Showing posts with label Francis Bacon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Francis Bacon. Show all posts

13 April 2016

Nights in Berlin

David Edgerley Gates

NIGHTS IN BERLIN is the fourth of Janice Law's period mysteries featuring the painter Francis Bacon. The first book takes place during the Second World War, and the next two follow chronologically, but NIGHTS IN BERLIN takes us back to Weimar Germany in the 1920's, when Francis is only a teenager - although far from innocent - some years before he begins his art career.

Berlin, in the Weimar era, has a reputation for being wide open. "Life is a cabaret, old chum - " and you better believe it. Francis is sent off in the care of his uncle Lastings, in hopes Lastings will make a man of him, Francis being more than a little gay, but uncle favors a bit of rough, himself. He's also a scoundrel, working the black market, with a sideline as an informer, which turns out to be the part that proves dicey. Lastings is selling secrets to the highest bidder.  

In the event, uncle takes it on the lam and leaves Francis to his own devices. Playing fast and louche, Francis lands a job as a hatcheck girl at a drag bar. It's good cover when British Intelligence recruits him - blackmails him, in point of fact - because Uncle Lastings was freelancing for them. Berlin is in political ferment, with Bolsheviks, Freikorps thugs, SA brownshirts (Goebbels just arrived as Nazi party gauleiter), Prussian reactionaries, all stalking each other with violent and criminal results.

Francis is an entertaining guide to these wilder nooks and crannies, his voice alternating between the knowing aside and his native provincialism. There's something to the story of a Boy's Own Adventure, reminiscent of John Buchan, say, or Erskine Childers' RIDDLE OF THE SANDS. I think partly this is the age between the wars, revanchist, tribal hatreds boiling to the surface, but no real sense of the cataclysm about to swallow the Old World entire. It's also a function of our hero's age. Francis is old and wiser, and sadder, in the first three books of the series, whether London or Tangier or the Cote d'Azur, whereas turning the clock back, we see a previous, vanished Berlin, and through a younger pair of eyes. What contributes further to this is an avoidance of historical ironies. Hitler doesn't get a walk-on, or Sally Bowles, either. NIGHTS IN BERLIN is very much of the moment, as Francis inhabits it, and that lends it a sort of wandering air, the kid a little too much in pursuit of sensation for his own good.

The politics are really a side issue. The story is how the experience imprints on Francis. What did he learn? he writes to ask his former nanny. That the most unlikely people can teach us odd and useful things. And with this in mind, he's off to Paris at the end of the book. Both enterprising and alarmingly fey, in some respects, Francis seems like something of a blank slate, yet to be written on. In other words, we're still in the opening pages. The rest are empty. Francis will grow into himself. As the world itself will, passing into the savage 1930's, and then the war years. Pages yet to be written.

I jumped at the chance to read NIGHTS IN BERLIN. Janice had me at the title. I'm crazy about the premise, and the period, of course. I've lived in Berlin, I've read up on it quite a lot, I've written about it myself. I also recently discovered Philip Kerr's fabulous series of historicals, with the wartime German homicide cop Bernie Gunther. There's something endlessly fascinating to me about the city in the past century, with its many changes of clothing, Weimar, the Nazis, Occupation and the Cold War. I think if Berlin didn't actually exist, we'd have to invent it, as a metaphor, and for the purposes of fiction.

15 March 2016

Resetting the Clock

Today, on the Ides of March, I’d like to welcome Janice Law, SleuthSayers emerita, mystery writer and painter, to guest blog. Janice was nominated for an Edgar Award in 1977 for The Big Payoff, her first Anna Peters novel. And in 2013, she was nominated for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Mystery for Fires of London, the first in her Francis Bacon series. She won that award the following year for its sequel, The Prisoner of the Riviera. She writes frequently for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and many others. So, take it away, Janice.



Resetting the Clock

by Janice Law

(Many thanks to Paul D. Marks for kindly giving me his column space this week.)

My family always insists that I don’t take advice. This is only partially true. I rarely take advice immediately, but that’s not to say that I reject good ideas entirely. Case in point: my new Francis Bacon trilogy, which debuts April 5 with the opening volume, Nights in Berlin.

And what is this good advice that I’ve taken? To revise a character’s age downward. I did not do this with my former detective, Anna Peters, who retired with her bad back in her early 50’s. But I have now reset Francis’ age, from forty-something in Moon over Tangier, back to seventeen.

I had a couple reasons for doing this.

By the time he’d reached his early forties, the historical Bacon was on the verge of being both rich and famous, and some of his less pleasant, and more destructive, habits were going to become prominent. More important, he had lost Jessie Lightfoot (Nan in the books) and she, along with a knowledge of painting, was crucial to my understanding of his personality.

Characters one invents are almost by definition comprehensible. They may or may not be the fascinating, successful creations we all hope for, but the chances are good we’ll feel we understand them. If we don’t, if the character doesn’t in some way “make sense” to us, he or she will surely wind up in the out-take file or scooped up and eliminated by the handy delete button.

Historical figures are another matter. They are known, sometimes to the general public, sometimes only to specialists, but either way there certain irrefutable facts and circumstances about their lives that must be respected. To be honest, some of these facts are awkward. I personally love country living and all animals. Not so Francis. Music is important to me; Francis was tone deaf. And then there is his sexual preference – promiscuous gay sadomasochism – and his affection for the bottle.

Clearly, if one is going to write about a character this far from one’s own tastes, interests, and experience, a character, moreover, whose biography is known and available, one must find a way into his personality. My entrance to Francis’ psyche were via Nan (my mom had emigrated as a nanny and I grew up on a big estate that employed one) and his art (I’m a keen semi-pro painter).

With those two anchors, I’ve been able to navigate my fictional character’s taste for city life and rough trade, not to mention his reckless genius. Still, by the time I finished Moon over Tangier, I felt that the character I had been following for a dozen fictional years was complete, and I was ready to end the series.

But some interesting facets of the man’s life remained, especially his decision to close a reasonably successful design business (one capable of supporting both himself and Nan) and to embark on the precarious path of serious painting. That decision could, I saw, be the finale of a new trilogy.

What about the 600 or so pages needed before I could get to that point? Here, the real Francis’personal history came to my rescue. As a teenager and young adult, he lived in three different cities, each at a crucial and fascinating time: Weimar Berlin, where he was taken by a peculiar uncle – my character Uncle Lastings is, aside from his sexual habits and the circumstances of the German trip, a total invention; Paris at the end of the Roaring Twenties; and London in the Thirties after the party stopped.

Berlin and Paris were extremely important for the real painter’s later development. Bacon never went to art school and what little formal instruction he had in oil painting was picked up from one of his lovers. But in Berlin, he saw the cutting edge European art of the moment, Bauhaus design, Expressionism, Dada, and the New Objectivity as German artists struggled with the machine age and the devastation of the world war. For a young gay man, it also didn’t hurt that Berlin was liberated sexually in ways undreamt of in England.

Paris, like Berlin had galleries and new art, most importantly for Bacon, the works of Picasso, as well as the great public museums. Surrealism was in the air, and writers and artists from around the world had come to work – or to live the artistic life – in the metropolis. As for London, the art scene was tame compared to the excitements of the Continent, but London was, first and foremost, where his heart was. All his artistic life Bacon had trouble working anywhere but in the city along the Thames: he was a London man first and foremost.

Of course, three novels, even short ones, about the making of a painter are not going to set mystery lovers’ hearts a-flutter. Fortunately, history as well as biography now comes to the rescue. Berlin had gangs both fascist and Red; an enormous vice industry, fueled by the collapse of the post-war economy, plus public and private violence and misery of every sort.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-09249-0013, Berlin, alte Frau sammelt Abfälle
Paris had rich foreigners flinging money around and indulging their whims, while poor foreigners scraped for a living and struggled to recover from wars and revolutions further East. The underside of Parisian artistic creativity was imaginative larceny, including successful attempts to sell the Eiffel Tower. As for London, by the mid-Thirties, the city saw Hunger Marchers, waves of homeless, desperate immigrant Jews, British fascists like the Black Shirts, and ever-increasing fears of yet another war.

Who could let all this go to waste?

I declared Francis seventeen again and started Nights in Berlin.

22 September 2014

Meet My Character: Francis

by Janice Law

My SleuthSayers colleague Fran Rizer, author of the Callie Parrish mysteries, has tagged me for the Meet My Character Blog, so here goes with Francis.

Name of character- real or fictional?

Francis Bacon, gay bon vivant and painter. He’s both real and fictional in that, yes, there was a real Francis Bacon, Anglo-Irish artist, creator of images of screaming popes and the now ultra valuable triptychs. There is also my character, whom I think of as FB, who resembles the original but who, after three novels, has begun to take on a distinct personality, doubtless better known to me than to the original.

When and where are the books set?

The first novel, Fires of London, was set during the Blitz. The second, Prisoner of the Riviera, was set immediately after the war in London and along the French Riviera and drew heavily on holidays at San Raphael, a charming small town a half hour from Cannes. The last, Moon over Tangier, was set in the International Zone in Morocco in the early 1950’s.

What should we know about FB?

Someone described the real Bacon as “camp as an army base and tough as old boots,” a nice summation for a very complex character. I’ve tried to keep some that complexity for FB as well. For instance, if you know that he was a promiscuous gay man fond of rough trade, you form one impression. When you then learn that he lived with his adored old nanny until her death, you revise the picture more than a little bit.

Similarly, although he was a militant atheist, his great subject was the crucifixion and it is really too bad that he was never commissioned to paint an explicitly religious painting. Early and late, painting was the key aspect of his life and the creation of works on canvas kept an otherwise rackety and dangerous existence under control.
Conflict in his life?

The real man had plenty, having been kicked out of his home at 16 for trying on his mom’s underwear. He was fond of makeup, too.

In the novels there are two regular sources of conflict: the forces of law and order that want to make use of his expertise and the motorized vehicles that always seem to give him difficulty. The Blitz presents additional problems in the first novel; blood feuds surviving in post-war France complicate the second, and in Moon, the famously spy-ridden International Zone presents a cornucopia of difficulties.

Personal goals of character?

Pleasure and excitement and successful canvases. FB likes drinking and good food and carrying on and handsome men and painting, first, last and always. In the novels, survival is also a big imperative.
Where can you read about this character?

In the trilogy comprised of Fires of London, The Prisoner of the Riviera, and Moon over Tangier, all from in ebook or print.

28 July 2014

Moon Over Tangier

by Fran Rizer

Thanks to Janice Law and Leigh Lundin, I spent Friday suffering from self-induced sleep deprivation. When Leigh asked if anyone would like to review Janice Law’s newest novel, I volunteered. It arrived Thursday afternoon, and I didn’t stop reading until I completed it Friday morning. The official release date is the end of August, but I can’t wait to tell you about it. Here’s my review:

Moon Over Tangier

Janice Law
Janice Law
    Author Janice Law opens Moon Over Tangier with protagonist/narrator Francis Bacon bruised, bleeding, and wearing little more than fishnet stockings in the muddy Berkshire countryside. David, his partner, has once again erupted into a rage that the artist escaped only by running outside after a well-placed kick forced David to release the knife he held at Bacon’s throat.

    Third in the Francis Bacon trilogy following The Fires of London, a finalist in the 2012 Lambda Award for Gay Mysteries; and The Prisoner of the Riviera, winner of the 2013 Lambda Award Best Gay Mystery, Moon Over Tangier will impress many readers as even better than the first two.

    Eager to escape his situation and obsessed with David, Bacon follows him to Tangier. David—charming when he’s relaxed and mellowed with a happy level of alcohol intake—invites Bacon to a party where he introduces Bacon to his friend Richard who shows them a Picasso he has purchased. Unfortunately, Bacon realizes the painting is a copy, possibly an outright forgery. His telling Richard this leads to Bacon becoming an unwilling undercover agent for the police and barely escaping with his life after being locked in a closet while another man is killed.

    Caught up in murders, art forgery, and espionage, Bacon is captured and tortured physically by foreign agents and mentally by his love for David and David’s treatment of him, which he sums up in the words, “David liked me, but he didn’t love me.”

    This reader especially liked Francis Bacon’s witty narrator’s voice and appreciated Law’s treatment of David, “a brave, twisted man, half-ruined by the war and busy completing the destruction.” Law’s word choices are consistent with the post-war forties, and at no place do we see the term PTSD, but David is clearly a victim of that condition. In keeping with the time of the setting, Bacon and David do not flaunt their homosexuality, but they do “cavort,” the narrator’s term for their attraction to handsome beach boys and casual sexual encounters, which are not described in detail.

    Janice Law's Francis Bacon, the main character, is based on the real Francis Bacon, an Irish-born British bon vivant known for raw emotional imagery in his paintings. Throughout Moon Over Tangier the fictional character's references to his art are consistent with the real Bacon's isolated male heads of the 1940s and screaming popes of the 1950s. In previous Francis Bacon mysteries, his earlier life and close relationship with his nanny are historically accurate as are the descriptions of locations during the designated time periods in all three books.

    It is not, however, necessary to know anything about the real Francis Bacon to appreciate reading about Law's fictional version, nor is it necessary to read the first two novels before Moon Over Tangier. This book works just as well as a stand-alone, though anyone who reads this third in the trilogy first will probably then read The Fires of London and The Prisoner of the Riviera.

    Historical fiction has not been my favorite genre, but in Moon Over Tangier, Janice Law weaves in the historical facts so skillfully that I am not distracted from the adventure and mystery of the story. With the talent and expertise that Law has displayed in previous works, her writing captures me and takes me into a less than familiar world where the setting and characters become real and exciting. I read Moon Over Tangier for entertainment, and Janice Law's Francis Bacon entertains me five stars.

Moon Over Tangier
Author: Janice Law
Publisher: Mysterious Road
ISBN: 978-1-4976-4199-5

Until we meet again, take care of … you  (and read this great new book by Janice!)

02 January 2014

The Prisoner of the Riviera

by Eve Fisher

First of all, meet Janice Law:

Secondly, meet Francis Bacon:
  File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg  No, not that one, this one:  File:Study for a Self Portrait -Triptych, 1985-86.jpg

Francis Bacon, artist.  Francis Bacon, gambler.  Francis Bacon, bon vivant.  Francis Bacon, gay, asthmatic, Irish, auto-didact, devoted to his Nanny (who lived with him until her death in 1951), and an absolute mess (his studio, by all accounts, was like something out of "Hoarders").  Francis Bacon, who must be howling over the whopping 142 million pounds paid for his portrait of Lucian Freud last year (the most ever paid for any work of art), especially since he never made anything like that sum in his life, despite his taste for high low life.  Let's just say the boy lived above his means, and that's part of what gets him in trouble.

Especially in Janice Law's "The Prisoner of the Riviera", the second of her Francis Bacon series (and if you have not yet read "The Fires of London", go and get it immediately).  Francis is back, in all his dark, louche, sardonic, hungry, artistic, reckless glory.

File:Real Monte Carlo Casino.jpg
Monte Carlo Casino
Did I mention he's a gambler?  Well, in post-WW2 Britain, it's practically the only fun you can have (all right, there is Albert, his lover...), but Francis' luck hasn't been good.  And it doesn't improve when he sees a Frenchman shot in front of him as he and Albert head home.  Francis leaps to help, but the man - Monsieur Renard - dies.  And then Joubert, the owner of the gambling den, makes Francis an offer he can't refuse:  take a package to Madame Renard on the Riviera.  In exchange, all of Francis' gambling debts will be forgiven.  Well, Francis' debts are high, and he and Albert and Nan had already planned to go to Monte Carlo for a vacation ("A solemn promise, dear boy"), so why not.  So off they go, Francis, Albert, and Nan, to eat and drink and gamble and relax in the sun and, eventually, fulfill his commission...

File:Fuchs.margin (MMW10F50 f6r) detail.jpgNow, to those of us who know our French fairytales, the name Renard hints that this is not going to be all pate de foie gras and Chateau Lafite, although Francis does his best to consume as much of the good stuff as he can.  And indeed, when Francis (eventually) goes to fulfill his commission on a hot, lazy, dusty day, things go south remarkably quickly.  The house is sinister, the widow unusual, and two thugs seem to be following him with ill intent.  Two days later, he is the prime suspect in the murder of Madame Renard - after all, everyone knows that a foreigner, especially a British foreigner, would be the obvious suspect in a small resort town - even though the dead woman does not look at all like the Madame Renard to whom he handed that mysterious package...  And the package has disappeared.  And "Renard" used to be the codeword for various operations, some of which had to do with the Resistance...   And everyone wants him to "help" them with their inquiries - licit or illicit. Thankfully, the food is good, the wine is wonderful, and Pierre the bicyclist is delightful...  until all hell breaks loose.  Again.

Francis quickly discovers that he has walked into a world that is just as haunted by World War II as Britain, only differently.  The Riviera spent its war occupied by collaborators and resistance, fascists and communists, counterfeiters and criminals, and far too many of them are still there, still feuding, still fighting, still procuring, masquerading, lying, killing... (the bodies are piling up!)  And far too many of them want Francis dead.

"The Prisoner of the Riviera" is a fast-paced ride that has as many twists and turns as a Riviera mountain road.  And Francis is just the man to tell the story:  witty, sarcastic, honest, an artist whose interest is always in the unusual, a lover who makes no bones about who he is, a man who knows everything about the dark side of life.  Read it now, and then wait, breathlessly, for the next installment of Francis Bacon, channeled through Janice Law!

10 December 2013

Nothing Wasted

by Janice Law

Thanks to Dale Andrews and Terence Faherty, who have kindly given up space so I can announce the publication today, Dec 10, of Prisoner of the Riviera, the second volume of my mystery trilogy featuring that campy bon vivant and artistic genius, Francis Bacon.

Surprisingly, since I rarely plan anything in fiction, I knew from the start that I wanted to do three novels with this character. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the trilogy involved me in the same sort of plot problems that individual novels have caused. Namely, I had a wonderful idea for the beginning: a mystery set against the London Blitz– the Blackouts, sudden death from the sky, spectacular, if dangerous, light effects, and the disorientations of a totally disrupted urban geography. Who could ask for a better setting?

And then Bacon was a character that I found irresistible if rather foreign to my own experience. He was irrepressible and pleasure loving, but hard working, too. And he lived with his old nanny, the detail that convinced me to use him in fiction.

I also had a pretty good idea about the third novel. Painful experience has taught me that it is folly to embark on a project without some idea of the ending. It’s good, if not essential, to know who the killer is, but I find I absolutely need some idea of how the concluding events are going to go down. And I did know, because, just on the cusp of real success, Bacon embarked on his great erotic passion with a dangerous ex-RAF pilot. In Tangiers, no less, the exotic height of romance. How could I go wrong with that?

The problem, as perspicacious readers will have already divined, was the dreaded middle, the getting from the brilliant idea of the opening (for who ever starts a project without the delusive conviction that this idea is really terrific?) to the clever and satisfying (we do live in hope) ending. The solution was not immediately forthcoming and volume 2 might still be just a faint literary hope if not for personal past literary history.

Over every writer’s desk, in addition to Nora Ephron’s mom’s: “Remember, dear, it’s all copy,” I would add, “Remember not every project works out” and “Nothing is wasted.” Years ago, I wrote a novel called The Countess, which borrowed some of the exploits of a real WW2 SOE agent, a Polish countess in exile. I did a lot of research. I read a lot of books. I visited the Imperial War Museum in London. I even made an attempt at beginning Polish.

But just as sometimes a piece one dashes off turns out to be very good, so sometimes one’s heart’s blood is not enough. The Countess was published to small acclaim and smaller sales and I was left with a working knowledge of the French Underground and SOE circuits, plus acquaintance with the toxic politics of Vichy and the right-wing Milice.

Years passed. Although I forgot, as I tend to do, the names of agents and the dates of significant actions, a notion of the infernal complexity of war time France remained, along with the conviction that the post-war must have been a very confusing and often dangerous place.

When I recalled that Francis’s lover had promised him a gambling trip to France after the war, I had the ah-ha moment. The real Bacon, his lover, and his old Nan had actually gone to France. That was good. And what was better was that I could invent a whole range of people who had scores to settle and secrets to hide. What better environment for Francis, who does have a knack for smelling out trouble?

The French setting of Prisoner of the Riviera also enabled me to add one of my passions to the story, as very soon after the war, the French resumed the Tour de France, still the world’s most glamorous bike race. Handsome young men in bike shorts seemed to me to be just the ticket for a vacationing Francis Bacon, and having given him all sorts of obstacles and miseries, it seemed only fair to let him indulge in a little romance.

Finally, we had spent holidays in France, a number of them in the south, and the sights and sounds of the Riviera have lingered in my mind. With both the physical and emotional setting of the novel well in hand, it remained only for me to trust to the Muse to come up with the incidents. She complied and Prisoner of the Riviera, in which in best mystery novel fashion, the hero, having survived Fires of London goes on vacation and finds himself in the soup, was the result.

03 September 2012

The Fires of London

by Janice Law

I have a book coming out tomorrow, September 4, from Mysterious Press, the first time I’ve issued a novel in eBook form. The Fires of London is set during the London Blitz and uses the Anglo-Irish painter, Francis Bacon, as the detective.

Leigh asked me to write about constructing The Fires of London and about the research involved, but, though he is too polite to put the question, I think he really wanted to know how a reserved, virtually teetotaling old lady from rural Connecticut, who, incidentally, just celebrated her fiftieth wedding anniversary, came to write about that gay, promiscuous, thoroughly urban, alcoholic genius, Francis Bacon.

Well might he ask! I’ve certainly asked myself the same question, but the Muse has her reasons, and I’ve found it unwise to reject anything she offers. Besides, after a little thought and research, I discovered that FB and I share a good deal more than might be evident on the surface.

But first the Blitz. Among my earliest memories is a great distaste for news broadcasts. Since I was only a toddler I cannot have understood the bulletins but only reacted to the concern and distress of my parents, Scottish immigrants anxious about relatives in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Fife, and points south in England. My other early memory is the big cardboard boxes which were shipped back to the old country during, and for years after, the war, containing coffee, chocolate, various other foodstuffs, wool, clothing, and even garden seeds to replace a blown up allotment garden in Aberdeen.

Later I visited the Imperial War Museum in London and did extensive WW II research for a novel about an SOE agent who was active in France. That background, plus the ever helpful web, with its pictures of barrage balloons and ARP clothing and various sites with memoirs of folk who lived through the Blitz, did the rest.
Just the same, what about Francis? Ah, well, I hesitated. But however rackety FB’s life, he was apparently up and in his studio by 6 or 7 a.m. He was a worker; I approve. Art was his lifeline and his earthly salvation. I drew well before I could read and write, and the visual world has been a constant source of interest and delight. In many ways, drawing and painting have always been the way I comprehend the world.

Of course, FB was a genius, and I am not, but even leaving his great abilities aside, he was an odd duck. Maybe too odd for me. Then I learned about Nan, his old nanny, whom he lived with until her death. She loved him unconditionally, entered enthusiastically into all his schemes, and, though half blind, went shoplifting for food when they were on their uppers.

This I understood. My mom had emigrated via Canada as a children’s nanny and my parents worked on a big estate. I was a downstairs child of an upstairs downstairs establishment, and I knew a lot of women – all, I must say, far more respectable than Nan – single women whose men folk, or would have been men folk, had been ground up in the First World War. These nannies, governesses, upstairs and downstairs maids, and cooks often had complicated relationships with their employers and, especially, with their employers’ children.

So was a love of painting and a bird’s eye view of the class system enough? I decided it was. Michael Peppiatt’s fine biography, Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Enigma, various memoirs of people in Bacon’s circle, a fine exhibition in Buffalo of Bacon’s paintings, and some books on gay London recommended by my late university colleague, Hans Turley, gave me the details of FB’s life and information about the milieu in which he thrived.

For the rest, blame imagination. However remote the characters one creates seem, they are all made out of the same cloth, the writer’s own experience and personality. So Francis in The Fires of London is my version of the man, created by flinging imagination over the facts as I understood them and linking my experience to his very different one.

Though the ease with which I have written some peculiar and undesirable characters has sometimes given me pause, that was not the case with FB, whom I frequently disapproved of but whom I grew to like. He was a bundle of contradictions. One friend described him, I fear I paraphrase, as ‘camp as an army base and tough as old boots,’ an unusual combination, maybe, but no more or less complicated than the next person you meet. Tertullian wrote, “ I am a man and I think nothing human is alien to me.” Include my gender and that’s as good a motto for a writer as I can think of.

02 September 2012

Fires of London

by Leigh Lundin

Wot's a nice, straight all-American dude reading about the London gay scene some seventy years ago? I just finished Fires of London, Janice Law's novel about the mid-1900s English/Irish artist, Francis Bacon (not the Elizabethan logician, philosopher and essayist, nor other historical figures).

Let's get one issue immediately out of the way: Yes, the star of Fires of London is flaming. I confess inquisitiveness, wondering how the author might handle Bacon's homosexuality and penchant for BDSM, especially given the number of exploitative erotic romances written by– and for the titillation of– straight women. I congratulate Janice on making Bacon's sex life integral, immersive, and tasteful, even sensitively done. Androphilia is beyond my ken, but the author makes the window of understanding accessible. Not only has the author handled Bacon's sexuality better than other authors, Janice's research, art background, and careful craftsmanship set this story apart from other historicals.

Fires of London draws upon art, poetry, history, mythology, and the classics. The author is a literary architect. She builds meticulously, syllabically brick by brick, painting the backdrop, sketching the characters, scene by scene, so the reader sees the novelistic theme park, not the girders underpinning it. The reader feels the protagonist's asthma, fear, bravery, and reluctant persistence to learn who's committing murders in the midst of the gay community.
Francis Bacon, 1979
Francis Bacon, London 1979,
The Spectator, photo
© Dmitri Kasterine

The author is not one to flaunt her intelligence and knowledge, giving the story a natural feel. Nor does she belabor drollery. The humor is sly and understated, including makeup advice to Francis to "keep your powder dry." When Francis needs to ditch evidence, his Nan picks his pocket and says "Dear boy, leave everything to me." Francis comments about boys in the rough trade, "I'm not one to leave hard feelings behind."

London town is real, palpable. The description of the Blitz is riveting. What I know about the gay scene you could fit in a teacup, but it feels true. You may think this isn't the kind of world you'd inhabit, but it's impossible not to connect.

In the latter chapters, the emotional roller coaster moves from angst, to spookiness, terror, anger, vindication, sadness for one of the characters who made Francis' life miserable, and finally a feeling of satisfaction.

Who could ask for more?

Defy the heat. Fires of London is available 4 September from Mysterious Press.