By Rafe McGregor
The Architect of Murder was conceived while I was conducting some unrelated research and came across a reference to the strange will of Cecil John Rhodes, the British Empire equivalent of Bill Gates. Although I spent many years in South Africa, I knew very little about Rhodes so I turned my attention to his life and death. When I discovered that the richest man in the Empire had a will that wasn’t just idiosyncratic, but actually sinister, I realised I was on to something. You know those Rhodes Scholarships? There’s a conspiracy theory behind them, and each step has documented evidence. Yes, really.
Because I was writing in the twenty-first century, the first thing I had to do was Google and Wikipedia Rhodes’ will to see if anyone else had already used the idea. I found one possibility: a science fiction novella by John Crowley called Great Work of Time. Even though it was out of print, I tracked down a copy. It was sufficiently different from what I had in mind, so I created a folder labelled Empire, and set to work. Once I’d made the decision, my long-standing interest in modern history and historical crime fiction made the task less daunting than it initially seemed. I’d already devoured the Sherlock Holmes canon, the Richard Hannay quintet, Aubrey and Maturin, Flashman, Captain Alatriste, Erast Fandorin, and the Leibermann Papers – all of which provided an example for me to follow and all of which I can recommend for a variety of different reasons.
I had a lot of fun in 1902 London and the disadvantages of going back in time were outweighed by the advantages. One of the aspects of time travel I enjoyed the most was being able to write action sequences which wouldn’t be plausible in contemporary London…and I’m not just talking about the swordfight. Another was writing about real-life characters like William Melville, who later went on to found MI5 (the United Kingdom’s Security Service), and is considered a possible candidate for Ian Fleming’s ‘M’ (of James Bond fame). Unfortunately, I was only able to give ‘Q’ a mention.
Several celebrities and personalities of the age have major and minor parts to play, but I won’t give any other names away. As an amateur historian, I like to think of The Architect of Murder as a story which could easily have happened, and which fits perfectly with the march of history and the events of the time. It not only could have happened, but in a way, it did happen. The novel is about Rhodes’ will, and the fact that the eventual fruition of that will was actually a victory from beyond the grave. How much of a victory? Read the book and find out…
Rafe McGregor is the author of nine books, including Bloody Reckoning and The Architect of Murder, and two hundred essays, articles, and reviews. He can be found online at @rafemcgregor.
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