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Literature / Matthew Hawkwood

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"You don't send a gentleman to catch vermin. You send Hawkwood."

Matthew Hawkwood is the hero of a series of historical mystery novels by James McGee.

The Hawkwood novels historical novels are set during the Regency period, when Britain was at war with Napoleon. The hero, Matthew Hawkwood, is working as a Bow Street Runner, an early investigative officer working out of London's Bow Street Magistrates' Court. He is called upon to solve a number of civil crimes, including murder, body-snatching and highway robbery, but his previous military experience makes him ably suited to investigate issues of national security.

Hawkwood has a complicated back-story, which is touched upon at various stages of the novels. He once served as an officer in the 95th Rifles, but was cashiered after he killed a fellow officer in a duel. With Wellington's intervention he was spared a court-martial, and instead joined the Spanish Guerrilleros, liaising with the British intelligence officer Colquhoun Grant. It is Grant's influence that enables Hawkwood to get a job at Bow Street on his return to England.

McGee's creation of Hawkwood's past was deliberate, as he wanted a hero who was "at home in both the military and criminal worlds".

Much of the action within the novels is inspired by historical events. The plot of Ratcatcher centres around the secret development of the first submarines by American Robert Fulton, then working for the French. Resurrectionist is darker, reflecting the underworld of "resurrectionists" who stole bodies to supply the anatomy schools of London, and the experimentation of early (and illegal) organ transplant and resuscitation. Rapscallion focuses on French prisoners-of-war upon the prison hulks. Rebellion sees Hawkwood assigned to the Alien Office, the forerunner of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. He is dispatched to Paris to liaise with a cadre of renegade French generals who are attempting to overthrow Napoleon Bonaparte. The plot is centred on the attempted coup, which became known as the Malet Conspiracy.

The novels in the Hawkwood series (so far) are:

  • Ratcatcher (2006)
  • Resurrectionist (2007)
  • Rapscallion (2008)
  • Rebellion (2011)
  • The Blooding (2014)
  • The Reckoning (2017)

The Hawkwood novels contain examples of:

  • Badass Long Coat: Hawkwood frequently wears a long riding coat, even when not on horseback.
  • Bedlam House: Bethlem Royal, the original Bedlam, features prominently in Resurrectionist in all its hellish glory. The place creeps Hawkwood out.
  • Bodybag Trick: This is how Hawkwood and Lassuer are smuggled off the prison hulk in Rapscallion.
  • Broomstick Quarterstaff: In Rapscallion, Hawkwood defends himself with a besom broom. Played far more seriously than most examples of this trope, as Hawkwood shoves the twig end of the broom in his foe's face; causing dozens of sharp twigs to snap off and embed themselves in his face. Ouch!
  • The City Narrows: Jack Ketch's Warren, the neighbourhood that Jago calls home.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Everyone. Hawkwood himself seems particularly enamored of the Groin Attack.
  • Cowboy Cop: Hawkwood
  • Crippling the Competition: In Ratcatcher, Hawkwood gets in a Ten Paces and Turn duel with a young bravo. After his opponent misses, Hawkwood deliberately aims and shoots to cripple his gun arm and prevent him fighting any further duels.
  • Da Chief: Chief Magistrate James Read
  • Death by Materialism: In Rapscallion, Morgan. He attempts to escape from his ship wearing a waistcoat filled with gold guineas. Hawkwood says he'll allow him to escape, but not by boat; he'll have to swim. Then he shoves him off the side.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Molly Finn in Resurrectionist.
  • Facial Horror: Handicapped Badass Colonel Lomax. Pinned under a dead horse and caught in a grass fire, the left side of Lomax's body was badly burned; crippling his left arm, destroying his left eye and badly scarring the left side of his face.
  • Femme Fatale Spy Catherine de Varesne in Ratcatcher
  • Final Battle: Several tropes related to this pop up in Resurrectionist, and all of them are justified.
    • Honor Before Reason: Hyde tosses Hawkwood a weapon so he can have a fair fight. He is both a)honorable, and b)insane.
    • Leave Him to Me!: Jago needs to stay behind to guard the other perp.
    • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Hawkwood tries, and his gun misfires. Just before he kills Hyde, he explains what he's going to do. Hyde is exactly the sort of person who would listen to a medically-interesting subject at that time, and if he makes a move Hawkwood will just kill him anyway.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: McGee mentions in the afterword of Resurrectionist that he decided to leave certain elements of the story out, lest he be accused of making stuff up. Specifically, people taking preserved loved ones and placing them in their bedrooms or living rooms.
  • Grave Robbing: Resurrectionist
  • A Handful for an Eye: Hawkwood pulls this trick during his duel against the Marmeluke in Rapscallion.
  • Handicapped Badass: Colonel Lomax. Pinned under a dead horse and caught in a grass fire, the left side of Lomax's body was badly burned; crippling his left arm and destroying his left eye. Still badass enough that he is the first person Hawkwood approaches when he needs allies to storm a Bad Guy Bar.
  • Hellhole Prison: The hulks in Rapscallion.
  • The Highwayman: Ratcatcher opens with a pair of highwaymen robbing a coach and killing a naval messenger.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In Resurrectionist, Hyde makes several remarkably correct predictions about the future of medicine, forseeing such things as organ transplants.
  • Karmic Death: In Rapscallion, Morgan dies when he tries to escape with as much of his ill-gotten wealth as possible. In a combination of Death by Materialism and Killer Outfit, he drown when Hawkwood pushes him off the side of the ship, declaring that he can have a freedom if he can swim if he can swim to shore, knowing full well that the villain is wearing a waistcoat with a fortune in gold sovereigns sewn into the lining.
  • Killer Outfit: Combined with Death by Materialism in Rapscallion. Hawkwood tells Morgan that he will let him escape, provided he can swim for it. Hawkwood then shoves him off the side of the ship; knowing full well that he is wearing a waistcoat with a fortune in gold sovereigns sewn into the lining. Morgan sinks like a stone.
  • Lawman Baton: Hawkwood carries a heavy tipstaff in the inside pocket of his coat, which he is quite adept as using as a weapon; even using it to hold off an assailant who attacks him with a sword in Resurrectionist. It also doubles as a Staff of Authority as it is hollow and contain his warrant of authority as a Bow Street Runner.
  • Locking Macgyver In The Store Cupboard: In Rapscallion, Hawkwood and Lasseur are able to escape using items they find in the cellar in which they are imprisoned.
  • Mad Doctor: Colonel Titus Hyde in Resurrectionist
  • Pet the Dog: When we first meet Rapscallion's Morgan, he's helping to deliver a foal. He also has two actual dogs. Later on, he kills the one of them in anger.
  • Pocket Protector: The tipstaff Hawkwood was carrying in his coat turns aside a sword blade in Resurrectionist.
  • Prison Ship: The hulks in Rapscallion.
  • Pursued Protagonist: The prologue to novel Rapscallion features Lieutenant Sark being chased through the marshes by unknown pursuers with dogs. He does not survive the experience. Lasseur and Hawkwood end up in a similar situation, and make it out.
  • Regency England
  • Scar Survey: Catherine conducts one on Hawkwood in Ratcatcher.
  • Shown Their Work
  • Staff of Authority: Hawkwood carries a tipstaff that identifies him as Bow Street Runner. It also doubles as a Lawman Baton when needed.
  • Sub Story: Ratcatcher
  • Sword Cane: Colonel Hyde wields one to lethal effect in Resurrectionist.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: Hawkwood fights a traditional pistol duel at dawn in Ratcatcher.
  • There Are No Rules: Matisse says this when Hawkwood asks what the rules are for the duel in Rapscallion.
  • They Have the Scent!: Hawkwood and Lassuer are hunted using dogs in Rapscallion.
  • Two-Faced: Hawkwood's ally the Handicapped Badass Colonel Lomax is a heroic example. Pinned under a dead horse and caught in a grass fire, the left side of Lomax's body was badly burned; crippling his left arm, destroying his left eye and badly scarring the left-hand side of his face.
  • Underground Railroad: In Rapscallion, Hawkwood has to infiltrate and shut down an underground railroad that is smuggling French POWs out of England.