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Hello, friends! I’m delighted to welcome Riana Everly back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her latest Pride and Prejudice-inspired novel, Death of a Clergyman, the first in the Miss Mary Investigates series. Riana is here today to talk about Regency-era forensic techniques and share some excerpts from the novel, as well as a giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

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CSI-Regency Style

Murder, mayhem, love!

When Elizabeth Bennet is accused of murder, her sister Mary is set on proving her innocent of the crime. Then Mr. Darcy rushes back to Meryton from London, also intent on clearing Elizabeth’s name. Darcy brings with him a private investigator named Alexander Lyons, who quickly sets about his task. But Alexander finds Mary pestering him at every turn. And Mary knows she has found something interesting, if only the annoying man from Town would listen to her!

Mary makes a great sleuth, especially when she teams up with Alexander. Individually they find evidence, and together they put the pieces together to unmask the killer. But what sort of evidence might they have at their disposal? Forensic science was hardly a career taught at the universities, and certainly not in the nursery rooms at Longbourn! Today we watch great shows such as CSI and Elementary and marvel at the science they use to solve their own cases, but things were a bit different in 1811. Here is a very short overview on some developments in forensic science over the years.

The term “forensic” comes from the Latin forēnsis, meaning “of or before the forum,” where criminal cases were analyzed and discussed in order to achieve justice. In modern terms, forensics has come to mean the analysis and application of evidence in the course of an investigation.

Some techniques in this analysis are ancient. Asking questions, interviewing people, and recording their testimony goes back as far as the first twig pressed into a clay tablet. But other endeavours are more deliberate and scientifically based. Let’s look at just a few.

Footprints

During the eighteenth century, reason began to supplant superstition in investigation. Hard evidence replaced belief in witchcraft and logic replaced torture and ordeal. Footprints were one such type of evidence.

One such case occurred in Warwick in 1816, when a farm worker was tried for assaulting and drowning a maidservant. The authorities found footprints and an impression of patched corduroy cloth in the mud where the woman died, which matched the man’s boots and breeches. He was convicted based on this and other similar evidence. (Kind S, Overman M (1972). Science Against Crime. New York: Doubleday)

Footprints could be sketched or filled with plaster to preserve them, and our sleuths could certainly use such evidence in their pursuit of the culprit in this story.

Toxicology

The first test for detecting simple arsenic in corpses was devised in 1773 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish scientist. In 1806 German chemist Valentin Ross furthered this work by working out how to detect arsenic in a victim’s stomach. This was first used in court in 1832 by James Marsh, and when the sample was too degraded for the jury to use it, he came up with a better test still. Marsh described this in The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal in 1836.

So while the concept of testing for poisons was certainly around at the time of our story, the practical use of the science was still a few years away.

Ballistics

Although the first bullet comparison was conducted by Henry Goddard of Scotland Yard in 1835, the idea of analyzing shot predated that by several decades.

In 1784 in Lancaster, John Toms was tried for shooting and killing Edward Culshaw. A pistol wad (a piece of crushed paper from the pistol) was found in Culshaw’s wound. This paper matched exactly with a piece of torn newspaper found in Toms’ pocket. He was convicted.

Fingerprints

The idea of using fingerprints for identification was advanced by Sir William Herschel in 1858. But the first use of fingerprints in a criminal case was by the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four in 1890. Scotland Yard did not start to collect and use fingerprints until 1901.

Clearly, our sleuths would not have access to fingerprints in their investigation into Mr. Collins’ death!

However, despite the nascent nature of the science of forensics, our sleuths Mary and Alexander still had access to interesting ways of accumulating evidence. Here are a couple of excerpts from Death of a Clergyman.

Mary

Mrs. Cooke allowed the girl to introduce herself and state her business—namely the search for a position—before ushering her to the large table where Mary and Margaret sat. She caught herself short upon seeing Mary and faltered in her step. “Miss… Miss Bennet!”

“Hello, Polly.”

The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, please don’t make me go back. If he finds me, he’ll blame me for certain, although I’m sure I haven’t done anything wrong! Please, I beg of you, Miss Bennet!”

“Be easy, Polly,” Mary interrupted. “I am not here to take you anywhere, or to betray your whereabouts to anybody. But I would dearly like to talk to you. Perhaps together we can stop him, so that he will bother you no longer. Will you talk to me? Will you do that?”

The young maid looked from Mary to Mrs. Cooke to Margaret and back again, eyes wide and terrified like a rabbit caught in a trap. “I promise I mean you no harm, only help,” Mary tried once more, and was rewarded by a slight relaxing of the girl’s shoulders and a flicker of her eyelids.

“Sit, please. Mrs. Cooke, would it be too much trouble to ask for some tea and biscuits, if Margaret does not object? Thank you.” She turned to the maid and reassured her, “We only wish to find out more of what you know. I believe you have done nothing wrong, and together, perhaps, we can ensure that you are never blamed for something you did not do.”

Polly nodded with slow deliberation. “Very well, Miss Bennet. I shall try.”

“Thank you. My first question, so that we may all be certain of whom we spoke, is this: Who is ‘he?’ Who is this man who terrifies you so?

Alexander

As the meal progressed, Alexander found himself slipping further and further into a wine-dulled fog. His ears caught snippets of conversation—“the coaching inn on the road to Scarborough had terrible bread…,” “…seventeen feathers in her headdress, can you imagine it!…,” “…haven’t been back to the estate in months, or is it already two years?…”—but he could not bring himself to focus on any one thread. He allowed his eyes to wander across the table, transfixed in some strange way by the arrangement of dishes and platters on the white embroidered cloth.

Forcing himself out of the mist of wine and exhaustion, he brought his full attention to the beautiful tableware. The platters themselves were of exceptional quality—exquisite china and polished silver fought for pre-eminence at the table, and Alexander wondered if any of these valuable pieces would be the next to disappear from the household’s storage rooms. A sudden inspiration, fueled by boredom and the effects of too much wine—struck him, and he decided he was willing to incur the wrath of his hostess. He was thought to be a lout; let him prove it with his actions.

In the most unrefined manner he could muster, he picked up a large silver platter, now nearly devoid of its burden of sliced ham, and raising it above his head to peer at the hallmark, asked, “I say, Bingley, this must be worth a pretty penny. Any idea what it would set a man back?” Whereupon he replaced the platter atop the crisp linen cloth and sat back to observe his audience. As far as he knew from the servants, the master and his guests were quite unaware of the missing candlesticks. Perhaps, however, someone did have some knowledge! He leaned back to watch through half-closed eyes.

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About Death of a Clergyman

Mary Bennet has always been the quiet sister, the studious and contemplative middle child in a busy family of five. She is not interested in balls and parties, and is only slightly bothered by the arrival of the distant cousin who will one day inherit her father’s estate. But then Mr. Collins is found dead, and Mary’s beloved sister Elizabeth is accused of his murder. Mary knows she must learn whatever she can to prove Elizabeth innocent of this most horrible crime, or her sister might be hanged as a murderess!

Alexander Lyons has made a pleasant life for himself in London, far from his home village in Scotland. He investigates missing documents and unfaithful wives, and earns an honest living. Then one day Mr. Darcy walks into his office, begging him to investigate the murder of Mr. Collins and to prove Elizabeth innocent of the crime. It seems like a straightforward enough case, but Alexander did not count on meeting a rather annoying young woman who seems to be in his way at every turn: Mary Bennet.

As the case grows more and more complicated, Mary and Alexander cannot stop arguing, and discover that each brings new insight into the case. But as they get close to some answers, will they survive the plans of an evildoer in the midst of quiet Meryton?

Buy: Amazon | Universal Buy Link

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About the Author

Riana Everly was born in South Africa, but has called Canada home since she was eight years old. She has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies and is trained as a classical musician, specialising in Baroque and early Classical music. She first encountered Jane Austen when her father handed her a copy of Emma at age 11, and has never looked back.

Riana now lives in Toronto with her family. When she is not writing, she can often be found playing string quartets with friends, biking around the beautiful province of Ontario with her husband, trying to improve her photography, thinking about what to make for dinner, and, of course, reading!

Connect with Riana: Website | Facebook | Amazon

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Giveaway

From Riana: I am giving away one eBook to one lucky blog visitor today. To enter, just leave a comment on the post, and I will randomly select a winner five days after this blog is posted. Please include an email address so I can get in touch with the winner. “Name dot name (at) domain” will do fine if you want to avoid bots! I will contact the winner and email the book directly, so there are no concerns about not being able to receive Amazon gift copies, which sometimes happens. Good luck!

Thank you, Riana, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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