A sneak peek of Miss Gascoigne book 1: A Meeting With Murder

As you may know, I’m working on the first book of a new series. It’s another cosy mystery series featuring a female amateur detective. The series is to be known as the Miss Gascoigne mysteries, and Diana ‘Dee’ Gascoigne is the detective. It will be released on the 30th September, and the Kindle version is available to pre-order. The paperback and large print paperback will be published shortly after the eBook.

If you have read any of the Dottie Manderson mysteries set in the 1930s, some of these names may sound familiar.  Dee Gascoigne is the baby Diana who is born at the beginning of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish. Now it’s 1965, and Diana is almost 30, recently separated from an abusive husband and still carrying a not-very-secret crush for her not-quite-cousin Bill Hardy, detective inspector, and eldest son of Dottie and–you’ve guessed it, William Hardy from the Dottie Manderson mysteries. (SPOILER!!! They do get together, don’t despair!)

In A Meeting With Murder, Dee has just lost her job due to the scandalous fact that she plans to divorce her husband–divorce was still a very big issue in the 1960s. Next, following a bout of bronchitis, Dee goes off to the seaside to recover. Of course, even in a small village, or perhaps because it’s a small village, there are malign forces at work. Dee, like her Aunt Dottie, feels compelled to investigate, and perhaps start a whole new career for herself.

Here’s a short extract from A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1.

I hope you like it!

Dee had a leisurely afternoon. She took another walk around the village, marvelling that she didn’t happen to meet anyone, considering the place was so small but well-populated. She had afternoon tea with Cissie in what was rapidly becoming a ritual, one that she would miss a great deal when she finally returned to London.

That evening, Dee looked at the two letters yet again, mulling over them long and hard. She knew them by heart now. Not that there had been much to learn, both were short and direct.

The first one, in the usual style of cut out words or single letters from magazines or newspapers, said simply, ‘Your seCREt shame will NOT be a secret much lONger.’

The second, more recent one, said, ‘Your bAstard cHILd will pay for YOUr sin.’

The word bastard had been made up from several sections of type: the b was a separate letter, then the Ast were together, presumably formerly part of a longer word. The next a was a single letter again, then the final two letters, rd, were once more part of the same word, and likewise, the YOU of your was formed of a word in capital letters with an extra r added to the end.

On the one hand, it was laughable that anyone would think this was still a scandalous secret in the modern era. But on the other, Dee remembered what Cissie had said to her when she first explained about the poison pen letters. It must have been a shock, Dee decided, for Lily to open the envelopes and find these letters inside. To think that someone who knew her, someone familiar to whom she no doubt spoke on a regular basis, had composed these spiteful notes.

Dee sat for a long while pondering the letters. At last, she put them away, neatly folding them and slipping them into the zipped mirror pocket of her handbag for safe keeping.

The next morning she was up bright and early, had her breakfast, and humming along to a song on the radio, she tidied the cottage and got ready to go out to meet her brother’s train, eager to see him, eager to tell him everything she’d learned. She came out of the dim house into bright sunshine, and walked directly into a man going past the cottage.

Then as he gripped her arms to steady her, and helped her to stay on her feet, she saw who it was.

‘Oh!’ she said, covering her sense of shock by becoming angry instead of flinging herself into his arms. ‘So Scotland Yard finally turned up, did they? A bit late in the day.’

The tall man in the smart suit—surely a little too smart for ordinary daywear, especially in the country, Dee commented to herself—took a couple of steps back, clearly as shocked as she was at having literally walked right into her as she came out of the front door of the cottage as he and the other man with him were walking by on their way from the railway station to the pub.

Just looking at him was enough to set her heart singing, much to her annoyance. Meanwhile he was frowning down at her with what was known in the family as the Hardy Frown, his dark brows drawn together over long-lashed hazel eyes that were just like his mother’s.

‘What the hell are you doing here anyway? You’d better not be interfering in my investigation. I’m not like my father. I don’t allow private citizens to meddle in official police business.’ He was holding his forefinger up in a lecturing manner. 

‘Oh shut up, Bill, you’re so bloody pompous,’ Dee said and stormed off.

Hardy sighed.

‘I take it you know that lady, sir?’ the sergeant asked, eyes wide with curiosity, following the lady as she went.

‘You could say so, sergeant. Listen to me. On no account are you to tell that woman anything about this case. Don’t give her documents to read. Don’t accidentally leave your notebook lying around for her to ‘just happen to find’ and snoop through. Don’t answer any of her questions, or tell her our line of questioning, or anything about our suspects, or just—anything. She comes from a long line of nosy women. Do you understand me, sergeant?’

‘Ye…’ the sergeant began.

‘Because if you do any of those things, believe me, I shall make your life a living hell.’ Hardy caught himself and stopped. Then added, with just a hint of a smile, ‘Not that I don’t already, I expect you’re thinking.’

‘Oh sir, as a mere sergeant, I’m not paid to think.’ Sergeant Nahum Porter risked a grin at the inspector.

Stifling a laugh, Hardy said, ‘I’m very glad to hear it. Now come on, we’ve got things to do.’

many thanks to clash_gene at Shutterstock for the wonderful cover image.

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Peril in Persia by Judith Cranswick: the new Aunt Jessica adventure lands tomorrow!

This week I am delighted to talk to Judith Cranswick about her brand new book, Peril in Persia, which comes out on Monday 31st January. This will be the third book in the cosy mystery series Aunt Jessica adventures. For those of you who are new to Judith’s series, Aunt Judith is a historian and noted lecturer on art and cultural history who is in great demand on tourist trips to add that extra special something to the tour. She brings along her favourite nephew, Harry, and the pair of them always seem to get into scrapes and fall amongst ne’er-do-wells.

Judith also has another notable series, the Fiona Mason mysteries which are similar to the Aunt Jessica books in that Fiona Mason is a tour guide who accompanies groups on their trips with Super sun Holidays. Fiona has solved her own large share of mysterious murders and dastardly deeds. There are also a number of stand-alone novels, short story collections and even creative writing prompts to help authors to harness inspiration and put pen to paper.

About Peril in Persia: Aunt Jessica mysteries book 3

A forty-year-old conspiracy leads to murder and more lives are threatened.
When a fellow passenger is killed on the first day of their tour of Iran, Harry believes it was no accident. But who would want him dead and why? The murdered man was clearly no tourist so why was he on the tour? What is the link with the hotel manager? The questions keep coming. Harry becomes suspicious of several of his fellow passengers who he is convinced are not what they claim to be. He will need Aunt Jessica’s steadying hand to stop him rushing into danger to solve the mystery.
Revel in the magnificent setting as you take a tour of ancient Persia, exploring the glories of Darius the Great’s magnificent palace at Persepolis, the mud-brick desert cities from the 13th century, the palaces and gardens, to the peak of architectural splendour in Shah Abbas 17th century capital of Isfahan. But be prepared for treachery and deceit as the past demands revenge.
A whodunit with plenty of unexpected twists with a touch of humour. It will keep you guessing until the end.
What readers are saying: –

‘The thing I love about Judith Cranswick’s books is that you are transported to another world. The writing is so vivid, you can see the magnificent sights – the rich colours of the mosques, the sparkle of the palaces – hear the throng of the busy marketplaces and smell the perfumes of the lush Persian gardens.

‘Well researched. I never realised that Iran had such a rich history and the stories associated with the last Shah’s family were fascinating.’

‘Another unputdownable gem in a great series.

Click here to buy Peril in Persia: Aunt Jessica mysteries book 3

Like her protagonists, Judith also gives talks on a wide range of topics when she is on-board ship, helping holidaymakers to get more out of their trip.

Judith was kind enough to answer a few questions for me this week when I nabbed her in a dark corner, stole her passport and wouldn’t let her leave. (Not really.)

Caron: Many of your books are set on a holiday tour, are they all based on trips you’ve made personally?

Judith: All my travel mysteries are based on holidays I’ve taken. That is always my starting point. The trip comes first. The itinerary in the book is the same one I followed. Many of the things that happen on our journey end up in the novel. For example, I slipped down the last couple of stairs and twisted my ankle on the way to the Rhine Valley. I was able to use that idea in ‘Blood in the Wine’ to further the plot. Similarly, when we were in the Galapagos, we saw a sea lion with a tuna fish in its jaws batting it from side to side. I remember thinking, ‘What if that were a human arm?’ It was one of the things that inspired ‘A Death too Far’. Places can also give rise to ideas. The Hilton Hotel in Berlin has an impressive atrium which inspired the idea of hoisting someone over the balcony on the third floor for ‘Blood Hits the Wall’.

Caron: Have you ever had any odd encounters on your tours that you’ve thought would be perfect for a book, or perhaps even too unbelievable even for a novel?

Judith: After our tiger watching holiday in India, I came back with a complete plot. Our party included a successful Australian businesswoman who was partially deaf. She had paid for her young assistant to come with her. They were both drinking gin at breakfast which didn’t go down too well with everyone else. To make matters worse, the two fell out bigtime, so much so that one night the assistant went out of the compound where we were staying in the middle of the tiger reserve. A tiger had killed a man from one of the villages in the reserve only the week before and the guards were prohibited from going out once the gates were shut. In the end, one of the passengers went out on foot to bring her back. Our guide then had no choice but to go after him in a jeep to help find her. All three managed to get back safely, but the friction that followed would have made an excellent plot. Bar an actual murder, I had all the material – characters, subplots and fantastic wildlife and scenery – for ‘Tiger, Tiger’ another psychological suspense. Sadly, I’ve never had time to write it.

Caron: When is your next Fiona Mason book coming out? Any hints as to location? 

Judith: The next Fiona Mason Mystery will be set in Paris. I’d like to think that it will be ready by the end of the year, but I have a lecture cruise coming up at the end of March so I shall be busy putting together my presentations for the Canary Islands until after Easter. We also have a holiday planned for October when we’ll be doing a Nile Cruise. I’m hoping that will give me enough ideas for the next Aunt Jessica and Harry Mystery.

Caron: Are your characters based on people you meet on your travels? What about your sleuths? Are you the real Aunt Jessica or Fiona Mason?

Judith: My characters are always my own creations. Like many writers they take on a life of their own even doing things that surprise me. I’ve had a couple who point-blank refused to be the murderer and Peter Montgomery-Jones, who I only ever intended to be a minor character in the first Fiona novel ‘Blood on the Bulb Fields’, insisted not only on a bigger role but on coming back in all the later books in the series. It makes the novels considerably harder to plot. Not only do I have to find an additional terrorist/political mission for him to be involved in, but also tie it together with Fiona’s investigation at the end of the novel.

Although the idea of Aunt Jessica came from the Islamic specialist who came with us on our trips to Morocco and Persia, Jessica is nothing like Diana though they both work in the British Museum.

My characters may be totally from my imagination, but my locations are not. I need to picture them exactly. Hotels, flats or kitchens might not be in the places I say they are, but they are real. I had to make a special trip into Swindon to find a café in the right part of town, even sit in the same seat at a table in the window as my protagonist, before I could write the scene.

Many thanks to Judith for those wonderful insights.

You can find Judith on the following social media – do follow her for updates and other exciting stuff!

Website: www.judithnew.cranswick.org.uk

Facebook – author page: Judith Cranswick – crime writer

Twitter: @CranswickJudith

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/ 7211080.Judith_Cranswick

My review:

Join Jessica and her nephew Harry on a new journey to discover art and cultural history in their latest adventure, Peril in Persia.

Jessica has been invited to host a series of lectures on an exclusive tour of Iran, presenting the holidaymakers with insight into the wonderful landscape of what is a trip of a lifetime for most. For some it’s the last trip they will make.

It doesn’t take long for Jessica and Harry’s seasoned eyes to work out that some members of the group have got something to hide, and still others are clearly not as unfamiliar with the area as they claimed. For a group of strangers, some of them certainly seem to know a lot about one another, too! As the group travels from site of interest to site of interest, soon the masks begin to slip and old animosities surface, with devastating consequences.

Fans of traditional cosy mysteries are in for a treat with book 3 in this series, as the clues begin to mount up and Jessica and Harry begin to figure out what’s really going on.

As always in Judith Cranswick’s books, the setting is a huge part of the enjoyment of the mystery, lending its own unique features as a backdrop to murder and intrigue. Like the Fiona Mason mysteries, the Aunt Jessica and Harry mysteries are perfect for both he armchair tourist and the armchair sleuth. Highly enjoyable!

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Deception: the latest thriller by Helen Forbes – OUT TODAY!

Lily Anderson has it all. A beautiful son, a wealthy fiancé, and a luxury apartment in Edinburgh. But Lily is living a lie. Estranged from her family, she’s tired of covering up the truth about her relationship with Nathan Collesso.  

Lily’s not the only one with troubles. Her friend, Sam, is being pursued mercilessly by a rogue cop determined to silence him. Living on the streets, Sam sees and knows too much. 

As Lily’s wedding approaches, a desperate bid to escape leaves her with a head injury and a missing fiancé. Did she harm Nathan? Did she kill him? She can’t remember. 

The net tightens, entangling Lily and Sam in a web of deception that stretches from Edinburgh to Poland. Hard truths come to light, and every decision Lily has made since the day she met Nathan Collesso comes back to haunt her.  

One false move, and she could lose her son, her friends and her life. 

Hi Helen, and welcome!

Thanks for agreeing to virtually come along and be grilled on my blog. Last summer, I had the happy task of joining in with your blog tour for the release of your thriller Unravelling, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I was really excited to take part in the blog tour to promote the release of your new book, also a thriller: Deception.

I thought I’d be cheeky and ask you a couple of questions while I’ve got you here. Kind of.

C: What was the inspiration and motivation behind the new book, Deception?

H: Deception began in my head with the character, Lily Andersen, a young mother with a child and a keen social conscience. Unusually for me, I could visualise her clearly, and I felt compelled to write her story. I always knew she was going to have problems with her partner, but I’m not sure even I was prepared for the utter depravity of Nathan Collesso. I was also keen to explore the idea of unconventional friendships. Someone like Lily was bound to show compassion towards Sam, but I wanted to take their relationship further, showing how people with very different lives can form strong bonds and support each other through adversity. 

C: Do you think your legal training and experience enables you to approach your work from a different perspective? How do you bring your work into your writing?

H: My past experience as a social welfare lawyer has undoubtedly influenced the themes in my writing, which include addiction, mental health issues and domestic abuse. I worked closely with Women’s Aid in the past, and many of my clients were survivors of domestic abuse, a hideous problem that is often unseen. I like to think there is a strong social commentary running through each of my novels, which has definitely been inspired by my legal experience.

C: How important to you is setting. Do you feel the settings you use imbue your books with something special?

H: As a reader, I love writing that promotes a strong sense of place. It’s crucial to my enjoyment of fiction. When I wrote my first novel, In the Shadow of the Hill, several people commented that the Isle of Harris was like a character in the book. It wasn’t consciously done, but I think it’s something that has recurred throughout my writing. I lived in Edinburgh for several years, and that’s where I first began to write. It is a beautiful city, full of character, particularly the Old Town, where much of Deception is set. But, like any city, there’s more to it than what you see on the surface, and I hope I’ve succeeded in bringing a darker side of Edinburgh to life.  

C: What’s next in the pipeline for Helen Forbes and for Scolpaig Press?

H: My next novel, Queen of Grime, is also set in Edinburgh. It features Erin Flett, a crime and trauma scene cleaner from a deprived area of the city, who has a dark secret that endangers her and her family. Interestingly, the idea arose while writing Deception. Originally, the Deception character Julie Ross was a crime and trauma scene cleaner, but there was so much going on already that I couldn’t do justice to the storyline, so I decided to change Julie’s occupation and save the idea for a new project. I’ve really enjoyed writing Queen of Grime. Researching the subject of crime and trauma scene cleaning has been interesting, and not for the faint hearted. I hope I’ve managed to lighten the story with some humour, much of it black.  Queen of Grime will be published by Scolpaig Press later this year, and I am now writing a second in the series.  

Many thanks Helen for taking the time to talk to me and many congratulations on the new book!

My Review:

Let me say first of all, I loved the book. It was at times a difficult read, dealing with some of our hardest social issues in modern-day Britain. But don’t let that put anyone off reading this fast-moving, twisty-turny story.

I felt the story was insightful, the characters were cleverly, convincingly drawn and not all of them were the kind of people you’d want to spend time with. It was easy to ‘take sides’ so to speak with those characters who seemed to be genuinely good, yet at the same time, I wasn’t quite sure if I was being duped, as it quickly became clear that several people were being less than open about their pasts and about what was going on in their everyday lives in the ‘now’. It’s hard to know if you are trusting the right person at times.

I don’t want to spoil the story for those of you who haven’t yet read it – most of you as the book only comes out today! But there was one moment about halfway in the book when I just sat back and thought, I just didn’t see that coming. (Hats off to You Helen, I’m not usually surprised!)

Deception is exactly what it says: there is deception lurking in every character’s story, and at times the story is quite dark, but there is a sense of resilience and hope at the end of the book which makes the journey worthwhile and ultimately uplifting.

Fans of thrillers definitely need to read this book!

About Helen Forbes:

Helen Forbes is an author of Scottish crime fiction. She lives in her home-town of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands. Helen began by writing contemporary and historical fiction, with no intention of turning to crime. It was a chance remark at a writing group about one of her short stories that led to her debut police procedural novel, In the Shadow of the Hill, set in Inverness and South Harris, featuring Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith. Madness Lies is book 2 in the DS Joe Galbraith series, set in Inverness and North Uist.

A standalone crime thriller, Unravelling, was published by Scolpaig Press in July 2021.

Helen would be delighted to hear from readers. Please contact her and join her mailing list on her website http://www.helenforbes.co.uk

Marsali Taylor’s The Shetland Sea Murders blog tour

This week, I want to share with you the third in a series of three mystery/crime-genre blog tours to celebrate new books. This week I was honoured to be asked to take part in the blog tour for Marsali Taylor’s new novel The Shetland Sea Murders. This worked very well for me as I’d been planning to read some of Marsali’s work for quite some  time.

Here’s a little bit of what her book is about:

Marsali Taylor returns with the ninth gripping mystery in her Shetland Sailing Mystery series.

While onboard her last chartered sailing trip of the season, Cass Lynch is awoken in the middle of the night by a Mayday call to the Shetland coastguard. A fishing vessel has become trapped on the rocks off the coast of one of the islands.

In the days that follow, there’s both a shocking murder and a baffling death. On the surface there’s no link, but when Cass becomes involved it is soon clear that her life is also in danger.

Convinced that someone sinister is at work in these Shetland waters, Cass is determined to find and stop them. But uncovering the truth could prove to be deadly…

Other reviewers said:

‘Definitely the best of the Cass Lynch series yet!’ 5* Reader Review

‘The beautiful descriptions of Shetland life, traditions, it’s landscape and even language bring everything to life.’ 5* Reader Review

‘This series gets better and better’ 5* Reader Review

‘A beautifully written story, with descriptions so vivid you can smell the sea and beautiful countryside.’ 5* Reader Review

The perfect lockdown read for anyone who longs to be back on the sea.’ 5* Reader Review

My Review

As I said, I’ve been aware of Marsali’s books and planning to read them for some time now. So this was my first experience of this series, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

I was a bit worried to begin with because of the boating stuff. A lot of the story takes place or a boat, or has information to do with boats or things like weather and tides etc. I’m a confirmed landlubber. I like to be on a boat, on a nice sunny day, when all I have to do is stand on the deck and daydream, I’m not a ‘storm’s a-coming, haul in the mainsheet’ kind of boater… So I was concerned I would either find the references to boating or shipping or whatever it is (please excuse my ignorance) too complicated or well, boring, actually. But I’m happy to report that when the boating bits became ‘hardcore’ – towards the end of the book – I was gripping my lines and staring into the mist like a true-born shipping type person. It was tense, let me tell you. And I was right there in the midst of it with the spray on my face, hanging on to every word.

This is an absorbing mystery, and chock full of a sense of place. The story is set, as the series title and this book’s title suggest, in and around the Shetland Isles. Everything is described with affection and an attention to detail that just brings it to life. It also helps that there is a glossary of Shetland linguistic phrases at the back of the book.  There is also history, and Girl Power.

The story is also an immersive experience. As the events of the story unfold, you as the reader are drawn into not just the minds of the characters but their lives and relationships too. When you’ve finished, there is that time lapse sense of unreality when you look up and realise you’re not out on the ocean or on a Shetland isle, but in your sitting room snug at home.

I give this book an unhesitating five stars. Highly recommended.

You can find out more about Marsali Taylor and her work on her website:

www.marsalitaylor.co.uk

Or follow her on social media at:

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/MarsaliTaylorAuthor

TWITTER @marsalitaylor

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#THESHETLANDSEAMURDERS

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The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish: coming VERY soon!

It’s nearly here! The fourth book in my 1930s Dottie Manderson mysteries is about to be released. I’m still clutching it possessively and cooing over it, but I promise, I absolutely will deliver it to be published on the 17th December for Amazon Kindle and 3rd January 2019 for other formats, including paperback, Nook, Kobo, iPad and more. It is now available for pre-order, if you would like to do so.

It’s been a bumpy journey, but phew… almost there, and I’m already planning the next book in the series and the next non-series book to publish. I’m not sure I can equal the output of many modern authors who put out six or more books a year, but even if I only publish two books this year or next, I shall feel pretty smug, let me tell you. Because as Aldous Huxley said, ‘A bad book is as much of a labour to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.’ A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘I’m thinking of writing a book,’ or ‘I feel I have a book in me,’ and my response is the same: go ahead and write it!

Here, if you haven’t already seen it, is the first chapter of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish: a Dottie Manderson mystery book 4. It is rather long, I’m afraid, but I hope you like it.

Chapter One: Hamfield, just outside Nottingham, June 1919.

The war was over. That was the main thing. That was all that mattered. Not the lives lost. Nor the devastation. Not the hostile, resentful power struggle throughout Europe. Not even the victory. In the end, all that mattered was that the long years of anguish and despair had come to an end.

Up and down the country, people celebrated the fact that life could now go back to normal. Whatever that was. Women left their war-jobs in the factories in their tens of thousands, and went home to cook, clean and have babies. Men lay aside their rifles and bayonets and took up their hammers and saws once more. They hammered their swords into ploughshares, figuratively if not literally, and tried to forget what they had seen.

Across the nation, there were street parties, tea parties, balls, lunches, drinks evenings, galas and dances to celebrate the return of the heroes and the return of everyday life as it had been years earlier.

No one mentioned the dead.

The Member for Hamfield and West Nottingham, the Honourable Norman Maynard, with his charming wife Augustine, hosted one such event at their elegant home in the leafy suburb of Hamfield.

It was a glorious evening. The weather for the first week of an English June was perfect: warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky and the merest hint of a breeze ruffling its fingers through the early roses, bringing their fragrance lightly into the house.

The ballroom, a recent and somewhat garish addition when viewed from the outside, inside flowed neatly on from the other reception rooms. By the simple expedient of moving the furniture and flinging wide the folding doors that separated the rooms, the whole of the downstairs was transformed into a vast space where guests could mingle, and roam drink in hand, from the dancefloor to the buffet and back again.

In one corner of the ballroom, on a small, purpose-built raised platform, the little orchestra played a series of popular dance tunes, and couples, young and old, circled the floor just as they had done five years earlier. All around them, people gathered in little groups, laughing and talking. Cocktails of all kinds were knocked back in massive quantities.

And obviously, no one mentioned the dead.

The war, Richard Dawlish reflected as he sipped his champagne cocktail with great reluctance, might never have happened.

No one mentioned the dead, but he could still see them: their clutching, decaying flesh protruding from muddy dips and hollows, and at night the rats would come out of their hiding places and nibble the naked vulnerable limbs. Richard didn’t even need to close his eyes. The images were always before him. He carried them with him wherever he went, whatever he did, in his head, in his dreams, his mind, his eyes. He began to think they would never leave him. Even when he was an old man, he would still see those corpses, like so many strange species growing in a wasteland of mire.

Turning, he looked out through the open doors at the long lawn surrounded by blossoming borders. Was this what those millions had died for? A perfect flat green lawn? He took another drink. He couldn’t think of anything else to do, so like the others, he just took another drink.

Behind him in the ballroom, someone tapped a spoon against a glass to get everyone’s attention. The chattering stopped, the laughter faded, and everyone turned to face the Honourable Norman Maynard positioned at the front of the stage. He embarked upon a rambling, largely predictable second-hand speech, culminating in, ‘So let us raise our glasses in a toast as we welcome back our heroes, and thank them for their part in keeping England’s green and pleasant land free of tyranny and destruction.’

There were loud shouts of ‘Hear, hear’, and ‘Just so’, and everyone repeated some jumbled form of the toast and drank. Maynard then said, ‘And another toast to celebrate the fine achievements of some very special young men in the field of combat, and who are here with us this evening. Please join me on the stage: Captain Algy Compton!’ There was a loud and raucous cheer. Maynard continued, ‘Next, I’m very proud to be able to honour my son, Group Captain Michael Maynard.’ There was a further, louder chorus of cheers and catcalls, then someone at the back shouted, ‘Thinks he can bloody fly, so he does!’ There was general laughter, though some of the ladies tutted at the language. Norman Maynard, smiling proudly, responded with, ‘Aye, well, from what I hear, he can fly!’

‘Showed the bloody Boche a thing or two, let me tell you!’ came another voice from the back. Again, everyone laughed, and Maynard said, his good humour slipping slightly, ‘Indeed. But let’s keep it polite, gentlemen, remember the ladies.’ He looked down at his bit of paper. ‘Er, next on the list, is some young scallywag by the name of Second Lieutenant Gervase Parfitt. A second lieutenant at only twenty years of age! That’s a sterling achievement, Gerry, my dear boy!’ A lanky youth nodded, and received with blushes the back-slaps and cheers of those around him as he made his way forward.

The audience, less bored now and enjoying the fun, turned back to Maynard, whose glass was being topped up by a servant. ‘And we mustn’t forget Gervase’s little brother Reggie, better known as Sergeant Reginald Parfitt,’ Maynard paused to drink his toast, then went on, ‘Then there’s yet another of these overachieving Parfitt brothers, this time it’s none other than Artie, a Lieutenant in His Majesty’s navy, which as we all know, is just some strange, salt-water name for a Captain! Lieutenant Arthur Parfitt, ladies and gentlemen. Then last, but by no means least, my nephew Algy’s comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Richard Dawlish. Richard, my dear fellow, do step up with the others for the photograph. Let’s have some applause for this excellent display of British—er, and colonial, of course—manhood.’

Richard had smiled dutifully and raised his glass for each toast. He had wondered if he would be mentioned and was a little surprised that he was. As a ripple of polite applause went around the room, he made his way forward, embarrassed but smiling. Maynard shook his hand, then the six young men stood together whilst the photographer arrived to capture the moment for posterity. The photographer had some difficulty getting the right light reading and focus, no doubt due to the dozens of dazzling artificial lights in the ballroom coupled with the bright sunlight coming in from outside.

‘Your black face is mucking up his lens, Dickie,’ Reggie laughed. He swayed, clearly fairly tipsy. The others joined in with the joking and laughter. Richard smiled politely and said nothing.

‘Everybody stand perfectly still, please,’ called the photographer.

‘Don’t call him Dickie, he doesn’t like it,’ Gervase said.

‘Oops I forgot! So sorry, Rich-ard,’ Reggie said, slapping Richard’s shoulder. Reggie pronounced the name with the emphasis on the second syllable, in an attempt at mimicking Richard’s strong Jamaican accent. Again everyone laughed, and Richard looked at his feet.

‘Hold still gentlemen, and—smile!’

It seemed to take the photographer forever to get everything how he wanted it and take the wretched photo, but at last they were free to go back to the dancing and drinking.

Richard felt a hand on his arm, and looked round to see Miranda Maynard, smilingly standing on tiptoes to plant a kiss on his cheek. She kept her arm through his, a show of solidarity it seemed. She, the darling of the ball, and he the outsider with the black skin, united against the rest of them.

Richard couldn’t help but notice one or two ladies shaking their heads in disapproval. These ladies muttered to their gentlemen escorts and together they all turned away. Richard was neither surprised nor offended. The British almost universally despised him for his skin colour. And not only them. Even the enemy soldiers he’d come across had been surprised to observe a Jamaican among the ranks of the British armed forces that had overwhelmed them. Especially a Jamaican who gave orders. In their eyes, his honoured achievements and Courage Under Fire would never rise above his complexion.

Miranda gazed into his eyes. ‘Take no notice, darling. They don’t know you as I do. They can’t help being fearfully ignorant.’

She kissed his cheek again. Richard felt she was in danger of incurring her parents’ wrath. He was about to tell her he wasn’t upset by the cold shoulders around him or the comments, but she carried on speaking.

‘Algy, Michael and the rest of them are planning a little drinks party in the pavilion. They’ve snaffled a couple of crates, Mike said, and I’m going down to join them now. Algy is bringing Dreary Deirdre, but in spite of that it should be laugh. You could come too, it’ll be good to let our hair down away from this stuffy lot. And you can keep that awful limpet Reggie away from me. What about it?’

It sounded like a good idea to Richard.

‘And you never know,’ Miranda said softly for his ear alone, ‘you and I might finally get some time alone, if you know what I mean.’ She gave him a wicked smile. Yes, he thought, he knew exactly what she meant.

‘I don’t know. They didn’t invite me, they might prefer it if I didn’t come along. I was thinking of getting back to my lodgings.’

She slanted an eyebrow at him. ‘Good idea, I could come with you.’

That wasn’t what he had in mind. He hastily added, ‘On the other hand, why not, we deserve to relax a little.’ Miranda wrapped herself around his arm and giggled.

Ten minutes later they reached the ‘pavilion’, as the Maynards called it, but which to Richard appeared to be a spacious if somewhat dilapidated summerhouse. Two wide, long steps led up to the door, and the group of young men and girls were sprawled all over the steps, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.

‘Hello Dickie-Dick-Dick!’ Arthur Parfitt called and cackled at his own hilariousness. Like his brother Reggie, he was quite obviously very drunk.

‘Don’t call him that, you know he doesn’t like it, Artie.’ Miranda snapped, folding her long skirt neatly about her and taking a seat on the bottom step. She took a drag of her friend’s cigarette, and watching him through the blue swirling smoke, like the starlets she’d seen in her favourite films, she added, ‘It’s not like you to be so queerly bitchy.’

‘That’s because he’s a bitchy little queer!’ Gervase, drunk, said. Everyone, including Richard. Laughed at that.

Artie clapped his hand to his heart as if mortally wounded and subsided theatrically onto the step. ‘Oh Miranda, Gervase mon frère! I’m cut to the core by your marvellous jibes! Though actually, darling, I prefer to be called Artie. It’s better than Arthur any day of the week. Anyway, Dickie knows it’s just a bit of fun, don’t you Dickie-Dick-Dick?’

Richard ignored him, and took a seat on the other side of Miranda. He accepted a bottle from one of the other girls. She must be Margaret, Richard thought. Her errand completed, she turned back to Gervase, who put a possessive arm about her shoulders. Beyond her, Algy and his girlfriend Deirdre were kissing with complete abandon, ignoring the others nearby. Richard hoped things wouldn’t get too out of hand. The fourth girl was Miranda’s little sister Penny, a sweet kid who looked almost as uncomfortably out of place as Richard felt. She was too young to be drinking beer and talking about the kind of things the rest of them were likely to talk about. He’d give it half an hour, walk Penny back to the party, say goodnight to the Maynards, then make his escape.

He sat in the shade of the large and very beautiful copper beech. It was no blue mahoe, and the leaves were far smaller but they were still more or less heart-shaped, like those of the trees from his homeland. He repressed the aching flashes of memory: playing outside his grandfather’s hillside home, of the little village where his family had been schooled for the last three generations. Lois looking into his eyes, the sound of her laughter. Not long now. He’d be home in six weeks, and still be able to enjoy the long Caribbean summer.

There was an aged swing hanging from the lowest branch of the beech, and at intervals one or other of the girls went to sit on it, and the men took it in turns to push them, although really it was a contest to see who could get the girl to fall off, perhaps flashing her underwear at the same time.

Miranda was chatting with the other girls, and Richard drank another beer Algy handed him, then found he had another in his hand, and he drank that too without even really thinking about it. After half an hour or so, Miranda stubbed out her third cigarette, took his hand, removed and set down his fourth bottle of beer, and pulling him to his feet, drew him off into the copse of rhodedendrons and azaleas, amid catcalls and jeers.

They were gone for twenty minutes. When they returned to the group, both of them were sullen and silent. Miranda went to sit with Deirdre, Algy, Margaret and Artie. Richard sat for a moment beside Penny before asking if she wanted to go back to the main party. She jumped up, relieved, and they set off back to the house.

*

‘How any lady can go home just on one shoe and not notice is beyond me,’ Norman Maynard’s butler remarked. It was early the next morning, and he, the footman and two maids, were surveying the scene of the party with dismay. They had brought boxes into the ballroom to clear away the debris, which consisted of discarded food, drink, crockery, glasses, napkins, items of clothing, cigar and cigarette butts, the lady’s shoe in question, a cigarette case, two pipes and a host of other oddments. The house was a mess, and on inspection it was discovered that the lawn outside was hardly less strewn with rubbish.

George Blake, the footman, was despatched to the pavilion to clear up after the ‘secret’ drinks party enjoyed by some of the young people. He was pleased to go, as it meant he could enjoy a sneaky cigarette and dawdle for a few minutes in the sunshine. He paused to light his cigarette as soon as he rounded the shrubbery which hid him from the house. He stood for a moment, holding the smoke in the back of his throat before raising his head, eyes closed and his face raised to the sun, then slowly releasing the held breath. It was a perfect morning.

But as he neared the pavilion, something odd on the ground caught his eye. As he came up to it, he saw it was the narrow piece of wood that formed the seat of the swing. He picked it up. Coming slowly closer to the pavilion, the hair on the back of his neck prickling with caution, he beheld the body of Richard Dawlish, hanging by a rope from the stout lower branch of the copper beech tree just beyond the building. The man’s tie was hanging loosely down, his hands swinging freely by his sides, the feet together and turning as if by their own volition as the body swayed with the breeze, first to the left, then to the right, then a little left again, his boots still smartly polished. George Blake vomited onto the bottom step of the pavilion, then throwing aside his cigarette and wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he ran back to the house, saying over and over to himself, ‘Oh my God, oh my dear God.’

Under the watchful eye of the local police, Richard’s body was cut down and carried into the house, where it was laid upon a table in a back room. Several of the young men were up and about by this time, and stood about the room, eyeing the proceedings and sharing cigarettes. The Honourable Norman Maynard was consulting quietly with his friend, Edwin Parfitt, the chief inspector sent out from Nottingham. For once, no one felt much like making jokes about Richard’s name.

Gervase, pale and shocked and looking far too young, said, ‘Never thought he’d be the sort to hang himself. Bit of a quiet one, a loner, perhaps, but suicidal? What do you think, Algy, was he the mental sort?’

‘I wouldn’t have said so.’ Algy’s hand shook as he lit a cigarette. Reggie and Artie were already smoking. Reggie’s hands shook as badly as Algy’s and he said, ‘No one knows what someone will do when they’re a bit queer in the head. Penny said he was saying all sorts to her last night. She was glad to get away from him and back to the party. Drink makes some people more depressed rather than cheering them up. And old Dickie had had an awful lot to drink.’

As the door opened to admit the doctor, Miranda was also there, shocked, her hand to her mouth as she took in the scene. She pushed past the doctor and rushed to Richard’s side, sobbing hysterically, forgetting that she wore only her nightgown and that her negligee was not tied about her. Gervase Parfitt and her brother Michael between them tried to drag her away.

‘Come away, old girl, nothing we can do for the poor fellow now,’ Mike said.

‘You don’t understand!’ she cried, turning to face the lot of them. ‘None of you understand. I loved him! We were going to be married!’

Then she fell down in a dead faint upon the floor.

***