Book Spotlight And Author Interview — The Barrister And The Letter of Marque

11 Aug
  • Title: The Barrister and the Letter of Marque: A Novel 
  • Author: Todd M. Johnson
  • Genre: Historical Mystery, Suspense, Inspirational Fiction 
  • Publisher: Bethany House Publishers (August 3, 2021)
  • Length: (416) pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0764239137
  • Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0764212369
  • eBook ASIN: B08LG91Y95
  • Audiobook ASIN: B0983VZ6XZ

BOOK DESCRIPTION

As a barrister in 1818 London, William Snopes has witnessed firsthand the danger of only the wealthy having their voices heard, and he’s a strong advocate who defends the poorer classes against the powerful. That changes the day a struggling heiress, Lady Madeleine Jameson, arrives at his door.

In a last-ditch effort to save her faltering estate, Lady Jameson invested in a merchant brig, the Padget. The ship was granted a rare privilege by the king’s regent: a Letter of Marque authorizing the captain to seize the cargo of French traders operating illegally in the Indian Sea. Yet when the Padget returns to London, her crew is met by soldiers ready to take possession of their goods and arrest the captain for piracy. And the Letter—-the sole proof his actions were legal—has mysteriously vanished.

Moved by the lady’s distress, intrigued by the Letter, and goaded by an opposing solicitor, Snopes takes the case. But as he delves deeper into the mystery, he learns that the forces arrayed against Lady Jameson, and now himself, are even more perilous than he’d imagined.

PURCHASE LINKS

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLEBOOK DEPOSITORY | BOOKSHOP 

| GOODREADS

ADVANCE PRAISE

“Johnson debuts with a tense story of powerful interests teaming up to thwart a legal challenge in Georgian-era England…Johnson steeps his story in legal maneuvering, layers of intrigue, midnight chases, and even a hint of romance. While faith elements are subtle, this enthralling novel will appeal to fans of both legal thrillers and historical inspirationals.”— Publishers Weekly

“… a mystery worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This richly historical and lively paced story has all the makings of a modern classic.”— Jocelyn Green, Christy Award-winning author of Shadows of the White City 

“At once atmospheric and gripping, Johnson’s latest is a luminous and refreshing new offering in inspirational historical fiction.”— Rachel McMillan, bestselling author of The London Restoration, and The Mozart Code

“A fascinating glimpse into a Regency London readers seldom see.”— Roseanna M. White, bestselling author of Edwardian fiction

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Todd M. Johnson is the author ofthree legal thrillers: The Deposit Slip (2012), Critical Reaction (2013), and Fatal Trust (2017), and The Barrister and the Letter of Marque (2021), his first foray into historical mystery. He has been a practicing attorney for over 30 years, specializing as a trial lawyer. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Minnesota Law School, he also taught for two years as adjunct professor of International Law and served as a US diplomat in Hong Kong. He lives outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and daughter.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS

Q & A WITH TODD M. JOHNSON

Many authors say that they have always been a writer — making up stories as a child. When did you first become a writer?

Always been a writer? Could I convince you that I can still recall smuggling a pen and paper into my play pen and musing late into naptime on plot points drawn from my long road of experience?

Seriously, storytelling has been a long journey for me. From imaginary childhood friends to stories told to schoolmates, I started pretty early. I first began scribing when a good friend and I got together to write short stories in fifth grade or so, reading our finished works to one another over Cokes and cookies. (I wish I still had those stories, his and mine!) As I grew older, I continued writing fiction whenever I could convince a schoolteacher that a “short story” was an appropriate response to an assignment – like the rewrite I did of a chapter in A Separate Peace by John Knowles from ‘Finny’s’ perspective. In eighth grade, a teacher intern was excited enough about my writing that she volunteered to be my “agent”, setting me up in a classroom after school to write stories under her supervision. I’m sure she went on to be a marvelous teacher. Unfortunately, I hadn’t the patience to stick with it at that young age. 

I got away from writing after college, focusing on the more practical career path of law—only to return to the typewriter (now transformed into a keyboard) about twelve years ago when I realized the dream I’d always nurtured of being a novelist was getting away from me. That led to my fortunate intersection with Bethany House and my four novels (and more in the pipeline).   

Can you tell us a little about what inspired The Barrister and the Letter of Marque?

When I first landed with Bethany House, it was wisely suggested that I “write about what I knew”. As a longtime trial attorney, I dove first into writing contemporary legal mysteries, particularly in the courtroom (The Deposit Slip, Critical Reaction and Fatal Trust).  Each of those first three books were very exciting and rewarding to write. Except …

The fact is that I am nearly as passionate about history as I am about writing. Not only was history an emphasis in college, but historic non-fiction and fiction alike have been my “go to” reads ever since. My poor wife and children have long experienced my obsession as I careen off the road on car trips to catch the latest roadside historical marker (now “hysterical markers” in my family, a term suggested by an equally obsessive friend and history buff). 

The Barrister and the Letter of Marque was inspired by a desire to combine my passion for history with my abiding love of writing. That, along with my great love of Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and their writings about life in nineteenth century England. 

What does Marque mean? What other Regency lingo can you explain for us?

“Marque” was originally French for “Mars, God of War”.  The phrase “Letter of Marque” has, for centuries, described the device by which a sovereign granted power to a privateer captain (or merchant captain) to take ships of other nations as though the holder of the letter was part of the sovereign’s navy. In practice, it empowered those privateers to take foreign ships without the risk of being deemed a “pirate” – which would subject them to prosecution and hanging for their actions.  

The authority to grant such power continues to this day: it is, in fact, enshrined in the American Constitution, although an American Letter of Marque must be granted by the government. The Letter of Marque which appears in the opening pages of The Barrister and the Letter of Marque was drafted by me from an actual letter issued by the British Crown in the eighteenth century. 

A smattering of other examples of Regency lingo include:

Gaol:  The nineteenth century English spelling for “jail”.

Mulled wine: A favored drink in nineteenth century England (and much earlier), made by combining warmed red wine with sweeteners (sugar, oranges, maple syrup or honey) and adding cinnamon, cloves and/or anise.

Brag: A betting card game played in the Regency period England in which the players each receive three cards instead of the five cards typical of modern poker.

Hosteler: A person who took care of horses at an inn – not to be confused with an “hosteller”, originally a monk who cared for guests, but now a hotel manager.

 Can you share your thoughts on your hero and his challenges in the story?

The principal hero of The Barrister and the Letter of Marque is William Snopes, a barrister in his late thirties practicing in Regency Period London. Barrister Snopes came from money, power and privilege: his father was wealthy and a member of the House of Lords. 

But sadly, his father was also unprincipled, as revealed in the opening pages of the book – so much so that William was driven from home after his mother’s death, turning his back on the money and station he would otherwise have enjoyed. He channeled the resulting anger and revulsion into representing debtors and the lower classes who could not afford representation.

The challenges William faces in The Barrister are personal, professional and spiritual. William is asked to represent the imprisoned captain of a privateer who claims to have operated under a Letter of Marque from Regent Prince George, a letter which has disappeared. The captain and his cousin, Lady Madeleine Jameson, now in dire financial straits, are members of the very class from which barrister Snopes had retreated. Nonetheless, he is drawn to the case by the inequities in power between his potential clients and the forces arrayed against them – and the injustices they are suffering. As he goes deeper into the case, he is forced to examine his own methods in court which, while effective, edge a line of morality, ethics and propriety. How far will he go to save the captain and his cousin? What lines will he be willing to cross? 

I created William Snopes to be his “own man”, but the character is influenced by Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the modern television barrister “Rumpole of the Bailey”. Like barrister Snopes, both characters were very creative and insightful, but also flawed and (like us all) hobbled in judging their own shortcomings.  

Why did you choose to write a historical mystery?

As I mentioned elsewhere, history is a great passion for me. Drawing from my own

courtroom experience, I thought it would be fascinating to follow a nineteenth century barrister as he not only fights to solve a mystery but struggles to prove a man’s innocence in the roughhewn courtrooms of the Regency Period – burdened by the knowledge that a man’s life, and the estate of a woman he admires, is at stake.   

What type of research did you pursue of Regency London and detectives during this era?

l read many books and more articles to prepare The Barrister, some of which I’ve

identified in a video I posted a few weeks ago.  There was much about the Regency Period (1811-1820) I wanted to master: social mores, cultural norms and expectations, the court and prison systems, the selection and training of barristers, clothing of the period, eating and entertaining, the Far East tea trade, the economy of post-Napoleonic War England, and more. I also needed to understand the geography of London two hundred years ago. To that end, I bought several map books about the roads, buildings and neighborhoods of Regency London. Finally, I researched some of the great personalities of the period who appear in the book, including Beau Brummell, Princess Charlotte, Regent Prince George, Admiral Nelson and many others. I even used contemporaneous documents and doctoral dissertations to calculate the likely cost of a merchant brig at the time, as well as the likely tonnage of tea that could be stored in its hold.     

One of my favorite resources was an autobiography of an early Victorian period barrister (a decade and a half after the Regency period). That barrister’s description of his early years living and practicing in London was absolute gold.  

As for detectives of the period, there were none with one notable exception: the Bow Street Runners. This was a group of crime fighters organized in the mid-eighteenth century to capture thieves and other criminals for a reward from the government and the victim. Operating until the 1830s, it was very successful – and featured in The Barrister.  

What do you want your readers to take away with them after finishing it.

My hope is that readers will be entertained and find William Snopes and his compatriots of the period to be complex, witty, interesting – and worthy of following in future adventures in Regency England. I also hope they will recognize the inspirational underpinning of the story and characters, as they grapple with and strive to overcome the discouragement of corruption and the imperfection of any system of justice.  

Readers always want to know what is next for an author. Do you have any works in progress you can share about?

I do. I am just finishing edits of an historic novel about Ernest Hemingway in

Cuba in the early 1960s, as he and a young girl he’s befriended are pursued by Cuban intelligence due to knowledge they’ve acquired of secret Russian missiles aimed at America. 

I have also commenced a sequel to The Barrister and the Letter of Marque featuring William Snopes and Lady Madeleine Jameson, with a working title The Barrister and the Mad Duchess.  

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Join the virtual book tour of THE BARRISTER AND THE LETTER OF MARQUE, Todd M. Johnson’s highly acclaimed historical mystery, August 2-15, 2021. Over twenty-five popular on-line influencers specializing in historical mystery, suspense, and inspirational fiction will join in the celebration of its release with an interview, spotlights, exclusive excerpts, and reviews of this new Regency-era novel set in London, England. 

TOUR SCHEDULE

Aug 02 The Readathon(Review)

Aug 02 From Pemberley to Milton(Excerpt)

Aug 02 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog(Review) 

Aug 03 Life of Literature(Review)

Aug 03 Captivated Reading(Spotlight)

Aug 04 Laura’s Reviews(Review)

Aug 04 The Green Mockingbird(Review) 

Aug 05 My Jane Austen Book Club(Spotlight)

Aug 05 Reading is My Superpower(Review) 

Aug 06 Among the Reads(Excerpt) 

Aug 06 The Blue Stocking (Review) 

Aug 07 Gwendalyn’s Books (Review) 

Aug 07 Reading with Emily (Review) 

Aug 08 Storeybook Reviews (Spotlight)

Aug 08 Rosanne E. Lortz (Review)

Aug 09 Heidi Reads (Excerpt)

Aug 09 Bookworm Lisa (Review) 

Aug 10 The Caffeinated Bibliophile (Spotlight)

Aug 10 Wishful Endings (Review) 

Aug 10 My Bookish Bliss (Review) 

Aug 11 By the Book (Interview)

Aug 11 A Bookish Way of Life (Review)

Aug 12 Books, Teacups, & Reviews (Review)

Aug 12 A Darn Good Read (Review) 

Aug 13 Fire & Ice (Review) 

Aug 14 The Lit Bitch (Spotlight)

Aug 14 The Book Diva Reads(Spotlight)

Aug 15 Vesper’s Place (Review) 

One Response to “Book Spotlight And Author Interview — The Barrister And The Letter of Marque”

  1. Laurel Ann Nattress August 11, 2021 at 1:10 pm #

    Thank you for sharing the interview, Beckie. I really enjoyed this mystery and am looking forward to the second book in the series. I hope you have a chance to read it too.

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