James McGee’s fourth Regency thriller starring Matthew Hawkwood, Rebellion: A Thriller in Napoleon’s Paris, centers on a bold plan to topple Napoleon.
How did the series come about?
I’d been thinking about penning a historical novel for a while. I studied the Napoleonic Wars and read C.S. Forester’s The Gun at school. It was a period that both fascinated and stirred me, and so it seemed the logical place to start.
Why make Hawkwood a Bow Street Runner?
London at the beginning of the 19th century was, arguably, the most violent city in Europe. At its heart lay the rookeries—nurseries of crime founded by society’s outcasts, who lived by their own rules, with little or no regard for authority. Imagine the old frontier towns of Abilene and Deadwood. The rookeries were a hundred times worse. Law enforcement verged on the shambolic, save for a small, resolute band of specialist thief takers known as the Bow Street Runners. I struck gold when I discovered that the Runners were also employed in cases of sedition and treason, undercover infiltration, and preventative work, both at home and abroad. They also acted as bodyguards to royalty and politicians, and even chased down escaped prisoners of war. I thought: that’s it!
Might some Jane Austen readers be surprised by your portrait of this era?
The dark, brutal bottom of society is certainly not in Austen’s works. There was a paper written at the end of the 18th century by a Scotsman, Patrick Colquhon, the former Lord Provost of Glasgow, who estimated that out of an estimated population of one million, no fewer than 110,000 were actively engaged in criminal pursuits. Around 8,500 were “cheats, swindlers, and gamblers,” while 8,000 were deemed “thieves, pilferers, and embezzlers.” The numbers went on to include burglars, receivers, footpads, fraudsters, spendthrifts, vagrants, the unemployed, destitute children, and even strolling minstrels. But the best statistic by miles was the one he reserved for “unfortunate females of all descriptions who support themselves chiefly or wholly by prostitution.” He put that number at a jaw-dropping 50,000.
Where did the plot for Rebellion come from?
Hawkwood travels to Paris, where he becomes involved in military coup led by a cadre of renegade French generals, whose intention is to seize power while Bonaparte and his Grand Army are campaigning in Russia. Like all his adventures, the story’s based on fact. There were at least half a dozen attempts to either unseat or kill Bonaparte during his tenure, but none of them held the same fascination for me or involved the right mix of disparate individuals as those who were associated with the so-called Malet Conspiracy. Frankly, a novelist would have been hard pushed to dream them all up!