I have never visited Manchester, let alone 19th century Manchester but via Angela Buckley’s book I have been plunged into the noisy, boisterous life of crime, drink and gambling in that crowded city in 1867. It was in that year that Jerome Caminada first became a police constable. Grandson of an Italian immigrant, his life had been hard work and struggle after the death of his father at the age of 37. After 6 years in the Royal Lancs. Militia and a short time as a brass fitter, Caminada turned to the police force where he was to have a successful career and gain fame throughout the country.
This biography was written using Caminada’s own accounts, newspaper articles of the day and social commentary on the crime and poverty in Manchester in Victorian Britain. Each chapter has an inviting title such as, “A hot-bed of social iniquity and vice,” “Rascality, rapacity and Roguery,” and “Gin Palaces, Gambling Dens and a Cross-Dressing Ball.” Who could resist reading on?
Jerome Caminada’s first days of 14 hours on the beat, tested his stamina and toughness as he received punches just for being a police constable and among the poverty of the crowded rookeries he was often in danger of losing his life. But he also quickly proved his skill and intelligence by following up clues, shadowing suspects and using his knowledge of the criminal underworld to bring culprits to justice.
We join him at Aintree race course where dippers or pick-pockets have profitable days and illegal gambling games are set up. We learn about Scuttlers, frightening gangs of street fighters and we meet sophisticated swindlers and seducers. Caminada had his own Moriarty, a career criminal called Bob Horridge who hated Jerome and was a constant threat until he was finally given penal servitude for life.
If you want to read more about quack doctors, poisoning and Caminada’s secret government missions I can highly recommend this thrilling, eventful biography of a colourful figure who solved far more crimes than Sherlock ever encountered.