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CRIME FOR THE COGNISCENTI!

WELCOME TO FULLY BOOKED! If you are a fan of crime writing – old, new, true or fiction – you should find something to entertain you here. Among the regular features will be a focus on real life crimes, both in the UK and further afield, the classic fiction of The Golden Age, and the latest new releases from top authors and publishers. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook by clicking the buttons.

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WITHOUT A TRACE . . . Between the covers

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We are in the fictional Derbyshire town of Bainbridge. Recently divorced Ruth Prendergast has finished work for the day, done her shopping, and is keen to be inside her new house in Hollywell Close, warm, snug and out of the icy winter rain. She fancies a night in, with a pizza and a glass or two of wine. What she gets, however, is a ghastly shock. Turning on the bedroom light she finds a man apparently asleep under her duvet. When she plucks up the courage to wake him, she finds she cannot. Because he is dead. Stone dead, with a knife embedded in his body.

WAT coverThe team investigating the murder is led by Detective Inspector Isabel Blood, her Sergeant and a brace of DCs. They soon learn that the dead man is Kevin Spriggs, a middle-aged car mechanic, with a failed marriage behind him, an estranged son – and an argumentative temperament often fueled by drink. The murder raises many questions for Blood and her people. How did Spriggs and the person who killed him gain access to a locked house? Who hated Spriggs – admittedly not one of life’s natural charmers – enough to kill him? After all, he was something of a nobody, tolerated rather than loved by most people who knew him, but why this brutal – and mysterious – death?

The investigation – code named Operation Jackdaw – has achieved precisely three-fifths of five-eighths of diddly-squat, when it is rocked by the discovery that Ruth Prendergast, who discovered the corpse of the unfortunate Spriggs has herself disappeared. She was due to go on a walking trip with a lady friend, but she failed to make the rendezvous and, to borrow from The Bard, she has “melted into air, into thin air ….. leaving not a rack behind.

There are enough fictional Detective Inspectors out there in the world of crime fiction to run a large county police force, so what makes Isabel Blood – to steal a sporting cliché  – achieve a podium finish? Refreshingly, she is middle-aged, comfortable in her skin and appears to have no hidden demons. She is happily married with two teenage daughters, and the only kink in this domestic bliss is that her father was apparently bigamously involved with Isabel’s mother, and now lives in France where he has two grown up sons with his legal wife. Now, Isabel’s father and her half-brother have arrived in Bainbridge for a visit at precisely the time that the unfortunate Kevin Spriggs is discovered in Ruth Prendergast’s bed. Eventually, the team discover how – and why – the man was murdered, and the solution is complex, but it very neatly echoes Isabel’s own difficulties with her double family and half-siblings.

Without A Trace is a well plotted and nuance police procedural with credible coppers and equally convincing villains. It is published by HQ Digital, and will be out in Kindle on 29th October. A paperback edition will be available in January.

ORDERS TO KILL . . . Between the covers

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It’s always a pleasure to find a new (to me) historical police series, and especially one set during The Great War. I have read most of the Inspector Hardcastle series but, sadly, Graham Ison is no longer with us. RN Morris’s Silas Quinn books are great fun too, but most of those I have read recently are re-published editions of books written some years ago. Orders To Kill, by the accomplished and prolific historical novelist Edward Marston, is bang up to date, publishing wise, and it is the ninth in what is called the Home Front Detective series.

OTK cleanInvestigating duos are always a reliable way to spin a police novel, and in this case we have Inspector Harvey Marmion and Sergeant Joe Keedy of the Metropolitan Police. Marmion is married to Ellen, with a son and daughter. Son Paul has been mentally damaged by his time on the Western Front, and has now disappeared leaving no clue as to his whereabouts, while daughter Alice – also a service police officer – is engaged to Keedy.

It is December 1917 and Marmion and Keedy are investigating the brutal murder of a prominent surgeon, Dr Tindall, who has been working at a military hospital in London. He is found dead in his house, horribly mutilated by – according to the pathologist – a large bladed weapon, perhaps a bayonet. The dead man was highly thought of at his hospital, and widely admired by others who knew him, but when attempts are made to establish a possible motive, serious questions arise. Why, for example, can police find no trace of George Tindall’s parents at the Scottish address listed on his file? Why does the current owner of what was named as his Brighton home say that she has never heard of him?

He was clearly a wealthy man, and one who paid cash for his elegant Savile Row suits, but what motive could he possibly have had for fabricating a personal background? As the equanimity of the Marmion household is disrupted by alarming family news from Somerset, the women take a train to Shepton Mallett, while Marmion himself is confronted with fresh discoveries about the George Tindall many thought they knew well.

edward-marston-new-bestwbEdward Marston (real name Keith Miles, right) keeps us well tuned in to the news from abroad, as the Tindall case plays out against news of General Allenby’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and how the initial British success at Cambrai was tainted by a fierce German fight back. For Marmion and Keedy however, the Tindall case seems to be spiraling out of control as it seems his killers are two men taking their orders from a higher authority – and Tindall is not their first victim. The detectives travel to Brighton, Kent, Bristol and Staffordshire in their efforts to make the case make sense, but ultimately they must make one last – and infinitely more dangerous journey – before they reach a solution to this most intractable of mysteries.

Orders To Kill is highly readable, written by an author who clearly knows his history and is an accomplished storyteller. Published by Allison & Busby, it will be available on 21st October.

PAST LIFE . . . Between the covers

PAST LIFE HEADERE

I won’t repeat my spiel about coming late to an established series (which I seem to do all too often), so here’s a brief account of where we are in Past Life. Aector McAvoy is a Detective Sergeant working in Hull, on the north bank of the Humber Estuary. He is married to Roisin, who is of Irish Traveller heritage, and they have two children, Fin and Lilah. His boss is Detective Superintendent Trish Pharoah. McAvoy is a bear of a man, born to a Scottish crofter family. He is capable of great violence, but is fundamentally a gentle soul but perhaps too conciliatory and thoughtful for his own good. Author David Mark tells us:

“He is not a man at ease with the world or his place in it. He feels permanently displace; dislocated – endlessly cast as an outsider. He’s still the lumbering red-haired Scotsman who left the family croft at ten years old and has been looking for home ever since.”

Screen Shot 2021-10-10 at 20.06.34The story begins with a murder, graphically described and, at this point in the review, it is probably pertinent to warn squeamish readers to return to the world of painless and tidy murders in Cotswold manor houses and drawing rooms, because death in this book is ugly, ragged, slow and visceral. The victim is a middle-aged woman who makes a living out of reading Tarot cards, tea leaves, crystal balls and other trinkets of the clairvoyance trade. She lives in an isolated cottage on the bleak shore of the Humber and, one evening, with a cold wind scouring in off the river, she tells one fortune too many.

When McAvoy and Pharoah arrive at the scene they find the ravaged remains of Dymphna Lowell, and understand why one or two of the police officers first to respond to the 999 call have parted company with their last meal. Trish Pharoah has seen worse, but then she has been a regular onlooker at grisly tableaux that demonstrate the depths that humans can sometimes plumb. She is the wrong side of middle age, but not going gently into that good night. She has four daughters and nursed her husband – although he was an absolute bastard – day and night as he took a long time to die from an aneurism.

As McAvoy and Pharoah hunt the killer, the back-story is crucial and it needs to be explained. Roisin’s family have been engaged in a decades-long blood feud with another clan, and there has been copious amounts of blood shed along the way. Part of this history involved Roisin saving McAvoy from an infamous killer nicknamed ‘Cromwell’. Cromwell was then gruesomely punished by Roisin’s father, she and McAvoy fell in love and married, but the savage murder of Roisin’s aunt – another fortune teller – cloaks the narrative like a shroud. Roisin is a woman not at ease with the world or herself:

Screen Shot 2021-10-12 at 10.29.37“She has found herself some mornings with little horseshoe grooves dug into the soft flesh of her palms. Sometimes her wrists and elbows ache until lunchtime. She sleeps like a toppled pugilist: a Pompeian tragedy. She sees such terrible things in the few snatched moments of unconsciousness.”

When the satanic Cromwell strikes hard at McAvoy’s family, the big man goes off the radar and hunts down the killer. David Mark (right) gives us what we think is the climax as McAvoy and Cromwell go head to head in a terrifying and violent  battle in a disused WW1 sea fort, but just as we relax and think “job well done”, there is a plot twist that few will see coming, and we learn that there is a final trauma to be endured by the McAvoy family.

This is a dark, brooding novel, with more than a touch of Derek Raymond-esque nihilism and despair but, like his late, great Noir predecessor, David Mark also gives us searing honesty and compassion. Past Life is published by Severn House and is available now in hardback, and as a KIndle in November.

DEATH THREATS and other stories . . . Between the covers

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Penguin have been quietly publishing new translations of all the Maigret novels and short stories for the last few years, and this is a recent collection of stories. What more is there to say about Georges Simenon? For me, the genius is in the economy. He never wastes a line, never provides an unnecessary description, and never uses twenty words when ten will do. He remains, quite simply, the master story-teller.

Monsieur Owen

Maigret is on holiday. He has taken the opportunity because Madame Maigret is away in Brittany tending to an ailing aunt. He is in one of the best hotels in Cannes. Rather out of his price range? Perhaps, but he has a friend in the trade, Monsieur Louis, an man who was once one of the top hoteliers in Paris, and a man who owes Maigret a favour or two. The detective “had eaten like a horse, drunk like a sailor and soaked up the sun through every pore like a bathing belle.” But his reverie is interrupted when M. Louis knocks on his door to say there has been a terrible murder. A mysterious guest called Monsieur Owen has taken rooms in the hotel along with his attractive young nurse. And now, a body has been found, naked and dead, in the bath of Monsieur Owen’s room – but it is not Monsieur Owen! In the pages that follow, Simenon weaves a delightfully complex mystery – and Maigret provides an equally intricate solution. This was first published as a magazine story in 1938.

Cafe New

This is slightly unusual, as it was also first published in 1938, just seven years after Simenon introduced Maigret in Pietr-le-Letton, and yet in this story Maigret has retired after a long career with the Paris police, and is living in Meung-sur-Loire. He is grumpy and bored, so Madame Maigret persuades him to join a nightly card school in a town café. The men play Manille, a variant of Whist. It is a game for four players, and one of the group – the town butcher, a family man – is reputed to have eyes for Angèle, the café waitress. When the butcher is found dead in his van, killed by a bullet from a wartime revolver, everyone – including the young police inspector investigating the death – expects Maigret to take charge of the case. He refuses, quite churlishly, and retires to his shed to fuss over his fishing tackle. It is only some time later, when Maigret and his wife attend the funeral of the café owner’s wife, that he reveals the reason for his silence and, once again, Simenon gives us a beautifully symmetrical solution.

Man On

This was first published under the title Le prisonnier de la rue in the Sept jours newspaper (15th and 22nd December 1940). It is worth noting at this point that Simenon remained in France during the  occupation but none of the Maigret stories set during the war references the German presence. Operating as a civilian policeman in wartime Paris would have been a very different experience from what we read here. What the papers are calling THE BAGATELLE MURDER because the body – of a handsome young Viennese doctor –  was found near La Porte der Bagatelle is puzzling Maigret and his  trusty team, Torrence, Lucas and Janvier. Eventually, they identify a suspect, and take it in turns to follow him through the streets of a wintry Paris. The man – identified as a Pole – becomes more haggard and hungry as his money runs out until, exhausted and desperate, he surrenders to Maigret. Simenon gleefully lets us know that the killing was un crime passionelle but then pulls the rug out from under our feet as he reveals who fired the fatal shot.

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Maigret is working as the head of the Nantes Flying Squad, and he is summoned south to a God-forsaken village in a marshy area of the Vendée. Groux, A farmer down on his luck, has been forced to sell his property and has arranged a Candle Auction (click the link for an explanation) in the local inn, run by former criminal Frédéric, his slatternly wife Julia and barmaid Thérèse. During a lengthy card game on the evening preceding the auction, one of the prospective bidders – Bourchain – is found dead in his bed, his head ruined by blows from a hammer, and his wallet – containing the thousands of francs with which he intended to buy the farm – missing. Maigret creates his own version of the classic locked room mystery by re-assembling the participants in the card game, and painstakingly forces them to re-enact every card played, every break for drinks and every trip to the toilet until he discovers who wielded the coal hammer that shatters Bourchain’s head. Not for the first time, we play cherchez la femme. This was first published in serial form in 1942.

Death Threrats

A wealthy (to the tune of three million francs) rag and bone man, Emile Grosbois has requested a meeting with Maigret’s boss, and has produced a letter composed of words cut from a newspaper. It is a threatening prediction that Grosbois will be dead before before 6.00pm on the following Sunday. The Grosbois family – Emile, twin brother Oscar, their widowed sister Françoise and her two grown-up children Eliane and Henri – live on the premises of the scrap yard, but travel down to their riverside home outside Paris every weekend. Maigret is told he must join the family for the duration of the fateful weekend, and if the great man ever suffered a more miserable few days, Simenon never told us about it. The tensions between the disfunctional family simmer and burn until – just before the doom hour of 6.00pm – Maigret must intervene to save a man’s life and, in doing so, unmask the would-be murderer. This was first published, in serial form, as Menaces de Mort in 1942.

THIS COLLECTION WAS TRANSLATED BY ROS SCHWARZ,
PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN, AND IS AVAILABLE HERE

TO ALL THE LIVING . . . Between the covers

TAOTL

This is the latest in the series of excellent reprints from the Imperial War Museum. They have ‘rediscovered’ novels written about WW2, mostly by people who experienced the conflict either home or away. Previous books can be referenced by clicking this link.

MonicaAuthor Monica Felton (1906 – 1970) was certainly an unusual woman and, to borrow a modern phrase, somewhat to the left of Lenin. In 1951, she visited North Korea as part of the Women’s International Democratic Federation commission and outlined her impressions in the book That’s Why I Went (1954), adhering to an anti-war position. In the same year, she was awarded a dubious and deeply ironic honour – the International Stalin Prize “for peace between peoples”

We are, then, immediately into the dangerous territory of judging creative artists because of their politics, which never ends well, whether it involves the Nazis ‘cancelling’ Mahler because he was Jewish or more recent critics shying away from Wagner because he was anti-semitic and, allegedly, admired by senior figures in the Third Reich. The longer debate is for another time and another place, but it is an inescapable fact that many great creative people, if not downright bastards, were deeply unpleasant and misguided. To name but a few, I don’t think I would have wanted to list Caravaggio, Paul Gauguin, Evelyn Waugh, Eric Gill or Patricia Highsmith among my best friends, but I would be mortified not to be able to experience the art they made.
To All The Living
So, could Monica Felton write a good story, away from hymning the praises of KIm Il Sung and his murderous regime? To All The Living (1945) is a lengthy account of life in a British munitions factory during WW2, and is principally centred around Griselda Green, a well educated young woman who has decided to do her bit for the country. To quickly answer my own question, the answer is a simple, “Yes, she could.”

Another question could be, Does she preach? That, to my mind, is the unforgivable sin of any novelist with strong political convictions. Writers such as Dickens and Hardy had an agenda, certainly, but they subtly inserted this between the lines of great story-telling. Felton is no Dickens or Hardy, but she casts a wry glance at the preposterous bureaucracy that ran through the British war effort like the veins in blue cheese. She highlights the endless paperwork, the countless minions who supervised the completion of the bumf, and the men and women – usually elevated from being section heads in the equivalent of a provincial department store – who ruled over the whole thing in a ruthlessly delineated hierarchy.

Amid the satire and exaggerated portraits of provincial ‘jobsworths’ there are darker moments, such as the descriptions of rampant misogyny, genuine poverty among the working classes, and the very real chance that the women who filled shells and crafted munitions – day in, day out – were in danger of being poisoned by the substances they handled. The determination of the factory managers to keep these problems hidden is chillingly described. These were rotten times for many people in Britain, but if Monica Felton believed that things were being done differently in North Korea or the USSR, then I am afraid she was sadly deluded.

The social observation and political polemic is shot through with several touches or romance, some tragedy, and the mystery of who Griselda Green really is. What is a poised, educated and well-spoken young woman doing among the down-to-earth working class girls filling shells and priming fuzes?

My only major criticism of this book is that it’s perhaps 100 pages too long. The many acerbic, perceptive and quotable passages – mostly Felton’s views on the more nonsensical aspects of British society – tend to fizz around like shooting stars in an otherwise dull grey sky.

Is it worth reading? Yes, of course, but you must be prepared for many pages of Ms Felton being on communist party message interspersed with passages of genuinely fine writing. To All The Living is published by the Imperial War Museum, and is out now.

HUNT . . . Between the covers

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Leona Deakin started her career as a psychologist with the West Yorkshire Police. She is now an occupational psychologist, so you can rest assured that her career has given her a valuable insight into how a fictional criminal psychologist would go about their work. Such knowledge, however, is worthless if the author can’t write. In Deakin’s hands the result is that we have a totally convincing character (Dr Augusta Bloom), an intricate plot with whiplash-inducing twists and turns, and a book that you just don’t want to end.

Screen Shot 2021-09-27 at 19.35.58Screen Shot 2021-09-27 at 19.36.16Hunt is the third episode in Augusta Bloom’s career, and you can read my reviews of the previous two stories by clicking the images. Bloom has an uneasy relationship with Marcus Jameson (a former military intelligence analyst), notionally her partner in their investigation agency. Rather than Ying and Yang, they are more chalk and cheese. The book begins with Bloom being summoned south from her Yorkshire Dales hideaway. Who demands her services? None other than the Foreign Secretary Gerald Porter. Where is he? In a London police cell, detained on suspicion of selling information to Britain’s enemies. But why does he need Dr Augusta Bloom?

Hunt coverThe answer to that conundrum forms the central premise of the book. Porter’s niece Scarlett has been drawn into the orbit of a feminist organisation called Artemis led by a charismatic woman called Paula Kunis. Porter will only answer police questions about his activities if Bloom undertakes to track down Scarlett and extract her from the clutches of Artemis. Bloom is smart enough to realise that Porter is up to something, but cannot work out why he is so worried about his niece, when every other aspect of his behaviour suggests that he is a cold and devious man, with psychopathological elements to his character.

On-line investigations by Bloom and Jameson get them only so far, and so Bloom decides to go to a seminar run by Artemis, to see what manner of creature it is. The women running the presentation are warm, friendly and convincing, but give little away, as Bloom tries to question them as subtly as possible. Having hardly scratched the surface of the veneer, Bloom signs up for a weekend retreat at the Artemis headquarters in an isolated village in the Scottish highlands. Jameson is dubious about this as he has a sixth sense that Artemis is not the benevolent campaigner for women’s rights that its glossy literature and media presence claim it to be. Bloom reassures him. After all, this the 21st century, the age of mobile phones and instant connectivity. What can possibly go wrong over a long weekend?

Bloom and a minibus full of other attendees arrive at the location, and are met by a flock of charming and smiling women who seem overjoyed to welcome potential recruits to the cause. It is all very fragrant, but a tiny alarm begins to ring in Bloom’s head as she sees all mobile phones and watches being handed over to the Artemis greeters. This tinkling bell becomes more clamorous when Bloom realises that the new arrivals are being subjected to sleep deprivation, time disorientation and one-to-one social monitoring by the Artemis devotees.

Back in the outside world, three things have happened. Firstly, Jameson has discovered that the Scottish retreat is entirely surrounded by high fences topped with barbed wire facing inwards, all the better to keep people in rather than to keep intruders out. Secondly – and much more worrying – is the appearance on the scene of Seraphine Walker, a sinister and clever criminal fixer, rather like a 21st LDcentury Professor Moriarty, who has crossed swords with Bloom and Jameson before. Thirdly, Gerald Porter has inexplicably disappeared from police custody and, almost immediately, a huge social media campaign vilifying Paula Kunis and Artemis has been launched, with the result that scores of husbands and fathers of women “poached” by Artemis have headed to the Scottish retreat and are angrily congregating at its gates.

Leona Deakin (right) has written an absolute cracker of a thriller, and her portrayal of how cults go about their business preying on innocent and needy people is chilling. The conclusion of Hunt is dramatic, violent and utterly gripping.

Hunt is out now, published by Black Swan/Penguin, and you can investigate buying choices by clicking the images below. Or, visit your local bookshop if you are lucky enough to have one.

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THE KILLING OF ROBERT ROUGHTON . . . A December Drowning (2)

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SO FAR – On the evening of Saturday 16th December 1876, a young Wisbech man named Robert Roughton was involved in a drunken scuffle with two older men – George Oldham and Charles Wright – on the river bank near the timber yard on Nene Parade. Allegedly, Roughton was pushed into the river and has not been seen since. The police have arrested Oldham and Wright on a charge of murder, but have been forced to release them on bail, as Robert Roughton’s body has not been found.

Christmas came and went, and The Norfolk News had this brief update in its edition of 30th December.

Norfolk News

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The case dragged on and on, with Oldham and Wright going back and forth to the court and being released again but, eventually, the inevitable happened, and on Sunday 20th January a Wisbech sea captain called Edward Benton made a grim discovery. He later informed the court:

“I am the master of the steam tug Spurn., and live in Bannisters Row, in the parish of Leverington. Yesterday morning I was walking down the bank when a gentleman called across the river to me and said that there was something like a corpse floating. I then launched the boat end recovered the body and brought it to the “Old Bell.” I believe the body to be that of Robert Roughton from the description his father gave me about a  week ago.”

P.C. Burdett. added:
Yesterday morning I searched the body which was brought to the stables by Capt. Benton. and found in the pockets 6d. in silver and 4d in coppers, a pocket-knife, a clay pipe, and a scarf pin.”

At last the police had a body. What kind of state it was in can hardly be imagined. The Nene was certainly freezing cold at that time of year, which would have hindered putrefaction, but the mortal remains of Robert Roughton would have been swept back and forwards twice each day by the relentless scouting tides. The body was identified, with a savage touch of irony, by Robert Roughton’s older brother, who was now a Sergeant in the police force. The post mortem was conducted by Mr William Groom, surgeon. He told the court:

“On Sunday morning, 21st January, I made an examination of the body shown to me as Robert Roughton. The hands were clenched, the arms extended above the head. I had the clothing removed and the body washed except for the face. I saw no marks of injury on those parts which were washed. I washed the face myself and found a bruise upon the left cheek bone between that and the ear about two and a half inches in length. There was a lacerated wound a little above the left nostril and a bruise extending to the lip. There was a bruise upon the prominent part of the right side of the head. I examined the chest. The lungs were in a much congested state and the air tubes had a reddish mucus in them. I then turned the scalp down. The marks of injury on the outside corresponded with the marks of injury on the inside of the scalp. I then removed the cranium and upon examining the brain I found it highly congested. There were livid patches on the face and body, but they were the result of being in the water. I should say that death was caused by suffocation or asphyxia, and from the appearance of the body I should say from immersion in the water. I should say that the injuries on the face were given before death.”

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So, the police now had their body, and after further court hearings in Wisbech, where evidence eventually emerged that Robert Roughton was in dispute with Oldham and Wright over a relatively small sum of money. The disagreement spilled over from the confines of The Albion and onto the quayside of Nene Parade. The magistrates finally adjudged the two men to be guilty of manslaughter, and the case was sent to be tried at the next Cambridge Assizes in March. The hearing was brief, and the newspaper reported:

Brett“Charles Wright and George Oldham, two elderly men, were indicted for the manslaughter of Robert Roughton, at Wisbeach, on the 16th of December last. A bill for murder had been sent up to the Grand Jury, but was thrown out by them. Mr. Naylor appeared for the prosecution ; the prisoner Oldham was defended by Mr. Horace Browne. It appeared that a dispute had arisen between the prisoners and the deceased on the evening in question, and they were seen struggling together on the banks of the river, in which the body of the deceased was afterwards found on the 21st of January. The evidence showed that both the prisoners and the deceased were the worse for drink, and that the deceased, who was a much younger man than either of the prisoners, was the originator of the quarrel. The river bank at the place in question was sloping, and at the place where the cap of the deceased was found there was a gap in the rails by the river-side. Mr. Horace Browne, for the defence, urged that there was nothing in the evidence to show that it was any. thing but an accident. The Jury found the prisoners guilty, and his Lordship (Mr Justice Brett, left) passed a sentence of six months.”

What do we know of the subsequent lives of the participants in this sorry tale? Of Roughton himself, his burial place is not recorded, at least in cemeteries run by Fenland Council. Oldham and Wright appear briefly in the county record of criminal convictions for 1877 (below)

Register

Robert Roughton’s parents, William and Sarah had moved to King Street by 1881, and were in their late 60s, but of Oldham and Wright there is no conclusive trace.

FOR OTHER STORIES OF WISBECH’S CRIMINAL PAST,
CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

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THE KILLING OF ROBERT ROUGHTON . . . A December Drowning (1)

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StaffordThe 1871 Wisbech census shows that the Roughton family lived at 178 Queen Street. It also puts Queen Street in Walsoken, technically therefore in Norfolk, and the census bundle for Queen Street follows that for Stafford Street (left) – which was certainly in what was then called New Walsoken. Nearby are King Street, Prince Street and Duke Street, so logic would suggest that Queen Street would be nearby, but apparently not. The map shows that Queen Street was a north western extension of Bedford Street and not in Walsoken.

The Roughtons were a typically large family, probably living on top of each other in a terraced cottage. The census lists:
William (aged 57) – agricultural labourer
Sarah (aged 57) – chairwoman (perhaps charwoman?)
Robert (aged 18) – agricultural labourer
Thomas (aged 15) – agricultural labourer
George (aged 12) – agricultural labourer
Jesse (aged 10)
Rebecca (aged 1) – described as granddaughter. In the previous (1861) census there was also John Roughton, then aged 12, and Alice Roughton, then aged 14, so Rebecca must have belonged to one of the older children.

Moving on to Saturday 16th December 1876. It is dank and wet. Exceptionally heavy rainfall had resulted in flooding across much of the region. Robert Roughton, then employed at Walsoken Steam, Brick and Tile Company (which was situated just south of modern day Broad End Road) had left home that day looking for a day’s work in the livestock market. His mother, Sarah, standing in the doorway of their house, handed him his cap and his stick. It was the last time she was to see him alive. Robert was no angel, and he had frequently been in trouble with the law. His offences were mainly trivial, often committed when he was ‘in drink’, but he had served spells in prison.

The events of the evening of 16th December only became clear much later, when witnesses were called to both the Wisbech magistrates’ court and the much more forbidding Cambridge Spring Assizes in March 1877. For William and Sarah Roughton, however, anxiety began to set in when the weekend passed, Monday dawned, and there was still no sign of Robert.

Things were moving on, however, and this was the report in The Cambridge Independent Press of 23rd December.


First report

The report continued:

It is stated that some the men who were with him advised him to go away and that he replied he could not while the man was in the river. The friends of Robert Roughton began to make inquiries about him, he not having gone home on Saturday and nothing having been seen or heard of him since the time he left the Albion. A cap was picked up in the river on Sunday, and upon it being shown to Roughton’s father, he at once identified it as the one his son was wearing on Saturday, and this circumstance, coupled with the fact of his being missing  and the statements made by Oldham led the police to investigate the matter.

The police then learnt that after leaving the “Albion” Saturday Roughton encountered the two men Wright and Oldham, with whom he had a scuffle, and Oldham’s statement is that Wright struck Roughton and knocked him into the river The three parties were evidently in drink, and it is perhaps owing to the state they were in that neither Oldham nor Wright gave any alarm.

The police arrested Charles Wright, and then George Oldham and remanded them in custody to await an appearance before the magistrate. The police had a problem, though – there was no body. It seemed to defy probability that Robert Roughton had scrambled out of the river and was safe and sound somewhere, recovering from his ordeal. The law, however, was the law, and solicitors representing Oldham and Wright were able to secure the release of their clients on bail.

IN PART TWO

Edward Benton, Captain of the steam tug ‘Spurn’
makes a grim discovery, and the court is reconvened

51060370699

BLACKOUT . . . Between the covers

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B0December 1939. Berlin. The snow lies deep and crisp and even, and Kriminalpolizei Inspector Horst Shenke is summoned to the Reich Security Main Office to meet Oberführer Heinrich Müller, a protege of Reinhardt Heydrich and recently appointed head of the Gestapo. Müller has a tricky problem in the shape of a former film star, Gerda Korzeny. Her husband is a lawyer and Nazi Party member who specialises in redrafting potentially awkward pieces of existing legislation in favour of the Party. And now Gerda is dead. Found by a railway track with awful head wounds. She had also been brutally raped. But what does this have to do with Heinrich Müller? His problem is that Gerda Korzeny was known to be having an affair with Oberst Karl Dorner, an officer in the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence organisation, and the Gestapo man wants the matter dealt with quickly and discreetly.

We learn that Schenke is a very good copper, but that his career has stalled because he has, thus far, refused to become a Party member. In his younger days, Schenke was a well-known racing driver, until a near-fatal accident forced him to quit the sport. His only legacy from those heady days is a permanently damaged knee. He is romantically involved with a woman called Karin Canaris, and if that surname rings a bell with WW2 history buffs, yes, she is the niece of the real-life head of the Abwehr, Admiral William Canaris.

Although he initially believes that the case will not bring him into direct conflict with local Nazi officials, Schenke’s discovery that Berlin has a serial killer on the loose is of little comfort, as everyone in the Party, from Goebbels down to the lowliest apartment block supervisor is anxious to preserve public confidence in these early months of the war.  Oberst Dorner takes a step or two down the ladder of Schenke’s suspects when the killer strikes again, but this time fails to finish the job. The victim survives with bruises and shock, but Schenke finds himself in a tight corner when, after investigating the young woman’s several false identities, he discovers that her real name is Ruth Frankel, and she is Jewish. In normal times, her racial profile shouldn’t matter, but these are not normal times, and Party officials take a dim view of wasting valuable resources on any case involving Jews.

Heinrich_MüllerOberführer Müller, (right) in an attempt to keep tracks on what Schenke is doing, sends a young Gestapo officer called Liebvitz to shadow the Kripo officer, and that allows us to meet a rather unusual fellow. These days, we would probably say he has Asperger’s Syndrome, as he takes everything literally, has no sense of humour and a formidable eye for detail. He is also a crack shot, and this skill serves both Schenke and the department well by the end of the book.

Simon Scarrow cleverly allows Schenke makes one or two mistakes, which makes for a very tense finale, but also establishes him as a human being like so many other fictional coppers before him – tired to the point of exhaustion, frustrated by officialdom and trouble by his conscience. Before the book ends, we also meet the deeply sinister – despite a superficial icy charm – Reinhardt Heydrich.

Comparisons between the worlds of Horst Schenke, Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther and David Downing’s John Russell are inevitable, but not in any way damaging. A good as they are, neither Kerr nor Downing have taken out a copyright on the world of WW2 Berlin. Simon Scarrow shines a new light on a city and a time that many of us think we know well. He creates vivid new characters – and revitalises our enduring fascination with some of the historical monsters that stalked the earth in the 1930s and 40s. I sincerely hope that this becomes a series. If so, it will run for a long time, and grip many thousands of readers. Blackout was first published in hardback in March this year, and this Headline paperback is available now.
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