When I began writing The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery, I thought to use the actual Regency era case known as “The Ratcliffe Highway Murders” in the plot line for the although a suspect was identified, the man committed suicide and nothing was proved in court. P. D. James and T. A. Critchley discuss this case in great detail (and a bit of editorializing) in “The Maul and the Pear Tree.”
However, as I set up the story line for my novel, many changes needed to be made to the actual Ratcliffe mystery to fit my manuscript. Most importantly, the Ratcliffe murders occurred in December 1811. In my books, Major General Fitzwilliam (Colonel Fitzwilliam in the original Pride and Prejudice) married Miss Georgiana Darcy right after Napoleon escaped from Elba and right before the Major General returned to serve with Wellington at Waterloo. That means my story is set in 1816.
The Major General and Mrs. Fitzwilliam have been married sixteen months and are the parents of a daughter. The major general resigned his commission and became a landed gentleman in Oxfordshire. Yet, doing so brings Fitzwilliam no success for 1816 was the “Year Without Summer,” when the ash from the Mount Tambora eruption spread across Europe, England and America, disturbing the weather and disrupting crops. Fitzwilliam knew much success as an Army officer, and this “failure” plays hard with his nature.
I used the concept of the mass hysteria associated with the Ratcliffe Murders in this book. What would happen if several gruesome murders occur in Wapping? What if the prime suspect is the son of an earl? Would justice prevail? Would the victims, part of the poor of London, know justice? There are bits of Jack the Ripper-like hysteria in the tale.