Part of The Nine Lives Of Michal Piech
, preceding Achava
Begun as a finished cartoon story in the spring of 2001, completed directly after the first draft of Krovt
, partly on a university trip to Zagreb. Redrafted later on in 2001 while working in Dublin. The second draft suffered from Kudzu Plot
(as an attempt to explore the original story and the motivations of the characters) but provided enough material for a full-length novel, begun in April 2011. Between times largely neglected in favour of chronologically later stories focussing on the revolution rather than the earlier years of Michal Piech's odyssey.
Michal has survived eighteen months at Lowe Road workhouse in Ludlin. Simon Seymour has been sent packing. On a cold night, during an exeat day designed to help him find another job, he finds a ten guilder note in the street, and before he knows it, he is up before the magistrate for smashing up a pub while drunk on the first vodka he has had in a year and a half. He is sent to prison for two weeks, a shorter sentence than might be expected, on the premise that prison is a kinder institution than the workhouse and that it looks clearly as if he committed the crime solely to get out of Lowe Road.
On release, it is obvious to workhouse deputy warden Thomas Moreland that Piech should be repatriated, and although the workhouse board was making such plans anyway, the imperative is now much stronger to speed the process along. Moreland, a banker spurred into philanthropic action by the death of his wife, also has to contend with his new fiancee Claudia, who resents the long hours he puts into reforming the workhouse, particularly looking after the truculent Piech, whom he was initially engaged to deal with.
Meanwhile curious and idealistic bureaucrat Leopold Henderson has found complaints in the file of William Latimer, one of the foremen at the Department of Public Works who directly supervises the labour of public charges, and is determined to persuade Moreland and the Department to have the offender dealt with, despite the flimsy evidence available to him.
Then another grievous act of violence lands Piech firmly back under the stern gaze of the law, and puts everything at risk. Not only that, but the diabolic Seymour is back - and is determined to spin things his own way.First draft finished 31/07/11
- Accidental Murder - Latimer's temper gets the better of him and he just happens to be holding a convenient weapon, and have a weakened victim down at his feet...
- All Crimes Are Equal - Hugo uses this as a bullying tactic to get rid of Moreland by arresting him for obstruction and insinuating that covering up that one of the paupers committed the murder is the same as being an accessory or accomplice to it, and thus carrying a capital sentence. The people who do the most good stay away from rushing to the conclusion that Michal or another pauper is innocent, and thus trick Latimer into betraying himself.
- Antiquated Linguistics - Most if not all of the characters are speaking in English, or a fantastic variant thereof. Some latitude has been taken with the speech, moreso than in other books, to cement the time and place, though it has not become too Dickensian or even Austenian in its Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. There are some colourful moments where the author's research shows through - reading Victorian sources will have that effect on you - but it does give a patina to the story modern language would lack.
- Arc Welding - the Seymour bits. Originally the story was to have taken place after Seymour had been Put on a Bus after being sacked from Lowe Road. However, the circumstances of his original opportunistic kidnap of Michal made it impossible for his story just to end abruptly; thus although he does not induce Latimer to kill Stevenson - Latimer manages that by himself - he does try and spin the situation to Hugo as Michal's fault and then attempts Gambit Roulette with Dunn.
- As You Know - Sergeant Firth to Michal early in the book, when explaining the differences between a workhouse and prison. Michal has the good grace to look bored by this exposition. Firth may also be being somewhat patronising; he and Montgomery are playing Good Cop/Bad Cop, so it might be a tactic used to gain trust in order to find out where he got the money.
- Another instance occurs when Sam Morgan asks Hugo Montgomery what might happen if someone killed one of the paupers. This is probably justified, as Morgan is one of the Department of Public Works clerks, Latimer's whist partner, and a curious novice.
- Latimer has to explain to Claudia why spirits are just as unreliable as living witnesses. In a world where people believe in the afterlife and communicate with spirits directly and openly through shamans, it had to go in at some point to prevent Hugo just summoning Stevenson and asking him whodunnit.
- Badass Bureaucrat - Leo. When the story opens he is enduring wrongful imprisonment for fraud due to his support for the communists and handling their strike fund in his spare time. He masters the systems in the Department in his first week in work to try and save people from Latimer's cruelty. At considerable personal risk he leaks the letters to their original senders, telling them nothing has been done. He doggedly pursues the line of enquiry enough to get Proctor on his side, and when Montgomery retaliates he doesn't flinch as he is almost sent down again for leaking "state secrets". And all this while very likely suffering from some unknown respiratory disease which isn't explicitly said to be consumption, but is played with enough that it might as well be.
- The Bechdel Test - passes with Claudia's conversation in the shop in Eversham. Yes, it's the conversation about shawls and shopping, but it does count. Her argument with the Latimer women, however, is a false positive for this test because it's about Mr Latimer - who is a male relative of both Alice and Astrid, though it is more about his behaviour rather than their relationships with him.
- Beige Prose - an exploration into just how much this can express. The chapter sections are kept to a rough 1,000-1,500 word limit in an attempt by the author not to clutter the narrative with exposition she'll just have to delete later. This format suits the author so well - it is essentially how Pride and Prejudice and other books by Jane Austen were written - that the series is now to be written this way, which has necessitated the redrafting of Achava.
- Big Secret - Michal's previous stay in prison prejudices Hugo against him from the start, and when Latimer learns of it, his sympathy for him evaporates. Leo also parallels this with his colleagues, none of whom, excepting Proctor, know what has happened to him - before he says a little too much to one of them.
- Towards the end of the book it's getting all but obvious that Moreland also has one. Find out next time on...
- Bittersweet Ending - they got both criminals, Michal has been exonerated of all possible charges, and discharged from Lowe Road. However, it's just a small step on the way to regaining what he has lost - and realising he no longer really wants it anymore any way.
- Blood Spattered Innocents - Joshua Green is sent mad by being in the way when Stevenson is killed. He is exonerated because he ran straight to the Department for Public Works when the incident happened, meaning that Hugo believes that is not the action of a guilty man.
- Bluffing the Murderer - Claudia not only plays this game with Latimer, she also plays it with Astrid to get her to mention her concerns about Latimer's behaviour. Each time she carefully avoids blaming Latimer, instead disarming both by asking them something other than what they think she is going to ask and so getting them into a situation where their respective behaviour gives Latimer away.
- Bottomless Bladder - subverted. Latimer goes for a wee at Seymour's game - missing a crucial piece of information in the process. That slash saves Michal's life.
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp":
- the characters refer to TB as lungrot, though they also use the familiar word "consumption" as well.
- particularly by Michal, influenza is known as the grip, after the Polish word grypa (originally from the French la grippe).
- A pub is a "nip", after the German/Polish word kneipe or knajpa.
- Bed - kipbox (the workhouse has its own slang developed through the first three books of the series).
- Clear Their Name - most people start off by assuming Michal is guilty; Moreland is the only one who defends him from the start, but even he has his doubts. The paradox is that no-one can stick up for Michal outright without Hugo finding something against them in order to get rid of them. So it's playing with the idea of trying to clear Michal by winkling the truth out of Latimer - who is the only one of the people who matter to the police who knows Michal is definitely innocent and can't bring himself to properly accuse him...
- Convicted by Public Opinion - Or rather not. Seymour arrogantly poo-poos Latimer's fear of the publicity surrounding an investigation into his treatment of his workers being made public because the public will sympathise with him regarding the corporal punishment of public charges - they regard them as adult children, and by extension, since most of them probably at least give their children the slipper (as Proctor does) they will see his point. Of course, Seymour could be wrong...or is he?
- Cowboy Cop - Montgomery who lets his friendship with Latimer and his secondhand knowledge of Piech's background and record in the workhouse get the better of him. He is known by the communists as the Beast of Lockley. Think Gene Hunt without the redeeming features; however, he was in the late 2001 draft (named by the author's ex-boyfriend) in his present incarnation and was not just an Expy of Hunt. Philip Glenister would probably end up playing him in any TV adaptation though, despite his more sympathetic period drama role as Edmund Carter in Cranford. However, as the narrative progresses, we are given insights into his past which, although never totally whitewashing him, make him slightly more sympathetic - and when confronted with overwhelming evidence he at least begins to investigate the case seriously instead of simply locking people who disagree with him up.
- Criminal Mind Games - subverted. The "criminals" are largely passive spectators of the police drama. Latimer incriminates himself in front of his own daughter, but avoids justice for so long because it is Hugo who is playing the mind games with the people involved. Michal, meanwhile, is the subject of medical mind games as Fry and Falls collude with Saunders to prevent him being passed as fit for interrogation - and torture, trial and execution as a murderer.
- Definitely Just a Cold - Leo to Latimer.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off - The first part of the book involves a discussion on whether corporal punishment should or should not be used for disciplining the paupers, and despite a moratorium, Moreland reinstates it for use in exceptional circumstances. Latimer literally uses the trope, threatening the Petermarsh workers with a hazel switch two days before Stevenson's murder. Petermarsh are more progressive than Lowe Road on this subject, despite being less well-appointed than Lowe Road in other ways, and have abolished it for anyone older than sixteen. Seymour says that the public will take Latimer's side as they see public charges in the same light as they would see wayward children - and is partially proved right when Dunn displays a fervent desire to have Michal whipped for apparently riding the railway without a ticket.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty - Latimer's whole attitude, although he is not a military figure.
- Dynamic Character - Claudia. From the first time she enters the workhouse, she begins to change her attitudes towards it. In the previous book, she's shown to be a bit of a social butterfly with a rather stuffy private persona. By the end of the book, not only has she solved a murder, she's also deepened her awareness of the situation of those in the workhouse and has involved herself in the day-to-day running of the institution. The author envisages her as a bit like Isobel in Downton Abbey, though going further across the spectrum from right to left.
- Emotions vs. Stoicism - Moreland, internally. His outward demeanour is hard and rather over-disciplined, but he allows himself to show fear when alone. This is important for his own background.
- Fantastic Measurement System - Fifty hundredths. A hundred hundredths make a length. A thousand lengths make a mile. We can therefore deduce that if a mile is a thousand lengths, a length must be 1.67m and thus a hundredth is 1.67cm, given that an Earth km is 6/10 of a mile. However, Saunders is described as being six-foot-two "on the Ecklish scale", so the metric system is still not universal. Truth in Television - although the author lacks the ability to visualise heights and weights without a visual aid, in Britain officially everyone is now taught in metric but human height is still measured in feet and human weight in stones (alongside other oddities like pints and miles). So it's realistic to think in a metric system of sorts co-existed with "imperial" measurements even in the late 19th century; in the author's 1870s copy of The Family Physician, although all weights and measures are in imperial British units, metrification is creeping in even then with references to foot-tonnes (a unit of work, the energy required to lift a tonne a foot off the ground, of which 300 is considered equivalent to an average day's labour) compared to the "French" kilogramme-metre [sic].
- Fantastic Slurs - a number.
- Slapfoot, slappies - an inmate of the workhouse. Apparently comes from awkward footwear, said in other books to be lace-up northern British workman's style clogs, rather than the picturesque Dutch peasant kind.
- Slit-eye or Squinty - Slovians such as Michal have narrower eyes than the Brestians around him. This is appropriate where Michal is concerned; Latimer describes him in the prologue as having slanted eyes. Michal does have myopia and does squint when he reads as a result, but Montgomery wouldn't care enough about him know this.
- Frame-Up - subverted. Hugo sincerely believes Michal is guilty and plays the By-the-Book Cop for all its worth to try and silence his opponents in the case. He only begins to have his doubts as to Latimer's guilt when you don't think I'm going to tell you, do you?...
- Gallows Humor - The joke about refusing a last smoke because it's bad for one's health is lampshaded, though Wilfred's thoughts play it straight by comparing what is a normal habit for most of the characters to drinking out of a chimney - just before he is hanged for murder.
- Girl Friday - Nurse Fry. A servant, she nevertheless takes some striking initiative in preventing the militia bullying Michal into a confession until Latimer has a chance to give himself away.
- Hanging Judge - Averted by the literal judge in the story; the magistrate in the opening chapters appears stern but is actually rather fair-minded, even towards Piech. He notes the folly of selling a workhouse inmate vodka and not being suspicious of where he got what amounts to two days' pay for an unskilled labourer. Montgomery would probably count, though, over-egging the pudding by threatening Moreland, Atkins, and anyone who looks at him funny with the gallows if they persist in defending Piech. The secret is not to.
- Hello Again Officer - Firth and Michal meet after Stevenson's death and Michal assumes Firth will rule him out of the investigation...which is an assumption too far, given their previous meeting.
- Heroic Blue Screen of Death - several:
- Andrew Russell as he talks to Saunders.
- Leo Henderson when he finds out what has happened to Ozzie Peterson.
- Incurable Cough of Death - Averted with Leo, who manages to sustain a bad chest throughout the book and not get any worse - he is offered a holiday at a sanatorium by Proctor. Sadly, Stevenson plays this trope much, much straighter, but he doesn't actually die from his illness. There is also an influenza epidemic going around which claims Michal at a crucial point during the police investigation. In part, the whole book is a discussion of just what coughing up blood can mean - other than the dreaded TB. Latimer's coughing alerts Claudia to his nervousness when confronted with the people he has the power to condemn.
- Just Got Out of Jail - both Leo and Michal. When Leo's past comes up, he is betrayed to the militia in Lockley even though he is not previously known to them when he hands in the letters.
- Jurisdiction Friction - Not directly territorial, but in Part 3, there is tension between provincial laws and the Imperial Railways, who simply answer to the Empire itself.
- Justice Will Prevail - Leo declares this to the hysterical man who reports Stevenson's death to the Department for Public Works. He doesn't believe it, and says it mainly to calm the man down, but... well, you'll have to read the book to find out.
- Leave Me Alone - After Moreland's arrest, Russell tries to comfort Claudia. She refuses his patronising attempts to comfort her, but instead of wandering off into Montgomery's traps herself, she actually gets things done...
- Mind Rape - What Stevenson's murder does to the labourers who witness it and also to Latimer. Michal specifically mentions the veterans of the recent war as having been shocked.
- Multiethnic Name - Latimer originally had the more Germanic name William Lederer, making the assumption that the Empire was mixed enough for many people to have multi-ethnic names quite legitimately, particularly in a large mercantile city like Ludlin. However, to avoid Unfortunate Implications as regards British stereotypes of the Germans, Lederer was anglicised to Latimer fairly early on in the 2011 version.
- Played straight with Maurycy Guenther. Sokolka is in a mixed area and it's more natural for Salvat residents to have Deutsch names.
- Never a Self-Made Woman - inverted with Claudia, as she has been exposed to the conditions of the lower classes through Moreland, and takes on a mission of her own after his arrest. Pauline Barker plays this trope straight, though, as we meet her before her husband, but her husband takes over as the one whose opinions count more at the beginning of the book and who acts as a mediator later on when the workhouse administration begins to pursue Latimer.
- News Travels Fast - Averted. The author spent hours on the internet trying to ascertain how fast news spread during the 1880s and came up with the conclusion that although it would make it to the papers over the weekend (having happened on the setting's equivalent of a Thursday), on the "Friday", Seymour wouldn't know what happened unless he was told. Everyone knows on Saturday.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat - Proctor, balancing the needs of the Department, the needs of Latimer and his family, and the need for justice. He eventually sanctions an inquiry, conducted by Henderson and a superior Service inspector, but only when Claudia talks him round.
- Off The Wagon - Michal. And how. In the very first scene. With terrible consequences. Seymour has also made some attempts at abstinence, but has apparently failed to live up to his promises to Saunders.
- Oh My Gods! - various people swear by "the saints and angels", or later on invoke the Devil (Dunn even thinks it's literal when dealing with Seymour). It's used to avoid saying "What on earth" - as we are not on Earth.
- One Steve Limit - observed with the main characters (for the most part - Michal and Michael Saunders share variants of the same name, but Michal, pronounced "Meehow", to rhyme with "Mao", is normally referred to as "Mitch" by the Ecklish speakers). With supporting characters such as Tom Barnes (versus Thomas Moreland, who is referred to occasionally as Tom), the line is blurred and becomes - arf! - a One Stevenson Limit, with no surname repeated, in order to allow the use of some common names but keep each character distinct in the mind of the reader.
- Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers - The subversion is played here, with Moreland stalling Hugo several times until he's either spoken to Swaine or Hugo has investigated Latimer properly.
- The Perfect Crime - since no-one will take any of the paupers seriously, the whole second part of the book is dedicated to trying to unravel the case against Piech and construct a case against Latimer.
- Plea Bargain - Seymour persuades Latimer not just to hand himself in, in the hope that the evidence will be "contaminated" by the judge and jury showing prejudice towards both the paupers and the ex-convict Leo and thus not taking their evidence seriously enough to convict him.
- Pointy-Haired Boss - the way Moreland behaves, he is regarded as such by the paupers. He's not their employer, but he's still their master, and he means to assert his authority rigorously enough to be called a tyrant.
- Police Brutality - Edwin is treated mercilessly, but Hugo's reputation as the 'Beast of Lockley' seems to rest on his intellectual contortionism rather than sheer physical violence. And once things start to unravel, he shows mercy and kindness towards his former victims. It is suggested that he allows his underlings licence, and Piech, in the police cells in the initial chapter of the book, does hear people begging for mercy.
- Reverse Whodunnit - no, but seriously...
- Standard Female Grab Area - used by Hugo on Astrid...to no avail. Barker feigns it with Claudia...and although he's only playing around, it still doesn't work.
- Static Character - Moreland. His role in Stevenson's death is controversial, to say the least, and while moderating some of his hardline stances, he still doesn't connect many of the events of the story to his hardline attitudes; nor does he immediately spring to Michal's defence when he is accused of Janina's murder by Dunn and the militia in Sokolka - one could say either he learned no lessons at all, or learned the wrong ones. Nevertheless, some of his attitudes are a relief to those bullied and robbed by Seymour, and he represents a solid future for the institution after Russell's well-intentioned but self-defeating shiftlessness.
- Talking in Your Sleep - Moreland lets slip a few things this way; not important necessarily for the current part, but certainly for the next book in the series.
- There Should Be a Law - In-universe example. The presiding magistrate at Michal's hearing wants selling alcohol to workhouse inmates made illegal. By the end of the book, a month after Michal's arrest and sentence, people are agitating for one.
- Villain Exit Stage Left - Seymour, thanks to his teleportation and telekinesis. Can be considered the Graceful Loser even moreso than Latimer; he knows which battles to fight and has Michal's money anyway and a belief he will not fight his situation, the important aspects of his crimes against him.
- Villain Opening Scene - we are fully introduced to Latimer's temper and bad will towards his workers by virtue of an event which has already happened once through his eyes.
- Villainous BSOD - Latimer. Having crossed what is, for him, the Moral Event Horizon, he is torn between covering up his actions and turning himself in. He is surrounded by friends and people who are giving him the benefit of the doubt, and breaking every rule in the book to frame an innocent man. And he sees spirit enough to be literally haunted by Stevenson. Not surprisingly, he's going quietly insane enough to betray himself at some point.
- Echoed by Dunn in Part 3. It is, in some ways, a truncated version of the first murder, with a quicker resolution but potentially more dangerous for Michal as a bystander.