Thursday, 18 May 2006

Readers with a retentive memory may recall that, back in January, I decided to change Lord Alexander's surname, because "Hawkshead" was too close to "Hawkwood", the surname of the hero of James McGee's Ratcatcher, a book which appeared to have a number of features in common with Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth. At that time I decided not to read McGee's book, so that I wasn't influenced by it.

Now that I am at the dotting of Ts and crossing of eyes stage of redrafting, I decided that it was safe to give Ratcatcher a go. I finished reading it this morning, on the coach up to London (National Express rather than the Mail, but at least I was guaranteed a seat inside).

Good news on two fronts. The first is that while there are elements in common between the two books - French spies, English aristocrats, a plot against the Prince, and much drinking of Brandy - these are standard features of books set in the early 19th Century, and there are no egregious similarities. The two are quite different in terms both of plot and tone. Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood is at home in that part of London East of St Martin's Lane, while Lord Alexander Harrow, youngest son of the Duke of Derwent, prefers it West of the Lane - not that each does not cope in the other's natural territory when necessary. Hawkwood would probably be able to handle an elephant too, but I was relieved to discover that he was not called upon to do so.

Not surprisingly McGee's book is darker than mine: there is more violence, and less romance. In the territory that stretches between and around the two poles of Bernard Cornwell and Georgette Heyer, McGee is closer to the former while I am, if it is not presumptious to claim so, nearer to the latter.

The other good news is that Ratcatcher is well written, well researched, and was fun to read. It is, I believe, intended as the first of a series. I hope that this proves true.

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