Are we seeing the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? (Thinking Covid-19, not anything existential!) I really do hop you’re all getting on okay and finding new ways to live which go someway towards compensating for the old ways that are temporarily – we hope – gone.
A couple of new releases have happened since the last newsletter. A Carriage of Misjustice is out in ebook and print. Very pleasing review at Promoting Crime Blogspot.
“Robin and Adam are engaging protagonists, although the heart-stealer is Campbell, their adorable (and very spoiled) Newfoundland dog.”
Even more exciting is the first Lindenshaw audio book. Best Corpse for the Job, which has been out for a while in ebook and print, is now available to listen to. I’m very pleased with the narrator’s interpretation.
Tea and sympathy have never been so deadly
I’m delighted with the review at Love Byte Reviews. I loved the small English village feel there was to this book. There was this cozy mystery vibe over it all, filled with a myriad of different characters that you might expect to find in a small village, the nosy and gossiping ones, the evasive ones. The intrigues and secrets. Charlie Cochrane definitely nailed it all.
I’ve been tidying up my free story files and found I’d omitted this from the collection. It’s the investigational (and romantic) adventures of Johnny Stewart, who was Jonty’s great nephew. You can find the whole thing here at my page full of free stories.
Roger turned on his heels, and left the room, with a dismissive, “This tie needs straightening.”
He ran into his maternal aunt on the way to finding a mirror, which was blessing in that she sorted it for him and kept him out of his mother’s way until he could calm down.
“I hear Johnny Stewart will be here tonight. I’ll enjoy sitting next to him. There.” Aunt Jacinta added the finishing touch to the bow.
“Better you than me. Johnny’s the most insufferable person it’s ever been my misfortune to come across.” Roger ran his hands through his hair.
“You must dislike him intensely,” his aunt said, drily, “to employ that particular gesture. You always used to do it as a lad when you came to stay and we presented you with something you didn’t want to eat. Or asked you a question you didn’t want to answer.”
He felt a bloody embarrassing flush rising up his neck; why did Aunt Jacinta always see straight through him? Did she know exactly what was going on inside his mind to make him so defensive?
Johnny bloody Stewart. Why had he got to keep coming back and making life so difficult?
Roger tried to rally. “Anyone would run their hands through their hair—or tear great clumps of it out—if they had to deal with him for any length of time. He was bad enough at school and hasn’t improved with maturity.”
“That sounds like you then, dear. Peas in a pod.” Aunt Jacinta fixed him with a smile like an auger. She might look one hundred and forty-three in her bombazine and lace, but that look, and the machinations of the mind behind it, could strike fear in any man. “Just don’t vex him, would you, Roger? If he’s hardly your favourite person, at least be polite.”
“I will do my utmost.” He swallowed hard. Normally, medical students would be beneath his mother’s notice, but this one being the great-grandson of a lord made a difference and she’d been delighted to invite him in the absence of Roger’s godfather, who was at his now hopefully appendix-less wife’s bedside.
How could Roger ever explain about Johnny? There were two insurmountable obstacles—finding the right words to make anyone else understand the feelings he’d had for Johnny since he first caught sight of him as a spotty youth of sixteen and having to deal with his aunt’s inevitably negative reaction if he did get his point across. He supposed he was too old, and the matter too serious, to just get away with being taken over her knee, whacked, sent to his room and then allowed to come down half an hour later if he showed the right amount of contrition.
Not even Aunt Jacinta could be as understanding about things as to allow that.
Disgrace, disorder, his mother’s tears, his father’s horsewhip? Not that his father would actually resort to the whip, no matter how often he talked about using it on miscreants, although the outcome would be just about the same. Cut off without a penny and none of the Henleys ever talking to him again. And while that idea might be an attractive one in the case of Uncle Frederick, the general aspect didn’t appeal.
Try as he might, Roger couldn’t think of any way to sweeten the pill, whatever words he could use to describe how he felt.
There was this chap at school. Stewart, J.O. Year below me; came to the place when I was seventeen. I liked the look of him from the start; he had an air about him, power restrained and all that. He matured and filled out a bit faster than more of the spotty oiks of his age. Lost most of the spots, too. Cocky little sod, though. Opinionated.
“Yes, aunt?” His mind came back from school days to the present, and two females, his mother having appeared, trying to usher him out of the suite.
“Daydreaming again. His worst fault,” she said, bundling him through the door.
Roger reminded himself that if that remained her opinion of what was his worst fault, then all in the garden was still rosy.
about what happened at such a meeting, putting me in a terrible light.
I decided that I should do what my tutors at school had taught me and go back to first principles. What did I hope to gain from my actions? Shaming Martha and ending our engagement? I could do that with a conversation in front of her father, especially if I called Jane to bear witness. No amount of tears and denial would be able to hide the truth in those circumstances: Mr Bradley was nobody’s fool.
Did I want more, though? Revenge upon the man who had come and ruined my chance of happiness? For I felt certain that this situation was not simply of Martha’s making. Policemen ran many a risk in pursuit of their duty. Were they to come upon a miscreant, an altercation might ensue, in which the upholder of the law could be badly injured, if not killed outright. Such things happened and, quite rightly, provoked a public outcry. Were anything to happen to Atkins while he was on the beat, it would naturally be assumed that he had fallen foul of a burglar or other villain, rather than a pillar of the community.
My risks were threefold. I might be seen in the vicinity if an attack was made on him but that could be mitigated by care and disguise. Martha might suspect I had something to do with it but without proof she wouldn’t get far. Then there was the cabby who’d taken me to Richmond, who was extremely astute and who might well have both suspicions and proof of my interest in Atkins. The last was the least of my worries as I had enough background information on Sanders to ensure he would never go to the police with what he knew.
My logistical challenges were surprisingly few. A firearm? I already had one, left to me by Uncle Ebenezer. I hadn’t realised he’d been in possession of one until he died and I inherited the mysterious package with his letter inside.
I bought this pistol when Marley died. He had always worried about robbers sneaking into his house to take his small fortune and his dying words were to insist I bought the means of protecting myself and my property. Dickens didn’t know I tried to shoot the Ghost of Christmas Past: I knew the visitation was spectral as opposed to human when the bullet went straight through them. It’s still embedded in the wall, although now covered with a painting.
I want you to have it, as a memento of me and of the things I learned that wonderful night. The only way to keep true wealth is to share what you have, not hide it away or seek to protect it at the cost of another man’s blood.
I’d stuck to that advice all my life, but now his words seemed strangely prophetic. I thought I had found the truest of wealth in Martha and I had no intention of sharing her. The cost of that decision would indeed be another man’s blood.
My opportunity came easily, too. There had been a series of burglaries in the area of Kingston Hill and extra police patrols were being laid on. The area came under control of the station Atkins operated from and were he to come to harm, the burglars would naturally be the first to come under suspicion and the wooded gardens gave plenty of opportunity for a man to stalk his prey. I obtained a map of the area, plotting where I could be dropped off without arousing any suspicion as to what I might be up to.
I drew on a useful contact at the Kingston station, one of the sergeants whom I could have called on to provide me with information about my rival, but that would have been an unwise strategy. A man in my position should resist every opportunity to overexpose his hand. Instead, I visited him with the excuse that I had a client, Miss Gray, who lived not far away and whose safety was of concern to me. The client was real—the more one could incorporate reality the better, I felt—and highly forgetful, while desperate to cover over the fact. If I swore that she’d consulted me about her property then she would back up that story.
“These burglaries are something wicked, Mr Cratchit,” he told me, over a pint of beer that Wednesday lunchtime. “Honest folk not being safe in the privacy of their own home. This modern world is a terrible place.”
“It is indeed, Sergeant Willett. I’m pleased we have you and your lads to protect Miss Gray and such as her.”
“Aye, they’re a brave bunch.” Willett frowned. “One or two I’m not so sure about.” He lowered his voice. “I know I can tell you this in confidence that it’ll go no further, but one lad, Cavanagh, is a bit of a fly-by-night. He’s supposed to be on duty this evening but he’s sent word that he’s unwell. Scared to line up and be sent out on his duty, if you ask me.”
“How vexatious. Will you have to cover his beat yourself?”
Willett roared with laughter. “Of course not, Mr Cratchit. How do you think we work? I can find another constable to cover him.”
“I bow to your superior knowledge,” I said, with a grin. “While I understand the workings of the law in my own field, I’m sorry to say that your job is a great mystery to me.”
“No need to apologise. Each man has his own sphere, as you might say.” The sergeant took a draught of beer, then gazed into his glass, ruminating. “I’ll think I’ll put PC three five six on to cover him, even though Kingston Hill’s not his usual beat. Decent officer. Bit of nous about him.” He looked up at me then shook his head. “Now it’s my turn to apologise. Speaking my musings out loud.”
“Not to fret. I’m used to hearing my clients do much the same. I shut my ears to it.”
I hadn’t in this case, though. I knew that Atkins was three five six—Jane had informed me—and knowing where he was likely to be that night, I could lay my plans accordingly. Being September, and close to the equinox, it would get dark early in the evening so I could mostly remain unseen. The lady whose business I handled would prove useful once more: I would have legitimate reason to be in the vicinity of where she lived and were I to get lost in the dark who could suspect the famous Tiny Tim Cratchit to be abroad on shady business?
The sergeant and I parted company at the hostelry door. I hoped I wouldn’t encounter him again that night.
And finally – thinking back to one of our last ‘pre-lockdown’ adventures. Exquisite Roman mosiacs, all the way from Sussex!