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An interview with writer Will Thomas about 'Hell Bay' and the Cyrus Barker series

Picture courtesy of Minotaur Books

Holmesian Musings and Ripping Yarns

We recently chatted with author Will Thomas regarding his series of novels about gaslight-era London detectives Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn. These books combine some of the dynamics found in Victorian mysteries with an unfiltered view of the era -- sort of like Sherlock Holmes meets 'Lethal Weapon.' The gentility of the period walks hand in hand with unpalatable topics such as sex trafficking and anti-Semitism while the duo clash with villains ranging from the Sicilian Mafia to Jack the Ripper. More information on Thomas and his series is available here.

What first prompted your interest in the Victorian era?

I’ve almost always had a love for Victorian England. To me, it was a golden age. I love the combination of elegance, sophistication, and manners of that time. Victoria was on the throne and the Empire intact. That’s not to say that there weren’t problems with the imperialism of the time period, but I find it fascinating and worthy of study. I especially like the literature of the period. So many English writers producing their best work: Stevenson, Kipling, Wilde, Conan Doyle, etc. I grew up reading them and still reread them to this day. What inspired the premise behind your main characters? I understand that Cyrus Barker may be partially based on John Barton --the creator of Bartitsu.

I had two different protagonists in mind for a mystery series and was having trouble deciding which one I wanted to use. One day I realized that the younger one, Thomas Llewelyn, should be working for Cyrus Barker and that he would make a fascinating, offbeat narrator. I’ve really enjoyed the dynamic between the two. Barker is stolid, intelligent, intractable, and a force of nature, whom Thomas has to deal with on a daily basis. Meanwhile, Thomas himself is, in turn, melancholy and cheeky, using what skills he can to survive. There was some connection in my mind between Barker and Edward W. Barton-Wright, but Cyrus Barker is really based on my father.

'Hell Bay' marked a slight departure from earlier books. What inspired you to write it?

I enjoy challenging myself to try new things, and I was taken with this idea. I liked getting our duo out of London and into a different sort of dangerous situation. In this case, I’d been watching a particular period drama and was intrigued with the thought of how Barker and Llewelyn would adapt to a crime in that situation. I also like bringing in some of the secondary characters that aren’t always used, like Philippa Ashleigh, who shone like a jewel in this setting. Away from the dark alleys of London, Barker and Llewelyn were somewhat uncomfortable and the rules were not in their favor, which makes for an interesting novel. I also liked having the opportunity to advance the storyline between Barker and Mrs. Ashleigh. The series seems to evolve with each book. What changes are looming for your characters?

Without letting the cat out of the bag, Thomas Llewelyn has been growing up under the tutelage of Barker for several years now, and is becoming a more polished detective. As the stories move into the 1890’s, with the new century looming ahead, the dynamic of the characters must naturally evolve. Thomas can’t remain a lad all his life, and is becoming a man of his own. I enjoy each new revelation about the characters along with my readers.

Are there any particular ideas that you are cultivating for future books? It seems that "Fatal Inquiry' left a few doors open.

I do tend to leave doors open, because it gives me more freedom and opportunity to come up with new ideas, while at the same time leaving my readers wondering what’s going to happen next. I’ve been fortunate enough to have so many elements to choose from that I have never written myself into a corner. There was always something new to explore and more research to dig into.

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