Searching for a Setting
by Jess Faraday
In a recent interview, James M. Tabor at International Thriller Writers asked me if I was able spend time in Paris researching my newly-released novel The Left Hand of Justice. My reply was, don’t I wish!
Unfortunately, the Paris in Left Hand no longer exists. Large swathes of the city itself were plowed under in the urban reforms of the 1850s, and the march of history took care of the rest. Maps of the city prior to 1851 were surprisingly difficult to come by, and, of course, photography was in its infancy. Still, I think I managed to create a strong, vivid atmosphere—at least that’s what readers are telling me, and readers know best =)
What few people know, though, is that the setting of Left Hand went through a number of different costume changes before coming to rest in 1820s Paris.
In the first experimental vignettes, the heroine, Inspector Corbeau, was called Ravenwood, and the story was set in Victorian London. Late 19th century London is a place I know well, and the time fit nicely with the steampunk motif. But as the story went on, it became clear that as convenient as it would have been, it just wasn’t an English story. Moreover, every steampunk story at the time seemed to be set in Victorian London, and I didn’t want mine to be just one more.
The tough, anarchistic setting fit Ravenwood’s broken character to a T. What’s more, I’ve always been a fan of Weird West, and I grew up in the desert, so…very little research required. Perhaps I’ll write that story one day—I have a lot of scenes and notes—but it, too, just wasn’t right.
A third attempt found Inspector Ravenwood in the middle of the storming of the Bastille. Somehow, this setting felt…more right than the others. So at least the geography was nailed down. Of course Ravenwood was so not a French name. Hence the name change.
The 1789 revolution was an exciting time indeed. However, it was the time leading up to the July Revolution of 1830 that really captured my imagination. In addition to being an interesting time in the development of the Sureté—Vidocq had resigned, the new Chief had reorganized and cleaned house—there were a number of cultural, religious, and political parallels with present events in the United States—a weak leader bowing to the pressures of the church and the wealthy to legislate morality and disenfranchise the middle class *coughcough* –that I couldn’t resist.
In the final analysis, I’ll always remember this as one of the most difficult things I’ve written—and largely because the setting was so difficult to pin down. For this reason, though, it was also one of the most satisfying.