informative post.

    1. Shereen Vedam

      Hi Lindsay, glad you found it enjoyable! 🙂

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