Short Stories 366:118 — “The Ghost of St. Sebastian’s,” by Jess Faraday

coverOkay, a brief moment to gush about Jess Faraday’s The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, which I adored on audio: a Holmes-era tale in London at it’s most coal-caked and financially stratified, also Holmes-esque in its execution. You should grab it and listen to it if you’re at all a fan of audiobooks and period-piece gay romance.

Ahem.

Okay, now to Shadow of Justice, which begins with this first story, “The Ghost of St. Sebastian’s,” and has, at least tonally, so very much in common with Affair—we’re back in historical London, and we’re among the less-than-elite, but this time we walk with Constable Simon Pearce, a gay policeman trying to climb the ladder of influence in Scotland Yard, all while keeping his queerness safely out of the line of sight of anyone who’d use it against him.

In “The Ghost of St. Sebastian’s,” we learn a lot about Simon as he’s presented with a strange case indeed: they toss an angry cutpurse woman into the back of their wagon as much for her own safety as anything else, and are driving her to the cells, but upon her arrival it seems she’s been beaten to death, inside the locked wagon, where she was alone, which was exactly what she’d claimed had happened to two other people she knew: killed by the ghost of St. Sebastian’s in locked rooms where they were alone. Almost immediately, Simon dismisses the paranormal aspect, and we learn he’s a man who pays attention to science journals, tries to keep up with what will eventually be considered forensics and psychology, and—more importantly—is a man who cares about those whose deaths would normally get no attention from the police.

In part, this is because he knows he’s also a vulnerable person (a gay man, a constable no less, for whom the truth could lead him to a terrible end were it to come out), but it’s more his sense of justice that’s piqued, and soon Simon is trying to figure out not only what happened to her, but to the other two friends she mentioned in her yelling about the so-called ghost. What follows is a wonderful introduction to Simon, Scotland Yard, his peers and superiors, and the sense of a London where death is waiting for the less fortunate, and no one is there to defend them, except perhaps for Simon himself. It’s a great start, and the resolution of the mystery itself is grounded in something that strikes close to home for Simon, giving him all the sharper a sense of character.

I was lucky enough to reach out to Jess Faraday and ask how this collection came to be, and she was kind enough to let me know.

From the Author:

It’s amazing the things that can come out of a simple conversation.
Several years ago I received an email from Nicole Kimberling of Blind Eye Books. She had just read my second novel, The Left Hand of Justice, and wanted to know if I would be interested in writing something like that for BEB. What came out of that conversation was Blades of Justice, which is a lesbian historical shared-world anthology of novellas featuring a pair of magic scissors that avenge wronged women. My contribution was a novella entitled “The Kissing Gate.”
 
Later, Nicole thought it might be fun to provide a short story as a free teaser for the anthology, and thought that Simon Pearce, a side character in “The Kissing Gate,” might make a good protagonist. The conversation that followed that saw the idea blossom into eight connected short stories with a personal arc for Simon. It worked out so well that I’m currently mapping out stories and story cycles for other characters in Shadow of Justice, in particular a certain librarian who still had a lot to say, even after his role in SOJ had ended.
Working in short form was a difficult learning curve. Short stories are not just small novels! I had to learn how much detail to put in, what to leave out, and I had to completely re-learn how to pace the story. But it made me a better and more versatile writer in the end.
This collection was a lot of work, but it was worth it. I’m really proud of how it turned out, and I hope people will enjoy reading it.
You can find Jess Faraday on Instagram and Facebook, and at her website, JessFaraday.com.

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