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July 2021

LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN . . . Between the covers

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If you are new to the Bryant & May series, then I could be rude and say, “You’re a bit bloody late!” More charitably, I could direct you to some of my earlier reviews of books in this magnificent sequence. Take a look here.

After many false twilights and surviving more execution attempts that John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee, it looks as though the Peculiar Crimes Unit has finally succumbed to the bureaucrats who have been plotting its demise for decades. The vandals have moved in and pulled out all the computer terminals, cut off the electric, and the ineffectual and (rightly) much mocked nominal supremo of the PCU – Raymond Land –  has given his valedictory address to the staff (rostered below)

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But fate – in the shape of a deceased old lady – has one last trick to play. When Amelia Hoffman is found dead in her flat, the regular police are happy to file the death in the file marked “Elderly Widows, No Family, Neglected By Social Services, Death Of.” But all is not what it seems. Arthur Bryant finds that the dead woman was one of three women who, having worked at Bletchley Park, were then absorbed into the post war British intelligence service. Arthur grabs at this straw with grateful hands, declares it ‘specialized’ enough to warrant the attention of the PCU, and launches a murder investigation.

Unusually for a Bryant & May investigation, there is an international element, courtesy of a frightful chap called Larry Cranston. He holds a British passport, but is in the employ of the CIA and various dark branches of the American state. When he drunkenly runs down and kills a pedestrian, he looks for diplomatic immunity and it is dangled in front of his nose – but at a price. The price is that he hunts down and ‘neutralises’ three old ladies – one of whom is Mrs Hoffman – who hold the key to exposing a sensitive intelligence operation, code-name ‘London Bridge‘.

Arthur Bryant, to the exasperation of his colleagues, has the habit – when he finds the solution to a problem – of going into a kind of investigative purdah. He refuses to share his thinking or his evidence, mostly on the grounds that John May and the others will neither understand it nor believe it. Such is the case here, and Arthur knows that he is dealing with the kind of historical criminal crossword, the esoteric clues for which only he can explain. By the end of the novel, however, even Arthur realises that he has been played, and nothing about the case is what it seems.

As ever, Christopher Fowler’s writing is exquisite. His deep reverence for – and knowledge of – the dark and lonely pathways trodden by centuries of Londoners is compelling. As usual the dialogue sparkles and the jokes are laugh-out-loud, but there is a sense of endgame here. Arthur, it seems, is wearing his inner Ulysses like a suit of armour:

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

As the old joke goes, Pretentious? Moi?” Quoting Tennyson in a crime fiction book review? I make absolutely no apologies. Christopher Fowler has, over the long sequence of Bryant & May novels, shown that he lives under the same roof as many great writers who understood ‘Englishness’. In my mind, he sits down happily with such names as John Betjeman, JB ‘Beachcomber’ Morton, George and Weedon Grossmith and – in terms of London – Peter Ackroyd.

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It was with great dismay that many B&M fans read on the author’s Twitter the other day that this would be the last novel in the series. After all, the two fellows are impossibly old, given all they have witnessed and been through together, so it was not unexpected. Sad times then, but the last few pages of the book are as poignant – and beautifully written – as anything you could ever wish to read. Think Julius Caesar, Act III, Sc2, line 148. And yes – I did. London Bridge Is Falling Down is published by Doubleday and is out now.

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A CASE OF ROYAL BLACKMAIL . . . Between the covers

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Sherlock Holmes pastiches, if not a growth industry, provide regular and steady employment for many writers. There is an erudite and entertaining feature on Holmes impersonations by Stuart Radmore here, but now we have a new entrant to the lists. It is written by none other than the great man himself (of which more later) and the 24 year-old sleuth has stolen some of his future companion’s thunder by recounting the case in his own words.

acorb cover039We are in London in the summer of 1879, and young Holmes has yet to meet the man who will write up his greatest cases. Holmes works for a guinea a day, and is striving to build his reputation. Within the first few pages, he has been hired to investigate two cases on behalf of a man who was already a celebrity, and another who would become infamous in his lifetime, but revered and admired after his death. The celebrity is Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, a notorious Lothario whose battleground has been country houses and mansions the length and breadth of the country, the vanquished being a long list of cuckolded husbands. It seems that the heir to the throne has been in the habit of entering his sexual achievements in a diary – a kind of fornicator’s Bradshaw, if you will – but it has gone missing, and Holmes is charged with recovering it.

The second case is a strange request by a 25 year-old Irish aesthete and writer – one Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, who has lost – of all things – an amethyst tie-pin, a gift from his mother, the formidable Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, and is desperate for Holmes to find it before an impending visit from Wilde mère.

Rosa_Corder,_by_James_McNeill_WhistlerOne hundred pages in, and it is clear that the author is enjoying a glorious exercise in name-dropping. James McNeill Whistler, Lillie Langtry, Francis Knollys, Patsy Cornwallis-West, Frank Miles, Sarah Bernhardt, John Everett Millais and Rosa Corder (right) are just a few of the  real life characters who make an appearance, and it is clear that ‘Sherlock Holmes’ moves in very elegant circles.

In the course of his investigations our man presages some of the talents for which he will later became famous when the as-yet-unmet Dr John Watson takes over the narrative. He disguises himself as a waiter at a royal banquet on one occasion, and manages to impress his clients with his uncanny observational skills. The case is complicated when Holmes becomes inadvertently involved with the attempt by scandal-sheets to sell papers off the back of the very public rift between Lillie Langtry and her husband Ned. The case of Oscar’s missing tie pin rather goes on the back-burner as the hunt for the royal blackmailer intensifies, but it is resolved at the very end of the book with a rather delicious twist.

So just who, exactly, is this particular Sherlock Holmes? The last five words of the book reveal the true identity of the author, but I won’t do all the work for you. A little clue that you can Google – this person is a peer of the realm, an old Etonian, and wrote the biography Never Fear: Reliving the Life of Sir Francis Chichester.

The worst that can be said of A Case of Royal Blackmail is that is a little over-egged with the cast of celebrity names, but once in a while we all need a few hours of enjoyable escapism, and this well-researched and cleverly plotted homage fits the bill perfectly. It is published by Affable Media, and is available now.

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INTERMISSION . . . Between the covers

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For readers new to this excellent series from Graham Hurley, here’s what you need to know. The central character is Enora Andressen, an English stage and screen actress in her early forties. She is in remission from a brain tumour, lives in Holland Park and is in a platonic relationship with a former cocaine baron, now a ‘reputable’ businessman, Hayden Prentice. He is the father of Enora’s son Malo, the product of a drunken fling on a yacht moored at Cannes a couple of decades earlier. Like ‘Bazza’ Mackenzie, the memorable anti-hero of Hurley’s magnificent Joe Faraday books, Prentice – nicknamed HP or ‘Saucy’ – has his tribal roots in the violent world of Portsmouth football supporters.

412ff7zLF2SIntermission is, I am sure, the only novel I have read so far that has, as its spine, the Covid-19 pandemic. The action begins in that fateful early spring of 2020, and Hayden Prentice learns that one of his old friends, a former bent copper known as Fat Dave has been laid low with the virus and is in the local ICU, and not expected to live. Visiting is, of course, completely off limits, but the sight – via a video link –  of his friend expiring amidst a sea of tubes and monitors chills HP to the bone. He travels from his Dorset manor house and summons Enora down to Portsmouth, where they have been given the use of a shabby flat owned by HP’s solicitor.

Fat Dave dies, and the newly announced lockdown measures prevent HP from organising the kind of send-off he was planning. Then, another bombshell. HP contracts the virus himself but refuses point blank to go into hospital. Enora has previously learned, via Malo, that due to the collapse of an insurance business he has set up, HP – formerly awash with the money he made in his criminal days – is in serious financial difficulties, but trapped in the claustrophobic flat Enora and Malo have no option but to buy in private care, involving  a rotating shift of nurses, the attention of a consultant, and  specialist medical equipment. The cost of all this is going to prove ruinous, but Enora is told by a violent psychopath called Wesley Kane – a sometime employee of HP – that before the virus laid him low, HP had a little investment plan. A plan that didn’t involve the risky world of insurance, hedge funds or commodity futures, but one where huge percentage profits are almost guaranteed – class “A” drugs. Back in his Dorset mansion, HP has kept a substantial stash of cash – in the proverbial used notes – and his housekeeper Jessie delivers this to Enora.

It seems that there is a woman in town named Shanti who has a long history of drug dealing. The restaurant she runs has gone bust, the power has been cut off, and she is hungry for money. Despite her attempts to run a straight business, she has retained contacts with the wholesalers of the ever-popular pharmaceuticals, and Enora pays her a visit.

There are complications, however. Enora meets Dessie Wren, a serving police officer and former colleague of the late Fat Dave, but rather more honest. He makes it very clear that the Hampshire police have not given up on their long running campaign to nail Hayden Prentice for his past misdeeds. To add to the woes of HP – and those close to him – someone whose father died as ‘collateral damage’ in a drug deal that went wrong is out for revenge.

There are so many good things about this series (click the links to read reviews of the earlier books Off Script, Sight Unseen and Curtain Call). Graham Hurley is a brilliant storyteller and a man of great learning and wide interests; as if the Joe Faraday books, the Jimmy Suttle series and these books are not sufficient evidence of that, he also writes superb military history thrillers like Kyiv. Enora herself is a wonderfully nuanced character. There is nothing remotely criminal about her, but through loyalty she is drawn into the murky world of Hayden Prentice, rather like Chandler’s investigator who finds that, “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

The best contemporary English crime writers always give us an almost palpable sense of place; Christopher Fowler gives us London, Phil Rickman draws us into the haunted borderland between England and Wales; Chris Nickson has us treading the cobbles and breathing in the dense air of industrial Leeds, while Jim Kelly leaves us with the quiet menace of the Fen country. Graham Hurley has a recurrent major character in many of his novels, and it is the city of Portsmouth itself. Enora muses:

It’s an island community. It’s a bit cut off, a bit claustrophobic. It seems to expect the worst, and I get the feeling that it’s rarely disappointed, but for all its stoicism, it remains oddly upbeat. It also has a long memory. The thirst for a fight evidently lies deep in the city’s DNA, and I get the feeling the Pompey tribes have been picking quarrels for ever. Tim, my thespy friend, is very good on this. First, he says, Pompey’s finest went to sea and took on the Spanish, then the Dutch, and then the French. Trafalgar was a great moment, a really tasty ruck, and then came two world wars and shoals of sneaky U-boats. The monument on the front, visible from this flat, tallies the thousands of lives lost, but even so the city has never abandoned its passion for lots of blood and lots of treasure.”

Intermission is published by Severn House and is out now.

NINE LIVES . . . Between the covers

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This thriller is relatively brief, but it buzzes like an angry hornet. It begins in rural Ireland in 1979, when a terrified girl escapes from being held by an unknown assailant. She finds refuge in a farmhouse, and the farmer’s wife arranges for a neighbour to drive her to the nearest Garda Síochána station. Neither the girl nor the neighbour is ever seen alive again. Some months later, the girl’s remains are found. There is little left of Hazel Devereaux, but just enough to reveal, on examination, that her throat had been cut.

Screen Shot 2021-07-19 at 18.16.06The action skips thirty years, and Jim Mulcahy who was the rookie detective covering the girl’s disappearance is now Superintendent, and heading for retirement. When recreational scuba divers find the rusting remains of a car at the bottom of a local lough with a skeleton on the back seat – which turns out to be the headless remains of Frank Rudden – the case is reopened. It was Rudden who drove off in his VW Beetle that fateful night three decades earlier, with Hazel Devereaux as his passenger. We are now, of course, in the age of smartphones and internet search engines, and it doesn’t take the Irish coppers long to link this cold case to several similar murders in that Irish home-from-home, Boston Massachusetts. Detective Ray Logue is sent to liaise with the Boston PD, in particular Officers Sam Harper and Olivia Callaghan.

The rough-and-ready Irish policeman manages to ruffle the feathers of his more sophisticated American counterparts, but they soon make three interesting discoveries. One is that the dates of the Boston murders have an uncanny connection – they are all numerically linked with the number nine. You can Google it, and see that there is a long tradition of mysticism connected to the number, but Ray is initially unimpressed by what he feels is “hocus pocus.” The second discovery is that Donal Keane, an Irish academic was in the area at the time of Hazel Devereaux’s murder and then immediately decamped to Boston, where he has been ever since. The third – and most sinister – connective element is that each of the victims has been sent a brief note containing a quotation from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

Screen Shot 2021-07-19 at 18.16.23As Logue, Callaghan and Harper close in on who they think is the killer, Kevin McManus bowls us a couple of googlies – or perhaps I should say, since we are in Boston, throws down some curve balls – and all is not what it seems to be.

Kevin McManus (right) primarily writes Crime Fiction novels but also delves into writing poetry and short stories. He lives in County Leitrim in Western Ireland with his wife Mary and their dog Jack. He works by day as a secondary school teacher. In addition to the Ray Logue books Kevin has written a series based around a New York Detective called John Morrigan. His debut novel, published in 2016, was The Whole of the Moon. Nine Lives is a highly original and cleverly conceived thriller which gives a new twist to the serial killer genre. It is published by Spellbound Books and is available now.

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ON MY SHELF . . . July 2021

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I have a healthy To Be Read stack as July swelters its way towards August, as well as some interesting-looking blog tour stops to fulfil.

THE NAMELESS ONES by John Connolly

A new Charlie Parker novel is always one of the significant way-points in my reading year. Centre stage in this latest adventure for the Portland private eye is his loyal – but violent – friend, Louis. Instead of the customary Maine woods or the craggy North Atlantic shoreline, the actions shifts to Amsterdam, where an old friend of Louis’ has been murdered after tangling with Serbian war criminals. Fans of this excellent series will know what to expect – violence, a sense of deep unease that echoes Hamlet’s famous advice to Horatio, and a genuine present day battle between good and evil. The Nameless Ones is published by Hodder and Stoughton, and is available now.

INVITE ME IN BY Emma Curtis

The trope of the seemingly happily married woman with lovely children and and a handsome, supportive husband – but who is hiding a terrible secret – has become very popular in domestic thrillers, but Emma Curtis, in this account of what happens when Eliza Curran takes on a new tenant, gives it fresh legs. Published by Transworld Digital, Invite Me In is out now as a Kindle, and the paperback version will follow in September.

THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by Frederick Forsyth

As the late lamented Sandy Denny once sang, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” It was fifty years ago that former RAF pilot and journalist Frederick Forsyth’s political thriller was first published. If you want a copy of the UK first edition, you might need a grand or so to play with, but this 50th anniversary edition from Arrow – with the added bonus of an introduction by Lee Child – is much more reasonable. I won’t waste time and space by outlining the plot (which is still as original and compelling as when it was written) but you can get this paperback here and still have change from a tenner.

A SLOW FIRE BURNING by Paula Hawkins

In the publicity blurbs all the great and the good among contemporary crime fiction jostle to praise Paula Hawkins and her writing. The Zimbabwe-born author certainly hit the big time with her breakout bestseller The Girl on The Train and her second novel Into The Water. Can she make it a hat-trick of triumphs? All the ingredients seem to be there – female centred, tense, anxiety-driven and a complex emotional undertow which threatens to drag the unwary participants away. Three women – Laura, Carla and Miriam – face different challenges that force them to re-evaluate how they calibrate innocence, guilt – and danger. A Slow Fire Burning will be out on 31st August and is published by Transworld Digital

SAFE AT HOME by Lauren North

More domestic angst and tension now from Lauren North, whose debut novel was The Perfect Son (2019). Her latest novel features Anna James, described as “an anxious mother” When she has to leave eleven-year-old Harrie home alone one evening, she can’t stop worrying about her daughter. But nothing bad ever happens in the sleepy village of Barton St Martin. Except something does go wrong that night, and Anna returns to find Harrie with bruises she won’t explain. The next morning a local businessman is reported missing and the village is sparking with gossip. Anna is convinced there’s a connection and that Harrie is in trouble. But how can she protect her daughter if she doesn’t know where the danger is coming from? This is, again, from Transworld Digital and will be out as a Kindle at the beginning of September, and in paperback at the end of that month.

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THE HANGMAN’S SONG . . . Executions in 19th century Warwick (2)

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PART TWO

WillsOn 6th April 1863, Henry Carter, aged 20, was hanged for the murder of his sweetheart, 18 year-old Alice Hinkley, in December the previous year. The murder occurred in Bissell Street, Birmingham, and was relatively unusual for a ‘domestic’, as it involved a firearm, in this case a double-barrelled pistol. When the case came to Warwick Spring Assizes Carter’s defence was that the pistol had been discharged accidentally, but the jury was having none of it. They found him guilty, but with a recommendation to mercy. Mr Justice Willes (left) donned the black cap, and told Carter”

“I must implore you not to entertain any fond hope that the recommendation can save your life from the consequences of so awful and dreadful an act.”

He was right to be pessimistic. Home Secretary Sir George Grey was disinclined to be merciful, and Henry Carter was hanged. The newspaper reported thus:

“Yesterday morning Henry Carter was executed at the County Gaol, Warwick, in the presence of an immense assemblage of persons. It will be remembered that the culprit was tried at the recent assizes on the 28th ult. before Mr. Justice Willes, for the wilful murder of a young woman named Alice Hinkley, to whom he was paying his addresses, at Birmingham. He admitted when taken into custody that he had shot the unhappy girl. The execution took place at ten minutes after ten o’clock, and it is understood that the culprit confessed his crime ; but as Warwick is one of the gaols from which the press is rigorously excluded, any details are impossible to be given.”

Another account had more detail:

“Henry Carter, brass-founder, aged about twenty, was executed in front of the County Gaol at Warwick, on Thursday, for shooting with a pistol Birmingham, on the 4th of December last, his sweetheart. Alice Hinkley. The facts of the case have been recently reported. Carter had been Sunday-school teacher at Car’s Lane chapel, Birmingham, and spent the chief part of his time since his condemnation in religions devotions. On Thursday week a petition was forwarded the Secretary of State praying for commutation sentence, the grounds of Carter’s youth. An intimation that the the law must take its course was received on Saturday, and the warrant for execution once made out.

The services of Smith* of Dudley, Palmer’s executioner, were retained as hangman. The ceremony commenced shortly before ten o’clock on Thursday morning, when the prisoner attended prayers in the chapel of the gaol, then formed one of the procession of the prison officials to the pinioning room, and thence on to the scaffold. He was asked whether the pistol went off accidentally, and he said, “No. There was no quarrel between us while talking. I shook her hand, and kissed her before parting, and then shot her. It was through jealousy.” On reaching the scaffold in his prison dress he addressed the crowd below, warning them not to give way to similar feelings lest they should meet the fate which he was about to receive. and which, he well deserved. He then repeated a prayer from a book entitled “The Prisoner’s Memorial,” after which the bolt was removed and the drop fell. Death ensued almost instantly.”

George-Smith*George Smith (1805–1874, pictured right), popularly known as The Dudley Throttler , was an English hangman from 1840 until 1872. He was born in Rowley Regis in the West Midlands where he performed the majority of his executions. Although from a good family he became involved with gangs and petty crime in his early life, and was imprisoned in Stafford Gaol on several occasions for theft.

Carter was the last person to be publicly executed in Warwick, and the last to die in front of the old gaol. A new prison was built on Cape Road and the old gaol was converted into a militia barracks. There were to be seven more executions, the last being William Harris on 2nd January 1894. Harris, also known as Haynes, had murdered his girlfriend, Florence Clifford in Aston, Birmingham in September the previous year. The 17 year-old girl, tired of Harris’s brutal behaviour towards her, had decided to leave him, and went to her mother’s house to collect some clothes. Harris followed her there, and murdered her with an axe. He then went on the run, but gave himself up to Northamptonshire police. At his trial, he said:

“I wish I could have chopped the girl’s mother up, and then I should have been satisfied. I would have chopped her into mince-meat, and made sausages of her. I am ready for execution now.”

Defiant and unrepentant during his trial, Harris cut a sorrier figure when he went to the gallows.

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It is worth remembering that the death penalty was widely available for a large range of offences until penal reforms in 1835 saw the end of capital punishment for crimes other than murder or attempted murder. The chart below gives an analysis of executions in Warwick during the 19th century. “Uttering” was, basically what we would now call fraud, while “coining” was the crime of counterfeiting or otherwise interfering with currency. It was also considered to be high treason.

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THE HANGMAN’S SONG – Executions in 19th century Warwick (1)

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PART ONE

I was at Warwick School in the 1960s, and our regular cross-country running route was up Gallows Hill, which runs between the Banbury Road and Heathcote Lane. It is certain that it was a place of execution long ago, but my story here is about relatively more recent times when executions at Warwick Gaol were a source of great entertainment for the population. The gaol was situated in what is now Barrack Street, and was rebuilt on that site in the late 18th century. You could be executed for all manner of crimes back in the day (see closing paragraphs of Part Two) but I am focusing on several executions for murder which were carried out between 1820 and 1900.

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To be a parent and have to suffer the pain of having one of your grown-up children executed for murder must be considered, at the very least, unfortunate, but to have two offspring die in the same way is a tragedy. Such, however, was the fate of a Mrs Heytrey, a widow living in Charlecote. Her daughter Ann, 21, was a servant in the house of Mr and Mrs Dormer who lived at Dial House, Ashow (above). On the evening of 29th August 1819, while other members of her family were out for a walk, Mrs Sarah Dormer was sitting in a chair, reading. For no apparent reason, and without any provocation, Ann Heytrey came up to Mrs Dormer and punched her hard on the head, knocking her onto the floor. Dazed, Mrs Dormer staggered upstairs, but Ann Heytrey, wielding a large kitchen knife followed her, and slit her throat from ear to ear.

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When the family returned, they found Heytrey “in a great state of perspiration” with blood on her apron. Mrs Dormer’s body was discovered, Heytrey was arrested and duly tried for murder and Petty Treason – the crime of violating the authority of a social superior. She was found guilty and, as decreed for any crime of treason, bound to a hurdle (a kind of gate woven with sticks) which was then drawn by a horse to the place of execution. She was hanged in front of Warwick Gaol on 12th April 1820, and a final indignity was visited on the hapless woman’s body in death, as while her body was still warm, it was cut down and sent to Kenilworth to be dissected by doctors. The travails of her mother in Charlecote were not over, however.

On 14th April 1821, the Warwick crowd was entertained by a quadruple hanging. Henry Adams, Thomas Heytrey (brother of Ann), Nathaniel Quinney and Samuel Sidney had been convicted of the murder of a wealthy landowner, Thomas Hiron, in November the previous year. The reports of the killing were sensational:

“On Saturday, the 4th instant, at an early hour in the evening, a ferocious and murderous robbery was committed within a few miles of the borough of Warwick, upon Mr. William Hiron, a gentleman residing at Alveston, about two miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. The deceased had on that day dined with his nephew, Mr. Thomas Hiron, surgeon, of Warwick, and set out from his house, to return home, about seven o’clock. Between seven and eight the next morning, Mr. Hiron’s horse was found at the stable door, when search was instantly made after its master.”

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“”On the road leading from Wellesbourne to Alveston, near to Little Ham Bridge, about half mile from the house, his keys, gloves, and stick, were found upon the ground, near to which lay a quantity of blood. A short time afterwards the unfortunate gentleman was found lying in a senseless state, without his hat, in a deep ditch in Hunscott Lane, by a woman who was passing that way. She immediately procured assistance, and he was conveyed home. It is supposed that he had been attacked by some villains at the place where the blood, and other articles belonging to him, were discovered, and that, after beating him about the head in a most dreadful manner, they had robbed and then left him. It was also supposed that Mr. Hiron, after lying some time, recovered a little, and had attempted to find his way home, but, from the state of confusion which he must have been in from the nature of his wounds, instead of taking the road for Alveston, went towards Charlecote, and becoming faint from the loss of blood, had fallen into the ditch. The deceased, we most sincerely regret to add, lingered till Tuesday night, nearly in a senseless state, and then expired. His executors immediately offered a reward of two hundred guineas to any person who would give such information as should lead to the conviction of the offenders. Four men were apprehended in the neighbourhood of Alveston, on Thursday, on suspicion of having committed the murder, and, it is added, that they have confessed the horrid deed.

The account of the closing day of Warwick Spring Assizes for 1821 begins with this:

Warwick Assizes

And continues:

“Thursday was principally occupied with the trial of Quinney, Adams, Heytrey, and Sidney, for the murder of Mr. William Hiron, in the parish of Alveston On the 7th November last. lt appeared in evidence that Mr. Hiron had been in Warwick on the day in question, to give his vote to Mr. Lawley in the late county election, and left that place about eight o’clock in the evening, on his return home. When he got to Little Ham Bridge, six miles from Warwick, and about half mile from his mother’s house, the prisoners attacked him, put a large hook, in the form of a shepherd’s hook, round his body and pulled him off his horse. Mr. Hiron sprung upon his feet, when three of them attacked him. (Heytrey being hid behind the hedge) and beat him with large bludgeons until he was senseless. They then robbed him of two or three pound notes and his pocket book, and left him in the road to all appearances dead. Mr. Hiron, in the course of the night, recovered a little, got up, and endeavoured to go home, but missing his way, he went up Hunscott lane, where fell into a ditch. In this situation, nearly senseless from his wounds, loss of blood, and cold, he was found about eight o’clock the next morning, lying upon his back. The prisoners had made separate confessions before the coroner, Mr. Hunt, acknowledging the murder, and the part each of them had taken in the barbarous deed. These confessions, added to the corroborative evidence given by the respective witnesses, left no doubt whatever in the minds the Jury, or on a very crowded Court, of their having committed the murder. The Jury found them all guilty, and in pursuance of their sentence the unhappy men underwent the dreadful penalty of the law shortly before twelve o’clock on Saturday morning.”

As a sad postscript, it was reported that Mrs Heytrey had “died of a broken heart” even before her son had breathed his last.

IN PART TWO …. The last public hanging and a new gaol

ARROWOOD AND THE MEETING HOUSE MURDERS . . . Between the covers

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The publicity blurb says, “London Society takes their problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood.” This is, indeed, a very different world to that of the occupant of 221B Baker Street.

“The Guvnor lived in rooms behind the pudding shop on Coin Street, just down the road from Waterloo Station. There were five of them there. His sister Ellie and wife Isabel slept in the bedroom with their two babies, Mercy and Leopold. Arrowood had a mattress on the parlour floor. Since I’d last been there, the Christmas decorations had been put out.: some holly and twigs strung up to nails on the wall, a few painted baubles hanging from the mantel, a little model of a manger with the baby Jesus on the dresser. The babies slept in their boxes on the table.”

ArrowoodThe narrator is Norman Barnett, William Arrowood’s equally impoverished assistant. Neither man is a stranger to tragedy. Barnett’s wife, ‘Mrs B’ died some months previously, while Isabel Arrowood left her husband to live with a richer man in Cambridge. He died from cancer, leaving her with his baby in her womb. She has since been taken back by her husband, but all is far from well between them. We are in the final years of the 19th century, a few decades since Gustave Doré produced his memorable – and haunting – engravings of the darker side of London, but Arrowood’s London is hardly a shade lighter. Poverty, death and illness are everywhere – in the next room, or just around the corner.

The plot has the lurid and fantastical quality of a magic lantern show. Four black South Africans have escaped the grinding poverty and oppression of their homeland and somehow made their way to Europe. They have been hired to part of a circus cum freakshow run by an unscrupulous showman called Capaldi. Billed to perform as Zulus, the quartet have escaped. Capaldi, having fed and housed them in anticipation of capitalising on their curiosity value to his audiences, is aggrieved and wants them back. They have taken refuge with Mr Fowler, a well-meaning Quaker who works with The Aborigines’ Protection Society 1

Fowler hires Arrowood and Barnett for a few days to act as night-time bodyguards to the Africans  who are sheltering in the Quaker Meeting House, but when they arrive for duty, they find Fowler shot dead and one of the Africans, Musa, tied up, his face battered, and dead from strangulation.  Inspector Napper of the Metropolitan Police takes charge of the murder enquiry but, short staffed, he asks Arrowood for help. The finger of suspicion points at Capaldi and his enforcers, but life is never that simple.

As the case becomes ever more complex, Arrowood faces professional failure, but tragedy looms at home. Finlay has created a complex character. He is physically unprepossessing, overweight, a face like a bloodhound and he is a martyr to piles. When, in order to earn the money for some quack medicine for one of the poorly babies back in Coin Street, he is forced to deputise for one of Capaldi’s freaks – The Baboon Woman – I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

MFThere is a rather melancholy soundtrack to the plot, including The Violet I Plucked From Mother’s Grave, reputedly a song frequently sung by the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Lane Kelly. Finlay’s research into the darker aspects of late Victorian life is impressive, particularly in the kinds of medicine available to the general public. Two such potions that probably killed as many as they cured were Godfrey’s Cordial and Black Drops2

Eventually, and with fatal consequences for more than one of the participants, the case is solved, but to no-one’s particular satisfaction. It being late December, there is barely a chink of daylight on the London Streets, and this is echoed by the sombre mood of the narrative. I don’t suppose there is such a thing as Victorian Noir, but if there were, it is here. It’s superbly written, and both chills and grips like a London fog. Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders is published by HQ, an imprint of Harpr Collins, and is out now. Author Mick Finlay has an informative website. Click on his image (right) to go there.

1.The Aborigines’ Protection Society (APS) was an international human rights organisation founded in 1837, to ensure the health and well-being and the sovereign, legal and religious rights of the indigenous peoples while also promoting the civilisation of the indigenous people who were subjected under colonial powers, in particular the British Empire.

2. Godfrey’s Cordial was a patent medicine, containing laudanum (tincture of opium) in a sweet syrup, which was commonly used as a sedative to quieten infants and children in Victorian England. Black Drop was a 19th-century  medicine made of opium, vinegar, spices, often sweetened with sugar and made into something resembling a boiled sweet.

DEAD SORRY . . . Between the covers

Dead Sorry Header

I am new to Helen H Durrant’s Calladine and Baylis mysteries, but I do love a good police procedural, and this fits the bill nicely. My heart did sink (for a nanosecond) when I saw the first chapter was headed ‘Twenty five years earlier’, as split time narratives are something of a bête noire for me, but in this case it ended up working quite well.

Detective Tom Calladine and his partner DS Ruth Bayliss work in the fictitious town of Leesdon, which seems to be in the north west of England, with views of the Pennines and somewhere on the border between the counties of the Red and White Rose. They are called to a seedy block of flats where the decaying corpse of a woman is found but, as neighbourliness in the flats is in short supply, so no-one had reported her missing or noticed anything untoward.

Dead SorryAs the plot develops we learn that the dead woman, Becca O’Brien, was pretty much human wreckage, drug addicted and feckless. Interestingly, her daughter (who now lives in sheltered accommodation0, was involved in an act of criminality which happened twenty five years earlier (see first paragraph) at a moorland location called Gorse Farm, where human bones have recently been discovered. In an ostensibly separate plot thread, Calladine is being threatened by a criminal adversary (something of a stage eastern European gangster) called Lazarov. When Lazarov threatens to harm Calladine’s grand-daughter if he doesn’t facilitate the Bulgarian’s take-over of the Leesdon drug scene, the tension ratchets up several notches.

So far, the plot has something of a “we’ve been here before feel” to it, but Helen Durrant plays her strongest cards relatively late in the story, and the narrative becomes anything but straightforward as ‘knowns” become “unknowns” and several assumptions made by Calladine and his team (and us) are proved to be very wide of the mark. The quest to unravel what actually happened at Gorse Farm a quarter of a century earlier meshes in nicely, plot-wise, with the Leesdon coppers search for a trigger-happy criminal with a Glock automatic.

Tom Calladine is an interesting character and, like many another fictional Detective Inspector, his personal life is something of a mess. Sometimes, he doesn’t always seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but Ruth Baylis is usually there to put him right.

Another interesting feature of the book (I read the KIndle version) was that it ended with a ‘Glossary of English Usage For US Readers’. I don’t know if this is something peculiar to the series, or to crime books from this publisher, as it contained explanations of words and terms as diverse as Bun: small cake, Desperate Dan: very strong comic book character, Lovely jubbly: said when someone is pleased, and War Cry: Salvation Army magazine. Most odd!

Dead Sorry is a well crafted and engaging police procedural which proves that even if detective duos are something of an old dog, this particular one still has plenty of life in it. Published by Joffe Books, it is out now. Helen has a Facebook page and is also on Twitter. You can find her by clicking on the icons below.

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