James Joseph Wright was born on January 10th, 1863, at the precise moment the world’s first underground train delivered its passengers to Farringdon station. As the locomotive puffed and fumed from the tunnel, James’s mother, some four miles distant, puffed and fumed through her own first delivery.
[Twisted Tracks, The Clearwater Mysteries Book Two]
That is the opening of the second Clearwater Mysteries novel. It introduces us to a character who is to become one of the Clearwater five, the five main characters central to the ongoing series. James makes a brief appearance in book one, ‘Deviant Desire‘ when he is a telegram messenger boy and delivers the ‘smoking gun’ telegram to Clearwater House and meets Thomas. I wanted Thomas to have a love interest but had no idea that James would take on such an important role in the series. Mind you, neither did James and since he met the love of his life, he has crashed a locomotive, foiled an assassin or two, become friends with Tennyson, borrowed Queen Victoria’s private train, rescued Bram Stoker’s son, impersonated a barrister and saved Silas’ life on more than one occasion.
James is the lead detective in the Clearwater Detective Agency, and I thought it was about time we knew a little more about him. So, I sat down with him one quiet Sunday afternoon in The Crown and Anchor pub, near his home in South Riverside, London (in January 1890) and asked him a few questions.
What is your full name?
My full name is James Joseph Wright. My mother calls me Jim or Jimmy. Most of my friends call me Jimmy, but Andrej, His Lordship’s coachman, who has nicknames for everyone, calls me Tato. I know, it makes me sound like a bloody King Edward’s potato, but in Andrej’s language, it means ‘daddy.’ He started calling me this when the two of us had to look after Bram Stoker’s son, Noel because someone was trying to kill him. It’s not the worst nickname a man can have. We call Andrej Fecker because Silas used to call him ‘one handsome fucker’, and in Silas’ Irish accent, it sounds like Fecker. Andrej calls my lover, Thomas, ‘Bolshoydick’ because in Ukrainian, it means ‘large penis.’ (Long story, don’t ask.) So I suppose I got off lightly with Tato.
Where do you live now, and with whom?
At the moment, I’m at Clearwater House, Riverside. That’s the London home of Lord Clearwater where I came to work as a footman in 1888. To start with, I had a room on the top floor opposite Thomas, the butler. The following year, when Archer (Lord Clearwater) set up the detective agency and I became a gentleman, Archer have me a suite of rooms on the first floor. I have my own bedroom and sitting room, and an inside bathroom. This is at the back of the house, overlooking the yard and the mews, and beyond them, St Matthew’s Park. I am very lucky. Thomas still has his rooms above mine but only spends time in them if there are guests in the house; otherwise, we more or less live together.
When we are at Larkspur Hall, Archer’s country house, I used to have the senior footman’s rooms by the butler’s suite in the basement. Now, though, I have a similar but much larger suite of rooms opposite Silas and Archer’s, and Thomas has the suite next door. There’s a connecting door, so we can sort of live together without anyone knowing, and it’s like a bloody palace. Archer is very generous, as you can tell.
To which social class do you belong?
Who knows? (He laughs.) I was born in South Riverside, which is a typical lower-middle-class part of London near Chelsea, full of artisans and workmen, people with their own trades and businesses. My dad is a merchant seaman, and my mother a straw bonnet maker. We have a typical two-up two-down and an outside privy in a small yard, but we always had enough to get by. When I came to Clearwater House as a footman, I suppose I shifted sideways in class and went into ‘above stairs service.’ When Archer set up the agency, I became a gentleman with my own self-generated income, though not one with land or a title like the viscount. I still consider myself working class, though I can act ‘upper’ when I need to and ‘lower’ if necessary.
How would you describe your childhood?
Apart from having a younger and very annoying sister who is never happy about anything, childhood was alright. I had to go to school, but I was good at reading and always wanted to know more, so I suppose I was a bit annoying too. They made me go to Sunday school as well, but I used to bunk off that.
When I was 14, I got a job as a post office runner and then a messenger delivery boy. The job came with a uniform, and we had to do drills in the yard every morning like we were in the army. I got bullied there because I was dumpy and not very fit, but when I got taller, I started to get fitter.
They (the older messenger lads and one in particular) tried to get me into the money-making scam where they’d have sex with punters for coins, but I refused to do this. I was fascinated with the idea, though, because I think I always knew I wasn’t interested in girls, but doing it for money wasn’t for me. I suppose I was after love rather than just sex, but when you want sex with another man these days, well, you could end up in prison, so I had to keep quiet about all that.
So, when it comes to my first kiss, that was with Tom. He’d got me a job at Clearwater House and was showing me around on my first day. He got me the job because we fancied each other, though he also said I’d be good at it, and we were in his butler’s pantry… Actually, that was the second time. The first was when he showed me his rooms on the top floor. It was awkward, and I wanted to do a lot more than kiss, but we couldn’t. Later, we had a bit of a kiss in his pantry (his office), but we didn’t really get much of a chance until later when we were all in the north chasing the Ripper. Archer engineered a time we could be alone in this room we’d all been using at an inn, and Tom and I had had a bit of a row (long story), and we’d not even said ‘I love you’ by then, because we didn’t know how. Anyway, we managed an hour alone and did… You know, for the first time, though, that was a bit awkward too. We’re much better at it now. (He laughs.) But be careful who you tell that too, else we’ll get in trouble.
Do you have a criminal record?
No, but I should have! I’ve always been honest, you see, and that’s what Lord Clearwater liked about me. He tested me once with a five-pound note, and there was no way I was going to rip him off, and he saw that. So, he welcomed me to his ‘crew’ his circle of trusted friends and told me the first rule of Clearwater House which is honesty above all else. Since then, I’ve crashed a locomotive train into a river, helped Silas break into a brothel, punched Clearwater’s lights out, impersonated a barrister in open court (another long story), impersonated a Metropolitan police officer and lied about who I am, but only when I’ve had to. So much for ‘honesty above all else’! But it’s all been for the right reasons.
Are you able to kill? Under what circumstances do you find killing to be acceptable or unacceptable?
I had to think about this for a minute. I’m now a private investigator and have been in some pretty sticky situations. I’ve been there when people have died, but I haven’t actually killed anyone. There was the man who was trying to murder Silas, and he fell to his death. I was there but didn’t push him. Then there was the man trying to kill Archer, but Tom set fire to him, and Silas shot the other man in the head. The blackmailer… Well, that was his own fault… I better stop there, or I might get in trouble.
But to answer your question, yes, I could kill someone, but I’d rather stop someone from being killed. If anyone was trying to kill any of my close mates, anyone on the crew or any of the boys, like Jasper or Billy, then, as long as it was to save them or in self-defence, yes, I’d put a bullet in a man. Mind you, I don’t have a gun of my own so I’d have to borrow one.
Who or what would you die for or otherwise go to extremes for?
Goes without saying. Tom, Archer, Silas, Fecker, Jasper, Billy, Mrs Norwood… The Clearwater’ crew.’ Oh, and my family, of course.
What are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
I go for a run around the park every morning when it’s not raining too hard, and I sometimes join some lads in the park on a Sunday for a game of football. I’ve played rugby as well, but I only do all this because, without it, I’d quickly get fat again.
I read a bit because of my job. I have a stack of old copies of The Police Gazette and The Illustrated Police News for research on cases and keeping up to date with police procedures. I like novels, the kind of ‘Boy’s Own Paper’ style of things. I’ve got a signed Wilkie Collins that Lady Marshall gave me, and a book of Tennyson poems that Lord Alfred gave me, but otherwise, I use Archer’s library, and that’s full of all kinds of stuff from Burke’s Landed Gentry to a history of the Royal Navy. So, I read a lot and do a bit of sport.
Are you spontaneous, or do you always need to have a plan?
When you work for Lord Clearwater, you have to get used to making things up as you go along. I plan when I need to.
Describe the routine of a normal day for you.
There’s no such thing as a normal day when you’re a Clearwater detective and live with and work for Lord Clearwater. I have a routine, though, for when we’re not on a case. Tom’s always up early, and so am I. I go for a run if I can, have a wash or a bath, then go down to breakfast. I have breakfast with His Lordship and Silas when they’re at home or down in the servants’ hall with Fecks and Mrs Norwood and the boys when Archer is away. Then I’m in my office (Clearwater library), reading, looking at requests for help from all kinds of people who need an investigator, and Silas and I deal with those letters and things. He also runs a hostel in Greychurch, so I am on my own so a lot of the time.
If I’m not working on a case, I’m reading, researching, always trying to learn new stuff, helping Billy Barnett with this or that as he’s always trying to invent things and improve things. Sometimes, I go riding with Fecker, but usually, I’m busy on a case all day. When I’m free in the evening, I spend time with Tom in our suite just chatting or cuddling up, you know. Now and then, Archer drags us all to a theatre or a concert, and we go out to eat. Pretty ordinary things really, because I reckon I’m an ordinary lad from South Riverside who was lucky to fall in love and meet a man who only sees the best in people and encourages them to be themselves; Clearwater, that is.
What are you working on now?
Well, obviously, I can’t say too much, but I’ve come up to London from Larkspur Hall to work on a case that’s to do with inheritance. I’ve got meetings set up with Marks, His Lordship’s solicitor, and I have to get to the Inns of Court to see my barrister friend, Sir Easterby Creswell (always a bit of madness involved when he’s on the case).
I’m working out of Clearwater House, trying to avoid this bloody influenza pandemic, and the rest of the time, I’m slowly sifting through the Clearwater archives to try and find a document that will save Archer’s fortune from going to a very distant and undeserving Romanian relative, while also helping Archer set up a new academy for gifted young men, or whatever it’s going to be when he decides.
One thing You can say about being part of Clearwater’s world; there’s never a dull moment.
(James has just celebrated his 27th birthday.)