Review: Circles of Deceit, by Paul CW Beatty

Circles of Deceit

Murder, conspiracy, radicalism, poverty, riot, violence, capitalism, technology: everything is up for grabs in the early part of Victoria’s reign.

Radical politicians, constitutional activists and trade unionists are being professionally assassinated. When Josiah Ainscough of the Stockport Police thwarts an attempt on the life of the Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor, he receives public praise, but earns the enmity of the assassin, who vows to kill him.

‘Circles of Deceit’, the second of Paul CW Beatty’s Constable Josiah Ainscough’s historical murder mysteries, gives a superb and electric picture of what it was to live in 1840s England. The novel is set in one of the most turbulent political periods in British history, 1842-1843, when liberties and constitutional change were at the top of the political agenda, pursued using methods fair or foul.

Purchase Links

My Review

Thanks to Rachel for organising this blog tour and to the author and publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

The Rosie Synopsis

Josiah Ainscough is back. It’s 1842 and the Chartists are trying their hardest to get signatures on the second charter of rights petition. There’s rumblings of discontent in the mines and the mills, and things are getting a helping hand from a corrupt politician bent on glory and a cavalry officer desperate top relive Peterloo. And a French assassin.

Josiah is drawn into the fray when he saves the life of two Chartist leaders, Fergus O’Connor and Diane Burrell at a lecture that becomes a riot. The Manchester Police are very impressed, even if Mr Prestbury of Stockport isn’t. Given the job of guarding Diane, Josiah goes to work as a clerk at a mill. The pair become friends, but as the General Strike heats up Josiah has to balance his duty to protect Diane with his duties as a police officer.

Soon information comes to light that uncovers a conspiracy, a murder and the threads of history weave together, linking the General Strike with the Peterloo Massacre of 1818.

Meanwhile, Rosemary Hopgood, the daughter of friends of his parent’s, lakes a shine to Josiah but doesn’t get anywhere. Her eyes then light on Josiah’s colleague Ned. Things do not turn out well, and Rosemary is left in a very sticky situation.

The Good

I enjoy these novels; they’re set during a fascinating time in history. The Industrial Revolution is well underway, the Revolutions in France and America are history, but within living memory, there’s a sense that anything could happen, times could change, and people really tried hard to change things for the better.

If only they’d succeeded.

As now, then. Those with money and power didn’t want to lose the money or the power, and they used force, lies, and twisted law to keep things as they were.

This novel is really good at illustrating the events of the General Strike of 1841/42, the atmosphere in industrial towns, the fears of the masters and the men (and women), the powerful rhetoric of those fighting for change, while highlighting the seedier side of the times.

The action is well-paced, the relationships develop well and I found the inclusion of letters a really helpful way of showing the passing of time and the different attitudes people have to events. Rosemary is a particularly interesting character – she believes herself a metropolitan sophisticate because she spent time in London, much above Stockport’s provincial society, and yet is trapped by a chancer. Her letters are funny because she really doesn’t develop much insight into her own actions or the people around her until disaster strikes. Her ending is left untold, just as the endings for the Chartists emigrating to America or those imprisoned are left untold. We must wait and see, and hope for the best for them all.

I found the relationship between Josiah and Diane very touching, since they are technically on opposite sides of the law, but they are friends and they’re both really hurt when Josiah is forced to betray Diane and her father. Their reconciliation, once all things are made clear, brings them a resolution.

I guessed the assassin was a woman, just from the way she wrote the sections on her experiences at Waterloo. I enjoyed the link back to Peterloo too, with the bugle and the resolution to young Millie’s murder.

None of the characters are perfectly good or perfectly evil. Not all the workers are honest nor all the masters monsters, not caricatures but portraits of complex people in a complex situation.

The Not-So-Good

I got scared part way through that I wouldn’t finish. Not because of any fault with the novel, the writing is excellent. but I have an irrational anger about the way people are and were treated by those with power and I had a feeling the good people who were fighting for change were going to get screwed over. Luckily, I needed to know what happened next and Diane’s Amazons raiding the workhouse to hand out bread to the poor was enough to drag me back, and the court case was not the all out slaughter it could have been. There were a lot of corrupt judgements based on ideology back then, lots of people imprisoned or transported because they asked for a fair wage. Makes me angry just thinking about the injustice.

The Verdict

Thoroughly enjoyable early-Victorian crime novel, excellent pacing, historical details and characterisation.

Highly recommended.

Started reading 17th January, finished reading 19th January 2021

Author Bio – 

Paul CW Beatty is an unusual combination of a novelist and a research scientist. Having worked for many years in medical research in the UK NHS and Universities, a few years ago he took an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University emerging with a distinction.

His latest novel, Children of Fire, is a Victorian murder mystery set in 1841 at the height of the industrial revolution. It won the Writing Magazine’s Best Novel Award in November 2017 and is published by The Book Guild Ltd. 

Paul lives near Manchester in the northwest of England. Children of Fire is set against the hills of the Peak District as well as the canals and other industrial infrastructure of the Cottonopolis know as the City of Manchester.

Social Media Links – Twitter @cw_beatty

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