The Regency Detective

Written by David Lassmain Terence James
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

The first in a proposed new series set in Bath in 1803, this is written both alongside the development of a TV series and with the backing of Bath City Council and the Jane Austen Centre. The hero, Jack Swann, is classically educated, single and wealthy. He is also obsessed with his father’s murder when he was a boy and devotes his time to fighting crime as the Regency Detective. Swann arrives in Bath from London for his mother’s funeral and stays to look after his sister, Mary, but is soon caught up in a gang war that could lead him to his father’s killer.

This is a disappointment. Jack Swann, someone comfortable with servants and masters alike, tough in a knife fight, a forensic scientist and master of disguise, is most decidedly not of his time and doesn’t convince on the page. The relationship between Jack and his sister lacks vitality and the dialogue authenticity. Too often the mechanics of how Swann solves crimes are just that, mechanical, baldly stated and lacking any real integration into the narrative.

While the authors have considerable knowledge of and affection for Bath, the reader’s tour of the city doesn’t advance the plot, and slows the action down to crawling pace. Random facts and acts are introduced throughout the novel. For example, Mary Swann receives a letter of condolence from Jane Austen’s mother, the first and last we hear of her in the book, and a full page on the merits of Mary Wollstonecraft is added for no obvious reason. Perhaps this will develop into an interesting TV series, but unfortunately it doesn’t work as a novel.