To me, location is another character. Always has been. My first two novels, Equinox and The Medici Secret were set in Oxford and Italy respectively, and both places are very dear to me. For the setting of my third thriller, The Borgia Ring, I chose the East End of London.
Looking back on the decision to locate the action there, it amazes me I did not do it earlier. My parents both came from Leytonstone and were part of the mass migration east to Essex after the war. I grew up in Southend, but I spent a lot of time in Mile End, Stepney and Whitechapel.
But there is more to it than familiarity. People don’t tend to think of Stepney as being romantic in the way they do Oxford or Venice. But then there’s more than one sort of ‘romantic’. The East End of London is a place steeped in history. It has always been grimy, smelly and a melting pot of different cultures, always will be. There’s little one could call baroque about Whitechapel, but the gothic style of romance and its post-modern offspring more than compensate.
So, who’s the lead character in The Borgia Ring? Well, the book is the first of a series featuring a detective I hope will one day join the pantheon of greats, the likes of Morse and Rebus. His name is Inspector Jack Pendragon and his connection with the East End of London is one unsurprisingly similar to my own. Jack grew up in Stepney, went to school there. He was a bright kid who won a scholarship to Oxford. He joined Thames Valley police and lived in Oxford until his marriage failed and decided he needed a radical life change. Drawn back to his roots, he finds it difficult at first to settle in, but gradually he finds his feet and rekindles his relationship with the place.
Of course, being a Michael White thriller, The Borgia Ring contains a parallel story set in an earlier age and linked with the mystery in the present day. This time, I take the reader back to Elizabethan London and a plot to assassinate the queen. The tale also brings in the nefarious activities of some real life characters including Lucrezia Borgia (original owner of the eponymous ring) and the very charming Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. Oh, and William Byrd and William Shakespeare also have cameos.
Michael White, July 2009.
For more details go to michaelwhite.com.au
The Borgia Ring is published by Arrow